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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.’
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.]
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.
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[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.
ANU Gender Identity + Sexuality Law Moot Webinar Presentation
In October 2020, I was invited to be a judge for the round robin stage of the inaugural ANU Gender Identity + Sexuality Law Moot. In the lead-up to the moot itself, I participated in a webinar for participants about the state of LGBTIQ law reform in Australia, including being asked to address the following two questions:
What are, in your view, the most significant issues that need legal reform with respect to LGBTIQ rights and inclusion? and
How can we ensure that workplaces are inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds but in particular for the LGBTIQ community?
While the panel ultimately adopted a more ‘free-wheeling’ approach to its discussion, I prepared the below, more detailed responses to these questions. Now that, at the end of a busy year, I’ve finally had the chance to tidy them up, I thought they might be worth sharing. I’m also keen to hear other people’s views, including on what you think the most significant issues that need legal reform are today – please leave your comments below.
Question 1. What are, in your view, the most significant issues that need legal reform with respect to LGBTIQ rights and inclusion?
Despite what many people might assume – and what far too many members of our political and media classes seem to believe following the recognition of LGBTI marriage in 2017 – there remain a large number of outstanding legal reforms necessary for LGBTIQ rights and inclusion in 2020 [and I guess we can say 2021 now, too]. The following are my top three:
Ending coercive medical interventions on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics
Intersex people, and especially children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics, currently experience the worst human rights abuses of any group within the Australian LGBTIQ community.
Intersex people are born with physical sex characteristics that do not neatly fit medical norms for female or male bodies. Infants, children, adolescents and adults born with intersex variations risk or suffer forced and coercive medical interventions, designed to make their bodies more typically female or male. These interventions are not medically necessary, but instead rely on social or cultural rationales.[i]
The consequences of early and unnecessary deferrable interventions can include pain, trauma, shame, loss of sexual function and sensation, urinary incontinence and urgency, a need for ongoing medical treatment or repeat surgeries, experiences of violation and sexual assault, reinforcement of incorrect sex assignment and loss of choice.
These coercive medical interventions breach a large number of human rights principles, including the right to bodily integrity. They also adversely impact on rights to liberty, security, non-discrimination, privacy and freedom from torture, experimentation and harmful practices.
Unfortunately, coercive medical interventions on intersex people, and especially children born with intersex variations, have not been legally prohibited in any Australian jurisdiction.
Instead, they are self-governed by clinical guidelines which support coercive interventions despite a lack of supporting medical evidence. And they are enabled by a legal system, including family law, which have permitted coercive interventions on the basis of (often poorly-informed) parental consent. The most infamous decision was the 2016 Family Court decision of Re: Carla, although it was merely one of a long line to contravene the human rights of intersex children.
In terms of law reform, there has been disappointingly little progress in this area. This month (October 2020) marks seven years since a bipartisan Senate Committee recommended new guidelines be developed that ‘should favour deferral of normalising treatment until the person can give fully informed consent, and seek to minimise surgical intervention on infants undertaken for primarily psychosocial reasons’ (among other recommendations).[ii]
Unfortunately, the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison Governments have effectively done nothing to implement even these modest proposals.
More encouragingly, in June 2020 the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute released the final report of its inquiry into the legal recognition of sex and gender. It made a number of recommendations about intersex law reform, including:
The Criminal Code should be reformed to criminalise non-consensual medical interventions in the following terms:
178F Unnecessary medical intervention to change the sex characteristics of children.
(1) Any person who performs a surgical, hormonal or other medical intervention to alter or modify the sex characteristics of a child is guilty of a crime, unless:
(a) it is performed to address a clear danger to the life or health of the child and it cannot be deferred until the child is able to give informed consent; or
(b) it takes place with the informed consent of the child.
(2) Nothing in this Section is intended to apply to interventions involving a consenting transgender child seeking treatment to delay puberty or secondary sexual differentiation.
Charge: Performing unnecessary medical intervention to change the sex characteristics of a non-consenting child.
Recommendation 8 of that report also recommended that:
‘intersex people should be able to pursue claims for compensation for personal trespass and breach of professional duty against doctors where medical interventions to alter intersex variations of sex characteristics have resulted in physical or mental harm, irrespective of any parental consent to the intervention at the time it was performed.’
The Tasmanian Government is now considering these recommendations, meaning it is possible it will become the first Australian jurisdiction to criminalise coercive medical interventions on children born with intersex variations.
Before moving on, I should note the Australian Human Rights Commission has also been undertaking a long-running project on these issues.[iii] I understand it is (finally) nearing completion, and my personal hope is it recommends all Australian jurisdictions criminalise these human rights abuses.
2. Trans and gender diverse birth certificate reform
Trans and gender diverse people should have access to birth certificates, and other identity documentation, based solely on self-identification, and without medical approval (because gender identity is exactly that, identity, and not a ‘medical’ issue). Currently only one Australian jurisdiction has completely achieved this model: Tasmania, following its historic 2019 birth certificate reforms.
Victoria is a close second, also following changes in 2019, which removed the involvement of medical gatekeepers, although unfortunately it does not fully realise self-identification, because applications must be accompanied by a statement from someone who has known the applicant for at least 12 months and ‘supports’ the application.
Three other jurisdictions – South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory – have removed requirements for surgery or other physically invasive treatments. However, they still adopt a medical model, because they require engagement with psychologists or counsellors prior to approval. Ultimately, these laws will need to be updated.
However, the largest problems are in the other three states. NSW and Queensland still require surgery in order to access new identity documents, which is completely inappropriate not just because it unnecessarily medicalises gender identity, but also because not all trans and gender diverse people want surgery (or can afford it).[iv]
Western Australia’s legislation also requires surgery, although thanks to a favourable High Court decision, this has been interpreted to ‘only’ require some forms of physical treatment (such as hormone therapy).
One LGBTIQ human rights abuse that is not technically in Australia, but is perpetrated by Australia, is the detention, processing and resettlement of LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum in countries that criminalise them.
In particular, there remain LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum who are trapped in Papua New Guinea – because the Australia Government put them there – a country which retains a maximum penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment for male same-sex activity.
And, even though Nauru decriminalised homosexuality in 2016, that does not necessarily translate into it being a safe environment for the LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum which the Australian Government imprisoned there.
Of course, for anyone interested in international human rights law, all offshore detention, processing and resettlement is abhorrent, and should be ended for all refugees irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics (or other attributes).
However, we must not overlook the fact Australia’s immigration framework has a particularly awful impact on people fleeing persecution on the basis of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer. They should be brought to Australia immediately.[v]
While there is no individual LGBTI anti-discrimination law reform issue which is as important as the above three topics, I would argue that addressing our inadequate, incomplete and inconsistent LGBTI anti-discrimination and vilification framework overall must also be a high priority. Specifically, the majority of Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws should be updated across three main areas:
Ensuring everyone is protected against discrimination. Most state and territory laws currently exclude at least some parts of our community. The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the worst – it doesn’t even protect bisexuals.[vi] While NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory don’t cover people with non-binary gender identities – and the same jurisdictions exclude intersex people as well.
Repealing the special privileges enjoyed by religious organisations. Loopholes allow faith bodies to discriminate against LGBT people, in employment and against people accessing services, even when they are delivering public services using public funding. Nearly all Australian anti-discrimination laws, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), need to be reformed – although the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 provides a template for how this can be done, by permitting religious organisations to preference people from their own faith (in limited circumstances), while not allowing discrimination on the basis of other attributes like sexual orientation or gender identity.[vii]
Obviously, the religious exceptions which have received the most public debate, at least in the past few years, are those allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff. Positively, four jurisdictions (Tasmania, Queensland, the ACT and Northern Territory) have already legislated to cover LGBT students, although only two (Tasmania and the ACT) fully protect LGBT teachers and other staff. On the negative side, Scott Morrison’s Broken Promise to Protect LGBT Students is Now Two Years Old, and there’s little chance he will act on it for several years to come either.
Introducing prohibitions on anti-LGBTI vilification. There is currently no prohibition on anti-LGBTI vilification under Commonwealth law. Although they are by no means alone – currently Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification. Of those that do (NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT), only Tasmania and the ACT protect all sections of the LGBTI community. Given homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are just as damaging, and harmful, as racism, I firmly believe anti-LGBTI vilification should be prohibited on the same basis as racial vilification (equivalent to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)).
There are a range of other LGBTIQ law reform issues which still need to be addressed, including:
Sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices (sometimes called ex-gay or ex-trans therapy) should be outlawed across Australia. The Queensland Government recently introduced the first ban on these practices – although disappointingly it only applied in health care settings, and not in the religious environments where most anti-gay and anti-trans conversion practices occur. The ACT Government followed shortly thereafter, and their legislation has been welcomed by survivor groups because it covers both health care and religious settings. I understand that there are also moves to outlaw these practices in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia – although sadly not in my adopted home state of NSW [NB Since the webinar, Victoria has introduced their own Bill to ban conversion practices, which appears to be stronger than both Queensland and the ACT, while the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute has released an Issues Paper on ‘Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices’, with submissions due 7 January 2021].
South Australia still needs to abolish the gay panic defence (or homosexual advance defence). Thankfully, after much prompting, the South Australian Government has finally released draft legislation that does just that, for public consultation. Hopefully it is finally removed from the statute books later this year or in early 2021. [NB South Australian Parliament passed legislation finally abolishing the gay panic defence on 1 December 2020].
Expungement regimes – which allow for historical convictions for same-sex sexual activity to be expunged from a person’s criminal record – should also be strengthened. In particular, there is a serious limitation in the Queensland scheme, which does not allow gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men who were convicted as a result of the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse between 1991 and 2016 to have their records expunged,[viii] and
The Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) needs to be amended to remove the unjustified special privileges that were introduced for existing civil celebrants, and religious organisations, as part of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017. Note that I usually do not refer to that legislation as providing ‘marriage equality’ as a result of these exceptions, because they mean LGBTI couples marrying now can be discriminated against in ways that divorced people remarrying before 2017 could not. We can get married, but it is still not equal.[ix]
Protecting Existing Rights
Some people take the quote ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’ a little too literally, and consequently fail to appreciate LGBTIQ rights can go backwards. Something which has happened multiple times in the past decade, including the Newman LNP Government in Queensland winding back civil partnership laws passed by the Bligh Labor Government.
In the area of anti-discrimination, we should also remember the Baillieu Coalition Government in Victoria undid the introduction of a modest ‘inherent requirements’ test for religious exceptions passed by the Brumby Labor Government in 2010 – before they had even commenced. While the Hodgman Liberal Government tried multiple times to undermine vilification protections for LGBTI Tasmanians (and other groups) as long as that vilification was religiously-motivated (although thankfully those efforts failed).
There are currently three major efforts to undermine LGBTIQ rights:
The Commonwealth Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, of which we have seen two Exposure Drafts and was due to be introduced in March 2020 but has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. This legislation would:
Make it easier to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ LGBTI Australians
Make it easier for health practitioners to refuse to provide services to LGBTI patients
Make it easier for religious organisations to discriminate against others
Make it more difficult for big business to promote diversity and inclusion
Create a Religious Freedom Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission (when we still don’t have a Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics)
Entrench unjustified religious exceptions in the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), and
Explicitly protect charities advocating against LGBTI relationship recognition in the Charities Act 2013 (Cth), despite it being completely unnecessary.
The Mark Latham/One Nation Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 in NSW, which, similar to the Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill, seeks to privilege the rights of religious individuals and organisations over the rights of others, including the right of LGBTI people in NSW to be protected against discrimination [since the webinar, I had this opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald, outlining just one of the many serious problems created by the NSW ‘Religious Freedoms’ Bill], and
The Mark Latham/One Nation Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, also in NSW. This legislation does (at least) three awful things:
Prohibiting the teaching of ‘gender fluidity’ – where teaching includes anything to do with a school (including counselling) by anyone connected to a school (including volunteers), and ‘gender fluidity’ means acknowledging that gender identity can be different to biological sex at birth. In effect, it will mean erasing trans and gender diverse students, as well as teachers, in schools across NSW
Introducing a UK section 28-style law against ‘promotion’ of ideological views about sexuality and gender identity – which, just like section 28 did there, will impose a silence on LGBT students struggling with invisibility at the most vulnerable point in their lives, and
Enacting an erroneous and stigmatising definition of intersex in NSW law for the first time (‘disorders of sexual differentiation’).
Of course, ordinarily, we wouldn’t be too concerned about legislation being proposed by fringe extremists in the NSW Legislative Council. However, the NSW Government and Opposition have both supported both One Nation Bills being referred to Committee for inquiry – with the anti-trans kids inquiry chaired by Mark Latham himself. Which means we must resist the laws themselves, as well as fighting against toxic debate surrounding them which has the potential to harm vulnerable younger members of our community, and especially trans and gender diverse kids.
Question 2. How can we ensure that workplaces are inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds but in particular for the LGBTIQ community?
My answer to this will (thankfully) be significantly shorter than for the previous question, in part because we’ve already discussed some of the reforms that are needed, especially in terms of anti-discrimination law reform, such as repealing the special privileges that allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees.
This includes amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to protect LGBT teachers in religious schools, as well as reforms in the other jurisdictions where LGBT school staff are not fully protected (all states and territories bar Tasmania and the ACT).[x]
It also means ensuring LGBT employees in Government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations are protected (where people accessing these services are currently covered under the SDA, but staff in those same facilities are not). There are several reasons for this, including because it is unfair on employees:
‘People should be hired, not hired or even fired, on the basis of how well they are able to provide care and support to the people accessing aged care services, not who they are attracted to or how they identify.’[xi]
It is also unfair on people accessing these services, who ‘have the right to expect the highest possible standard of care. That is not provided when an aged care service refuses to employ highly-qualified people simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.’[xii]
The same reasons also apply in terms of fighting against the Commonwealth Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, especially in the era of coronavirus. That’s because the 2nd Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill allows hospitals to hire the most religious, not the most qualified:
‘Surely, that must have an impact on the standard of care that patients will receive. Imagine the worry if one of your loved ones is taken to the emergency department of a faith-based hospital and you can’t be certain whether the health practitioner is there because of what they believe, not what they can do.’
Likewise, the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill allows aged care facilities to hire the most religious, not the most qualified. As I wrote earlier this year: ‘As someone with a grandmother who turned 99 last Wednesday, and who is in a nursing home, I would hate to think she is being cared for by someone who is there because of their views and not their vocational skills’.
[Both quotes taken from my March 2020 article ‘Coronavirus and the Religious Discrimination Bill’ which I think holds up pretty well, 9 months later, as a strong argument against the RDB when the Morrison Government inevitably brings it back it in the first half of 2021.]
But repealing religious exceptions is not the only law reform needed to make workplaces inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds, and in particular for the LGBTIQ community.
One specific reform that should be introduced as a matter of priority are amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to ensure it treats trans, gender diverse and intersex employees exactly the same as lesbian, gay and bisexual ones.
Currently, the adverse action protections in section 351(1), and unlawful termination protections in section 772(1)(f), of that Act cover sexual orientation, but do not explicitly include gender identity or sex characteristics.[xiii]
Unfortunately, despite this issue being raised repeatedly with the Turnbull and Morrison Governments, they do not appear to be in any hurry to remedy this omission.
A broader structural reform to anti-discrimination law is ensuring it is able to deal with real-life people, who are complex and have multi-faceted characteristics (covering race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and more attributes besides).
Often, it is impossible for people to know whether they have been discriminated against because of a particular protected attribute, or a combination of attributes. Any definition of discrimination must be able to deal with this complexity, and uncertainty. In my perspective, one of the best approaches is found in section 8 of the ACT Discrimination Act 1991:
‘Meaning of discrimination
(1) For this Act, discrimination occurs when a person discriminates either directly, or indirectly, or both, against someone else.
(2) For this section, a person directly discriminates against someone else if the person treats, or proposes to treat, another person unfavourably because the other person has 1 or more protected attributes.
(3) For this section, a person indirectly discriminates against someone else if the person imposes, or proposes to impose, a condition or requirement that has, or is likely to have, the effect of disadvantaging the other person because the other person has 1 or more protected attributes.’
One final point that should be mentioned, if we are genuine about making workplaces inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds, is that there is a gap in terms of anti-discrimination protections around religious belief, and lack of belief.
It is unacceptable that the Commonwealth, NSW and South Australian anti-discrimination regimes do not protect people of faith, and no faith, against discrimination – this is something that should be addressed.
But it must not be addressed in the way proposed by the Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill, or the Mark Latham/One Nation Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 in NSW. Because they are just as unacceptable.
People of faith, and no faith, should be protected against discrimination on exactly the same terms as everyone else, including to the same standard as sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.
People of faith, and especially faith-run organisations, must not be given new special privileges to discriminate against others, including people of minority faiths or no faith, as well as women, LGBTIQ people, single parents, divorced people and people in de facto relationships, people with disability and plenty more.
Doing this one simple thing – protecting everyone against discrimination, equally – would help create an Australia where all people are accepted for who they are. And it would be a great leap forward for LGBTIQ people of faith too, many of whom experience discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation/gender identity/sex characteristics and faith.
[i] The information in this, and following, paragraph(s) is summarised from the website of Intersex Human Rights Australia. Please check them out here.
Submission re 2020 ALP National Platform – Consultation Draft
I am writing to provide my individual feedback on the 2020 ALP National Platform, as released for public consultation.
I do so as a long-term advocate for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community, and as someone who was responsible for providing wording on multiple policy issues which were included in the 2015 National Platform (many of which were retained in the 2018 National Platform, although most have subsequently been excluded from the current version).
I acknowledge the intent of the Consultation Draft: ‘A Platform of this kind would be much more significant and carry much more weight. But it also needed to be much shorter’ [emphasis added]. This is reflected in the abbreviated document released this year: at 96 pages, it is just over one-third the length of the 2018 version (which was 268 pages, plus the Party’s constitution).
However, Labor’s LGBTIQ policy commitments have been reduced by much more than this ratio. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the LGBTIQ content of the 2018 National Platform has been gutted in the 2020 Consultation Draft.
At a simplistic level, this can be seen in the decline in usage of the term LGBTIQ itself: from 45 times in the 2018 National Platform, to just six times in the 2020 consultation draft. This is a massively disproportionate reduction.
But this decline is much more than just the use of fewer words. This reduction represents large, and substantive, cuts to the ALP’s policy commitments to achieving LGBTIQ equality. The LGBTIQ community should be alert and alarmed about the potential for the Labor Party to walk away from its previous policies to improve the lives of LGBTIQ Australians.
In this submission, I will start by focusing on four particular, and particularly-important, issues (three where previous commitments have been abolished entirely, and one where the proposed commitments are seriously inadequate) before providing comments on the specific chapters of the Consultation Draft, as well as the statements in detail.
Ending Coercive Medical Interventions on Intersex Children
In my view, the most egregious human rights abuses against LGBTIQ people in Australia are the ongoing coercive medical interventions, including surgical and hormonal interventions, to alter the sex characteristics of children born with intersex variations.[i]
For this reason, the inclusion of this commitment, on para 75 on page 144 of the 2018 National Platform, was welcome:
‘Parents of intersex children can be pressured to hormonally or surgically intervene on their children if they don’t receive medically correct advice, information or support about how to parent an intersex child. Labor will ensure deferral of non-necessary medical intervention on infants and children with intersex variations until such time as the person concerned can give their informed consent is supported. Labor commits to promote and support a human rights-based patient consent model for accessing lifetime medical treatments and procedures. Labor will prohibit modifications to sex characteristics undertaken for social rationales without informed consent and ensure intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex assignment treatment is respected.’
Conversely, the removal of this policy, and the total absence of any equivalent commitment to preventing involuntary medical treatments on intersex kids in the 2020 Consultation Draft, are deeply worrying.
I strongly urge the National Policy Forum, and ALP generally, to recommit to ending these abhorrent and harmful practices, by including the following statement (as proposed by leading intersex advocate Morgan Carpenter):
‘Labor will recognise the bodily integrity of intersex persons, prohibiting modifications to the sex characteristics of people with innate variations of sex characteristics performed for social or cultural reasons, and ensuring respect for intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex ‘normalisation’ treatment. Labor commits to supporting the development and implementation with community participation of human rights-affirming oversight and standards of care, including for accessing lifetime medical treatments and procedures.’
2. Removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare
Another significant issue for Australia’s LGBTIQ community where the 2020 Consultation Draft represents a backwards step compared to the 2018 National Platform is removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare. Paragraph 74 on page 144 of the 2018 document previously provided that:
‘Labor acknowledges the right of all Australians, including transgender and gender diverse people, to live their gender identity. For many, this includes accessing specialist health services and for some people can involve gender affirming medical technologies. Costs should not be a barrier to accessing these services. Labor commits to removing, wherever possible, barriers to accessing these services and consulting with experts in government. This should materialise in a focus on creating fair, equal and affordable access to medical care and treatments relevant to trans and gender diverse Australians.’
Once again, there is no equivalent commitment in the 2020 Consultation Draft. Instead of axing this policy, I believe the Labor Party should be strengthening its commitment, by including a modified version of the above paragraph:
‘Labor supports the rights of trans and gender diverse people to live their gender identity. For many, this includes accessing specialist health services and for some people can involve gender affirming treatment, including surgery. Costs should not be a barrier to accessing these services. Labor commits to overcoming these barriers by removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare.’[ii]
3. Restate commitment to ending the HIV epidemic
Perhaps the most surprising omission in the 2020 Consultation Draft is the complete exclusion of any and all references to HIV, likely for the first time in decades. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems strange to remove commitments to addressing the HIV epidemic, especially when lessons from our best practice approach to HIV are valuable in responding to COVID-19 – and, above all, when the HIV epidemic is ongoing.
I note that paragraphs 103 and 104 on page 150 of the 2018 National Platform included the following:
‘Labor has a proud record in HIV policy. Bipartisan national leadership in partnership with affected communities and other organisations, clinicians and researchers has prevented a generalised epidemic.
‘HIV notifications, however, remain too high. Labor is especially concerned that HIV notifications have steadily increased among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and are now double the rate of other Australians. Notwithstanding these challenges, Australia has an unprecedented opportunity to end HIV transmission. Labor commits to the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, which provides the global framework for action on HIV, including through the UNAIDS Fast-Track 95-95-95 targets to end the HIV epidemic. Labor’s commitment to making HIV history will include restoring the capacity that the Liberals have cut from HIV peak organisations; funding new efforts to promote HIV prevention, testing, and treatment in ‘hidden populations’; and ensuring affordable access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) via the PBS.’
The National Policy Forum should restate the ALP’s commitment to ending the HIV epidemic, and consult with the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), and leading HIV advocates and experts, on what specific policy proposals are required to achieve this in the 2020s.
One area where the ALP’s commitments have not been completely removed (although some have nevertheless been excised) – but where the 2020 Consultation Draft remains highly deficient – is the issue of LGBTI anti-discrimination law reform.
Paragraph 30(b) on page 53 includes the following, general and very high-level statement: ‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ Australians to develop policy to… strengthen laws and expand programs against discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and queer status.’
While obviously welcome, the lack of specificity in this paragraph means it is unclear what position a future Labor Government would take on a range of important measures that fall within this over-arching statement, including:
Protecting LGBT students, teachers and other staff against discrimination by religious schools, colleges and universities
Protecting LGBT employees and people accessing services in relation to other religious organisations delivering public services like healthcare, housing and accommodation, and other welfare services (including removing the ability of religious aged care services to discriminate against LGBT employees)
Updating terminology in anti-discrimination legislation, including replacing the protected attribute of intersex status with ‘sex characteristics’, as advocated by Intersex Human Rights Australia and in the March 2017 Darlington Statement
Introducing prohibitions on vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, on an equivalent basis to existing racial vilification prohibitions in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (with the necessity of this reform highlighted by the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia whipped up by the Liberal/National Government’s unnecessary, wasteful and harmful 2017 same-sex marriage postal survey),[iii] and
Appointing an LGBTIQ Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission (noting that paragraph 90 on pages 213-214 of the 2018 National Platform included a commitment that: ‘Labor will… [e]stablish under the Australian Human Rights [Commission] Act 1986 a new Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status issues, to work across government and the private sector to reduce discrimination’).[iv]
Another LGBTI discrimination-related issues which is not addressed in the 2020 Consultation Draft is the fact neither gender identity nor sex characteristics are explicitly included as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), leaving trans, gender diverse and intersex employees with uncertain workplace rights, including unclear protections against adverse action and unlawful termination.[v]
Perhaps most concerningly, at least in the short term, the 2020 Consultation Draft does not express a position on the Commonwealth Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, legislation that would significantly undermine the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians to engage in public life without fear of discrimination.
I strongly urge the National Policy Forum to take a stand on this issue, and in particular to commit to only supporting anti-discrimination laws covering religious belief and activity where they do not undermine the rights of others, including women, LGBTIQ people, people with disability, single parents, divorced people and even people of minority faiths.[vi]
‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ Australians to develop policy to strengthen laws and expand programs against discrimination, harassment and vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and queer status, including by:
Amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) and related laws to:
Protect LGBT students, teachers and other staff against discrimination by religious schools, colleges and universities
Protect LGBT employees and people accessing services against discrimination by religious organisations delivering public services including healthcare, housing and accommodation and other welfare services (including removing the ability of religious aged care services to discriminate against LGBT employees)
Update the protected attribute of intersex status to sex characteristics
Introduce vilification protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, and
Appoint a Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics within the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Amending the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), to explicitly include gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes, including for the purposes of adverse action and unlawful termination provisions.
Only supporting the introduction of Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation covering religious belief and activity where it does not undermine the rights of women, LGBTIQ people, people with disability, single parents, divorced people, people of minority faiths and others to live their lives free from discrimination.
I will now provide specific comments in relation to the individual Chapters of the Consultation Draft (where relevant), as well as the Statements in Detail.
Chapter 1: Building Australia’s Prosperity
Chapter 2: Developing Our People
On page 22, at paragraph 8, the sentence ‘Labor will continue to support policies that aim to remove remaining barriers, including those based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality or disability status’, should be amended to also include gender identity and sex characteristics.
On page 23, at paragraph 19, I note this would be an appropriate place to include the commitment to explicitly protect gender identity and sex characteristics in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (as outlined as part of recommendation 4, above).
I also suggest the National Policy Forum include a commitment here that the ALP will work with trans and gender diverse communities to introduce workplace entitlements to paid transition leave, to help support increased participation by trans and gender diverse Australians in the workforce.
On page 29, at paragraph 63, I note the detailed commitments around the national curriculum no longer include the following policy from page 150, paragraph 109 of the 2018 National Platform:
‘Labor will ensure sex education includes all sexualities and gender identities. Labor will ensure the sex education curriculum is kept up-to-date and reviewed regularly by both non-government organisations and experts working in LGBTI health.’
I urge the National Policy Forum to reinstate a commitment to ensuring the national curriculum, including the health and physical education curriculum, is inclusive of LGBTI students and has content relevant to their needs.
Chapter 3: Climate Change, Energy and the Environment
Chapter 4: A Strong and Healthy Society
On page 42, after paragraph 21, I note this would be an appropriate place to include a restated commitment to ending the HIV epidemic, and associated policy proposals as agreed with AFAO, NAPWHA and others (as detailed at Recommendation 3, above).
Chapter 4 would also be an appropriate location for a strengthened policy to remove out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare (as outlined at Recommendation 2).
Finally, I note the 2018 National Platform included a commitment to ‘develop a national LGBTIQ health plan, to [among other things] address the particular health needs of LGBTIQ people, working in partnership with these communities and LGBTI health bodies.’
I believe the National Policy Forum should reinstate this commitment, given ongoing health issues across the LGBTIQ community, including in relation to mental health.
Chapter 5: An Equal and Inclusive Nation
I note the section ‘Equal rights for LGBTIQ Australians’ would be an appropriate place for the contents of Recommendation 4 described above to be included (and in particular replacing paragraph 30(b) on page 53).
I further note the LGBTIQ health-related commitments in paragraph 30(c) are not a substitute for a national LGBTIQ health plan (mentioned in relation to the previous chapter), while policies to support national intersex-led organisations in paragraph 30(d) do not obviate the need for specific policies to end involuntary medical interventions on intersex children (as called for in Recommendation 1 of this submission).
In terms of paragraph 30(e), and its commitments in relation to trans and gender diverse identity documentation, I note major problems still exist at state and territory level, and especially in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.[vii]
The National Policy Forum should be urging Labor Governments in Queensland and Western Australia to urgently amend their respective births, deaths and marriages laws to allow trans and gender diverse people to update their identity documents on the basis of self-identification, without the need for surgery or other medical approval or ‘gate-keeping’.
Similarly, the NSW Labor Opposition should be encouraged to support equivalent reforms there – and, if the NSW Liberal/National Government does not progress these changes, for Labor to introduce them in the first 100 days of any incoming administration.
I have two particular concerns about paragraph 31 on page 53, which currently reads:
‘Labor will ensure schools are welcoming and supportive environments for all students and teachers, regardless of their gender identity and sexuality. We will support programs that promote understanding, tolerance and respect for every student.’
First, this commitment could be strengthened to provide absolute certainty that it applies to all schools: government, private and/or religious.
Second, the commitment in the second sentence is a significantly watered-down version of the position in the 2018 National Platform (paragraph 60 on page 119):
‘Schools must be safe environments for students to learn and for teachers to teach – including same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students and teachers. Labor will continue working with teachers, students and schools to stop bullying and discrimination, ensuring a safe place for LGBTI students to learn by properly resourcing inclusion and anti-bullying programs and resources for teachers. Labor will continue to support national programs to address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex prejudice in schools. This includes ensuring gender diverse students are able to express the gender they identify with.’
I believe the 2020 version, and its absence of specific support for targeted programs addressing homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia, underestimates the prevalence of such discrimination, and the harms that continue to be caused to LGBTI students.
Paragraph 31 on page 53 be replaced with the following:
‘Labor will ensure all schools are welcoming and supportive environments for all students, teachers and other staff, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. We will support programs that promote understanding, acceptance and respect for every student, including programs to specifically address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.’
In my view, paragraph 32 on page 54, is also deeply flawed, this time for three reasons. First, as survivors have consistently advocated, bans on ‘reparative’ or conversion practices must be exactly that – aimed at practices, rather than the much more limited, and potentially only health-related, ‘therapies’.
Second, it must capture both sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices (rather than just ‘gay conversion’).
Third, I am concerned that the wording ‘will work with advocates to ensure people are not coerced into undergoing such therapies’ potentially misses the point – it is not just ‘coercion’ that is the problem, it is the practice itself. Policies in this area should be aimed at banning sexual orientation and gender identity-change practices broadly, not just ‘coercion’ into undergoing these practices.
The National Policy Forum consult with survivors of conversion practices in relation to the commitments in paragraph 32 on page 54, and in particular to ensure that:
-It applies to conversion practices (and not just therapies)
-It includes both sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, and
-It bans the practices themselves, rather than preventing ‘coercion’ into undergoing such practices.
I am also concerned at the wording on paragraph 33 on page 54, which is an abbreviated form of the commitment at paragraph 105 on page 233 of the 2018 National Platform. In particular, in my view the abbreviation has omitted the more important part of that policy, namely:
‘Labor will work first with our Pacific neighbours, our Indo-Pacific region and the nations of the Commonwealth to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws, especially criminal laws against homosexual sexual conduct and most urgently against such laws where they impose the death penalty, and will encourage steps to implement the actions required by the Yogyakarta Principles. Labor will work strategically to support and assist both local and international civil society organisations in promoting LGBTIQ human rights.’
I encourage the National Policy Forum to amend the abbreviated commitment in the Consultation Draft to capture these elements, and especially supporting the push for decriminalisation in the Pacific, Indo-Pacific and Commonwealth.
My final comment in relation to the section ‘Equal rights for LGBTIQ Australians’ on pages 53 and 54 is to highlight that it does not include support for any formal mechanisms to consult with, and represent the interests of, LGBTIQ communities. For example, the National Policy Forum should consider expressing support for both:
A Commonwealth Minister for Equality, and
An LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Committee, including sub-committees in relation to health, education, justice and other portfolios as required.
I have a further, important comment to make about the section ‘Freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ on page 55 of the 2020 Consultation Draft.
Specifically, paragraph 41 states:
‘Labor believes in and supports the right of all Australians to manifest their religion or beliefs, and the right of religious organisations to act in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of their faith. Such rights should be protected by law. Labor recognises that the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief, or not to have or adopt a religion or belief, is absolute.’
While elements of this commitment are appropriate, the way in which it is worded is dangerous. In particular, the right to manifest religion or beliefs must always be limited by the need to protect the fundamental human rights of others, including the right to be protected against discrimination.
As the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights itself notes, at Article 18.3:
‘Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.’
This vital nuance is currently missing from paragraph 41. In its absence, people of faith and especially religious organisations would be given a blank cheque to discriminate against others, including LGBTIQ Australians.
Paragraph 41 on page 55 be redrafted such that the right to manifest religion or beliefs is limited by the need to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, including the right to participate in public life free from discrimination.
Chapter 6: Strengthening Australian Democracy
Chapter 7: Australia’s Place in the World
On page 68, at paragraph 41, I suggest the inclusion of an additional dot point, to the effect that ‘Labor will ensure Australian international development addresses… the empowerment of people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and sex characteristics.’
Statements in Detail
On page 82, under the hearing ‘Public sector industrial relations’, where it says ‘Labor will… [l]ead by example on addressing the ill effects of family and domestic violence by introducing public-sector wide standards of paid leave and other supporting entitlements for workers who are affected by family and domestic violence’, I suggest the inclusion of the following:
‘Labor will lead by example on addressing the disadvantage and exclusion experienced by trans and gender diverse people in the workforce by supporting public-sector wide entitlements to paid transition leave.’
Finally, I express my strong personal support for the retention of explicit commitments in the Statements in Detail in relation to LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum. This includes paragraph 24 on page 93:
‘Labor will ensure asylum seekers who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer will be assessed by officers who have expertise and empathy with anti-discrimination principles and human rights law. Officers, translators and interpreters at all levels of the assessment process will have specific lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer cultural awareness training to ensure the discrimination asylum seekers face in their country of origin or transit are not replicated.’
And paragraph 13 on page 95:
‘Labor will not detain, process or resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of these communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them.’
In conclusion, I acknowledge even this detailed submission is unable to substantively address all of the many LGBTIQ policy commitments that were included in the 2018 National Platform, but which have subsequently been excluded from the 2020 Consultation Draft.
Some of these now-omitted policies covered:
Providing LGBTIQ-inclusive aged care (paragraph 34 on page 110)[viii]
Addressing LGBTIQ housing and homelessness issues (paragraphs 166-167 on page 171,[ix] and paragraph 90, on page 214)
Ensuring LGBTIQ statistics are collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (paragraph 85 on page 213)[x]
Establishing a National Gender Centre ‘to provide support and advocacy for transgender Australians, which could have an education and training role to promote awareness about transgender issues to the wider public’ (paragraph 88 at page 213), and
Supporting programs to make sport inclusive for LGBTIQ participants (page 195).
To some extent, it is perhaps inevitable that, by choosing to reduce the length of the Platform from 268 pages to 96, the Australian Labor Party’s 2020 Consultation Draft would include fewer detailed commitments in support of LGBTIQ equality and human rights.
What is not inevitable, however, is that these commitments should be cut in such a disproportionate way, as I have demonstrated through this submission. Or that it now excludes important policies around ending coercive medical interventions on intersex children, removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare, restating a commitment to ending the HIV epidemic, or making much-needed improvements to Commonwealth LGBTI anti-discrimination laws.
I strongly urge the National Policy Forum to consider amending the draft Platform to strengthen the Party’s policy commitments in these four areas, and in other ways suggested in my comments on specific chapters and the statements in detail.
Nevertheless, irrespective of what happens in the redrafting process, or at the National Conference in early 2021, it seems highly likely that the Platform adopted next year will be the first in at least a decade, and perhaps the first in a generation, to include fewer commitments in support of LGBTIQ equality and human rights than its predecessor.
In which case, the onus will be on the Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, Shadow Ministry and Federal Parliamentary Labor Party generally to work with the LGBTIQ community in the lead-up to the next election to make detailed policy commitments outside of the Platform so that urgent community needs are still addressed.
Thank you in advance for taking these comments into consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should you require additional information.
[iii] Noting that the 2018 National Platform included a commitment to provide effective sanctions against anti-LGBTIQ hate-speech (at paragraph 137, on page 218):
‘When prejudice against LGBTIQ people contributes to harassment by the written or spoken word, such harassment causes actual harm, not simply mere offence, to people who have suffered discrimination and prejudice, and causes particular harm to young same-sex attracted, gender-questioning or intersex people. Labor considers such harmful harassment is an unacceptable abuse of the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech and must be subject to effective sanctions. Labor will ensure that anti-discrimination law provides such effective sanctions.’
[viii]‘As they age, LGBTIQ deserve care and support that reflects their diversity. Labor will ensure policies in relation to ageing take into account the needs of people with different sexual orientations, gender identities and sex characteristics by building on Labor’s previous LGBTIQ Ageing and Aged Care Strategy.’
[ix]‘There is a significant connection between homelessness and people being subjected to discrimination and harassment for being same-sex attracted or transgender and specifically understands the discrimination and exclusion affecting transgender people seeking to access support. Accordingly, Labor will work with affected communities to enhance housing support for LGBTIQ Australians.’
‘Labor acknowledges that young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are at significantly higher risk of homelessness, and commits to support dedicated services aimed at addressing this issue.’
[x] An especially significant omission given the decision of the current Liberal/National Government to not include LGBTI questions as part of the 2021 Census. For more on this topic see Census 2021 – Count Me In.
Finally, the 2020 ALP National Platform – Consultation Draft:
Over the past week, the Australian media has been busy re-living the Sydney 2000 Olympics during its 20thanniversary. While this trip down nostalgia lane has been a welcome distraction from the living nightmare that is 2020, it has also been a reminder of the lost opportunity to build on that brief moment of unity.
To borrow from a certain fracking drag queen reality TV host, in the two decades since the Olympics Sydney[i] has been ‘resting on pretty’.
In terms of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, the situation could just as easily be described as ‘resting on party’.
Known around the world for the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, Party and Festival, Sydney’s reputation as an LGBT-inclusive city is not reflected in the reality of its laws, politics and media.
Indeed, in terms of legal rights, Sydney and the state of NSW now have the worst LGBTI laws of any jurisdiction in Australia. If that sounds like a hyperbolic claim, consider this:
That is because the exceptions in section 56(d) – allowing religious organisations to lawfully discriminate against us – are the equal-broadest in the country (and a long way behind the best practice laws in Tasmania), while NSW is the only place to allow all private schools, religious and non-religious alike, to discriminate against students, teachers and other staff on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
For trans and gender diverse people, NSW’s laws – covering multiple areas of life – are also the worst in the country.
The ADA only protects transgender people with binary gender identities (‘male-to-female’ or ‘female-to-male’), while excluding people who identify as non-binary (although, sadly, it is not the only jurisdiction to do so: Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory also offer limited protection).
As with lesbians and gay men, however, the ADA allows all private schools, even those that are non-religious, to discriminate against transgender students, teachers and other staff.
Intersex people might be the only LGBTI group in respect of which NSW does not have the outright worst laws in Australia. Sadly, that’s more due of the lack of progress in the majority of states and territories, than it is because of any particular progress on intersex law reform here.
Meanwhile, no Australian jurisdiction has prohibited the ongoing human rights abuses that are unnecessary surgeries and other involuntary medical treatments on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.
Finally, Queensland recently introduced prohibitions on sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices (albeit only within healthcare settings), while the ACT passed more comprehensive reforms which targeted conversion practices more broadly, including in religious environments.
Bans on gay and trans conversion practices are also seriously being considered in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. However, once again, there have been no signs whatsoever that the NSW Government, or Parliament, are interested in ending this psychological torture.
Overall, then, it is clear that on contemporary LGBTI law reform issues – from expanding anti-discrimination protections, enacting birth certificate reform, ending non-consensual medical interventions on intersex children, to eradicating gay and trans conversion practices – NSW is a laggard.
Sydney might be a beautiful city, but on LGBTI rights NSW is undeniably backward.
Some people might argue that the people of Sydney are more accepting of the LGBTI community than their politicians. And that may be partly true, especially in pockets of the city. However, the outcome of the 2017 same-sex marriage law postal survey contradicts that view.
NSW was the only state or territory in Australia where the Yes vote for marriage equality was lower than 60%: just 57.8% of people in NSW supported removing anti-LGBTI discrimination from the Marriage Act 1961(Cth). The next lowest state was Queensland, but its result was nearly 3 points higher (60.7%).
Based on this (admittedly context-specific) example, Sydney has the highest rates of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the entire country.
The history of marriage equality in Australia is just as illustrative of the corrosive impact politicians from Sydney have had on the rights of all LGBTI Australians.
The Liberal Prime Ministers who first banned marriage equality (John Howard), first proposed to hold an unnecessary, wasteful, divisive and harmful public vote on our rights (Tony Abbott),[vii] actually held that vote (Malcolm Turnbull) and paid for it (Scott Morrison, as Treasurer), were all from Sydney.
It is likely no coincidence Sydney is the home of News Corp Australia, where it publishes Bernard Lane’s campaign against trans-affirming healthcare (in The Australian) and Miranda Devine’s columns targeting LGBTI-inclusive education (in the Daily Telegraph).
Perhaps the most depressing realisation of all is that, in September 2020, there is more chance things will get worse rather than better.
As we have already seen, there are no public signs the NSW Government is interested in reforming trans and gender diverse access to birth certificates, ending non-consensual medical interventions on intersex children, or banning gay and trans conversion practices.
Nor is there any current indication they will act to modernise the nation’s worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law, to include bisexuals, non-binary people and intersex people, and repeal the exceptions which allow religious organisations, and private schools, to lawfully discriminate against our community.
Even at a procedural level, the NSW Government does not have a formal LGBTI consultative mechanism, unlike the Victorian LGBTIQ Taskforce, Queensland LGBTI Roundtable, ACT LGBTIQ+ Ministerial Advisory Council, and a range of long-standing Tasmanian LGBTIQ+ Government working groups.
On the other hand, while there are no legislative proposals to improve the rights of LGBTI people currently before NSW Parliament, there are several Bills which, if passed, would set our legal rights back even further.
That includes the Mark Latham/One Nation Anti-Discrimination (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020, that would undermine our existing, limited protections against discrimination, which the Government and Opposition nevertheless saw fit to refer to a Joint Select Committee for consideration.
And then there’s the truly awful Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 – also from Latham/One Nation – which not only seeks to erase trans and gender diverse students and teachers entirely from all NSW schools, but also attempts to introduce a UK ‘section 28’-style provision making life difficult for all LGBTI kids, while introducing an erroneous and stigmatising legislative definition of intersex, too.
We are now 18 months into the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government’s term. It is time for them to step up – not just to defend LGBTI people in NSW against Mark Latham’s, and One Nation’s, attacks on our community, by rejecting outright his deeply flawed ‘religious freedom’ and anti-trans kids legislative proposals.
But also to make long-overdue progress on other important issues, including birth certificate changes, protecting intersex kids, ending conversion practices and engaging in broader anti-discrimination reforms.
As of this week, they have 30 months left until the next State election. How they use their time between now and 25 March, 2023, will determine whether NSW will continue to have the worst LGBTI laws in Australia, or at least something closer to the national average.
There is another significant event in Sydney from mid-February to early March in 2023 which is highly relevant to this conversation: World Pride will be hosted by the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Assuming it is not cancelled because of coronavirus, large numbers of LGBTI eyes from around the globe will be focused squarely on us. The world already knows Sydney puts on a good party, Olympics, Mardi Gras or otherwise. But during World Pride they will also be looking at the State of our rights.
If the NSW Government doesn’t undertake essential, and long overdue, reforms in the next two-and-a-half years, we will be greeting our international guests by saying ‘Welcome to Sydney: Australia’s capital of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia’.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are at least three things you can do to avoid that potential embarrassment (a good outcome) and make the lives of LGBTI people in NSW better on a day-to-day basis (a great one):
For too long, the burden of fighting for our rights has been borne by too few. There are a range of different organisations you can join or support to help make a difference, including:
And there are plenty of others too (including Union Pride, as well as LGBTI advocacy groups within political parties).
2. Defend our community against attacks
As the above article (hopefully) makes clear, LGBTI rights in NSW are currently under attack by Mark Latham.
You can help the campaign against One Nation’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill, aka the anti-trans kids Bill, in the following ways:
Sign the Gender Centre, just.equal and AllOut petition
Sign Sam Guerra’s individual Change.Org petition (which is already over 80,000 signatures), and
Use Equality Australia’s platform to write to the Premier, Deputy Premier, Education Minister, Opposition Leader and Education Minister here.
You can also find out about, and take action against, the One Nation Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 on the Equality Australia website here.
3. Support campaigns for positive change
A lot of our time, at both NSW and Commonwealth level, is currently being spent fighting against proposals that would take our rights backward. That is necessary and important work – but we won’t achieve progress without campaigns which seek to make our existing laws better.
Whether it is anti-discrimination law reform, improving birth certificate access, ending non-consensual medical interventions on intersex children, or banning gay and trans conversion practices – or a wide range of other important LGBTI issues – find a campaign and help drive it forward.
Positive change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens when we use our voice.
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[i] I should clarify here that this post is about the small ‘c’ city of Sydney (meaning the large metropolitan area of 5 million people), and not the capital ‘C’ City of Sydney Council, which is largely progressive.
[ii] Disappointingly, the Queensland Government has failed to make progress on birth certificate reform since its 2018 Discussion Paper, and, as far as I am aware, have not promised to take action on this issue even if they are re-elected on 31 October.
[iii] Which is a protected attribute in both the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA).
[iv] Which is the preferred protected attribute for intersex advocates, as per the March 2017 Darlington Statement, and was recently included in the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT), while the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 covers ‘intersex variations of sex characteristics’.
[v] ‘Intersex status’ was included in the 2018 amendments to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), which prohibited ‘public threats of violence on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status’, although to date this legislation has still not been used.
[vi] Of the other five, three were in regional Queensland, and two were in suburban Melbourne. Zero electorates in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory voted No.
[vii] Tony Abbott’s decision, as Opposition Leader, to deny Coalition MPs and Senators a conscience vote also cruelled any chance of Stephen Jones’ 2012 marriage equality legislation being passed.