In September, when a Melbourne-based Lesbian Action Group (LAG) attempted to host a “Lesbian Born Female” event that explicitly excluded transgender women, Dykes on Bikes immediately took action.
While the host venue initially rejected LAG’s application, citing that the event was “inconsistent with the Pride Centre’s purpose,” the group applied for a legal exemption request. That’s when Dykes on Bikes took a powerful stance against LAG’s discriminatory and inflammatory transphobia by writing a joint letter in opposition to the International Lesbian Day event. Thanks to their efforts, the event was cancelled.
GCN was delighted to speak with Dykes on Bikes Communications Officer Kieran Cavanagh about their work with Dykes on Bikes and how they take a stand against transphobia.
Kieran first discovered Dykes on Bikes while attending Mardi Gras on Gadigal Land in Sydney, where they grew up. They remember seeing all of the “fierce lesbians” leading the front of the Pride parade, sharing: “I was femme at the time and was in awe, seeing all these gorgeous Butches riding past – and realised that it was also an option for me and how I identified. Ten years later, I am a proud butch, shaved head and all!”
Dykes on Bikes Melbourne describes itself as a volunteer-run, not-for-profit motorcycle club for LGBTQ+ folks who identify as women, non-binary or genderqueer, and the group is known for its activism. As a Melbourne member, one of Kieran’s favourite recent experiences was leading the Trans Day of Visibility: Reclaim the Streets protest in March 2023.
After Nazi protesters spouting dangerous transphobic and racist rhetoric were offered police protection, Dykes on Bikes stepped in. The group led thousands of trans folks and allies in a huge protest, and Kieran remembers riding down the street and hearing the marchers chanting: ‘You can’t run, you can’t hide, Dykes on Bikes are on our side!’ Kieran said: “Just thinking about it now gives me chills. I will remember it forever.”
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As an organisation that exudes inclusion, Kieran was alarmed to learn about LAG’s application for a trans-exclusionary event in August, especially because the group applied for a five-year exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act. They said: “If the five-year exemption went through, that would be extremely dangerous for the trans community here in Naarm (Melbourne), nationally as well.”
They worried it would set a precedent for other hateful transphobic groups to attempt the same thing, saying, “Who knows what sort of damage they could have done to the trans and wider queer community with that amount of time.”
When they decided to write a letter to the Australian Human Rights Committee (AHRC), Kieran said they wanted their statement to be honest, clear, and come from the heart. They said: “I actually did a first draft, where I was very careful about my words and didn’t want to be incendiary – but once I read it, it didn’t feel true. In my soul, I was outraged. So I wrote a second version and that’s the one that went live.”
In the official statement, Dykes on Bikes Melbourne said LAG is not representative of the broader lesbian community and called the event application: “Nothing more than dangerous transphobic rhetoric and hate, causing harm and creating division when we should be united.”
Dykes on Bikes added: “Our lesbian community is extremely vast and diverse, and that is a pillar of its strength. Without our trans sisters or queer elders, we would not have the freedoms and rights we celebrate today or the insight and knowledge for the challenges ahead.”
Kieran hoped that the letter would put pressure on the AHRC to reject the proposal, and also warn the public about LAG’s exclusionary views. The news was picked up by local and international media sources, and Kieran said: “It was really promising seeing how many people cared about this issue, and other fellow queer organisations that supported the rejection of LAG’s request standing up too.”
After reviewing feedback from Dykes on Bikes and 14 other local organisations that appealed, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) agreed that LAG’s request did not warrant a legal exemption. Kieran and the Dykes on Bikes Melbourne club were overjoyed to hear that the AHRC rejected LAG’s proposal.
When asked if Dykes on Bikes Melbourne received any hate for writing the letter, Kieran said they did not read any of the online comments. They knew people would likely post awful things, and they didn’t feel like it was useful to read them. Instead, they said: “What was important was that we stood up in solidarity with the trans community, I did not feel like I had to know what people on the internet were saying.”
Kieran hopes this outcome will set a precedent for any future attempts to exclude trans and non-binary people from lesbian events. Kieran said: “I hope that this serves as a warning to other trans-exclusionary organisations that there is no room for division and hate in lesbian spaces. People do not want to attend their exclusionary events.”
Kieran described lesbian identities as “faceted and vast, so personal and malleable,” and referenced the creator of the modern lesbian flag, Emily Gwen, who is a non-binary lesbian. They know that queer groups who want to host trans-exclusionary events are a minority, and their views do not reflect the values of the greater community.
They would urge any queer groups considering trans-exclusionary events to do the work and think deeply about why they feel the need for exclusion because when people take the time to unpack their own transphobia, they will realise their ideas about the trans community are rooted in dangerous lies.
“There is no need for exclusion or in fighting right now, especially when LGBTQIA+ rights are under attack worldwide as we speak. We need to rally together. There is room for all of us.”
© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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