Trans and Friends Festival Illawarra 2023

UOW hosts the second Trans and Friends Festival Illawarra

UOW hosts the second Trans and Friends Festival Illawarra

Illawarra trans and gender-diverse community and UOW allies gather for a day of celebration, education and entertainment

The Trans and Friends Festival Illawarra, affectionately known as TAFFI, returned to the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) grounds on Sunday 12 November. This colourful, one-day, all-ages festival offered a unique blend of informative talks, engaging stalls and vibrant performances – and a welcoming space for all attendees.

Last year’s success prompted the organisers to go even deeper into the issues affecting the trans and gender-diverse communities. TAFFI provided a diverse range of sessions, including topics on accessing healthcare, hormonal treatments, speech pathology, dating and relationships. The festival hosted over 60 market stalls, showcasing local services, arts and crafts, and gender-affirming products like binders. Attendees could enjoy many live performances by local artists and talented performers, as well as dedicated spaces for young people and their parents.  

The event was organised by the Illawarra Shoalhaven Gender Alliance (ISGA), an alliance of community members, organisations and health professionals with a commitment to support the health and wellbeing of the local trans and gender-diverse community.

ISGA President Dr Alison Rutherford, a local physician dedicated to caring for trans and gender-diverse adults, highlighted the importance of accessible, evidence-based healthcare for all.

“Young trans and gender diverse people and adults need much more access to multidisciplinary care, provided by well-educated, confident health practitioners. One of the roles of ISGA is to provide networking and support to facilitate that care,” Dr Rutherford said. 

Claire Murphy, the festival convenor, emphasised the significance of TAFFI, saying that it is a day of celebration, education and entertainment, all in a safe and supportive space.

“When you are trans or gender diverse, you’re not welcomed in many places. So here, we’ve created an event that allows everyone to feel invited and celebrated. On this special day, we can rest from the battles against transphobia, relax with friends, network and enjoy.”

TAFFI marked the beginning of Trans Awareness Week, running from 13 to 19 November. Trans Awareness Week focuses on trans joy and meaningful trans allyship, with TAFFI exemplifying these principles as a festival created and operated by trans individuals and their allies.

One of the festival’s main friends is UOW’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Patricia M. Davidson, who opened the event on Sunday. Professor Davidson said that she was delighted to welcome the event to UOW.

“At the University of Wollongong, we are committed to creating a community where staff and students from all different backgrounds, identities and perspectives feel safe, respected and supported.

“We take immense pride in our trans and gender-diverse community and the partnership we have with ISGA in providing essential health information and support. As a nurse myself, this commitment is particularly dear to my heart, knowing the importance of comprehensive healthcare for all.”

The significance of TAFFI is highlighted by the recent “Fuelling Hate” 2023 report from the Trans Justice Project, which found that over 95 per cent of Australian trans people had encountered online anti-trans hate in the last 12 months, with a majority on mainstream media platforms. As many as 50 per cent of them reported experiencing direct online anti-trans abuse.

Josie Balsom, Chair of the UOW Ally Network, reflected on these findings, noting the importance of understanding gender diversity and related issues.

“Events like TAFFI are crucial as part of wider community support. The more informed we are, the better we can understand and accept that which might look different.”

This year, TAFFI has placed a special focus on supporting the younger trans and gender-diverse members of the community. Krystle and Eli, a local mother and son, shared their experience of the challenges in accessing gender-affirming care. Eli, who attends a local high school, also enjoyed TAFFI last year. On Sunday, they emphasised the importance of the event as a safe space for young people to learn and connect with people who share similar experiences.