Sydney: World Pride and Legal Prejudice

Well, it’s official. When Sydney World Pride kicks off in less than a fortnight, it will be held in the jurisdiction with the worst LGBTIQ laws in Australia.

This incontrovertible fact is not surprising to anybody who has been paying attention. But it is still shocking to observe all of the different forms of legal prejudice which still exist in NSW. And, as always, the most vulnerable members of our community are the ones left paying the price.

This includes all those let down by the worst anti-discrimination legislation in the country.

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is already the only anti-discrimination law which fails to protect bisexuals against discrimination.

With legislation currently before Queensland Parliament, and a recent promise by the Western Australian Government to implement WA Law Reform Commission recommendations there, NSW will also soon be the only place which fails to protect non-binary people.

And the only place with no explicit intersex protections either.

The Anti-Discrimination Act’s exceptions which allow ‘private educational authorities’ to lawfully discriminate against LGBTQ students and teachers remain the broadest in Australia too.

Once again, the WA Government’s promised response to their Law Reform Commission, and the current Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, mean it is highly likely, by the end of this year, NSW will retain the only anti-discrimination law which fails to protect LGBTQ young people.

When it comes to the LGBTIQ community, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act permits more discrimination than it prohibits.

Trans and gender diverse people in NSW are also subjected to out-dated and overly restrictive birth certificate laws.

It is currently one of only two states that still require transgender people to have genital surgery in order to access identity documents which reflect their gender identity – but the other, Queensland, has a Bill before Parliament to remove this unnecessary barrier.

A third jurisdiction, Western Australia, also requires physical treatment of some kind (such as hormone therapy) although the WA Government recently committed to reform their laws.

Unfortunately, the NSW Government has made no such promise here, effectively abandoning trans people who either cannot afford (because of the prohibitive costs involved) or do not wish to undergo surgery, as well as people with non-binary gender identities.

NSW’s laws fail the LGBTIQ community in two other areas which are no less important.

First, there is no ban on sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices in NSW.

Victoria and the ACT have already banned these dangerous and harmful psychological practices, while Queensland has partially banned it (in health settings only). Other jurisdictions, including Tasmania and Western Australia, have promised to outlaw it. But ‘ex-gay’ and ‘ex-trans’ torture remains legally permitted in NSW today.

Second, there is no prohibition on non-consenting surgeries and other unnecessary and deferrable medical interventions on children born with variations of sex characteristics in NSW either.

These are horrific and ongoing human rights abuses, denying the fundamental right to bodily integrity of intersex infants. Just as horrific is the fact no Australian jurisdiction has, to date, ended these practices.

Thankfully the ACT Government will shortly become the first, with legislation expected to be introduced in the first half of 2023.

Once again, however, there have been no promises, and no signs of movement, on this issue from the NSW Government.

The current appalling situation in these four areas (LGBTIQ anti-discrimination laws, trans and gender diverse birth certificates, sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, and non-consenting surgeries and other medical interventions on children born with variations of sex characteristics) constitutes nothing less than a crisis in LGBTIQ rights in NSW.

To some extent, it is a crisis that has emerged, and worsened, only gradually over time, thanks to the inaction of successive Governments of both persuasions (especially in relation to the broken Anti-Discrimination Act).

However, with the O’Farrell/Baird/Berejiklian/Perrottet Liberal-National Government about to celebrate 12 years in office, they must clearly shoulder a significant share of the blame.

Indeed, the last LGBTIQ-specific law reform which the Coalition implemented was way back in 2018.[i] That means they passed exactly zero LGBTIQ-related laws during the entire parliamentary term which has just ended.

By way of contrast, the Victorian Government reformed their Equal Opportunity Act (to better protect trans, non-binary and intersex people, and protect LGBTQ students and teachers), updated trans birth certificate laws, and banned conversion practices, all in the same period (2019-22).

To be fair, during the past term the Berejiklian/Perrottet Government did initiate a Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes (although they rejected community calls for this to be constituted as a Royal Commission, and it obviously remains to be seen what the practical outcomes of the Inquiry will be, if any).

The NSW Government also ultimately rejected Mark Latham’s legislative attack on trans kids. Although that was only after a parliamentary inquiry in which all three Coalition Committee members supported his Bill, and an 18-month public debate during which trans kids and their families felt abandoned. Plus, as I wrote at the time, not going backwards (by rejecting Latham’s Bill) is not the same thing as going forwards (like pro-actively addressing all of the ways in which NSW law still discriminates against trans and gender diverse people).

Perhaps the only unequivocally positive achievement during the term was the development and launch of the NSW LGBTIQ+ Health Strategy 2022-27, which contains a number of important initiatives.

However, no amount of health programs can remove the legal prejudice which confronts LGBTIQ people in NSW – only Government, and Parliament, can do that.

On that note, I find it incredibly curious, and probably revealing that, despite knowing World Pride was headed to Sydney since October 2019, the NSW Government took exactly zero steps to fix any of the four major deficiencies in LGBTIQ rights in this state. They were apparently content for the spotlight to fall on NSW and proudly show their failures to the world.

With the state election on March 25 (less than a month after World Pride finishes), perhaps they thought we would be satisfied with the ‘bread and circuses’ of the coming weeks. Or, to adapt another Roman saying, maybe they believed we would be happy to just dance while our human rights burn.

Well, they might soon discover they were badly mistaken.

Again, to be fair, this is not to let the NSW Labor Opposition off the hook either.

They were also missing in action in terms of defending our community from Mark Latham’s legislative attack on trans kids, with neither of their Leaders (Jodi McKay and Chris Minns) prepared to publicly condemn it, and one of the two ALP members of the parliamentary Committee actively supporting it.

After 12 years in Opposition, and less than seven weeks out from the election, they also don’t have a comprehensive LGBTIQ policy agenda. Indeed, based on Chris Minns’ ‘Fresh Start Plan’, and the issues listed on his website (https://www.chrisminns.com.au/issues), they don’t appear to have any specific LGBTIQ election policies at all.

Having said that, they do commit to referring the Anti-Discrimination Act to the Law Reform Commission for ‘holistic review’, although the policy (here: https://www.chrisminns.com.au/reviewantidiscriminationact) doesn’t make any detailed commitments in relation to LGBTIQ inclusion, such as protecting LGBTQ students or teachers, or covering bisexual, non-binary or intersex people (while specifically noting ‘the need to address discrimination on the basis of religion.’)

The Policy Committee Report to last year’s ALP State Conference also suggests ‘an incoming NSW Labor Government will work with relevant government agencies and other stakeholders to ban gay conversion therapy in NSW.’ But this is problematic, not just because it is silent on gender identity conversion practices, but also because it goes on to note ‘any proposed legislation to ban gay conversion therapy must not outlaw individuals voluntarily seeking out medical, health, allied health or other advice and assistance regarding their personal circumstances’.

While there appears to be no ALP commitments in relation to trans access to birth certificates, or ending medical interventions on intersex kids.

This situation, in 2023, is simply not good enough. The LGBTIQ community of NSW deserves much better, from the Government and the Opposition.

I should clarify here that this article is by no means a criticism of Sydney World Pride, or of its organisers.

Celebrating pride is a worthy and important activity, in and of itself, especially if it contributes to long-lasting culture change. Sydney World Pride’s focus on First Nations LGBTQIA+SB people, as well as human rights in the Asia-Pacific, are both welcome. And, on a personal level, I’m genuinely looking forward to a fortnight of queer cultural events and parties (the tiredness that will inevitably follow, perhaps less so).

However, when the glitter has been swept up, and the paint from the rainbows which have been painted across Sydney starts to crack and fade, we will still be left living under the worst LGBTIQ laws in Australia.

Laws which mean a gay student who simply holds his boyfriend’s hand at Fair Day could be expelled the very next day.

Laws which allow a school to sack a teacher just for marching with her wife and children in the Rainbow Families float in the Mardi Gras Parade.

During World Pride, trans and gender diverse people will have the opportunity to walk across the Harbour Bridge. But most still won’t be able to walk into the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to update their birth certificate simply to match their gender identity.

It is also likely many LGBTQ people will begin their ‘coming out’ journey over the next month, inspired by the visibility of World Pride. But if they’re in NSW and don’t have a supportive family and/or community, they could still be subjected to sexual orientation or gender identity conversion practices – entirely lawfully.

Finally, Sydney World Pride will bring much celebration of the human body, and the joy it can bring. But – tragically – in 2023, NSW continues to allow violations of the bodily integrity of children born with variations of sex characteristics.

So, by all means celebrate during Sydney World Pride, including the achievements that have already been won, and our resilience in the face of ongoing oppression. I know I will.

But we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from the challenges which remain, challenges which are especially acute right here in NSW.

What better time then to raise our voices, loudly, passionately, as a community, to tell the Government, and Opposition – and anybody else who is seeking our vote on 25 March – that our community deserves better than the legal prejudice which we currently endure?

NB This post is written in a personal capacity, and does not reflect the views of employers past or present, nor of any community organisations with which I am involved.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:


[i] In 2018, the then-Berejiklian Government passed two LGBTIQ-related reforms:

-the first ended forced trans divorce (although they were effectively compelled to do this following the passage of marriage reforms federally), and

-the second replaced homosexual and transgender serious vilification offences in the Anti-Discrimination Act with sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status ‘threatening or inciting violence’ offences in the Crimes Act (although my understanding is that these offences have yet to be used).

NSW Equality Bill Submission

4 July 2022

Alex Greenwich

Member for Sydney

Via email: sydney@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Dear Mr Greenwich

Submission re Equality Bill Consultation

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this personal submission as part of your consultation process on a proposed Equality Bill.

Thank you also for your leadership on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) rights in NSW, something which has been neglected by too many for far too long.

As I have written previously, LGBTIQ rights in NSW are now the worst of any state or territory in the country – through decades of inaction on law reform by the NSW Government and Parliament, Sydney has become Australia’s capital of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

This includes the worst LGBTIQ anti-discrimination protections, and the equal worst birth certificate laws for trans and gender diverse people. As well as an ongoing failure to prohibit non-consenting surgeries and other medical interventions on children born with variations in sex characteristics (intersex children), and to ban sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices.

If these issues are not addressed before next February, then Sydney’s hosting of World Pride 2023 will not be a cause for celebration, but instead the focus of global embarrassment about the incredibly poor state of legal rights for the LGBTIQ people who live here.

In this submission I will make recommendations for reform in the above-mentioned four areas, with a particular focus on LGBTI anti-discrimination law reform, as well as in relation to commercial surgery.

LGBTI reforms to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act was once a leader – including becoming the first anti-discrimination law in Australia to prohibit discrimination on the basis of homosexuality in 1982 (before homosexuality was even decriminalised here, which did not happen until 1984).

However, it now compares incredibly poorly across a wide range of criteria, from protected attributes, special privileges for private schools and special privileges for religious organisations generally (for comparative analysis of how it fares overall, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws).

While the Act itself is now so out-dated that it is impossible for it to become best practice without a comprehensive review followed by complete overhaul, there are some immediate, interim steps which could be taken to ensure LGBTI people are better protected against discrimination on the basis of who they are. This includes:

1. Replace homosexuality with sexual orientation

NSW is the only jurisdiction in Australia which does not prohibit discrimination against bisexual, bi+ and/or pansexual people. That is because the protected attribute in the Anti-Discrimination Act is ‘homosexuality’ rather than sexuality or sexual orientation.

This should be replaced with a protected attribute of ’sexual orientation’, with a definition drawing from s4(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic):

‘sexual orientation means a person’s emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, or intimate or sexual relations with, persons of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender.’

2. Replace transgender with gender identity

NSW also offers extremely narrow protection against discrimination for trans and gender diverse people, effectively excluding people with non-binary gender identities completely.

The protection attribute of ‘transgender’ should be replaced with ‘gender identity’, with a definition again drawing from the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic):

‘gender identity means a person’s gender-related identity, which may or may not correspond with their designated sex at birth, and includes the personal sense of the body (whether this involves medical intervention or not) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech, mannerisms, names and personal references’.

The definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) should be removed at the same time.

3. Add a new protected attribute of sex characteristics

Intersex people are also poorly-served by anti-discrimination laws in NSW, with the Act failing to include a stand-alone protected attribute to prohibit discrimination against them.

A new protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ should be added, once again drawing from the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic):

‘sex characteristics means a person’s physical features relating to sex, including-

(a) genitalia and other sexual and reproductive parts of the person’s anatomy; and

(b) the person’s chromosomes, genes, hormones, and secondary physical features that emerge as a result of puberty.’

4. Add new protected attributes of sex work, and genetic characteristics

I support-in-principle the inclusion of protected attributes of sex work, with a definition developed in consultation with sex worker organisations such as Scarlet Alliance, and genetic characteristics, developed in consultation with Intersex Human Rights Australia.

5. Remove special privileges for private educational authorities

The Anti-Discrimination Act is the only such law in the country which provides blanket exceptions to all private schools, colleges and universities, irrespective of whether they are religious or not, allowing them to engage in conduct that would otherwise be prohibited.

This includes special privileges to discriminate on the basis of homosexuality against students (s49ZO) and teachers and other staff (s49ZH), and on the basis of transgender status against students (s38K) and workers (s38C), too.

There can be no possible justification for these special rights to discriminate in 2022 – they must be repealed entirely.

In order to ensure LGBT students, teachers and other staff at religious schools are properly protected against discrimination, it is also necessary to introduce a limitation on the general religious exception in section 56 (discussed further below), so that it does not apply to religious educational institutions.[i]

6. Significantly narrow special privileges for religious organisations

In addition to specific exceptions for private schools, colleges and universities, s56 of the Anti-Discrimination Actprovides incredibly broad exceptions for religious organisations more generally.

While paras (a) and (b) of that provision (which permit discrimination in relation to the appointment, and training, of priests and ministers of religion) may be justifiable on the basis of religious freedom (because of their closeness to religious observance), the same justification does not apply to para (c), which allows discrimination by religious organisations in employment (including in the delivery of publicly-funded health, housing and welfare services) and (d), which effectively grants faith bodies a blank cheque to discriminate in service provision.

Both para s56(c) and 56(d) should be repealed entirely.[ii]

7. Remove special privileges for faith-based adoption services

Under s59A of the Anti-Discrimination Act, adoption agencies operated by religious organisations are permitted to discriminate against rainbow families.

This is frankly outrageous, not only discriminating against prospective parents on the basis of irrelevant factors such as their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, but also not being in the best interests of the child, given the exclusion of loving parents on these grounds.

S59A should be repealed entirely.

8. Remove the specific transgender exception in superannuation

Under s38Q of the Act, superannuation providers are given an exception to discriminate against transgender people, by ‘treat[ing] the transgender person as being of the opposite sex to the sex with which the transgender person identifies.’

This type of provision is not found in the equivalent Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Once again, there can be no possible justification for this special right to discriminate in 2022 – this provision must be repealed entirely.

9. Significantly narrow the specific transgender exception in sport

Under s38P of the Act, it is lawful to discriminate against transgender people in relation to a wide range of sporting activities, from elite level through to community sport.

This exception is much, much broader than equivalent exceptions elsewhere, including s42 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), which includes qualifications that such discrimination is only permitted ‘in any competitive sporting activity in which the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant’, and does not apply to children under 12.

At a minimum, these qualifications should also be introduced in NSW, with consideration of adopting the narrower approach found in s29 in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas), or the proposed changes in this area in the ACT Government’s recent Exposure Draft Discrimination Amendment Bill 2022.

Any reforms in this area should be made in close consultation with trans and gender diverse people, and organisations representing them, and intersex people and their representative bodies as well (given the impact of sporting exceptions on that community).

10. Prohibit civil vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics

Assuming changes are made to replace the protected attributes of homosexuality with sexual orientation, and transgender with gender identity (1 and 2, above), equivalent changes to civil vilification provisions under the Anti-Discrimination Act should be made at the same time.

I also support introducing civil prohibitions against vilification on the basis of sex characteristics.

11. Ensure consistency between the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 and the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

If the civil vilification provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act are updated to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, equivalent amendments should be made to s93Z of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW),[iii] which makes it a criminal offence to ‘by a public act, intentionally or reckless threaten or incite violence towards another person or a group of persons’ on the basis of a range of attributes.

Reforms to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW)

As noted above, NSW also has the equal worst birth certificate laws in the country. It is one of just two jurisdictions, alongside Queensland, which still requires transgender people to have genital surgery in order to access identity documentation reflecting their gender identity. 

This situation is completely unacceptable. Gender identity is exactly that, a fundamental characteristic of personal identity, and exists irrespective of surgery, or other forms of medical or psychological treatment.

In my opinion, trans and gender diverse people should be able to update their identity documentation, including birth certificates, solely on the basis of self-identification.

That means imposing no restrictions based on whether the person has had surgery, whether they have had other forms of physical treatment (including hormones), or whether they have accessed counselling or psychological services. It also means not requiring an application to include supporting statements from medical or psychological ‘gate-keepers’.

There is only one Australian jurisdiction which currently meets this standard, the Tasmanian Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999, with s28A(2)(b) simply requiring the applicant to make a ‘gender declaration’ in support of their application.

I therefore support-in-principle the introduction of birth certificate reforms in NSW drawing on the existing framework in Tasmania.

One other important element is ensuring children and young people have the right to update their identity documentation, irrespective of whether it makes some adults uncomfortable.

This, at a minimum, would involve allowing young people aged 16 and 17 to make applications for new birth certificates in their own right.

It also means ensuring there is a process to allow children under 16 to update their birth certificates where they have two or more parents or guardians and those parents/guardians disagree among themselves whether to support that application.

Finally, it means introducing a framework to allow children under 16 to apply in the absence of support from a parent or guardian, where a court or tribunal considers it to be in the best interests of the child and also assesses the child to be capable of consenting to the application (such as in s29J of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (SA)).

However, as a cisgender member of the LGBTIQ community, I defer to the views of trans and gender diverse people, and the organisations representing them, on what the exact details of birth certificate reforms should include.

Ending non-consenting surgeries and other medical interventions on intersex children

The unnecessary, non-consenting and/or deferrable surgeries and other medical interventions which continue to be inflicted on children born with variations of sex characteristics (intersex children) aren’t just some of the biggest human rights abuses against the LGBTIQ community, but against any segment of the Australian community.

In this context, it is extremely frustrating that, approaching nine years from the historic 2013 Senate Inquiry into ‘Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia’, no Australian jurisdiction has legally prohibited these practices, including there being no signs of action in this area by the NSW Government.

Fortunately, the ACT Government has committed to ending these practices, and recently released their draft Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2022 for public consultation.

On this issue, and whether the ACT legislation is best practice, I defer to the expertise of Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA). I note that in their submission to the current inquiry, they wrote:

‘The ACT government draft bill, published in May 2022, arises out of a commitment made in 2019, and deep engagement with community, clinicians, and human rights, bioethics and legal expertise. We commend this bill as a basis for reform in New South Wales.

‘The ACT government bill implements demands in the Darlington Statement of intersex community organisations and advocates in our region, and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10… Action on this issue implements recommendations 1, 4, 7, 8 and 9 of the 2021 Australian Human Rights Commission report ‘Ensuring health and bodily integrity: towards a human rights approach for people born with variations in sex characteristics’. It also implements calls for reform by UN Treaty Bodies CEDAW, CRPD, CRC, HRC and CESCR, and addresses calls in 2021 position statements citing IHRA staff by the Australian Medical Association and the Public Health Association of Australia. It is consistent with a 2018 submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ [emphasis added].

I therefore endorse IHRA’s view – that the ACT draft legislation be used as a basis for reform in NSW, with any necessary amendments developed in close consultation with IHRA.

Banning sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices

The fourth major reform which should be included in the NSW Equality Bill is a prohibition on sexual orientation and/or gender identity (SOGI) conversion practices (sometimes referred to as gay/trans conversion therapy, or ex-gay/ex-trans therapy).

These are incredibly harmful practices which cause immense psychological, and sometimes physical, harm on LGBTQ people.

In my view, SOGI conversion practices should be banned, both through civil prohibitions, allowing for a range of legal responses, and criminal offences in serious cases (such as where it causes actual physical or psychological harm, and/or involves minors or other vulnerable persons).

Importantly, these prohibitions must apply across a broad range of circumstances, including religious settings (where much of the reported harm takes place), and not just in health settings (which means the existing Queensland approach to this issue cannot be supported).

My understanding is there are potential strengths to both the Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Act 2021 and ACT Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Act 2020.

However, as with trans and gender diverse birth certificate reform and intersex surgeries, I defer to the views of survivors of sexual orientation and/or gender identity conversion practices, and the organisations representing them, on what the exact details of this legislation should contain.

Legalising commercial surrogacy in NSW

This reform is different from the previous four in that it is not exclusively or even primarily an issue for the LGBTIQ community, given individuals and couples seeking to employ commercial surrogacy services can be cisgender and heterosexual also.

However, rainbow families, and especially male same-gender couples, are disproportionately affected by the current legal approach to surrogacy in NSW, which is not only to prohibit commercial surrogacy domestically (s8 of the Surrogacy Act 2010 (NSW)), but also to capture individuals or couples who engage in commercial surrogacy elsewhere but are ‘ordinarily resident or domiciled in the State’ (s11).

The maximum penalty for this offence is high: up to 1,000 penalty units or imprisonment for 2 years, or both, for individuals.

More than a decade after this legislation was introduced, I don’t believe anyone in NSW genuinely believes that individuals and couples, including rainbow families, are not still engaging in commercial surrogacy arrangements in a wide range of international jurisdictions (and perhaps the only thing to even slow this process down has been since-eased pandemic-related travel restrictions, not domestic laws).

In this context, my personal view is that commercial surrogacy should be legalised in NSW.

There are two reasons for this. The first is based on harm reduction. Yes, I acknowledge that commercial surrogacy arrangements include a significant potential for exploitation, especially for women who are vulnerable or financially disadvantaged.

However, given commercial surrogacy is continuing (and will continue into the future, based on the strong desires of some members of the community to have children), the best way to minimise such exploitation is to permit commercial surrogacy within NSW, with careful and close oversight – in contrast to the current situation which sees people engage in surrogacy in jurisdictions potentially with minimal or no oversight, and with a legal incentive to avoid scrutiny of their activities.

The second reason for legalising commercial surrogacy in NSW is based on the best interests of the child. For the child being born into these families, it simply cannot be in their best interests for their parent(s) to be liable to up to 2 years imprisonment for the crime of the manner of their birth.

*****

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this submission. Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided, if you would like further information or to discuss its contents.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

NB This post is written in a personal capacity, and does not reflect the views of employers past or present.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:


[i] This approach applies in the absence of prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of religious belief in NSW. If religious belief is added as a stand-alone protected attribute to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) in the future, it may be appropriate to allow discrimination by religious schools on the basis of religious belief only (and not other attributes), but only against students at the point of enrolment, and only against teachers and other staff where it is an inherent requirement of the role.

[ii] As with the previous footnote, this approach applies in the absence of a stand-alone protected attribute of religious belief under the Act. If such an attribute were to be introduced in future, it may be appropriate to permit some discrimination on the basis of religious belief only, in narrowly-restricted circumstances, informed by existing laws in Tasmania, and Victoria.

[iii] This includes potentially updating the existing definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity in s93Z of the Crimes Act, as well as replacing the attribute of intersex status with sex characteristics.

Not Going Backwards is Not the Same Thing as Going Forwards

Almost two weeks after the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, the NSW LGBTIQ community has been given a belated reason to celebrate.

Yesterday (Wednesday 16 March), the NSW Government finally released its response to Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill (formally called the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020), in which they categorically rejected his proposed legislation.

This was a law that, if passed, would have erased trans and gender diverse students from classrooms and schoolyards across the State.

It also would have introduced a Thatcher-esque section 28-style prohibition on positive references to LGBTQ people generally (modelled after a UK law from the 1980s and 90s which harmed a generation of queer kids there).

As well as enacting a new offensive and stigmatising definition of intersex people in NSW legislation.

Importantly, the Perrottet Liberal/National Government also rejected key recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Latham’s Bill (which, in a disturbing conflict of interest, featured Latham himself as Chair). This included ruling out:

  • Banning trans students from using the bathroom reflecting their gender identity
  • Outing trans students to non-supportive parents, even where this puts the student in danger
  • Stopping trans students from seeking confidential help from school counsellors, and
  • Outing trans students to all of the parents of other students in their year group.

The Government’s decision to reject Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill, and key recommendations of his biased inquiry, is obviously incredibly welcome.

Above all, it is a huge relief to LGBTIQ students, and especially trans and gender diverse kids and their families, who no longer need fear his legislative attack on their right to a safe and inclusive education.

However, this does not mean we should be overly-congratulatory towards the NSW Government either.

For example, in their response the Government notes, as one of their reasons for rejecting the Bill, that it ‘may lead to targeted discrimination against a marginalised community which already experiences poorer mental health and wellbeing outcomes’ (ie trans and nonbinary children and young people).

Which is true. But it was also true on the day Latham first introduced his legislation way back in August 2020.

There was no need for a drawn-out Parliamentary Inquiry to tell them that.

There was definitely no need to refer it to Latham’s Committee for that Inquiry.

There was no justification for all three Government members of that Inquiry to support the main elements of Latham’s Bill, including backing harmful recommendations about outing trans kids, and preventing them from accessing bathrooms, or seeking help from counsellors.

And there was clearly no justification for the Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Kevin Conolly, to express his personal support for the Bill (noting that he remains in that portfolio today).

The NSW Government could, and should, have spared the trans community from being forced to endure yet another debate about their very existence, by rejecting the Bill from the outset rather than taking 19 months and giving One Nation a platform to spread their transphobia in the meantime.

So, while the response yesterday was the right outcome, the tortuous route it took them to arrive there means they deserve, at best, a polite clap rather than a standing ovation.

The second reason why we should not be giving thunderous applause to the NSW Government is that all they have done is stop the situation in NSW from getting worse.

LGBTIQ people in NSW still woke up this morning in the worst jurisdiction for their legal rights in the country. Just as they did yesterday, and as they will tomorrow.

This includes having the worst anti-discrimination laws, which fail to protect bisexual people (the only place in Australia not to do so), nonbinary people, and intersex people. And which have extraordinary exceptions, allowing all private schools and colleges, religious and non-religious alike, to discriminate against LGBTQ students and teachers.

NSW will likely also soon be the only state or territory which requires trans and gender diverse people to have genital surgery in order to update their birth certificate (assuming Queensland follows through on its promises to reform their own laws this year).

NSW has made no progress on, or given any firm commitments to, prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices (which have already been banned in Victoria and the ACT, partially banned in Queensland, with bans under active consideration elsewhere).

And NSW has also shown no signs it will end what I consider to be the worst human rights abuses against any part of the LGBTIQ community: coercive surgeries and other non-consensual medical interventions on children born with innate variations in sex characteristics (with the ACT and Victorian Governments already committed to reform in this area, and realistic hope for change in at least one other jurisdiction).

All the NSW Government did yesterday was rule out taking another step backwards.

But even standing still means that, with each and every passing year, NSW falls further and further behind on LGBTIQ law reform.

Next week (Friday 25 March) will mark exactly one year to go until the next State election.

That’s a full 12 months for the Perrottet Liberal/National Government to do more than just publicly reject a terrible law attacking some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and instead to make long-overdue progress on at least some, if not all, of the above-mentioned law reforms to make the lives of LGBTIQ people in NSW better.

If they do, they will have actually earned some real praise.

Finally, lest I be accused of being partisan, we cannot let the Minns Labor Opposition off the hook on this subject either.

Because they too have failed to publicly condemn Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill over the past 19 months.

They too voted for it to be referred to a Parliamentary Inquiry chaired by Latham himself.

And, disappointingly, they also had one of their two members on that Inquiry support the main elements of Latham’s Bill, including backing harmful recommendations about outing trans kids, and preventing them from accessing bathrooms, or seeking help from counsellors.

That’s simply not good enough. Nor is the fact that, one year out from what looks to be a highly competitive election, we currently know next-to-nothing about Labor’s plans on the issues described earlier.

It’s time for them to demonstrate to the LGBTIQ community exactly what they would do to end NSW’s reign as the jurisdiction with the worst laws in Australia.

In summary, then, while I am happy and relieved for LGBTIQ students, and trans and gender diverse kids in particular, that Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill has finally been rejected, I am far from satisfied with the current state of law reform in NSW. We can and must demand better, from both the Perrottet Liberal/National Government, and Minns Labor Opposition.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet

Letter to Dominic Perrottet re Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill

The Hon Dominic Perrottet

Premier of NSW

Submitted online

20 February 2022

Dear Premier Perrottet

Please reject the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) 2020

I am writing to urge you to reject the One Nation Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 – otherwise known as Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill.

All students in NSW deserve the opportunity learn and grow in a safe and welcoming school environment. That must include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) students.

The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 fails this fundamental principle. It fails LGBTIQ students generally, and trans and nonbinary students in particular, by making them feel invisible, and denying them the same support as other students.

This includes erasing trans and nonbinary students in classrooms and schoolyards across the state via the ban on any discussion of ‘gender fluidity’, which would prevent teachers, principals and counsellors from even acknowledging that trans and gender diverse people exist, and leave students who are already vulnerable feeling even more isolated and alone.

It includes a broader ban on positive references to diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity. This provision – modelled on the notorious ‘section 28’ which harmed a generation of LGBTQ students in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s – would have a chilling effect on all school staff, and would even stop school counsellors from being able to reassure a student struggling with their sexual orientation, by telling them who they are is perfectly normal.

And it includes the insertion of a new offensive and stigmatising definition of people born with intersex variations of sex characteristics in NSW law.

Unfortunately, this is legislation that would harm LGBTIQ children and young people rather than help them. It must be rejected.

I also call on you to reject the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Education Legislation Amendment Bill, through your Government’s response which is due by 7 March 2022.

That Inquiry was flawed from the very beginning, with One Nation Leader Mark Latham chairing the examination of his own legislation.

Nor did it hear from the communities who would be most at risk under the Bill: only one witness out of more than 40 who gave evidence was transgender, and none were current trans or nonbinary students.

Unsurprisingly, given this bias, the Committee’s recommendations would make the problems caused by the Bill worse, rather than better, including Recommendation 8 that would (among other things):

  • Ban trans students from using the bathroom that reflects their gender identity
  • Out trans students to non-supportive parents, even where this puts them in danger
  • Stop trans students from seeking confidential help from school counsellors, and
  • Out trans students to all of the parents of students in their year group.

These recommendations would only compound the harms caused by what was a deeply damaging and divisive Bill to begin with.

The Bill, and Inquiry recommendations, are in direct conflict with the message of unity which you emphasised when you first became Premier on 5 October 2021. You said:

‘Being Premier is a great honour, but I want to be clear that the job I have committed to today is not just to lead NSW, but to serve all the people of our state’ (emphasis added).[i]

Abandoning LGBTIQ children and young people, and especially trans and nonbinary students, would clearly not be serving all the people of NSW.

In those same comments that day, you also said:

‘The true strength of NSW is its people, our working mums and dads, business owners, frontline workers, teachers, workers, doctors, paramedics, firefighters, police, tradies’ (emphasis added).

If you genuinely support teachers, then you will oppose legislation that would place them in the most impossible of circumstances: having to choose between supporting the LGBTIQ students in their classes, or keeping their job.

This is because the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 would lead to teachers who acknowledge trans and gender diverse people exist, or make positive references to diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity, having their registration cancelled and therefore being fired.

Any human would choose to support the real-life person in front of them, and to meet their real-life needs, rather than implement discriminatory legislation that is not motivated by the best interests of those students.

As a human, and as Premier, you have the opportunity to reject this legislation, and to remove the threat to teachers for simply doing what teachers do: teach the child in front of them, including making sure they have an inclusive environment in which to learn and grow.

I therefore reiterate my call to you to publicly, and unequivocally, reject the One Nation Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, and the recommendations of Mark Latham’s Committee which inquired into his own legislation.

In doing so, you would be living up to your words on the day you became Premier, and the message of unity you delivered to the state.

Above all, you would be sending a clear message to LGBTIQ children and young people generally, and to trans and nonbinary students in particular, that who they are is valued, and that they have a place in NSW.

Thank you in advance for considering this correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should you require additional information.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:


[i] ‘Dominic Perrottet’s first full speech as leader’, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 2021, available here.

For more information on this subject, see: If you thought the Religious Discrimination Bill was bad, wait til you hear about Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you can sign up to receive updates about this and other issues from this blog, via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

If you thought the Religious Discrimination Bill was bad, wait til you hear about Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill

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:

  1. 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.

All eyes will be on Education Minister Sarah Mitchell (front), and Premier Dominic Perrottet (back), in coming weeks as they announce the NSW Government’s response to Mark Latham’s Committee’s Inquiry into Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you can sign up to receive updates about this and other issues from this blog, via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:


[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.

No Cause for Celebration

Sydney World Pride is now just 17 months away. With the official Opening Ceremony scheduled for 24 February 2023, it promises to be one of the largest LGBTI celebrations in a post-pandemic world.

Unfortunately, when it comes to LGBTI law reform, there is very little reason to celebrate.

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act is the worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law in the country. It’s the only one that fails to protect bisexuals, and the only one allowing all private schools, religious and non-religious alike, to discriminate against LGBT students. The ADA also excludes nonbinary people, and people with innate variations of sex characteristics.

With Queensland promising to amend their birth certificate laws, NSW will soon be the only jurisdiction in Australia requiring trans people to undergo genital surgery (which many don’t want, and some who do can’t afford) to update their identity documents.

While Queensland, the ACT and Victoria have already prohibited gay and trans conversion practices (to varying extents), and other states consider this vital reform, there’s no clear commitment for NSW to do the same.

Nor has the NSW Government promised to prohibit what are the worst of all human rights abuses against the LGBTI community: coercive surgeries and other involuntary medical treatments on intersex children.

In this context, it’s depressing to realise the next step on LGBTI rights here is likely to be a great leap backwards.

Earlier this month, a NSW Parliamentary Committee recommended adoption of the core elements of Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, more accurately known as his anti-trans kids Bill.

That includes support for a domestic version of the UK’s infamous ‘section 28’, which traumatised a generation of LGBT students there before being abandoned in 2003.

By threatening teachers with having their accreditation revoked for mentioning anything ‘political or ideological’ in relation to gender or sexuality – which could be as simple as telling struggling gay kids that who they are is perfectly okay – it will drive most teachers to say nothing at all, creating the perfect conditions for ignorance and shame to thrive.

Even worse are the proposed changes to Bulletin 55: Transgender Students in Schools, which would (among other things):

  • Prohibit students from confidentially coming out as transgender to their teachers or school counsellors
  • Effectively ban transgender students from being able to access toilets or changerooms matching their gender identity, and
  • Out students who transition while at school to the parents of every other student in their year group.

These anti-trans rules are just the tip of the iceberg. This Bill, and associated Committee Report, are truly a Titanic-size assault on the rights of trans and gender diverse kids in NSW.

In policing children’s names and pronouns, their ability to play sport and even go to the bathroom, these are really Texas Republican Party-level interventions in the daily lives of people whose lives don’t matter to them.

It is, frankly, embarrassing. And no-one should be more embarrassed than Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who for 13 months has steadfastly refused to condemn, or even comment on, these proposed changes – all the while allowing Latham to chair the inquiry into his own Bill.

Her reluctance to publicly reject his anti-trans agenda has only allowed it to gather strength. Not only did all three Coalition MLCs on the Committee endorse its recommendations, but her own Parliamentary Secretary for Education declared his personal support for the anti-trans kids Bill earlier this year

The Government now has six months to respond (coincidentally, the deadline is the Monday after next year’s Mardi Gras). With more Coalition MPs so far publicly expressing support for the Bill than opposing it, the starting assumption has to be they are more likely to implement these changes than reject them.

And if they do? The biggest victims will be a generation of trans and nonbinary kids whose own Government will be actively seeking to erase their very existence, closely followed by other LGBT students who will be offered silence rather than support from their schools.

As for World Pride, well, it seems highly likely there would be a global boycott – one I would fully endorse. To do otherwise would be to invite the world to come and dance over the bodies of trans kids, killed by the transphobia of NSW Parliamentarians.

Even if it ultimately does not pass, the debate since August 2020 has already caused significant harm to trans kids in NSW, and to the families who love them.

If we cannot keep trans kids safe, if we cannot protect LGBT students in private schools against discrimination, if we cannot stop the psychological torture from gay and trans conversion practices, if we cannot prevent the physical torture of intersex children – if we can’t defend the most vulnerable among us – tell me again what exactly we would be celebrating at Sydney World Pride?

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Surprise!* Mark Latham’s Inquiry is just as unbalanced and transphobic as his Bill

[*Not surprising in the slightest]

In August 2020, NSW One Nation MLC Mark Latham introduced the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020. As I wrote at the time, this Bill is the worst legislative attack on LGBTI rights in Australia this century. 

In particular, Latham’s Bill seeks to erase trans and gender diverse students from classrooms and schoolyards across NSW. It would also establish a UK ‘section 28’-style prohibition on positive references to anything at all to do with LGBT people, as well as introducing an offensive and stigmatising definition of intersex variations of sex characteristics.

This Bill should have been immediately rejected by the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government and (at the time McKay) Labor Opposition. Instead, Coalition and Labor Members of the Legislative Council voted to refer the Bill for inquiry by the Portfolio Committee No. 3 – Education, which just so happens to be chaired by Mark Latham himself, thus creating a serious and ongoing conflict of interest.

Even if there might be circumstances in which an MLC should be given authority to lead an inquiry into their own legislation (and, readers, I can’t think of any right now), a chair in this situation should be acutely aware of the responsibilities of their position and their obligation to act impartially and respectfully.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated in the 11 months since then, Mark Latham is not such a chair. Indeed, Mark Latham’s Inquiry into Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill has been as unbalanced and transphobic as his legislation is, as evidenced in the following five areas:

  1. Lack of trans witnesses

Latham’s inquiry conducted hearings on April 20 and 21, 2021. Across those two days, 42 witnesses were scheduled to give evidence. Do you know how many were trans or nonbinary children – that is, the people who stand to lose the most if this legislation passes?

Zero.

In fact, there was only one identified trans witness out of 42 (the amazing Teddy Cook, from ACON), plus one parent of a trans child. As far as I am aware, that means 40 witnesses out of the 42 scheduled to appear (or 95% of witnesses) were neither trans themselves nor the parent of a trans child.

This imbalance alone is enough to dismiss the validity of the entire inquiry.

It’s not like there weren’t other trans individuals and organisations ready and willing to give evidence either. As I understand it, the Gender Centre – described in its submission as ‘NSW’s leading trans led organisation, providing 95% of all trans specific services in the state’ that ‘support over 500 NSW transgender and gender diverse families generally’ – were not invited to appear.

The selection of non-trans witnesses was biased, too. Of the religious organisations invited to give evidence, only faith groups that expressed support for the Bill were given a guernsey. 

As noted by Greens MLC David Shoebridge during the hearings: ‘Unfortunately, the Coalition and the Chair determined not to allow any witnesses to appear from the parts of the Christian faith who oppose the bill.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 8).

This meant religious organisations that expressed their opposition to the Bill through their submissions – including the Pitt St Uniting Church, and Uniting Church LGBTIQ Network – did not receive an invitation to appear.

In my view, the lack of trans witnesses, and biased selection of others, rendered this inquiry process illegitimate from the outset.

2. Disrespectful treatment of submitters and witnesses

It wasn’t just the selection of witnesses that was unbalanced, but also how organisations that made submissions, or appeared as witnesses, were (mis)treated – especially by the chair.

Take, for example, the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, who made a submission to the inquiry in which they expressed their opposition to Latham’s Bill.

For this ‘sin’, not only were they not invited, but they were attacked in their absence.

When Shoebridge noted that ‘The Chair and the Coalition would not allow them to come. They voted on majority to prevent them coming’, Latham ultimately responded with ‘Well, there has to be a degree of sanity here.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 36).

Imagine, as the Chair of an inquiry, thinking it appropriate to imply an organisation that made a submission to that inquiry ‘lacked sanity’.

The attack worsened from there, with Latham asking the witness from Catholic Schools NSW (who did oppose the Bill and were not coincidentally offered an invitation) to provide data about enrolment and academic performance of schools in the Parramatta Diocese specifically:

My understanding is that a number of the Parramatta parents are none too happy about this position and that the Parramatta diocese enrolment share and academic results have collapsed in recent times because of the so-called progressive approach to education. Do you have some data on that that you can furnish to the Committee?’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 36).

In my opinion, there can be no justification for asking questions which suggest a vendetta against religious bodies which have the temerity to take a different policy view to yours.

Nor was this the only example of Latham’s disrespect to submitters or witnesses. Later that day he made a series of what can only be described as unprofessional remarks in response to the evidence of Georgia Burke, representing the LGBTI Subcommittee of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.

Burke: ‘… The best interests of the children are entirely disregarded with the primacy of parents put to the forefront.’

Latham: ‘Jesus, seriously.’

Burke: ‘It is interesting to reflect on the comments of the special rapporteur to which we refer in our submission.’

Latham: ‘The best interests of the children are disregarded when the parents are put to the forefront?’

Shoebridge: ‘Carry on.’

[Labor MLC Anthony] D’Adam: ‘Carry on, they are just being rude.’

Latham: ‘That is unbelievable.’

Burke: ‘His report of 2010 – and I do have a copy with me if it assists the Committee for me to table that report.’

Latham: ‘Jesus Christ.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 63).

[As an aside, it might be interesting to know what the religious fundamentalists who support Latham’s similarly-extreme ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill think about his blasphemy?]

As chair, Latham also accused witnesses of either ‘fabrication’ (saying to Ghassan Kassisieh of Equality Australia: ‘That is not what the Bill says. That is just a fabrication, I am sorry.’ Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 63), or ‘making something up’ (to Jared Wilk of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties: ‘You see, that is the problem. You are making something up about the bill that is not actually true.’ Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 65).

This is not the behaviour of somebody who should be in charge of anything, let alone an inquiry into legislation which carries the very real potential to undermine the human rights of some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

3. Allowing irrelevant evidence

The potential impact of Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill is incredibly broad – applying not just to classroom teaching, but also to ‘instruction, counselling and advice’ provided to students by principals, school counsellors, non-teaching staff, contractors, advisors and consultants, non-school based staff, contractors, advisors and consultants, and even volunteers (proposed new section 17C of the Education Act 1990).

However, one thing it doesn’t actually apply to is school sport. Despite this, Latham’s inquiry invited Katherine Deves from ‘Save Women’s Sport Australasia’ to address the Committee, where they were given free rein to make comments like:

It requires them [women and girls] to forego their right to compete on a level playing field in sport because fair competition is destroyed, athletic opportunities are lost and players’ safety is completely disregarded. On 1 December last year a senior bureaucrat in the NSW Sports Minister’s office told me that a woman would have to be killed before gender inclusion sports policies would be withdrawn.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 24).

And

‘We believe that the female sports category should be for female-born females only. We need to start asking boys and men to be more accommodating of non-gender-conforming boys and accommodate them in their sports instead of expecting the girls and the women, to their own detriment, to accept them into their sports. We are getting stories now of boys competing in girls’ sports and winning and taking sports on the podium and taking sports on the team and girls being harmed.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 27).[i]

Leaving to one side the lack of evidence to substantiate these claims, this testimony had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bill – a point which Shoebridge raised: ‘Point of order: There is not a single part of the terms of reference of this inquiry that relates to sport and I cannot see how either the opening submission or this question relates to the terms of reference.’

About which Latham eventually ruled: ‘I do not think censorship here is appropriate. The witness can answer the question.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 27).

Except ensuring witnesses at least vaguely stick to the terms of reference of the inquiry is not censorship, but one of the core responsibilities of a Committee Chair, something Latham spectacularly failed to fulfil here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, women’s sport was not the only unrelated matter that was allowed to be raised – Latham also provided ample space for witnesses to talk about access to bathrooms, something that is also unaffected by his legislation.

For example, Terri Kelleher of the Australian Family Association was given the opportunity to make the following comments:

‘Why would you want to set up – because part of the instructions or guidelines for schools as a result or a flow-on from teaching gender fluidity, you know, that people are the gender they feel and it may not be their natal sex, is to allow natal males into girls’ toilets. Now, that is not saying that all males or all boys who identify as girls are going to be a threat, but it sets up a situation where that can occur. This is very serious in the light of the child-on-child sexual abuse in schools.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, pages 40-41).

And then allowed to elaborate:

‘One of the risks … is the staff is to monitor the length of time in a change room. So staff are to monitor the length of time. It puts teachers in a difficult situation. Are they to be rostered outside toilets? Does there always have to be someone supervising wherever the toilets may be used, which would be throughout the day?’ (page 41).

Which led to the following exchange between MLCs sitting on the Committee:

D’Adam: ‘Point of order: We are taking evidence on a bill that has nothing to do with unisex toilets.’

Shoebridge: ‘Or teachers sitting outside toilets timing.’

D’Adam: ‘It has nothing to do with it. It is outside the terms of reference of this inquiry and I would ask the Chair to bring the witness back to-‘

[Nationals MLC Wes] Fang: ‘I have been waiting for this one. ‘Any other matter’ – it has been called on me so many times.’

Latham: ‘Yes. Related matters. I think the use of – I raised earlier on the problem of boys declaring themselves to be girls to get into the girls’ change room. That was in order and I think this is in order as well.’ (page 41)

In effect, the Chair of the inquiry ruled that ‘bathroom panic’-style testimony was in order because he himself had raised the issue of change room access, from the Chair, earlier in the day. This is the opposite of an impartial investigation.

4. Providing a platform for transphobia

As we have already seen, by allowing witnesses to talk about unrelated matters like trans participation in sport and ‘bathroom panic’ (including rhetorically linking trans access to toilets to child sexual abuse), Latham ensured his inquiry provided a platform for transphobia. Nor were these the only examples of extreme prejudice against trans and gender diverse young people over those two days.

This includes multiple witnesses suggesting that the gender identities of the majority of trans and nonbinary kids were not real but instead the product of mental illness:

‘When parents are kept in the dark about gender ideology and about what children are exposed to related to gender fluidity, they face an increased risk of harm. School officials and others do not know of, or may disregard, a child’s personal history – perhaps trauma or abuse or other diagnosed conditions, whether autism or mental health issues. They may play a role in a child’s identity concerns.’ (Mary Hasson, Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 3).

Dianna Kenny of something called the ‘Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine’ was permitted to make the following extraordinary – and extraordinarily offensive – claim:

‘There is a very minute number of people who are what we try to call genuinely trans, and suddenly we have seen a 4,000 per cent increase in the number of young people identifying as trans. Only a tiny fraction of that 4,000 per cent increase are going to be what we call genuinely trans. The rest of them are in the thrall of the trans lobby, and they have serious mental health issues and other things that need to be addressed.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 33).

When asked by Labor MLC Anthony D’Adam about those people who Kenny claimed were not ‘genuinely transgender’ (‘Those who are not in that category – the others – you are saying that there is something wrong with them, that they are sick.’), Kenny replied:

‘It is a manifestation of serious mental health issues, yes. I work clinically with those people. I see them at close quarters. I work intensively with the families and with the young people themselves. The evidence is increasing exponentially that those young people have serious health issues that need to be addressed…’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, pages 33-34).[ii]

From my perspective, this does not read like a reasonable debate of issues related to the Bill but instead seems to be a free kick for witnesses to make derogatory comments about the mental health and wellbeing of trans and nonbinary kids.

Of course, being a parliamentary hearing about trans rights in 2021, a range of other transphobic tropes – from ‘desisters’[iii]/’de-transitioners’[iv] to ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’[v] and ‘social contagion’[vi] – made predictable appearances (and, just as predictably, none were based on high-quality, independently-verified research, because, well, it doesn’t exist).

Mark Sneddon of the Institute of Civil Society even gravely warned that: ‘What we are trying to do – or what I understand this bill is trying to do – is to reduce the social contagion influence putting more people onto the conveyor belt of gender transition.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 42).

A quote which, perhaps unintentionally, goes to the core of the whole debate. Through their evidence, these witnesses all appear to be implying that being trans or nonbinary is itself a negative thing, and should be avoided wherever possible, including through legislation which prevents students from even hearing that gender diversity exists.

Whereas the rest of us understand that a) trans and nonbinary people are a part of the natural spectrum of human gender identity (and indeed always have been), b) trans and nonbinary kids are awesome, and c) 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 abandons them to darkness and depression.

That is really what Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is all about – keeping trans and nonbinary students in the dark. About who they are. And that who they are is okay. More than okay. Beautiful.

Latham’s legislation is deeply transphobic. Which means it is no surprise that so was the evidence of many of the witnesses appearing at his inquiry. And that includes Latham himself, who even deliberately deadnamed and misgendered a prominent transgender Australian. (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 48).

5. Giving evidence from the chair

The fifth and final way Latham’s inquiry was unbalanced is not directly linked to trans and gender diverse children, but nevertheless goes to how ‘un-parliamentary’ his behaviour was – and that was his frequent attempts to give evidence from the chair.

For example, after raising the (unverified) story of a student whose school counsellor supported their social transition against the wishes of their parents, he was asked by Shoebridge ‘Is that in evidence?’ and by D’Adam: ‘Point of order: Is the chair giving evidence?’ To which Latham replied:

‘That is in evidence – and did not tell the family. So, Jack has asked me a question. I have given you a brief summary and will be presenting more of that evidence as the inquiry unfolds…’ (emphasis added, Hearing Transcript, 20 April, pages 24-25).[vii]

Perhaps the most extreme example came when Latham attempted to ask Ghassan Kassisieh of Equality Australia about a range of non-LGBTI issues, before making unsubstantiated claims about climate change, leading not just the Greens’ David Shoebridge but even the Nationals’ Wes Fang to suggest Latham should not be doing so as chair:

Latham: ‘Climate change – that while there is evidence of warming, it is not at some of the alarmist levels that have been projected. Sea levels are not rising and Tim Flannery was wrong about his predictions that our dams in western Sydney would never fill again.’

Shoebridge: ‘Point of order: Simply making these unfounded, biased assertions from the chair on matters unrelated to the terms of reference of this inquiry is not of assistance and, in fact, it does not fit with any of the terms of reference of this inquiry.’

Fang: ‘To the point of order-‘

Latham: ‘It fits in the submission. It is the witness’s submission – wanting to know the other side of the story. I am seeking a response about the other side of the story.’

Shoebridge: ‘Call me old-fashioned but I was looking at the terms of reference of the inquiry.’

Fang: ‘To the point of order: I actually support Mr Shoebridge here. Chair, you should not be doing it and, like Mr Shoebridge, if you are going to make these unsubstantiated comments you should do it just as a participating member, like Mr Shoebridge does often through this Committee.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 59).

Fang nails the problem here – Mark Latham should never have been permitted to prosecute the case for his own legislation as chair of the same Committee inquiring into it.

It was an inevitable conflict of interest, and just as inevitably led to serious shortcomings of the inquiry generally, and the hearings on April 20 and 21 in particular.

From a lack of trans witnesses, and only inviting faith bodies that supported the Bill to appear while ignoring those religious organisations that opposed it.

To criticising trans-supportive faith groups in their absence, implying they ‘lacked sanity’, and acting disrespectfully and unprofessionally to other witnesses.

Allowing completely irrelevant testimony, about trans inclusion in girl’s and women’s sports, and ‘bathroom panic’, which had exactly nothing to do with the legislation being considered.

And giving voice to transphobia, including providing a platform to witnesses who dismissed the gender identity of the majority of trans and nonbinary kids as not being real while simultaneously describing them as suffering ‘serious mental health issues’.

Before using the position of chair to give his own evidence, rather than impartially examining the evidence of witnesses.

If you were being charitable, you could describe these hearings, and the overall inquiry they were a part of, as a farce.

But, after reading through all of the testimony given over those two days, including the derogatory comments about some of the most vulnerable members of our community, I am not feeling especially charitable. So I will call it as it is:

This inquiry, and the fact Mark Latham has been allowed to serve as its chair, is a sick joke. And, if you can’t tell by now, I am not amused.

The other thing that is definitely not humorous? The fact the Coalition Government, and Labor Opposition, have allowed this embarrassing debasement of NSW Parliament to drag on for almost a full year.

This legislation seeks to erase trans and nonbinary kids in schools across NSW. It will cause harm to them, and to all LGBTI children and young people.

These things have been known since it was first introduced in August 2020 – and yet neither Gladys Berejiklian, nor Jodi McKay and now Chris Minns, have done the bare minimum: to speak out against it, and declare they will not support legislation that attacks kids.

What the fuck are they waiting for?

It’s beyond time for the major parties to finally reject Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, and Latham’s equally unbalanced and transphobic inquiry into it.

NSW Parliament can be, should be, better than this. Trans and nonbinary kids need it to be.

For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Footnotes:


[i] Nor was Deves the only witness allowed to raise the irrelevant issue of trans inclusion in girl’s and women’s sports, with Terri Kelleher of the Australian Family Association making the following comments:

‘What right do they [girls in schools] have to fair sporting competitions? There is a worldwide movement at the moment speaking out for women’s and girl’s rights to their own sporting competitions on the ground that natal males have serious advantages over females.’ (Hearing Transcript, April 20, page 40).

[ii] Strangely enough, despite Kenny arguing that ‘genuinely transgender’ people are extremely rare, they are also capable of ‘destroying the fabric of the nuclear family’ (‘But to withdraw parental guidance and authority in the way that the transgender lobby has implemented with children declaring themselves to be transgender is really destroying the fabric of the nuclear family.’ Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 28), which indicates trans people must have super-powers.

[iii] John Steenhof of the Human Rights Law Alliance (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 36) and Mark Sneddon of the Institute for Civil Society (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 42).

[iv] Patrick Byrne of the National Civic Council, who suggested that transition – and not transphobia – was the cause of high rates of depression and suicide amongst transgender people: ‘Are you going to teach that there is a growing movement of de-transitioners and the risk if you go all the way down the road to full sex change surgery, a highly intrusive medical surgery, and then the longer-term risks from that. The best study on that was in Sweden, I think it was, the long-term effects of … transitioning, which had a suicide rate of 19 or 20 times the rest of the population.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 44), and Kirralie Smith of Binary Australia (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 9).

[v] Dianna Kenny of the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 29 and page 31).

[vi] Mary Hasson (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 3), and a favourite phrase of Dianna Kenny, who used it multiple times, including in this truly non-sensical quote revealing she apparently does not understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation:

‘Basically, what is happening is that children are being taught erroneous information and based on erroneous information these children are becoming extremely confused and as through a process of social contagion we are seeing very large increases in the number of children declaring themselves either non-binary, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, pansexual, omni-sexual, demi-boys and demi-girls.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 25).

[vii] Another example occurred after a witness attempted to cite Latham’s Second Reading Speech for the Bill as ‘evidence’:

D’Adam: ‘Just to further elaborate, obviously we have all heard the second reading speech.’

Shoebridge: ‘It is not evidence.’

D’Adam: ‘That is not necessarily evidence of what is occurring. It is an assertion from a Member of Parliament.’

Latham: ‘Order! There is a professional development course. I will show you the course. We have got it on tape.

Shoebridge: ‘There is no order. It is not evidence.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 37).

Friends, Jagged Little Pill and Transphobia in the NSW Legislative Council

In 1996, Australians were watching Friends and listening to Alanis Morissette while the NSW Upper House was the site of a toxic debate about trans law reform.

In 2021, Australians are watching the Friends Reunion, can book tickets to Jagged Little Pill: The Musical and the NSW Legislative Council is once again hosting hostile discussion about the rights of its trans citizens.

It is perhaps disappointing to realise how little progress has been made in terms of pop culture and representations of transgender people – with the Friends Reunion refusing to address the recurring transphobic jokes made at the expense of Chandler’s parent, and Jagged Little Pill: The Musical erasing the gender identity of a fictional nonbinary character on its journey to Broadway.

But it is downright depressing comparing the circumstances surrounding the Transgender (Anti-Discrimination and Other Acts) Act 1996 – which received royal assent 25 years ago this Saturday (19 June 1996) – and the current Parliamentary inquiry into the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020.

For a start, much of the language in the two debates, a quarter of a century apart, is disturbingly similar, with both deliberate misgendering,[i] and scaremongering about trans women in sports, playing starring roles in each.

With more than a hint of hyperbole, Liberal MLC Marlene Goldsmith declared in 1996 ‘This legislation will mean the end of women’s sports as a concept, an entitlement and a right.’

In 2021, Katherine Deves, speaking on behalf of something called ‘Save Women’s Sport Australasia’, complained that ‘gender identity’ requires women and girls ‘to forego their right to compete on a level playing field in sport because fair competition is destroyed, athletic opportunities are lost and players’ safety is completely disregarded.’

Meanwhile, any small advances – multiple references to ‘tranys’ in the 1996 Hansard[ii] thankfully haven’t been repeated more recently – don’t begin to overcome larger retreats elsewhere.

In the intervening 25 years, opponents of legal equality for trans people have pivoted from expressing pity about their plight, while dismissing trans issues as unimportant,[iii] to portraying trans people as potential predators, and a fundamental threat to ‘Western civilisation’.

This dramatic escalation in rhetoric comes not just from the mover of the latter Bill (One Nation’s Mark Latham, who described trans-inclusive education as ‘part of the post-modernist attack on the nuclear family’ in his Second Reading Speech), but also from multiple witnesses who appeared at April’s hearings into his horrific law.

For example, Mark Sneddon of the Institute for Civil Society said (rather uncivilly, and somewhat ominously) in supporting the Bill: ‘What we are trying to do – or what I understand this Bill is trying to do – is to reduce the social contagion influence of putting more people onto the conveyor belt of gender transition.’

Even fear campaigns about women’s bathrooms have worsened, rather than improved, over the past quarter century.

The only reference to toilets I could find in the 1996 Legislative Council debate came from Fred Nile (yes, the same one still sitting in that chamber), who said: ‘Because I am obviously not a woman, I do not know [how] a woman would feel to have a transsexual who was born a male sitting beside her in a woman’s washroom or powder room in a factory, office or club.’

In 2021, this argument has been weaponised, much more explicitly utilising the language of ‘threat’, with Terri Kelleher of the Australian Family Association giving evidence that ‘Is it not discrimination against natal girls if natal male students who identify as female are allowed to use their toilets, change rooms and showers and share overnight school camp accommodation? What about their right to feel safe and to their privacy in spaces where they may be in a state of undress or asleep?’ and later ‘Now, that is not saying that all males or all boys who identify as girls are going to be a threat, but it sets up a situation where that can occur. That is very serious in the light of the child-on-child sexual abuse in schools.’

And, although most participants in the 1996 debate seemed to at least accept that transgender people are who they say they are, by 2021 a number of extremists appearing before Latham’s Committee were regularly making points about high rates of ‘de-transitioning’ and distinguishing between ‘genuine’ and ‘non-genuine’ trans people, before citing ‘social contagion’ and ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’ (despite all four arguments being completely unsupported by any evidence whatsoever).

However, the toxic atmosphere surrounding Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill, and the fact contemporary discussion seems to be even worse than it was two and a half decades ago, is merely one small part of much larger frustrations about the situation we find ourselves in today.

At the very least, the 1996 debate was about legislation that would ultimately deliver multiple steps forward for trans rights in this state. Not only did the Transgender (Anti-Discrimination and Other Acts) Act insert transgender as a protected attribute in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, it also saw NSW become the first jurisdiction in Australia to legally prohibit transphobic vilification (something that still hasn’t happened under Commonwealth law, nor in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory).

The same Act also amended the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 to allow transgender people who had undergone gender affirmation surgery to access identity documentation reflecting their gender identity.

These were genuinely historic reforms.

In contrast, the deceptively-named Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 seeks to completely erase real-life trans and nonbinary students from classrooms and schoolyards across NSW, censoring the curriculum and denying them affirmation and support from teachers, principals and even school counsellors.

As I have written elsewhere, this legislation is the worst legislative attack on LGBTI rights in Australia this century.

Some people might be tempted to dismiss this threat given it is merely the product of fringe extremists in the NSW Upper House (one of the chamber’s perennial features). Except the positions of the major parties on this Bill are, so far, worse than when a generation of young people were mislearning the definition of ironic (myself included).

Back then, the Carr Labor Government relentlessly pursued their reforms to anti-discrimination and birth certificate laws. And, while the Collins Liberal/National Opposition ultimately voted against them (because of baseless concerns about the impact of birth certificate changes to women’s sport, including nonsensical statements about the Sydney Olympics), they at least expressed in-principle support for trans anti-discrimination protections.[iv]

In contrast, in the 10 months since Latham introduced his legislative assault on trans kids, neither the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government nor the McKay, and now Minns, Labor Opposition have publicly condemned it.

Indeed, they both voted in the Legislative Council for the Bill to be considered in more detail by a Committee chaired by Latham himself, while the Liberal Parliamentary Secretary for Education Kevin Conolly has expressed his personal support for it.

In failing to reject Latham’s transphobia, could the major parties be any more pathetic?

But the most frustrating part of all is that we need to expend significant time and energy working to defend existing rights, instead of campaigning for improvements to those same reforms passed in 1996.

Because those changes were far from perfect, even when they were first passed.

For example, the amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act inserted a definition of ‘recognised transgender person’, applying to people who have undergone gender affirmation surgery and had that recognised under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, even though it is irrelevant to determining whether anti-trans discrimination was prohibited under Part 3A (poor drafting which is still causing confusion in 2021, as demonstrated by transphobic discrimination by McIver’s Ladies Baths in Coogee earlier this year).

Unfortunately, neither the definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ nor Part 3A introduced protections against discrimination for trans and gender diverse people whose gender identity was nonbinary (instead only covering people who ‘identify as a member of the opposite sex’).[v]

The 1996 Anti-Discrimination Act reforms also permitted discrimination against trans students and teachers in publicly-funded ‘private educational authorities’, including (but not limited to) religious schools.[vi] Something that was difficult to justify 25 years ago, and is impossible to defend now.[vii]

Finally, in limiting access to updated birth certificates to people who have undergone gender affirmation surgery,[viii] the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act changes excluded the majority of trans and gender diverse people who are either unable to access such procedures (including for financial reasons) or who do not wish to. After all, trans people should be in control of their gender identity, not the(ir) doctor.

This weakness is not brand new information, either. The serious limitations of the birth certificate changes were raised by both Democrat[ix] and Greens MLCs[x] at the time.

Indeed, over the last decade, South Australia, the ACT, Northern Territory, Tasmania and Victoria have all removed any requirement for transgender people to have physically invasive medical treatment in order to obtain new identity documentation.

While the re-elected McGowan Labor Government in WA is under pressure to implement the recommendations of a 2018 WA Law Reform Commission Report which supported the same, and the Palaszczuk Labor Government has committed to introduce its own changes later this year.

Which means it is likely that at some point this term NSW will become the only jurisdiction in Australia which still requires trans people to undergo surgery to access a new birth certificate. Just in time to be subjected to (well-deserved) global scorn as Sydney hosts World Pride in February and March 2023.

Nevertheless, just as the Liberal, National and Labor Parties have refused to publicly reject Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill, none are currently promising to fix the problems in the Anti-Discrimination Act first introduced back in 1996, nor have any committed to finally bring the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act into the 21st century by allowing people to update their birth certificates without surgery or other physically invasive medical treatments.

This ongoing silence, on the fundamental human rights of the trans community, is simply not good enough. We really oughta know where the major parties stand on Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill, anti-discrimination reform and birth certificate requirements by now.

We must use whatever influence we have to demand more on these issues from our elected representatives. And by ‘we’ here I’m not talking about trans and gender diverse people, who are already fighting just for the ability to live their lives without discrimination, and to learn without erasure.

It’s time for cisgender members of the LGBT community, as well as our cis-het allies, to step up, and put pressure on Gladys Berejiklian and her Cabinet, and Chris Minns and his Shadow Ministers, to prioritise the dignity and equality of NSW’s trans and nonbinary citizens.

We must do so urgently, too. Because right now, trans and gender diverse people have very few friends in the NSW Legislative Council, and NSW Parliament more broadly.

While there remains a real chance their legal rights will go backwards, rather than forwards, in the near future. Which would be a very jagged little pill to swallow.

*****

Take Action

Following correspondence I sent in February calling on NSW MPs to reject the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, today I sent the below short email to the Premier, Opposition Leader, and the Education Minister and Attorney General, plus their shadows. I encourage you to do the same (their contact details are included underneath the text):

Dear Premier

I am writing to urge you to publicly oppose the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, legislation which would erase trans and nonbinary students from classrooms and schoolyards across NSW, as well as censor the curriculum and deny them access to affirmation and support from teachers, principals and even school counsellors.

This Bill is the worst legislative attack on LGBTI rights anywhere in Australia this century. It is simply not good enough that, more than 10 months after it was introduced, the people of NSW still don’t know whether you and your Party condemn or condone the harm it will inevitably cause.

Nor is it good enough that trans and gender diverse people in NSW are forced to live with second-rate anti-discrimination and identity documentation laws.

Therefore, I also urge you to publicly commit to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to:

  • Remove the unnecessary and confusing definition of ‘recognised transgender person’,
  • Replace the protected attribute of ‘transgender’ with an attribute of ‘gender identity’ and a definition which ensures nonbinary people are protected against discrimination, and
  • Remove the special privileges which allow publicly-funded ‘private educational authorities’, including religious schools, to discriminate against trans and gender diverse students and teachers simply because of who they are.

Finally, I urge you to amend the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 to allow trans and gender diverse people to self-determine their gender identity without the need for physically invasive medical treatment, such as surgery, as well as to recognise a wider range of gender identities, including nonbinary.

If the NSW Parliament fails to amend these laws, it is highly likely we will soon be the only jurisdiction in Australia which places this unfair and unnecessary barrier in front of its trans and gender diverse citizens. These hurdles must be removed as a matter of priority.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

*****

Premier Gladys Berejiklian webform: https://www.nsw.gov.au/premier-of-nsw/contact-premier

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell webform: https://www.nsw.gov.au/nsw-government/ministers/minister-for-education-and-early-childhood-learning

Attorney General Mark Speakman webform: https://www.nsw.gov.au/nsw-government/contact-a-minister/attorney-general-and-minister-for-prevention-of-domestic-and-sexual-violence

Opposition Leader Chris Minns email: kogarah@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Education Prue Car email: londonderry@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Shadow Attorney General Michael Daley email: maroubra@parliament.nsw.gov.au

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:


[i] In the 1996 debate, trans women were erroneously described by opponents as ‘transsexual males’, while in the 2021 hearings trans girls were commonly called ‘biological males’ or ‘natal males’. Mark Latham also deliberately used the deadname of a prominent transgender Australian on 20 April.

[ii] The term ‘tranys’ was used by both supporters and opponents of the 1996 legislation, perhaps indicating that this language did not carry the same pejorative connotations it does today. Either way, it was confronting seeing the frequency with which the term was used back then.

[iii] National Party MLC Duncan Gay opposed the 1996 reforms, stating: ‘I am going to be brief in my opposition to this bill. I am amazed about the amount of time spent by honourable members on what I believe is the most stupid and most unnecessary bill to ever come before this Parliament.’

[iv] With Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, John Hannaford, stating: ‘I accept the need to deal with discrimination against members of the transgender community. I acknowledge that violence is committed against such members of the community and also that those members suffer discrimination. It is necessary to address such elements of violence and discrimination.’

[v] Unfortunately, this problem – only protecting trans people with binary gender identities – is shared by the anti-discrimination laws of Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory. For more, see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.  

[vi] One of many reasons why the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act is the worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia. For more, see: What’s Wrong with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

[vii] Disturbingly, these represent only the most prominent of the problems with trans protections in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act. One of the provisions inserted in 1996 provided an exception allowing discrimination by superannuation funds:

‘Section 38Q: A person does not discriminate against a transgender person (whether or not a recognised transgender person) on transgender grounds if, in the administration of a superannuation or provident fund or scheme, the other person treats the transgender person as being of the opposite sex to the sex with which the transgender person identifies.’

Interestingly, the then Attorney General, Jeff Shaw, made the following comment about this provision in his Second Reading Speech:

‘Granting legal recognition also has implications for the superannuation sector in terms of differential contributions and benefits. These implications have not yet been fully determined. The legislation therefore provides for an exemption to legal recognition in this area. Nevertheless, I wish to advise the House that the Government is currently examining this matter with a view to possible further amendments at a later date.’

Except, as you’ve probably guessed by now, those changes never happened – and this exception remains, with the exact same wording, today.

[viii] Interestingly, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 provisions were amended in 2008, to replace the original terminology of ‘sexual reassignment surgery’ with ‘sexual affirmation procedure’, but the requirement for surgery was not altered.

[ix] Democrat MLC Elisabeth Kirby stated: ‘Although I support the Government’s amendments to the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Act, I request that the Government give serious future consideration to an expansion of the criteria under which a new birth certificate can be obtained’ before highlighting that only a minority of transgender people undergo surgery.

[x] Greens MLC Ian Cohen also expressed his ‘reservations’ about ‘the certificate provisions not including transgender members of our community who, for whatever reasons, decline surgical intervention’ and later that ‘By using medical interventions as the benchmark for altering documents of identity, the legislation leaves out in the cold 80 per cent of the transgender members of our community who do not avail themselves of medical interventions.’ Perhaps with misplaced confidence he subsequently noted that ‘I am certain that with the passage of time this flaw will be recognised and rectified.’ Well, we’re now at 25 years and counting…

A Pride Flag for NSW

Today (26 March 2021) marks exactly ten years since the election of the NSW Liberal/National Government.

In that decade, and especially in their early years, they have passed a few important LGBT law reforms, including the long-overdue abolition of the homosexual advance defence (or ‘gay panic’ defence) in 2014 and establishing a scheme to expunge historical criminal records for same-sex intercourse in the same year.

However, the pace of reform has slowed markedly in recent times. The last new LGBTI laws were both passed in 2018, with the removal of ‘forced trans divorce’ (although this was necessitated by the passage of marriage equality in Commonwealth law, while NSW failed to seize the opportunity to amend identity laws more generally) and the introduction of an offence for publicly threatening or inciting violence against others, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status (although it replaced existing criminal vilification offences on the basis of homosexuality and transgender status, and as far as I am aware has not been enforced since it commenced).

Indeed, with this week also marking the halfway point of the Liberal/National Government’s third term, there have been no new laws passed addressing LGBTI issues since then, and none appear to be on the horizon.

This is not because the job of LGBTI law reform in NSW is complete. Far from it. As I have written previously, NSW now has the worst LGBT laws in Australia, and is only saved from that title with respect to intersex issues because some other jurisdictions are similarly appalling.

At least part of the problem is that many people, both inside and especially outside our communities, erroneously believe the struggle is over. Which is where my idea for a pride flag for NSW comes in.

From my perspective, the pride flag is inherently political. A symbol of our strength and resilience in overcoming anti-LGBTI prejudice and abuse, as well as a reminder to continue fighting until all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are truly ‘free and equal’.

With that in mind, here is what I think the six colours of the ‘traditional’ pride flag[i] could stand for in NSW today, as a way of bringing attention to at least some of the essential reforms which are still yet to be won here.

Red: Ban conversion practices

Anti-gay and anti-trans conversion practices (sometimes described as ‘ex-gay’ or ‘ex-trans’ therapy) continue in Australia today. Several jurisdictions have already taken steps to ban these practices, with general prohibitions, including in religious environments, now law in Victoria and the ACT, and a more limited ban, only covering health settings, in Queensland. Other states, including Tasmania, are actively considering their own legislation.

To date, the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government has given no firm indication they are considering laws to outlaw these destructive practices. They need to be pressured into taking urgent action to stop them.

Amber/Orange: Protect LGBT students & teachers

By now, we are all familiar with ‘amber alerts’ in the media to draw attention to vulnerable children in danger. Well, every day in NSW there should be an amber alert for LGBT kids – because, in 2021, religious schools are still legally permitted to discriminate against them on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

That is in part because of Scott Morrison’s broken promise from 2018 to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984(Cth) to remove the special privileges allowing religious schools to abuse, mistreat, suspend or even expel students just because of who they are.

But it is also because the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government refuses to repeal the special privileges contained in its own law, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). Indeed, the exceptions in NSW are actually worse, because they permit all private schools, colleges and universities to discriminate, not just those that are religious (making NSW the only jurisdiction in Australia to do so).

Of course, LGBT students are not the only victims of such discrimination. The same provisions also allow private educational authorities to discriminate against LGBT teachers.

If we genuinely want our schools to be safe learning environments where all people are encouraged to reach their full potential, then the NSW Government must protect both LGBT students and teachers from discrimination.

Yellow: End coercive intersex surgeries

As I have written elsewhere, the worst human rights abuses currently affecting any part of the Australian LGBTI community are coercive medical treatments, including surgeries and other interventions, on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.

These egregious human rights violations carry lifelong consequences which is why they must be deferred until intersex people can consent, or not consent, to them. Some jurisdictions, including Tasmania and the ACT, appear to be moving in that direction. As yet, there is no sign of similar progress in NSW.

[NB The yellow comes from the intersex pride flag, which is yellow and purple.]

Green: Improve birth certificate access

NSW now has the equal worst birth certificate laws in Australia, alongside Queensland. 

Under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW), trans and gender diverse people must undergo ‘a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs… for the purpose of assisting a person to be considered a member of the opposite sex’ before being allowed to update their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity.

This requirement is both unnecessary and inappropriate, especially when some people may not wish to undergo such surgeries, while others cannot afford to do so given the prohibitive costs involved.

NSW has fallen behind the majority of other Australian jurisdictions which have updated their birth certificate laws to allow access based on self-identification only (which is best practice), or at least without physical medical interventions. It is time the Government gave the green light to trans and gender diverse people here to access birth certificates without any medical gate-keeping.

Blue[ii]: Trans discrimination law reform

Trans and gender diverse people in NSW are also let down by confusing and outdated anti-discrimination protections, as amply demonstrated by the controversy surrounding discriminatory efforts to prevent trans women who have not undergone surgery from accessing McIver’s Ladies Baths in Coogee.

On one hand, there is a definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) which some people might, mistakenly, try to use to justify limiting access on the basis of surgery:

‘recognised transgender person means a person the record of whose sex is altered under Part 5A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995[iii] or under the corresponding provisions of a law of another Australian jurisdiction.’

Except the substantive protections against transgender discrimination apply irrespective of whether the person has had surgery. According to section 38A:

‘A reference in this Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person, whether or not the person is a recognised transgender person

(a) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or

(b) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex…

and includes a reference to the person being thought of as a transgender person, whether the person is, or was, in fact a transgender person’ [emphasis added].

Which means discriminating against transgender women who have not had surgery would probably be found to be unlawful.

Given this, the misleading definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ should be removed from section 4.

However, that would still not address a far bigger problem, including with the broader definition in section 38A: it likely only applies to people with ‘binary’ gender identities, because of its use of the outdated concept of ‘opposite sex’.

In other words, non-binary people in NSW are not explicitly covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. The NSW Government must remedy this by replacing ‘transgender’ with ‘gender identity’, potentially based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth):

‘gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth’.

Lavender/Purple: Bisexual discrimination law reform

The definition of transgender is not the only outdated terminology in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). The other protected attribute covering (some parts) of the LGBTI community is currently ‘homosexual.’ Section 4 of the Act defines that term to mean ‘male or female homosexual.’

That narrow definition means NSW’s anti-discrimination laws are the only such laws in Australia that fail to protect bisexuals against discrimination.

This omission is truly appalling. It is well beyond time for the NSW Government to update the Anti-Discrimination Act to cover sexual orientation generally, in line with other jurisdictions including the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984:

‘sexual orientation means a person’s sexual orientation towards:

(a) persons of the same sex; or

(b) persons of a different sex; or

(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.’

[NB The lavender comes from the bisexual pride flag, which is pink, lavender and blue.]

The six issues discussed above are of course not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of other LGBTI laws and policies which also need to be amended by NSW to provide genuine equality to its citizens irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.[iv]

But, in my opinion, these are some of the most essential reforms in order for people to feel pride that we are making real progress in overcoming homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

I started this article by highlighting the fact today is the 10th anniversary of the election of the NSW Liberal/National Government.

Coincidentally, today also marks 100 weeks until the planned opening ceremony of World Pride 2023 in Sydney.

That means Premier Gladys Berejiklian has exactly 100 weeks to deliver on each of the six issues identified here.

If her Liberal/National Government fails to make these long-overdue and much-needed changes in that time, then I suggest we fly this ‘pride flag for NSW’ at half-mast during that opening ceremony to acknowledge the damage inflicted and pain caused by their ongoing inaction.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you can sign up to receive updates about this and other issues from this blog, via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus [NB Given the events of the past month – with this website being blocked by Facebook for being ‘news’ – it is more important than ever to sign up if you want to receive updates, especially with the possibility of further disruptions].

Footnotes:


[i] I also personally support the newer ‘Progress’ version of the pride flag, incorporating both elements of the trans flag, and black and brown stripes to represent people of colour.

[ii] The blue here could either represent part of the trans pride flag – which is blue, pink and white – or the blue of the Pacific Ocean at McIver’s Ladies Baths.

[iii] Which, as we have seen, only allows the granting of new identity documentation following invasive surgeries.

[iv] Indeed, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) also needs to be updated to include a new protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ covering intersex people, and to remove the general exception in section 56(d) which allows a wide range of religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees and people accessing their services.

NSW Liberal Parliamentary Secretary for Education Supports Bill to Erase Trans Kids

Last weekend was the first Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade and/or Party I have missed since 2003. Although I think I had a pretty good reason not to be there – I was attending my grandma’s 100th birthday party in Rockhampton, Queensland (near where I grew up).

Nevertheless, the day before Mardi Gras I received a letter reminding me of just how far there is left to go before we achieve genuine, substantive equality for LGBTI Australians, and especially for trans and gender diverse children and young people.

But, first, some context. In August last year, NSW One Nation Leader Mark Latham introduced the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020. As I wrote at the time, this proposed law is the worst attack on LGBTI rights in this country this century.

If passed, the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 would:

  • Prohibit any ‘teaching, instruction, counselling and advice’ that gender identity can be different to sex assigned at birth, effectively erasing and invisibilising trans and gender diverse students in schools across NSW
  • Introducing a UK section 28-style clause making it difficult for teachers, principals and counsellors to support lesbian, gay and bisexual students, and
  • Enacting an inaccurate and offensive definition of intersex in NSW law for the first time.

The NSW Legislative Council Education Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into this Bill. Unfortunately, the Chair of that inquiry is… Mark Latham. In which case, I decided to bypass the Committee and instead write directly to the majority of MPs calling on them to be champions for trans and gender diverse kids, rather than their bullies.

I have received a small number of responses to date, but the most significant so far arrived in my inbox last Friday, March 5 2021. It came from the Member for Riverstone, Mr Kevin Conolly – who, incidentally, is also the NSW Government Parliamentary Secretary for Education (and therefore a direct adviser to and influencer of the Minister for Education, the Hon Sarah Mitchell).  Here is what he wrote:

Dear Mr Lawrie,

Thank you for contacting me to express your view about the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020.

You appear to have misunderstood the intent and effect of the Bill on a number of levels.

The first thing to state about the Bill is that it gives effect to internationally recognised human rights explicitly stated in international agreements to which Australia (like nearly all nations) is a signatory:

Article 18, part 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

‘The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.’

Article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

‘Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognised in the present Convention.’

Article 26(3) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

‘Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.’

I do not agree that the Bill is based on a sick ideology, as you assert. It is based, in my view, on the common sense proposition that it is parents who are best placed and most likely to focus on the best interests of their child, rather than teacher unions, academics or activists with their own political agenda.

In prohibiting the teaching of ‘gender fluidity’ the Bill would preclude the teaching of the false and unscientific proposition that gender is something other than biologically determined.

To state this does not in any way suggest that it is better for young people experiencing gender dysphoria to ‘not exist at all’. I’m sure that Hon. Mark Latham would wholeheartedly agree with you that young people in this situation should be ‘happy and healthy, … safe and supported.’ This is far more likely to be the case if they are in the care of their parents and avoid premature chemical or surgical interventions while they grow and mature.

It is a fact that the great majority of cases of young people with gender dysphoria are resolved in time without any such interventions if children and adolescents are supported by loving families and allowed to make their own decisions when older. Most are resolved with the person coming to terms with their biological gender.

I note that you have mentioned ‘LGBTI’ a number of times in your email. However the Bill has no impact whatsoever on questions of homosexuality, only on the specific issue of so-called ‘gender fluidity’.

In my view, quite contrary to your assertion, the Bill would facilitate a school counsellor or teacher to help a child or young person by allowing counselling to consider all the future options available to the person rather than requiring only one predetermined option (i.e. ‘transition’) to be discussed.

The Bill is a positive step forward because it provides the opportunity for parents to provide genuine selfless care to young people rather than leave them at the mercy of activists whose ‘care’ is far more for their ideological cause than it is for the young person facing difficult challenges. In doing so it upholds universally recognised basic human rights, and responsibilities of parents towards their children.

Yours sincerely

Kevin Conolly MP

Member for Riverstone

*****

There is obviously a lot to unpack here. First of all, it is clear that Mr Conolly is selectively quoting from some international human rights instruments, while ignoring other key principles. This includes Article 26 of the ICCPR, which states:

‘All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or other status.’

There is no doubt that a Bill which seeks to erase trans and gender diverse students, make life much more difficult for LG&B kids, and stigmatise intersex children, is discriminatory against LGBTI people.

Indeed, as others have written, it is likely that the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 will ultimately be found to be unlawful because it contravenes the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

But misinterpreting international human rights law is the least of the problems in Mr Conolly’s correspondence.

He also doesn’t seem to understand the Bill itself. The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 establishes strict limits on any teaching or counselling of anything to do with what it describes as ‘matters of parental primacy’ – which is defined very broadly to explicitly include ‘matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality’.

Therefore, his protestation that ‘the Bill has no impact whatsoever on questions of homosexuality’ is not only patently false, but makes me question whether he has even read the legislation he is so ardently defending.

On that note, I find it incredibly curious that a member of the NSW Government – and a Parliamentary Secretary at that – is not only publicly supporting One Nation legislation (‘The Bill is a positive step forward…’), but also defending and apparently speaking on behalf of the NSW One Nation Leader (‘I’m sure that Hon. Mark Latham would…’).

But, of course, the worst aspects of Mr Conolly’s letter relate to his views about gender identity.

On this topic, he appears to assert that there is actually no such thing as trans and gender diverse people (‘In prohibiting the teaching of ‘gender fluidity’ the Bill would preclude the teaching of the false and unscientific proposition that gender is something other than biologically determined’). I’m sure that revelation would be surprising to trans and gender diverse people across NSW.

Nevertheless, the most offensive aspect of Mr Conolly’s correspondence arrives near its conclusion, where he argues ‘the Bill would facilitate a school counsellor or teacher to help a child or young person by allowing counselling to consider all the future options available to the person rather than requiring only one predetermined option (i.e. ‘transition’) to be discussed’.

Except that, given those same counsellors and teachers will be explicitly prohibited from even mentioning that gender identity can be different to sex assigned at birth, the only option they will be permitted to present to struggling children is that they simply not be trans or gender diverse.

It is at least arguable that what Mr Conolly is calling for is for counsellors and teachers to provide anti-trans conversion practices in every school across NSW.

It is extraordinary this letter was written by a member of the NSW Liberal/National Government. It is deeply troubling that it was done so by the Parliamentary Secretary for Education, commenting on and explicitly supporting legislation within his portfolio.

This stands in marked contrast to the failure of the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, and Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, to take any position on the Bill whatsoever. Indeed, they collectively delegated their reply to my letter to a bureaucrat in the Department of Education, who wrote:

‘The NSW Government will respond to the proposed bill after careful consideration to ensure all relevant legislation and protections are considered.’

Now that the Parliamentary Secretary for Education has declared his personal support for the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, I believe this studious refusal to adopt a position is no longer tenable. At a certain point, being non-committal ends up being complicit.

The failure of the NSW Premier to oppose Mark Latham’s awful legislative assault on trans and gender diverse kids is particularly untenable given another development last weekend: Ms Berejiklian’s attendance at the SCG for the Mardi Gras Parade (as tweeted by Commonwealth Liberal MP, Dave Sharma – pictured below).

In my view, if you are prepared to come and celebrate diversity with us – diversity of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics – then you must be prepared to defend that diversity.

Against attacks by fringe extremist parties in the NSW Legislative Council.

And against support for those attacks by prominent members of your very own Government.

As I wrote previously, ‘It is time for [NSW Parliamentarians] to make your decision about the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020. Champion. Or bully. The choice is yours.’

Right now, that choice belongs to the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.

Berejiklian must understand the extremely serious consequences if she makes the wrong decision. Because instead of being able to celebrate their own 100th birthdays early in the 22nd century, some trans and gender diverse students in NSW schools will struggle to reach their 18th.

*****

For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you can sign up to receive updates about this and other issues from this blog, via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus [NB Given the events of the past month – with this website being blocked by Facebook for being ‘news’ – it is more important than ever to sign up if you want to receive updates, especially with the possibility of further disruptions].