Australia Today

Anti-Trans Hate Is Rising In Australia Precisely Because of Reports Like Seven's 'Spotlight'

“Homophobes and transphobes have traditionally reached for children because it makes it easier to instigate a moral panic."
Arielle Richards
Melbourne, AU
Lisa Maree Williams / Stringer via Getty

Last Sunday, Australia’s Seven Network aired an episode of its investigative program, Spotlight, focussed on trans people who supposedly regret affirming their gender. Titled “Detransitioning”, the episode’s promo billed it as “the most controversial story this year”. 

In a promotional video released before the episode aired, Western Australian journalist Liam Bartlett can be heard ominously telling Australia’s free-to-air television audience: “Children are being told they should change from boy to girl, or girl to boy, from as young as 12 years old.”


Spotlight’s attempt to bait views on the wave of a fatuous moral panic, with one of Australia’s most marginalised groups at its centre, has real-world harm.

It’s not the first time trans people have had their identities flagellated on national television in Australia, but programs like these – broadcast to millions of misinformed viewers – are directly making their lives worse.

Transgender hate is on the rise in Australia. The nation hosted British anti-trans campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull this year, and in 2022 former PM Scott Morrison attempted to appoint a career transphobe, Katherine Deves, to pander the fear and hate vote. Trans women, and their involvement in women’s sport, is still dominating headlines, and Parliament House hosted a group of anti-trans campaigners as recently as Monday. Transgender and non-binary peoples’ right to exist has been mutated into a hot, polarising topic by disingenuous conservatives. 

The real impacts have been discussed online. Two days after Seven’s programme aired, a parent wrote on Reddit “thanks for nothing, Channel 7”, describing how a transphobic “pile on” towards their daughter during a TAFE class had made her feel too unsafe to return.

Just last week, the largest survey ever conducted in Australia on anti-trans harassment, abuse and violence, found that one in two trans Australians has experienced some form of hate in the last 12 months, and one in six had experienced violence. The report found that anti-trans hate, violence and discrimination has risen rapidly in Australia, with researchers identifying a spike around the time of anti-trans personality Kellie-Jay Keen’s Australian tour and her rally in Melbourne, which was attended by neo-Nazis, and also heavily reported on.


Hiero Badge, scholar and author of the report, said the effect of stigmatising reportage and misinformation was incredibly harmful, as mainstream media was often the only place many Australians get information about trans people.  

“The reality is that trans people are such a tiny minority in Australia that most people probably think they've never met a trans person before,” Badge told VICE.

“Chances are that they have, but they don't have a trusted source to go to, to ask questions or find information. And that means that they're getting the information about trans people, and particularly about trans healthcare, from these large news outlets that are effectively just platforming disinformation. 

“And not even misinformation – specifically disinformation. Because there is quite a deliberate bent to the negative portrayal of trans people in Australian media.”

Our outrage media is well aware with what ease they can invent controversy: leave out a few details, skew the truth, provide “experts” [doctors, not in the relevant field, but who cares, right?], add some dramatic music.

Spotlight pitched its exposé as something that “uncovers the irreparable damage being visited on a generation of confused kids wrongly diagnosed as transgender”. 

But studies around the world have shown rates of gender-affirmation surgery “regret” are incredibly low. A 2023 study released by the University of Michigan found a full satisfaction rate among 235 patients who underwent gender-affirming mastectomies in the past 30 years. 


In 2015, the US Transgender Survey asked 27,715 adults if they had ever, even temporarily, transitioned. Rates of detransition were higher in transgender women, at 11 per cent, than trangender men, at four per cent. The most commonly cited reason for transitioning was pressure from a parent, at 36 per cent. For 33 per cent, transitioning was too hard, 31 per cent said it was due to too much harassment or discrimination and 29 per cent said they’d had trouble getting a job.

“When people do ‘de-transition’, they're often doing so to protect themselves and their safety, not because they regret living authentically as themselves,” said Badge. 

“So this program is doing the damage it's purporting to fix. 

“It's discouraging people from being themselves, from living their authentic lives. And it's also encouraging and emboldening the people who don't want to see trans people in public life, who would rather erase them from existence.”

One “de-transitioner” who did feature on Spotlight was Chloe Cole, a US teenager and prominent anti-gender-affirming care campaigner. Cole said she began transitioning at the age of 12 and underwent a double mastectomy at the age of 15. After reverting to identifying as her birth gender when she was 17, Cole now actively opposes the gender-affirming healthcare model for children. 


But the think-of-the-children line is not new.

“It's exactly the line that was used against gay people in the 80s, and even the 90s in terms of ‘turning kids gay’,” Badge said. 

“The reason why homophobes and transphobes have traditionally reached for children is because it makes it easier to instigate a moral panic.

“With the innocence of children and their relative powerlessness, it makes it easier to create a villain out of what is actually a highly persecuted and pretty powerless minority. Trans people are just out there trying to live our lives.”

In Australia, children are unable to access puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones without their parents’ permission. Surgery is not permitted until a patient is 18 years-old. 

There are many forms of gender-affirming healthcare available to young people in Australia, and none are taken lightly. Transitioning is an extremely lengthy process punctuated by roadblocks, Badge told VICE, and often doesn’t actually involve medical intervention. Often, the process is a social transition: when someone changes their name, or the way they cut their hair or dress.

“It’s not terribly invasive,” said Badge. 

“And for a lot of people, that’s enough.”

Badge said transition is often conflated with surgical transition – top or bottom surgery – but that it’s fairly rare even among trans adults because of expense. 


The most common medical intervention that trans minors will receive is puberty blockers.

“This is where a lot of heckles get raised, because it's giving a drug to children,” Badge said. 

“But the reason that this is done is actually to give those children more time to figure things out before they make any kind of big decision. It's actually about empowering your kids to make sure they're making the right decision, rather than rushing into anything.”

Two Australians who were not in the program have since said their images were used in the promo without their permission. Grace Hyland, daughter of Home and Away star Mat Stevenson and prominent trans rights campaigner, said in a TikTok she had not participated in the program and questioned the Seven Network for using her images without permission.

“I transitioned at 13 and I don’t regret it at all,” Hyland said in the video. 

"Transitioning as a child is not how Channel 7 is making it out to be,” she later wrote on Instagram.

“My care by the Royal Children's Hospital was held with the utmost diligence and I am forever grateful.”

Seven did not respond to VICE’s request for comment, but the network published an apology to Hyland in the days following her TikTok.

“The image of a transgender woman was shown during a voiceover discussing children expressing regret over transitioning,” the network wrote in a statement.


"We acknowledge the photo might inadvertently imply that the individual in question regretted their transition. As soon as we were made aware the image was removed and the promo replaced. We sincerely apologise for any confusion this may have caused.”

Sydney musician Olivia Gavranich said online Spotlight also used a photo of her without her permission, starting an online petition – which now has more than 46,000 signatures – to have the segment pulled from online streaming services. 

“I was horrified to find one of my post-top surgery videos (expressing how much better my life is because of surgery) included without my consent,” they wrote in a post on

The Australian media organisations have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect vulnerable groups. MEAA’s journalism code of ethics, the Australian Press Council’s Standards, and Seven’s own editorial guidelines insist on accuracy, fairness, and disclosure of all relevant facts. 

But it’s all too easy to piggyback on a rising wave of hate, fuel bigotry, and capitalise on fear for clicks.

“The Australian media has had a huge role in normalising anti-trans vilification,” Badge said. 

“If we go back even five or six years, this simply wasn't an issue that anyone was talking about. Trans people have existed forever. And they've been using bathrooms forever. And trans kids have been growing up forever. But it's only in the last couple of years that this has become a thing that we have to talk about, largely because of large mainstream media outlets platforming career transphobes, and giving them platforms and social licence to speak on this.” 

“The media has a responsibility to not cause harm [but] that's exactly what it's been doing.”

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Read more from VICE Australia.