Leilani Tafao has expressed her disappointment at the decision to overturn an order that an apology be made for misgendering her during her time as a prisoner at the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre in 2015.
The highly technical legal judgement, delivered by the Queensland Court of Appeal, followed a decision last year where respondents to the matter, the Queensland Government, prison operator Serco Australia and Mark Walters, a director of Southern Queensland Correctional Centre, were ordered by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Appeals Tribunal to make a private apology to Ms Tafao.
Although the decision is a narrow focus on legislative interpretation, the substantive outcome is what is most disheartening to Ms Tafao.
“Being transgender is not a choice. I didn’t wake up one day and decide I wanted to be ridiculed by society for being male in my body and my head telling me I’m a woman,” she said.
“When I was in the correctional centre all I wanted was to be referred to simply as ‘her’ or by my name.”
“I took this action so that any other transgender person who goes into the system is treated fairly.”
Since Ms Tafao’s complaint was made in 2016 corrective services policy has been amended so that now any transgender prisoners are to be referred to in a manner consistent with the gender they identify as, with limited exceptions. Whilst this may serve to promote the rights of other transgendered prisoners, Ms Tafao’s experience was very personal.
“I wanted a simple apology and for them to realize how they treated me was not right, not ok. It is disappointing to have this decision made when transgender people face discrimination so frequently.”
Caxton Legal Centre lawyer Klaire Coles said the outcome was a missed opportunity for law reform in Queensland.
“While the ability for parties to appeal court decisions is a necessary part of the application of the rule of law, the fact that this appeal was brought raises concern about the rights and treatment of transgendered people,” she said.
“Given the good work that the State Government have undertaken in improving their policies and procedures for transgender people in custody since Ms Tafao’s experience, I am concerned about the message that this appeal sends to the community.”
Caxton Legal Centre can provide legal advice and social work assistance to people with human rights and discrimination complaints. The Centre can be contacted on (07) 3214 6333.