Published 30 August 2022
The Gender Centre is the peak state-wide multidisciplinary centre of excellence providing a broad range of specialised services that enables the exploration of gender identity and assistance with the alleviation of gender dysphoria.
They support trans and gender diverse people at every stage of their journey as they explore and live their authentic sense of self.
We spoke with Eloise Brook, Health and Communications Manager, to learn more about the work they do.
The Gender Centre has been around for nearly 40 years. We are the main provider of services and support for trans and gender diverse people in NSW. We aim to reduce homelessness, improve mental health, help trans people rise, and build community.
We work in the inner city, and support schools, hospitals and prisons across Sydney and in regional, rural and remote areas of NSW. We offer a range of services including crisis accommodation, counselling and support groups. At the core of what we do is casework support as we work with the most disadvantaged section of the community who often require wrap-around services.
We support trans people of all different identities. At present we are working with a lot of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) trans folk. For a long time, we’ve supported trans seniors and older adults. And in the last five to 10 years, we've increasingly found ourselves supporting trans, gender diverse and non-binary young people and their families.
We support individuals to be able to transition and to access the same equality and rights as everyone else.
I joined the Gender Centre about five years ago after I moved up from Melbourne. I wanted to support the community and was happy to do reception work, but when they saw my resume and background in media and communications they were like, ‘no, we're not putting you on reception!’
I was on the Board for a while and about a year ago I came on full-time as the Health and Communications Manager which amplified what I was already doing around events and storytelling.
Trans Day of Visibility in March is an important event for us, as is Trans Day of Remembrance in November which honours the memory of the trans lives lost to acts of transphobia and discrimination. Sadly, violence against trans people is often invisible and considered acceptable.
I also put out a magazine called Polare which includes important conversations the community needs to have with itself and covers topics like your rights and mental health.
One of the core challenges for trans and gender diverse people is isolation. Trans people are often subjected to discrimination, microaggressions and violence. To protect ourselves, we may limit our time away from home which can lead to withdrawal and isolation. This can have terrible consequences for mental and physical health if trans people aren’t accessing healthcare.
The Gender Centre facilitates a range of groups for our community which provide a warm, friendly and supportive space. Their purpose is to help build resilience by connection and help stave off poor mental health that results from isolation.
There are youth groups, young adults’ groups, over 40’s groups, women’s groups, FTM (female to male) groups and non-binary groups – as well as groups for parents and partners. I facilitate the Young Women’s support group for people aged 25 to 39 who identify as transgender female or questioning.
Most groups are held in-person, although there are options to join online, especially for rural and remote folk.
The Gender Centre provides support, training, workshops and resources for schools. On average we see one new student every week – but it’s important to note that the Gender Centre is never involved with children and young people unless their parents are involved and supportive.
We often meet with a variety of stakeholders including principals, welfare teachers, counsellors, parents and year advisers. We discuss adjustments to be made at the school for the dignity and safety of the young person, amendments to formal processes to reflect the student’s name and gender, and how to ensure a strong and sensitive support network is in place.
We don’t teach gender and sex in the school; instead, we teach global citizenship and explain that a school community is made up of incredibly diverse people – neuro diverse students, gender diverse students, students from different religious and cultural backgrounds – and everyone is equally valid and deserves the same access and respect. We use the RIDE model: Respect, Inclusion, Dignity and Equity.
Sadly, 48.1 per cent of trans young people have attempted suicide. But we know that if you can keep that person in the bubble of a supportive family and school, the suicide rate goes down to the national average.
With our outreach program, our senior case worker is on the road every six weeks, usually out west in rural and regional areas, liaising with community health workers and providing casework support around transition. Our case worker is inundated with requests as there really is a lack of support in rural, regional and remote areas.
Individuals can access our outreach program through several entry points – directly, through healthcare, through parent support groups, through schools or through sexual health centres.
The work we do covers the life span of a trans person. There is a lot of emphasis on mental health and resilience. Providing timely health support for disadvantaged groups has advantages for the whole community, taxpayers included.
The year 2022 has been by far the worst for the trans community in terms of hostility from the media. In February, there was the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill which singled out trans children as being deserving of direct discrimination in the education system. Then there was the federal election campaign which focused on trans issues for three of the six weeks. And more recently there has been a push to exclude trans women from sport, particularly swimming.
The political and media commentary during the federal election was like an invitation to discuss people’s legitimacy to exist and parents were left desperately trying to protect their children. Whether it be a father at the barbers with his trans son or a mother and her trans daughter at a bus stop, they would overhear hurtful conversations that could lead to poor mental health outcomes.
One of the reasons the argument around sport has failed so miserably, is that the people who are advocating against the inclusion of transgender people have nothing to do with sport themselves. They are unaware that about five years ago there was a renaissance, with clubhouses across Australia inviting queer, trans and gender diverse people and their families to join numerous sporting codes. Sport connects people to community and has important health and mental health benefits; it’s important that everyone has access.
The trans community is often presented in the media as trying to take over spaces they don't belong in, when, the reality is, they just want to lead their lives.
Wear it Purple Day is really important. It shows young people that they have allies in the community. It creates visibility and reinforces that every young person is valuable and important.
If a young person is struggling with their mental health and they see just one person wearing purple or enquiring about their pronouns, it is shorthand for ‘we are here for you’.
The theme ‘Still me, still human’, humanises the experience and is a reminder that people are still themselves when they come out or transition.
The Gender Centre runs on the smell of an oily rag, so donations from the public make a huge difference.
We deliver over 90 per cent of trans-specific services in NSW but we know we aren’t even scraping the surface. We currently have a six-month waitlist to see a counsellor and a four-month wait to see a psychologist. Considering that nearly half of trans young people have attempted suicide, asking them to wait four to six months is just awful. Donations and contributions from the public go directly into providing services and wages.
Members of the community can also support our work by standing up for trans and gender diverse people. If you hear someone sharing negative opinions, ask them to stop. Tell them that it is not an appropriate topic; they don’t know who is listening and who may be affected. You never know, you might just close down something within earshot of a trans or gender diverse person.
01 Sep 2022
We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the ongoing connection Aboriginal people have to this land and recognise Aboriginal people as the original custodians of this land.