The Daily Advertiser, a local Fairfax regional paper in Wagga Wagga, has reported on local trans woman Holly Conroy’s positive experiences in a local women’s soccer team.
In an upbeat story, the paper reported that both the team and opposing teams had been accepting of Conroy, and that the coach had followed Football NSW guidelines in treating trans players equally.
But it was the paper’s decision to run a poll at the base of the story that stirred controversy in the southern NSW city.
“Do you find it concerning that Holly is allowed to play women’s soccer?” the online poll asked.
With results that swung from majority support for Conroy to an even split, the poll has since been removed.
“It was a good article,” says local queer, trans woman Sarah Adcock, “but I would say the poll was an oversight, an error of judgment.”
“Great article ruined by polling readers,” one of Conroy’s friends wrote on Facebook.
Conroy tells SBS she didn’t have a “huge problem” with the poll itself, but would have preferred the question not be asked.
“All the people on my team said the same thing,” Conroy says. “They were like, ‘I love the story, but I can’t believe they have a poll’.”
She compares it to the government’s proposal for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, which many LGBT+ activists objected to because it put their rights up for public debate.
When Conroy called the paper to raise concerns about the poll, editors agreed to reword it, but they said they wouldn’t remove it because it reflected a genuine debate in the community.
“They said it was a public forum and I’d put myself out there,” Conroy says.
Fairfax has told SBS they stand by the reporting of the story.
"The poll was never intended to cause anyone any offence. The Daily Advertiser has a proud history of reporting on gender issues fairly and sensitively," a spokesperson said.
SBS understands the decision to include the poll was motivated by an attempt to more accurately reflect divided public opinion in an article which only includes supportive perspectives.
A person with knowledge of the paper’s decision-making said readers don’t react well when they suspect a ‘PC agenda’ is being rammed down their throats.
They framed it as a challenge for local papers to handle minority issues sensitively, while also not turning off a mainstream regional audience by appearing to have an agenda.
While Sarah Adcock says the inclusion of the poll was a mistake, she stops short of condemning the paper.
“The editor of the paper is genuinely interested in free speech and allowing people to put their ideas forward,” she says.
In 2015 the paper published a letter to the editor which compared homosexual love to love for dogs and cats.
“Depravity rules,” Lawrence Gregan of Boorooma wrote. “We should protect them from their unnatural lusts and protect the legal system from possible future battles.”
While Adcock says she’s somewhat of a libertarian and supports people’s right to free speech, she did admit that those sort of letters affect her.
“Even resilient me with all my support networks and all my security goes round under a cloud for a week when I read something like that,” Adcock says.
Holly Conroy, who has achieved somewhat of a local celebrity status since an SBS profile last year, says she has found widespread support and acceptance in Wagga Wagga.
But that’s not the case for everybody, Adcock says.
“There are people out there that don’t have that great experience, who don’t find this welcoming straight world,” she says. “There are people that are getting the rough end of the stick and it affects them deeply.”