The night before Julia* was set to tell her grade four classmates she is transgender, her mum received some terrifying news: a story about her daughter's transition was running in the next day's paper.
A few days earlier, a letter had gone out to the parents of Julia's class, at a school in Melbourne, saying the Safe Schools Coalition would run a workshop to explain Julia being transgender.
Most parents were supportive, Julia's mum, Melanie*, told BuzzFeed News – but somehow, The Australian newspaper was alerted to the workshop.
Other parents of transgender children told her not to read the story, but she did. With the headline "Year 4 pupil ‘gender transitions’ at Melbourne school", Julia's transition had been thrust into the national spotlight.
Melanie, a single mum of three who described herself as "new to this Safe Schools thing", was devastated.
"I was really, really worried and scared for what would happen the next day," she told BuzzFeed News.
"I was freaking out, thinking 'God, there’s going to be reporters at the school. Are they going to photograph her?'"
Australia has seen an increase in scrutiny of transgender children since attacks by conservative media and politicians began on the LGBTI anti-bullying program, Safe Schools, in February this year.
However, the criticism has not solely focused on the program. Individual transgender children have been thrust into the spotlight by a series of stories focussing on the private lives of kids.
National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell told BuzzFeed News putting an unwanted spotlight on children's transitions at school or home is potentially in breach of their human rights.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory, outlines several rights relevant to transgender children, including access to healthcare, privacy, and not being discriminated against.
"Uninvited media attention on a child’s gender transition potentially infringes that child’s right not to be subject to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy and family," Mitchell told BuzzFeed News.
"At the same time, a child has a right to express themselves freely and not be discriminated against on the grounds of their gender identity."
Under the new rules around Safe Schools, introduced earlier this year following a government review of the program, individual parent permission and the permission of the school parenting body must be obtained before the program is introduced.
This is complicated by situations such as Julia's, where the wider school is not being taught Safe Schools materials, but a single student does need support.
In Victoria, the guidelines do not apply, as the state Safe Schools is separate to the national organisation. However, Melanie said she was advised to send out the workshop letter anyway.
"I was happy for it to go home so that the grade four kids would understand, because I know Julia was very, very worried," she said.
"From a parent’s perspective, I personally think it was a good thing to know what was going on."
However, Melanie never expected someone to go to the media. When she found out about the story, she felt like Julia's privacy had been put at risk.
"I’m not ashamed of Julia, I don’t care who knows. I just worry that it’s going to come back on her," she said.
Other children have had their individual transitions uncovered and reported on. A four-year-old diagnosed with gender dysphoria was the subject of a Daily Telegraph story.
Some groups have since jumped on the child's case to argue against same-sex marriage, incorrectly claiming that the four-year-old and other children of a similar age are undergoing permanent physical alterations.
In August, a 15-year-old transgender boy had his double mastectomy splashed across the media. A story in The Australian implied the procedure, which had been approved by the Family Court and supported by the child's doctors and family, was illegitimate, and repeatedly referred to the boy as a girl.
Mitchell is also concerned that the court process transgender teenagers must go through before they can access cross-sex hormones might infringe their rights.
"As the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia has observed, the ‘best interests’ test used by the court to determine whether to authorise a particular procedure is ‘arguably … at odds with a child’s right to privacy, autonomy, self-determination and freedom of expression'," she said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
In a 2015 report, the Australian Human Rights Commission recommended alternative options to the current process be explored.
Melanie said reading through comment after comment on the story in The Australian alleging child abuse and worse against herself and Roz Ward, from Safe Schools Coalition Victoria, left her very upset and worried for her daughter.
"It opens her up to be bullied, have people talk about her like she’s a piece of shit," she said.
"I didn’t make this choice for her. She made it herself. And we have lost family and friends over it. But do I regret letting her have that choice? No. A couple of years down the track, she’d kill herself. She was so unhappy."
Now, her mum said, Julia is "not the same kid". She's gone from being an anxious outcast who couldn't sleep at night, to a confident and popular child who wants to start dancing lessons again.
"I walked her through school two days after she transitioned. She was like a freaking star. Everyone was like 'Hi Julia! Hi Julia! Want to play, Julia?'," Melanie said.
"It wasn’t like that before."
*Melanie and Julia's names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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