Hannah Maher is a proud transgender woman running as a NSW Senate candidate for the Reason Party in the federal election. She tells Brandon Bear how her candidacy was inspired by her trans journey and growing up in rural NSW.
With early polling now open in the federal election, and the election date itself just days away, every Australian is being encouraged to make a choice that will impact our lives for years to come.
Among those running in this election is Hannah Maher, a proud transgender woman running under the Reason Australia ticket for a spot as one of the 12 senators from NSW.
If elected, Maher would be Australia’s first transgender parliamentarian and would use the opportunity to raise and debate issues of concern to sexuality and gender diverse Australians.
“It is an enormous privilege to be one of only a handful of trans or gender diverse candidates running across the country,” Maher tells the The Sentinel.
“There are maybe six of us running and to be one of that small number is incredibly special. To speak on behalf of community and advocate for community is a huge responsibility but it’s a privilege I take very seriously.”
Maher also brings the voice of regional Australia to her campaign. Hailing from a town of around 300 people in Central West NSW, she knows the issues that concern people living outside of the city.
“I grew up across NSW,” Maher explains.
“I was born in the Trundle-Parkes area, and went to school in Leeton and university in Wagga before I moved to Sydney with my girlfriend,” she says.
“Living in the country there are some really good attitudes that come along with that. A country attitude to hard work, not taking nonsense and a country attitude of just being honest with people and being straight with them.
“Well, maybe not straight,” she jokes.
“A big thing I am passionate about is getting more rural and regional voices behind climate action. A lot of rural seats are written off as not caring about climate action and they get taken for granted. I want to elevate the voices of country people who want action on climate change,” Maher says.
“That includes farmers, but it also includes everyone who makes up a regional community. Farmers need to send kids to school with teachers, order a beer from business owners and get their healthcare from doctors and nurses.
“The bush is broad and diverse, and people are being taken as backwards and regressive. That’s not what country people are at all. They are sensible and pragmatic.”
For members of the LGBTQI community, the lead-up to this election has been especially galling.
Furore has grown over comments made by Warringah candidate Katherine Deves, who has continued to spread harmful comments on transgender people, both in relation to her ‘Save Women’s Sport’ Bill and more generally.
“It is not reasonable. It is not evidence-based. It is not compassionate. And it is certainly not being done in the spirit of women’s equity,” Maher says.
“It’s a repetition of the same old cycle that we see every election year where extreme conservatives choose a minority group as a wedge, in order to start a culture war amongst the voters.
“It has been incredibly harmful.”
The influence of the campaign affects the community differently. “I weather it alright – maybe it’s the country attitude – but I’ve seen the effect it has had on others in the community, especially trans women, who feel especially conspicuous right now.
“I have seen people I love, people I have seen while they grow, go back into their shells because it feels like everyone is watching and judging us.
There is some positive influence in this space globally, and Maher is thrilled to see change.
“We have seen our first few openly trans and gender diverse politicians. Georgina Beyer in New Zealand and now Senator McBride in the US,” she says.
“These people are blazing trails and making change. Some of the changes that have been made might seem small but are incredibly important. We need more trans people in these roles. “
Should Maher, or her Senate ticket colleagues from the Reason Party, Jane Caro and Diana Ryall, pick up one of the contested seats and bear the mantle of representing NSW as a Senator, their intentions are clear: “Improving legislation to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer people from discrimination,” Maher says.
“I believe no organisation should receive public funding unless they implement and demonstrate non-discriminatory principles and practices.
“I want to see an end to current exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow religious schools and health services to treat LGBTQIA+ students, employees, clients and patients differently, without recourse.”
Also on the agenda for discussion and debate is climate change, with Maher stating “climate change remains the single greatest issue facing humanity, yet our government has failed to act accordingly. A progressive Senate crossbench will be vital to keep the next government ambitious and accountable.”
With less than two weeks of campaigning left, and an extraordinary number of Australians already pre-polling, Maher has a message for queer communities in this challenging cycle.
“This will be a difficult election for the LGBTQIA+ community, especially our trans and gender diverse siblings. I urge our community to look out for one another. Spread messages of love and support wherever you can. And, importantly, vote for a party that will support you and the people you love.”
“It’s a big year for small parties and independents,” she adds. “I cannot emphasise enough that voters need to bring a level of scrutiny and care to the Senate. If we do not have a progressive Senate, a forward-thinking progressive Lower House cannot achieve anything.
“This is one of the most important elections we are going to have for a long time.”
Brandon Bear is the queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.