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.

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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.