By Seb Starcevic
MELBOURNE, Aug 26 (Openly) - Australian lawmaker Andy Meddick admits he did not have the "best reaction" seven years ago when his son, Eden, now 21, came out as transgender but he was ready the second time around.
When Meddick's older child also transitioned gender, he posted a "birth announcement" on Twitter, wading into a vicious culture war that pits LGBT+ activists against conservatives and some feminists, from Australia to Europe and the Americas.
"Our eldest Kielan has been on a unique and personal journey that (with permission of course) I'm now proud to share with you all," the Animal Justice Party lawmaker in the south-eastern state of Victoria posted this month.
"I'd like to announce the arrival of my daughter Kielan, aged 25 years. Both of our children are trans, and both are perfect."
Birth announcement:— Andy Meddick MP (@AndyMeddickMP) August 18, 2020
Our eldest Kielan has been on a unique and personal journey that (with permission of course) I'm now proud to share with you all.
I’d like to announce the arrival of my daughter Kielan, aged 25 years.
Both of our children are trans, and both are perfect. pic.twitter.com/WLvb9dhtgf
Meddick's support for his two trans children has won him widespread praise - and made him one of the most influential trans advocates in Australia where policies towards trans people are hotly contested.
Mark Latham of the right-wing One Nation party said this month that he plans to introduce a private member's bill to ban "the teaching of the ideology of gender fluidity" to children in schools in the state of New South Wales.
Despite the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2017, Australia's conservative government is publicly skeptical on trans issues, amid a furore over inclusivity in sport, with critics arguing trans women have an unfair physical advantage.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in 2018 schools do not need "gender whisperers" after reports that teachers were being trained to identify trans children. He has blamed high rates of suicide among trans youth on "pressures of identity politics".
For Meddick, the issue is one of education and compassion.
"All I can say is to try walking a mile in transgender people's shoes," he said. "Speak to the parents of those kids and find out what they've been through. Otherwise you're coming from a position of ignorance and bigotry."
When Eden came out, Meddick said he turned to LGBT+ friends, who helped him understand what it means to be the parent of a trans child.
"It was something that was beyond the realm of my experience," he said. "Like most people, I needed a period of adjustment to work it out. I didn't really understand, and I needed to understand, so that's what I did."
Several years later, when Kielan announced she was also trans, he knew what to do.
"It was really a situation of, 'okay, fair enough'," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
"It wasn't a shock at all."
Meddick said it was important to him to make a public statement on social media to set an example.
"When support comes, even when it's from family, it's often not public, so there's no legitimising who they are in the broader world," he said.
"As an ally and with the position that I hold, I have a responsibility to hold up a light for people and say, 'hey, you are loved, you are perfect, and there are people out there who care about you'."
It is not the first time Meddick has spoken about his children in public. He cried when giving a speech to parliament in 2019 during a debate on birth certificate reform.
"Many friends and visitors to our home have seen a small but powerful note on Eden's bedroom door that says, 'just a reminder - I am not a girl'," said Meddick, who was elected in 2018 to Victoria's upper house of parliament.
"I look forward to the day that Eden can take that sign down because people won't care what his gender is, they won't see him as different."
Meddick said voting to allow trans people to change the sex marker on their birth certificate without undergoing sex reassignment surgery was the "proudest moment" of his career.
Victoria became the third of Australia's six states to adopt the 'self-ID' policy, which is seen as less intrusive and bureaucratic. More than 200 trans people in the state have applied to update their documents since the law was changed.
"Our job now is to get those other states over the line," Meddick said.
Kielan, who has undergone hormone therapy, has applied to legally change her sex – something that only became possible with the birth certificate reform in May.
Meddick said he wished more people would make an effort to understand trans people and their loved ones.
"Having two trans kids and seeing what happens in the LGBTI community, the levels of suicide, the work that still needs to be done ... I want transgender people to feel comfortable that society is accepting, so they can be who they are.
"For both my kids, they are so much happier being who they are. And at the end of the day, that's what any parent wants for their child - to be happy."
(Reporting by Seb Starcevic; Editing by Katy Migiro and Hugo Greenhalgh Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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