The Evolution of a Gender Agenda: The Psychology of How Canberra's Sex and Gender Diverse Individuals Are Growing a Community Organisation

Article excerpt

Abstract

Growing a successful community organisation from a group of individuals who share their diversity as a common link is no mean feat. Canberra-based community organisation A Gender Agenda has been working toward this goal for more than a decade, but the last few years have seen a marked growth in the organisation's membership and more particularly in the breadth of its achievements. A discussion of the framework which has facilitated this growth, followed by an examination of the five key strands which comprise AGA's core strength, provides insight into how this work has been achieved and how AGA has moved along the continuum of achievement toward success.

Introduction

This article provides an overview of the community organisation A Gender Agenda (AGA),1 a Canberra-based organisation providing information, community education, counselling,2 support and advocacy services in relation to issues affecting transgender and intersex communities, referred to in this article as Canberra's sex and gender diverse (SGD) community. AGA is committed to achieving legal and social recognition and protection of human rights for all people regardless of their legal or biological sex, or their gender identity or expression.

On 21 January 2011, AGA launched its 2011 Social Inclusion Project funded by the ACT Health Promotion Fund. Across the ACT, brightly coloured posters invite trans and intersex people, along with partners and families, to participate in a year full of 44 activities which include: discussion groups; skill share sessions; leisure activities; art therapy; and an Exploring Gender intensive course. At the launch, held at a local swimming centre booked exclusively for AGA's use, two trans women, aged 43 and 69 years, who were independently attending their first SGD event ever, were overheard to say

Who would have thought that it was this easy, if Fd known it was like this Fd have had more courage to take some steps years ago.

Another person confided that due to their intersex condition, it was the first time that they had swum in a public pool since the onset of puberty. One week after the Project launch, AGA opened its first premises comprising office, meeting room, kitchen facilities, counselling room and a backyard just waiting for a fire pit. Where did this organisation come from and how has it harnessed such energy, drive and commitment to achieve so much in a relatively short time frame?

While much of the progress outlined above has been achieved within the last three years, it is the result of a carefully thought out strategy developed over the preceding decade. The psychology behind this strategy was developed in direct response to the obstacles experienced by many marginalised groups in trying to develop a significant community presence.

This paper examines the underlying framework and assumption adopted by AGA, it identifies the population AGA comprises and represents, and also provides an account of AGA's core strength, an interweaving of five key strands: broad based community support; inclusive management structure; effective communication strategies with the SGD community and the broader community; crafting opportunities for social interaction; and political activity focussed on direct lobbying and individual discrimination complaints. Together, these strands provide a strategy which is able to focus on supporting and enriching members of the SGD community and also the relationship between SGD members and the wider community of Canberra.

Framework for Understanding Gender in a Way that Allows for all Presentations

In the process of giving a voice to the SGD community's needs in both legislative and human rights arenas, AGA is working hard to develop a framework that will allow all possibilities of sex and gender identities and presentations to be considered. A workable framework eschews the binary notion of male and female based on anatomy. …