Last week, we had some rare good news: the Commonwealth Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill stalled in the Senate, and now seems unlikely to pass before the upcoming federal election.
That Bill would have legally protected religiously-motivated anti-LGBT speech in all areas of public life, and potentially overridden state and territory protections for LGBT teachers and other workers in religious schools in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT (among many other problems – for more detail, see: Why the Religious Discrimination Bill must be rejected (In 1,000 words or less)).
The fact it has been stopped (at least for now), is obviously a welcome relief.
Unfortunately, that relief is short-lived, especially for LGBTIQ people in NSW, because the NSW Government’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 – otherwise known as his anti-trans kids Bill – is expected at any point in the next three weeks, and must be delivered by March 7 (the Monday after Mardi Gras).
This legislation is actually worse than the Religious Discrimination Bill, in particular because it so specifically targets the most vulnerable members of our community. For those who aren’t familiar with it, allow me to explain its main features.
What’s in Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill?
The primary purpose of Latham’s legislation is to erase trans and gender diverse children from classrooms and schoolyards across NSW. It does this by inserting the following definition into the Education Act 1990 (NSW):
gender fluidity means a belief there is a difference between biological sex (including people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation) and human gender and that human gender is socially constructed rather [than] being equivalent to a person’s biological sex.
It then prohibits not just ‘the teaching of gender fluidity’ (proposed section 17A), but also any ‘instruction, counselling and advice provided by’ teachers, support staff, counsellors, principals, contractors, consultants and even volunteers at any school in the state, public or private (proposed section 17C).
The punishment for teachers who breach this prohibition is immediate de-registration (ie being fired).
In effect, the Bill would impose an official silence on anything to do with transgender people – even the fact that they exist. This includes everything from exclusion from the health and physical education syllabus, through to banning school counsellors from discussing gender identity with struggling students who are at risk of self-harm or suicide.
Trans and gender diverse kids would be made to feel invisible, with nowhere to turn to for help.
The Bill then *also* includes provisions to harm LGBTQ kids more generally. It does this by inserting a definition of matters of parental primacy:
in relation to the education of children, moral and ethical standards, political and social values, and matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality.
Before introducing a range of provisions to limit the teaching of anything to do with these issues. Chief among them is proposed section 17B:
Teaching to be non-ideological
In government schools, the education is to consist of strictly non-ideological instructions in matters of parental primacy. The words non-ideological instruction are to be taken to include general teaching about matters of parental primacy as distinct from advocating or promoting dogmatic or polemical ideology.
The impact of this provision is incredibly far-reaching. After all, if some parents believe homosexuality is sinful, then presumably it would be ideological for a school to teach that simply being lesbian, gay or bisexual is okay. As with the ban on the teaching of gender fluidity, this ban also applies in relation to school counsellors (who could not reassure a child struggling with their sexual orientation that who they are is normal).
The use of the phrase ‘advocating or promoting’ reveals this is simply Margaret Thatcher’s infamous section 28 – which harmed a generation of LGBT kids in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s – recycled on the other side of the world for the 2020s.
The outcome would be the same here – teachers and other workers too afraid to mention anything to do with sexual orientation or gender identity at the risk of de-registration, inflicting silence on LGBTQ kids where there should be support.
Finally, Latham’s Bill attacks the ‘I’ part of the LGBTIQ community by including an offensive and stigmatising reference to intersex in NSW law (as part of the definition of gender fluidity – ‘people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation). The use of disorders here is exactly the type of harmful language which encourages the imposition of coercive surgeries and other unnecessary medical treatments on children born with variations of sex characteristics.
For more detail on the Bill, see I Stand With Trans Kids, and Against Mark Latham.
But it’s from Mark Latham. Why can’t we just ignore it?
For those (blissfully) unaware of Mark Latham’s current political status, the failed former federal leader of the Australian Labor Party is now the NSW leader of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. In a normal political environment, fringe extremist legislation from a fringe extremist party could sometimes be ignored.
Sadly, the NSW Legislative Council removed this option when, in its infinite (lack of) wisdom, it decided to refer the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 to the Education Portfolio Committee for inquiry – the same Committee chaired by… Mark Latham.
Given this, the inquiry process into Latham’s unbalanced and transphobic Bill was, well, unbalanced and transphobic.
In the two days of hearings last April, 42 witnesses were invited to give evidence. Only one (Teddy Cook, from ACON) was trans or gender diverse. None were trans or gender diverse students, the people whose right to a safe learning environment would be stripped away by passage of this law.
There were multiple instances of disrespectful treatment towards submitters who opposed the Bill (from Latham himself), while he encouraged other witnesses to give evidence about subject matter which was not included in the legislation (such as witnesses who focused on the exclusion of trans girls from bathrooms, and sporting activities).
Unsurprisingly, the entire committee process became a platform for some of the worst examples of transphobia we have seen in any Australian parliament in recent history, perhaps best summed up by this statement from Mark Sneddon of the Institute of Civil Society:
‘What we are trying to do – or what I understand the bill is trying to do – is to reduce the social contagion influence putting more people onto the conveyor belt of gender transition.’
Which, at the very least, is being honest: through this Bill, Latham is attempting to stop trans and nonbinary kids from being trans and nonbinary. Presumably because he thinks being those things is a negative in and of itself.
While the rest of us understand that:
- Trans and nonbinary people are part of the natural spectrum of human gender identity
- Trans and nonbinary kids are awesome, and
- There are really two conveyor belts – one which lets trans and nonbinary kids be themselves and delivers them to health and happiness, and one which tells trans and nonbinary kids that they are wrong and should not exist, and causes them serious harm.
For more on the Inquiry process, see: Surprise!* Mark Latham’s Inquiry is just as unbalanced and transphobic as his Bill.
What did the Inquiry recommend?
Completely unsurprisingly, given the Committee’s lack of impartiality, the Final Report released in September 2021 endorsed core parts of Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill.
This includes Recommendation 2, which supported the section 28-style approach to denying information to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students:
That, in recognition of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the NSW Government supports all parental primacy provisions and protections in the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights Bill) 2020 including:
- the statutory recognition of parental primacy in definition, object and principle within the Education Act 1990 and related statutes;
- the requirement for teaching to be non-ideological;
- the enhanced consultation requirements with parents; and
- the right for parents to withdraw their children from teaching that is inconsistent with their core values and convictions.
And while there was a brief glimmer of hope when I first read Recommendation 7 (‘That the Legislative Council amend the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 to remove the proposed legislative provisions concerning gender fluidity’), this was immediately undone by Recommendation 8, which starts:
‘That the NSW Government update Bulletin 55: Transgender Students in Schools based on the following principles:
- The Safe Schools program and Gayby Baby movie are prohibited in NSW Government schools. Gender fluidity is not part of the NSW school curriculum and therefore, should not be taught or promoted, either in classrooms, teacher professional development, by external consultants, special school activities or through the distribution of material to teachers or students. This prohibition also applies to the teaching of gender as a ‘social construct’.’
In practice, the Committee still endorsed the erasure of trans and gender diverse kids from classrooms and schoolyards, they simply thought it could best be achieved via Bulletin, not Bill.
But there are other parts of Recommendation 8 which are *far* worse, and would not be out of place in regressive and repressive, redneck Republican USA. This includes (but is definitely not limited to):
- A ban on trans students using the bathroom that reflects their gender identity (Recommendation 8.9: ‘Other than in circumstances of a full medical gender transition,[i] students born biologically male shall not be allowed in female toilets, change rooms, dormitories and excursion accommodation; and vice versa for students born biologically female. Third options shall be made available for these students, such as administrative block toilets and change rooms’)
- Outing trans students to non-supportive parents, even where this puts the student in danger (Recommendation 8.4: ‘No school or school staff can withhold information from parents about the gender or gender transition of a student at the school, other than by court order or acting with the advice of a government child protection agency’ and Recommendation 8.5: ‘No student has the right or capacity to stop the school telling their parents information about their gender, where the school is obliged to do so’)
- Stopping trans students from seeking confidential help from school counsellors (Recommendation 8.11: ‘For students aged under 18 years, school counsellors should not involve themselves in questions of gender fluidity and transition without prior reference to parents and any medical professionals advising the student and parents on this matter. Parents have the right to know if gender fluidity and transition are being discussed at a school. School counsellors must liaise with parents and relevant medical professionals as much as possible’), and
- Outing trans students to all of the parents of students in their year group (Recommendation 8.12: ‘If a student has changed their gender, their parents shall be consulted about the best way of communicating this to the school community. Parents of other children in the same year group should be notified of the change, allowing them to talk to their children in advance’).
The full Committee report, and other harmful parts of Recommendation 8, can be read here.
In short, the adoption of Recommendation 8 in full would cause significant harm for thousands of trans and nonbinary children and young people in NSW.
Which makes it disturbing to realise that not only was this recommendation (and all of the others, including implementing section 28) made by Committee Chair Mark Latham, they were endorsed by all three Coalition members of the Committee, as well as one of the two Labor Opposition members.
Only Labor MLC Anthony D’Adam and Greens MLC David Shoebridge stood up for trans and gender diverse kids against this harmful and hateful Bill.
So, what happens next?
What happens next comes down to the NSW Government, and in particular to new(ish) Premier Dominic Perrottet.
As I indicated in the introduction, they must respond to the Final Report of Mark Latham’s Committee’s Inquiry into Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill by 7 March 2022 at the latest.
The simplest approach would be for Perrottet to reject both the Committee Report, and the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, outright, and to instead stand up for the rights of all students – including all lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and nonbinary, intersex and queer students – to a safe learning environment.
But that outcome is by no means guaranteed. There are obviously some members within the Government who support Latham’s agenda attacking trans and gender diverse kids (starting with the three MLCs on his Committee).
Indeed, the Liberal Party Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Kevin Conolly, expressed his personal support for the Latham anti-trans kids Bill in his response to my letter to NSW MPs this time last year, asking them to reject the Bill (my original letter is here: NSW MPs can be champions for trans and gender diverse kids. Or bullies while I published Conolly’s response here: NSW Liberal Parliamentary Secretary for Education Supports Bill to Erase Trans Kids).
It is therefore entirely possible that Premier Perrottet, and the NSW Government, endorse some parts, or even all, of Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 before Monday March 7.
We could also see them introduce their own legislation on this subject, similar to and possibly inspired by the Latham Bill, in the following weeks or months.
If that happens, then it will take a collective effort just as strong, and just as broad-based, as the campaign against the Religious Discrimination Bill to ensure it is defeated.
We will need to fight like lives depend on it. Because they will. The lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our community: trans and nonbinary kids.
For LGBTIQ+ people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/ (between 3pm and midnight, every day)
Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
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[i] Noting that, for the vast majority of trans and gender diverse young people, they do not access what is referred to here as ‘full medical gender transition’ until they are 18.