Thursday 31 March is Transgender Day of Visibility when we celebrate transgender people around the world, their achievements and their courage in living openly and authentically.
We also acknowledge the discrimination they still face.
Closer to home, we celebrate our transgender VPS colleagues across all departments, colleagues such as Michelle Sheppard, Inclusion Capability Officer at the Department of Transport.
Michelle brings her lived experience of being a trans woman into her work, running diversity, equity and inclusion training, mentoring colleagues and providing extra support to anyone dealing with transitioning. She lays out the sobering statistics around violence and discrimination against transgender people, unemployment, financial troubles and mental health issues, but mixes it with anecdotes and funny stories from her life.
‘A mixture of storytelling and giving people an insight into the community helps people wrap their heads around the community so much more than just giving them definitions. I take them on a bit of a journey.’ Michelle says. ‘I also put myself on the microscope, as a trans woman I'm going to help you understand me a little bit more.’
She also sprinkles in some history, explaining where our ingrained biases come from and why we may act and react the way we do. Pink used to be for boys and blue for girls. Persian horsemen used to wear high heels. Media heavily influences our attitudes. She can see the lightbulbs going on around the room as people make the connections as she speaks.
For Michelle, increasing visibility means losing her sense of ‘onlyness’. ‘When I go to conferences for diversity, equity and inclusion and I look around, I’m the only gender diverse person.
‘I hope that within my lifetime and can go to work and see two or three other trans people.
‘We need to lift people up and show that we do have electricians, plumbers, teachers, doctors, lawyers who are transgender. We need to highlight these people within industry.’
Michelle says that with the whole of Victorian Government LGBTIQ+ Strategy, the VPS is in a unique position to lead the change.
‘We influence and connect with all these different areas from the top and help be the standard and be the example,’ she says. ‘We touch many different Industries and organisations, we deal with different providers and stakeholders, we should hold them to the same values as we do.’
How to be a trans ally
There’s no need for a top 10 how to be a good trans ally. There’s just one – listen.
Make the time and space to properly to listen to people’s stories, listen to what they need, listen to them tell you how you can help.
‘People need to understand we are a community of communities, we are not the same thing,’ Michelle says. ‘Remove your pre-existing ideas and images from your mind. Break those biases and stereotypes in your mind.’