‘We deserve the dignity of being known’: Teddy Cook’s transgender speech to NSW parliament praised

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Parents of transgender children have praised a speech given by a health professional, Teddy Cook, in the New South Wales parliament in which he said transgender people were “not the threat you imagine us to be” and “deserve the dignity of being known”.

Over two days, Cook was the only transgender person to speak before a parliamentary inquiry, chaired by One Nation senator Mark Latham, examining his proposed bill to ban the promotion of “gender fluidity” in schools.

Parents and fellow heath professionals have welcomed Cook’s evidence before the committee, which also heard from two representatives of the Australian Christian Lobby, the conservative Christian organisation FamilyVoice Australia and the former anti-halal campaigner Kirralie Smith.

“It is often the case that people who are most affected often are given the least opportunities to speak,” Cook said. “And even if my voice shakes, that is OK because I am still here.

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“You do seem to see us as a threat, which is interesting. I do hope that you know some actual trans people in your life. I hope that I am not the first one you have met.

“The reality, though, is that we are not powerful enough to disrupt the culture of this country. Many of us, even though we are incredibly resilient, are just trying to get through the day, really. We are not the threat you imagine us to be.

“How do I know this? Well, because I see it. I see the rates of suicidality in my community, and the violence. I see the rejection and the turmoil. I hear the stories of people who have ended their own lives – young people, who would prefer not to be alive than to live in a world that tells them that there is something wrong with them, that we are disordered, that we are a problem, that we are a challenge to deal with, that we are something to legislate against.”

Cook, who is vice-president of the Australian Professional Association for Trans Health (AusPATH), told the inquiry on Tuesday that transgender youth were happier and performed better if their schools were supportive and used their correct names and pronouns.

He also said the existence of transgender youth was “not new”, and schools should be supportive.

“A trans kid expressing their gender is work for us,” he said. “It is not play. It is about being exactly who we are.

“The research globally, here and internationally, continues to show up the same results: that trans kids do better and they have a better quality of life when they are affirmed as who they are at school.

“We have always existed. We have always been in schools … I would prefer an education system that builds the ability of our children to live in the world as it is.”

Without that, he said, children who were discriminated against felt “unsafe” at school.

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“They are suffering from bladder and urinary tract infections because they refuse to go to the bathroom because they do not feel safe or comfortable. That is happening now. I have got to say, in many ways, I really wish the trans community was as big as members of this committee seem to think that we are.”

Cook told Guardian Australia on Friday that he had been inundated with messages from the parents of transgender children and fellow health professionals, thanking him for his comments.

“I have received hundreds of messages – from parents, from trans people, from cis people, from people who work with trans people.

“I got one message saying, ‘Thank you so much for a voice for our kids,’ and stories – particularly from parents – telling me what it meant for their young person to see an adult trans person speaking so strongly. I have had a lot of messages from clinicians as well, they have been really lovely.”

At the time, Nationals MP Wes Fang praised Cook for his “extremely powerful” speech, and Latham and other members of the committee also thanked Cook for his appearance.

A Facebook post from LGBTI Rights Australia sharing Cook’s speech also received hundreds of shares and supportive comments.

Cook told the committee while talking questions: “I will say first up: I hate talking about myself. It is so dull. It is so boring. My life story is much more interesting in many other ways aside from my gender because I am just a man … It is just so dull. Anyway.”

Liberal MP Matthew Mason-Cox responded: “You do it very well. You do it very well.”

“Thank you,” Cook replied. “I am forced to do it.”

Latham told him: “You are going great, Teddy.”

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Greens MP David Shoebridge thanked Cook for his comments, and Fang said he had a “very dear” close family member who was transgender.

“When you say ‘Do we know trans people’, I think we all do,” Fang said. “For me in particular there is one person who has played a very dear role – a close family member of mine. The person that I am talking about is somebody who is actually very special to me.”

Cook told the inquiry: “I am grateful for the opportunity to make an opening statement. I am also really grateful for the opportunity to speak as an adult who was once a trans child … We deserve the dignity of being known.

“The reality is that trans people have always existed. We have always been here. We have place and culture and ceremony in First Nations populations across the globe.

“For people to talk about us like we are a Western, modern construct is a lie. It is just not true. So AusPATH wants to say very clearly that we reject this bill in its entirety and thank you for the opportunity to speak.”