• Australian of the Year nominee Cate McGregor. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Are we relying too heavily on people like Cate McGregor to communicate transgender issues?
Conrad Liveris

28 Jan 2016 - 10:25 AM  UPDATED 28 Jan 2016 - 10:25 AM

I was proud on Monday evening. Watching the Australian of the Year finalists on the stage crystallised the progress LGBT people had made in society.

Finalists are always exceptional people, and having been a West Australian judge of the Australian of the Year Awards I know there is great competition to get to the podium in Canberra. I was proud that Australia could elevate a transgender person to this acknowledgement.

It was just 18 months ago when the newly minted human rights commissioner, Tim Wilson, urged Australia to have “the transgender talk”. We are. There is no doubt about it. The conversation, however, remains embryonic.

Catherine McGregor, now in the process of leaving the defence force, is the go-to transgender person. Cate is the person we rely on to communicate transgender issues, who commands authority and performs in the spotlight to a degree that makes this issue, which few truly understand, comprehensible.

McGregor apologises for saying Morrison was a 'weak' choice
After saying former Chief of Army David Morrison was a 'weak and conventional choice' for Australian of the Year, fellow finalist Catherine McGregor has apologised through a series of tweets.

And that is the issue, we rely on her and her alone. Relying on one person to communicate an issue does us no favours, on any issue.

This is part of the issue that was uncovered yesterday. After an interview with the Star Observer, there was a crisis of sorts with McGregor and her old boss - newly minted Australian of the Year David Morrison. McGregor suggested that the Australia Day Council had missed an opportunity to appoint an LGBT person.

She is right, that is undeniable. But that is not a stain for the Council to wear but for Australia, and our community, to consider. David Morrison, as Australian of the Year, is an inspired choice and a champion for inclusion.

It isn’t that transgender, or same sex-attracted people don’t exist, but that they are hidden from contemporary society.

When I came out I was reminded constantly by family and friends that it was the first time they had dinner, breakfast, shopped or a bevy of other menial tasks with a gay man. LGBT people are rarely seriously considered.

Just look around our workplaces, in the papers, across public life and society. It is strikingly evident that unless you fall within a white-heterosexual demeanour you can be ignored so quickly. Make no mistake, this is not because people don’t want. Every week I hear from LGBT people who are keen to take a stand, to contribute, to have their voices heard.

Comment: Trans visibility will make us a more connected country
Having a trans woman in the running for 'Australian of the Year' is vitally important for Australia's transgender and gender diverse community, writes Sally Goldner.

Rather than relying on McGregor to progress trans issues herself, along with a seriously impressive group of grassroots and community organisations, we need to see more trans people in public life. Australia is yet to have a trans politician, a trans executive in corporate world, a trans athlete of notoriety or even a trans person reporting the news. These people exist. The lack of trans people in prominent roles does little for our society. Inclusive policies and practices themselves remain infantile

The onus here does not lie on the shoulders of trans people themselves, but on us as a community. LGBT people are more than a couple of stereotypes - shirtless hunks through Surry Hills or lesbians wearing basketball caps - but an eclectic and exuberant community. Not reliant on one or two people to tell our stories, but relishing multiplicity.

So we can continue to look to people like McGregor and Caitlyn Jenner to tell the LGBT story, or we can seek a deeper experience and share them ourselves. I know which one is more effective because it shouldn’t be infrequent for me to be proud of being both gay and Australian.

 Conrad Liveris is an advocate, adviser and researcher on the politics and economics of diversity.