The author of a children's book targeted by “no” campaigners in Australia's same-sex marriage survey received a robocall from conservative politician Cory Bernardi warning of the dangers of her own book.
Melbourne author Jo Hirst told BuzzFeed News she had received the call over the weekend while in Sydney at a conference about transgender health.
Hirst wrote The Gender Fairy, a children's book about being transgender published in 2015 for ages four and up. The book became a target of conservative ire in Australia last year, during the controversy around the Safe Schools Coalition.
Bernardi said last week that he planned to make a million robocalls asking how people intend to vote and claiming that a change to the Marriage Act will lead to “radical gay sex education” — a common claim on the “no” side that has been disputed by education minister Simon Birmingham.
In the call, Bernardi asks people to return their surveys and outlines his reasons for voting “no”, saying same-sex marriage is “a recipe for division”.
“As a parent I am deeply concerned about how changing the Marriage Act will affect families and children,” Bernardi says in the robocall.
“Changing the Marriage Act will limit the right of parents to object to radical gay sex education and gender ideology programs from being taught in our schools. Books like The Gender Fairy, which is aimed at four-year-olds, will become commonplace in our schools.”
Hirst listened to the whole call, which runs for about two minutes.
“I wanted to hear what he was saying, what everyone was being told,” she said. “Most people I know, even though they were curious, they hung up halfway through out of disgust.
Hirst said the call gave her a sense of “helplessness, frustration, and violation”.
The Gender Fairy has also been the subject of TV ads run by the Coalition for Marriage, as well as several flyers issued by the Australian Christian Lobby and Marriage Alliance.
Hirst's book in a Coalition for Marriage advertisement.
Coalition for Marriage
“They just will not let up,” she said. “But that's nothing in comparison to the damage this is doing to the children and their families.”
“I feel completely powerless that the people I wrote the book for are being hurt by this.”
Hirst has a transgender son and is a vocal advocate for the rights of transgender children in schools. When the Coalition for Marriage TV ads started running, she released a statement saying “transgender children should not be fodder in their search for relevance”.
“To target such children, who are already marginalised and prone to stigma and who are completely irrelevant to the marriage equality debate is dangerous,” she wrote.
A recent survey conducted by the Telethon Kids Institute found transgender and gender diverse youth are at an extraordinarily high risk of suicide and more likely to be depressed or anxious than their cisgender peers.
Senior researcher Dr Ashleigh Lin said there was evidence to show the poor mental health of transgender youth is not caused by their gender identity, but by how gender diversity is viewed by society.