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

[*Not surprising in the slightest]

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Lack of trans witnesses

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

Zero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Disrespectful treatment of submitters and witnesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latham: ‘Jesus, seriously.’

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

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

Shoebridge: ‘Carry on.’

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

Latham: ‘That is unbelievable.’

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

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

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

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

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

3. Allowing irrelevant evidence

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then allowed to elaborate:

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

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

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

Shoebridge: ‘Or teachers sitting outside toilets timing.’

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

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

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

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

4. Providing a platform for transphobia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whereas the rest of us understand that a) trans and nonbinary people are a part of the natural spectrum of human gender identity (and indeed always have been), b) trans and nonbinary kids are awesome, and c) there are really two conveyor belts – one which lets trans and nonbinary kids be themselves and delivers them to health and happiness, and one which tells trans and nonbinary kids that they are wrong and should not exist, and abandons them to darkness and depression.

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

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

5. Giving evidence from the chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fang: ‘To the point of order-‘

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the fuck are they waiting for?

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

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

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

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Footnotes:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoebridge: ‘It is not evidence.’

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

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

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

A Pride Flag for NSW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red: Ban conversion practices

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

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

Amber/Orange: Protect LGBT students & teachers

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow: End coercive intersex surgeries

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

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

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

Green: Improve birth certificate access

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

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

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

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

Blue[ii]: Trans discrimination law reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavender/Purple: Bisexual discrimination law reform

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

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

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

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

(a) persons of the same sex; or

(b) persons of a different sex; or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Footnotes:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr Lawrie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

Kevin Conolly MP

Member for Riverstone

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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

NSW MPs can be champions for trans and gender diverse kids. Or bullies.

This Valentine’s Day, I have written the below letter to NSW Parliamentarians, asking them to show love for trans and gender diverse kids by unequivocally opposing Mark Latham’s proposed legislation which seeks to deny their existence. Please read through to the end of the article to find out what you can do to help fight back against his bullying.

14 February 2021

Dear NSW MPs

I am writing to urge you to immediately and publicly express your opposition to the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020.

This legislation makes me sick.

This legislation is sick.

This legislation is based on a sick ideology that it is better for trans and gender diverse kids not to exist at all, than for them to be happy and healthy, and to feel safe and supported in NSW schools.

I, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in this state, are sick and tired of wasting precious time and energy fighting against such ill-intentioned attacks on our community.

Especially when there is still so much progress left to achieve, including on legal rights for trans and gender diverse people, like providing access to birth certificates without the need for surgery or other invasive medical procedures, or ensuring the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 covers non-binary people (something it currently does not).

Instead, the NSW Legislative Council’s Education Committee is holding an inquiry into a Bill which is nothing short of the worst legislative attack on LGBTI rights in Australia this century.

A Bill that seeks to prohibit any and all teaching that someone’s gender identity can be different to the gender assigned to them at birth.

That weaponises the so-called morality of transphobes to deny the reality of trans people.

A Bill that actually goes much, much further, by banning any ‘teaching, instruction, counselling and advice’ that acknowledges said lived reality, by anybody remotely connected to a school, from principals to parents volunteering in the school canteen.

That compels a school counsellor to remain silent when a suicidal trans student just needs to hear the most basic words of comfort: that they are not alone, and who they are is okay.

A Bill that recycles failed and flawed policies from Thatcher-era Britain, reviving ‘section 28’-style laws which saw a generation of lesbian, gay and bisexual students marginalised and made invisible, without access to safe sex education even at the height of the HIV epidemic.

Policies that were abandoned in the UK almost two decades ago, now being contemplated for LGBT students right here in 2021.

A Bill that seeks to insert an ignorant, inappropriate and incorrect definition of intersex in NSW law for the first time, further stigmatising individuals that still endure the most significant human rights abuses of any group within the LGBTI community.

It does all of this based on misguided claims that the rights of parents are somehow more important than those of their children. Perhaps the best that could be said regarding this stated motivation is that at least they are being transparent.

For decades, opponents of LGBTI rights have argued that we are a serious threat to the rights of children to be themselves. Demands for our equality have frequently been met with the pleas of excitable Helen Lovejoy-types exclaiming ‘won’t somebody please think of the children’.

Well, this legislation pulls back the curtain to reveal where the real danger lies, and it’s not us. The threat to LGBTI kids comes from parents who would prefer their own children not to exist than to be who they are, and from the politicians who wish to empower them.

This legislation is an admission that, if the criteria for assessing policy proposals is whether it is in the best interests of children, then the homophobes, biphobes and transphobes have lost. Because decades of evidence clearly shows the best response to LGBT kids is to offer them love not judgement, support not suppression.

Instead, anti-LGBTI activists have moved the goalposts, so that the rights of children are no longer supreme, but must be made secondary to the perspectives of parents. But even then only the views of some parents are considered paramount.

This legislation, if passed, would mean not only that transphobic parents succeed in ensuring their own children are not taught about gender identity issues, but that no child is, in any class, anywhere. That includes the trans and gender diverse kids of parents who accept them (as any parent should).

Education is, or at least should be, for all, not just for students who are cisgender, heterosexual and endosex. Schools must not be compelled to be participants in and proponents for the prejudices of some parents.

Teachers must be allowed to teach the truth. The undeniable truth is that trans people exist. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as well. Intersex people, too. 

These truths might be inconvenient for those who would prefer otherwise. But that is not a good enough reason to pass a law to impose silence where our stories should be.

The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 was released more than six months ago. Its discriminatory pillars have been public knowledge for just as long.

Which makes it deeply disappointing, distressing even, that neither the NSW Government nor Opposition have clearly committed to voting against it in the time since then.

Recent events in the United States have served as a stark warning of the profound consequences of playing footsie with fascism.

NSW Parliamentarians should not encourage extremism, by entertaining the exclusion of an entire category of person from education. Make no mistake, that is exactly what this Bill does: it enables the erasure of trans and gender diverse students in every classroom and schoolyard across the state.

I understand that, regrettably, One Nation holds part of the balance of power in the Legislative Council this term. But it is a craven political calculation which concludes two Upper House votes are worth more than the happiness, the childhoods and in some cases even the lives of some of the community’s most vulnerable members.

Surely it is time for you to find your voice and say, finally, you cannot in good conscience stay silent on a proposal that silences trans kids. That you will oppose this harmful and hateful legislation in committee, in debate and whenever it comes up for a vote.

If you are not convinced by the above arguments, then I implore you to do one simple thing: put yourself in the position of a trans child following the potential passage of this Bill.

Imagine realising that, at a fundamental level, you are not like most of the other boys, or girls. You may not have the language yet, yet you know you are different.

But the words you need to express yourself aren’t able to be uttered in the place the Government compels you to attend most days of the first 18 years of your life. A place where you’re supposed to feel safe, but instead are sidelined.

There is nothing in the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education curriculum to say other people like you even exist. They have been excised from the textbooks, just as they’ve been excluded from English, History and other subjects too.

You cannot find any information about who you are in the school library because any books that mention gender diversity have been purged.

You cannot see yourself in any of the trans or gender diverse teachers who might be there either, because they are busy hiding themselves lest they be accused of ‘indoctrination’.

Imagine overcoming these barriers, and, with the support of your family, beginning to affirm who you really are. And then your problems really begin.

Your teacher cannot actively support your transition because to do so could be interpreted as ‘instruction’ to the rest of your class that trans people do, in fact, exist.

They also can’t intervene to stop you from being misgendered and deadnamed by other kids. To some extent, such bullying is inevitable because they’ve never been taught anything about people like you and ‘different’ too-easily, and too-rapidly, becomes ‘wrong’.

You cannot seek advice from the school counsellor, because the moment you start to say anything about gender identity they are forced to shut the conversation down. They’re not even allowed to refer you to the wonderful support service they’re aware of just down the road, but may as well be in a different universe.

And you cannot seek protection from the school principal because of the attitudes of parents and politicians who have never met you, but who hate who you are anyway.

Imagine how you might feel in this situation. How scared. And small. And alone. Even with the backing of a supportive family, it would be difficult. Without it, it would be almost impossible.

I don’t need to imagine very hard. Because there is a lot of similarity in what I described above to the circumstances I confronted as a gay student at a religious boarding school in Brisbane in the early 1990s.

And, if we’re being completely honest, there are still far too many same-sex attracted kids who find themselves in the same scenario in schools all over NSW today.

But it absolutely destroys my heart to think that, even today, NSW Parliament is holding an inquiry into a Bill that would guarantee this mistreatment for trans and gender diverse kids into the future, with the long-term psychological harm that all-too-often goes with it.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

I started this letter by talking about the sickness that lies at the centre of the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, and the dangerous views that it espouses. But those views should not be the centre of this debate.

Instead, this discussion is about how we treat people who are not sick, but who are actually beautiful: trans and gender diverse kids.

Kids who deserve the same love, and care, and nurturing, as anybody else. Kids who have the same right to education as anybody else. Kids who should have the same ability to determine for themselves who they are, as anybody else.

As an elected representative in the NSW Parliament, you can be their champion. As part of the debate surrounding this Bill you can stand up and say that trans kids are welcomed and accepted, while transphobia is not.

You can let the people of NSW know, right now, that you will not let this legislation, or any subsequent legislative attacks on trans kids, pass.

Of course, you do have another option. Alternatively, you could choose to progress with consideration of this Bill, through the committee inquiry, and then onto the floor of Parliament for debate. You might even ultimately decide to vote for it.

If you do, then instead of being a champion for trans and gender diverse kids, you would be joining their bullies. And responsibility for the harms caused would be yours to own.

It’s time for you to make your decision about the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020. Champion. Or bully. The choice is yours.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Things you can do:

The NSW Legislative Council Education Committee (chaired by Mark Latham himself) is conducting an online questionnaire about community views towards the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, closing on Sunday 28 February 2021.

Unfortunately, many of the questions asked are (mis)leading. Nevertheless, organisations like the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and Equality Australia recommend completing the survey in the following way:

  • Go to the survey on the Committee’s website 
  • Fill in your details in response to the first question
  • At question 2 click ‘oppose’
  • Skip through the other questions
  • At question 8 share a story of a teacher who made an impact on your life
  • Identify yourself only to the extent you feel comfortable.

If you feel comfortable, you should also raise this issue directly with your local member of parliament (you can find a list of MPs here) and let them know you expect them to stand up for the right of everyone to an education, and that includes trans and gender diverse kids.

If you would like more information about the Bill itself, you can read my original post summarising the proposed legislation from August 2020, ‘I Stand With Trans Kids, and Against Mark Latham’.

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

*****

Update 28 February 2021

I received the following correspondence on Thursday:

Dear Mr Lawrie

I write in response to your email of 14 and 15 February 2021, to the Hon Gladys Berejiklian MP, Premier and the Hon John Barilaro MP, Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional New South Wales, Industry and Trade, and Hon Sarah Mitchell MLC, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning regarding the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020. The Premier and Deputy Premier referred your correspondence to the Hon Sarah Mitchell MLC, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning. The Minister has asked me to respond on her behalf.

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

The Department of Education is committed to providing safe and supportive learning environments that respect and value diversity and are free from violence, discrimination, harassment and vilification. NSW public schools have legal obligations to protect and support their students.

We thank you for taking the time to express your concerns over the proposed bill. The NSW Government is working through the formal parliamentary process to address the matter and will communicate this once the process is finalised.

Should you require any further information you are welcome to contact [name and contact details omitted].

Yours sincerely

[Name omitted]

A/Director, Curriculum Secondary Learners

25 February 2021

Upon receiving this correspondence, I had three main thoughts:

First, it is disappointing that none of the Premier, Deputy Premier or even the Minister for Education responded directly to my original letter, instead delegating it to the Department of Education.

Second, it is frankly pathetic for the NSW Government to hide behind the committee inquiry process, as if this is an ordinary bill. It is not. It is an extreme proposal that seeks to erase an entire group of students from schools across the state. How much worse must a law be before NSW’s leaders show some leadership and declare that this type of legislation will not be tolerated, let alone considered?

Third, it reinforces the need for everyone who believes in an inclusive education, where all students have the right to learn irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, to make their voices heard. If you are reading this on Sunday 28 February 2021, please, please, please complete the parliamentary survey expressing your opposition to this Bill in question 2.

Welcome to Sydney: Australia’s Capital of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

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:

For lesbians and gay men, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (ADA) offers the weakest protections against discrimination of any state and territory anti-discrimination law.

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 bisexuals, the situation is even worse. The ADA is the only anti-discrimination law in Australia that does not actually protect bisexual people against discrimination. At all. 

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.

NSW also has the equal-worst framework for trans and gender diverse people to access birth certificates reflecting their gender identity: alongside Queensland, it still requires surgery in order to obtain new identity documents. Unlike Queensland, however, there has been zero indication the NSW Government is interested in removing this unjust and unnecessary hurdle.[ii]

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.

The ADA does not provide anti-discrimination protection on the basis of ‘intersex status’[iii] or ‘sex characteristics’[iv] – although neither does Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia or the Northern Territory.[v]

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.

In encouraging news, the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute recommended criminalisation of non-consensual, deferrable medical interventions on children in June 2020, while the Australian Human Rights Commission is currently also engaged in a project on this issue. However, as far as I am aware, there is no equivalent work being undertaken by the NSW Government.

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%).

More damningly, only 17 electorates around Australia did not record a majority Yes vote. 12 of those were found in metropolitan Sydney,[vi] including the seven electorates with the highest No vote (reaching up to 73.9% No in Blaxland).

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.

Morrison in particular is on track to be the worst Prime Minister on LGBTI issues in Australia’s history, from his ‘gender whisperer’ comments, to his broken promise to protect LGBT students against discrimination, and the proposed Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill which overrides, and undermines, existing LGBTI anti-discrimination protections. 

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.

That Bill has also been referred to a Parliamentary Committee for inquiry – with the Committee chaired by Mark Latham himself.

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’.

**********

Take Action

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):

  1. Get involved

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.

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

Footnotes:

[i] 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.

I Stand With Trans Kids, and Against Mark Latham

Wednesday 5 August 2020 saw the introduction of the most damaging legislative attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights in Australia this century: Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020.

Don’t let the innocuous title fool you. This Bill seeks nothing less than the total erasure of any and all trans and gender diverse content, inclusion programs and even counselling from every school in NSW, government and non-government alike. In doing so, it seeks to completely erase trans and gender diverse kids, too.

It does this by adding the following definition to 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.

This definition effectively excludes the very existence of trans and gender diverse people.

Latham’s Bill then prohibits the inclusion of anything to do with ‘gender fluidity’ from all courses approved for use in schools across NSW.

And it prohibits not just ‘the teaching of gender fluidity’ (proposed section 17A), but also any ‘instruction, counselling and advice provided to students by:

  • non-teaching school executives;
  • non-teaching school counsellors,
  • non-teaching staff, contractors, advisors and consultants of a school,
  • non-school based staff, contractors, advisors and consultants of a school, and
  • volunteers at a school’ (proposed section 17C).

Everyone – from teachers, to principals, counsellors, and parents volunteering in the classroom or the tuckshop – must adopt an official silence on anything to do with trans and gender diverse people.

The consequences for teachers breaching this silence are severe: the Bill proposes amendments to the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004 (NSW) that would cancel the accreditation of any teacher who even acknowledges that trans and gender diverse people are a thing.

As Latham stated in his Second Reading Speech:

My bill outlaws gender fluidity teaching, course development and teacher training and ends the accreditation, and thus the employment, of any individual breaking that law.

Of course, the consequences for trans and gender diverse students are far worse. They will be made to feel completely invisible, with no information about who they are, let alone reassurance who they are is okay.

There will be no trans and gender diverse content in health and physical education classes, at any age, or in any other subject, either. History, literature, indeed all of the social sciences, must be purged of any reference to trans and gender diverse characters and people. As Penny Sharpe MLC interjected during Latham’s speech, this is book-banning writ large.

Trans and gender diverse students will have nowhere to turn for assistance. School counsellors, who are supposed to help all students, will be prohibited from even talking about gender identity issues with them.

Even sympathetic teachers will feel compelled to pretend that the trans and gender diverse kids in their classrooms, sitting right in front of them, do not exist. They will be encouraged to misgender and deadname them, or jeopardise their careers. They would likely be unable to intervene to stop transphobic bullying and harassment of these kids as well.

Because to acknowledge that trans and gender diverse kids exist would be to acknowledge that sex is different to gender, and that gender exists on a spectrum.

Tragically, the purging of all trans and gender diverse content from courses, the invisibilisation of trans and gender diverse kids themselves, and the removal of all support from teachers, counsellors and others, will inevitably lead to trans and gender diverse kids killing themselves.

But then that’s possibly the point. The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 appears to be built on the ideology that it is better for a child to be dead than to be happy, well-adjusted and trans or gender diverse.

Before moving on, we should also highlight the serious problems this legislation will cause for trans and gender diverse employees. It seems likely that identification as non-binary will be prohibited – teachers, and other staff, would not be able to insist on the use of they/them pronouns, or other non-gendered language. They would be forced to deny who they are.

The situation for binary trans teachers and other staff would be nothing short of horrifying. If anyone in the school community, from students to other staff and even parents, became aware of their gender identity, and decided to weaponise it against them, they would be unable to defend themselves, because again to do so would be to affirm sex is not gender. They too would be powerless to stop themselves from being deadnamed and misgendered.

The attack on trans and gender diverse people, and especially trans and gender diverse kids, in this legislation is brutal. But other parts of the LGBTI community aren’t spared either.

That’s because the Bill also establishes a new framework in the Education Act 1990 (NSW) which restricts teaching around a wide range of issues. These are framed as ‘matters of parental primacy’, and defined as:

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.

It would then allow parents and guardians to remove their child from any course that even mentions sexuality (proposed section 17D) – meaning any class, from health and physical education, through any of the social sciences, which dares to state that lesbian, gay and bisexual people exist.

It would also compel schools to consult with parents and guardians at the start of each year about any course which includes anything to do with sexuality (proposed section 17E) and then attempt to teach that course consistently with ‘the moral and ethical standards and the political and social values of parents of students’ (proposed section 6(o)).

Of course, given it is impossible to teach any course consistent with the political and social values of all parents, and the significant administrative hurdles involved, most schools will simply jettison all courses that mention anything to do with same-sex attraction. Lesbian, gay and bisexual content will be purged just like trans and gender diverse information before it.

Even where schools do decide to include this information, proposed section 17B would intervene to limit its effectiveness:

17B Teaching to be non-ideological

In government schools,[i] the education is to consist of strictly non-ideological instruction 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.[ii]

The impact of this clause is potentially far-reaching. After all, if some parents believe homosexuality is ‘sinful’, then presumably it would be ‘ideological’ for a school to teach being lesbian, gay or bisexual is okay. And if some parents assert all sex outside marriage is prohibited, and that LGB people must be celibate, then it could be ‘ideological’ to provide safer sex education at all, but especially about non-heterosexual intercourse.

The use of the words ‘advocating or promoting’ is especially concerning. This provision is, in effect, an Australian equivalent of the UK’s notorious section 28, which was introduced by the Thatcher Government in 1988, and persisted until 2003 when it was finally repealed.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (UK) stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’

The word ‘promotion’ was interpreted broadly, meaning many teachers and schools simply refused to discuss anything to do with same-sex attraction, lest they be accused of ‘promoting’ it. This clause caused a generation of same-sex attracted students to be abandoned, left alone, scared and confused, and without access to safer sex education at the height of the HIV epidemic.

Mark Latham’s section 17B would have the same chilling effect as section 28 – teachers, principals, counsellors and volunteers (including parents) would fear telling a struggling lesbian, gay or bisexual student that who they are is perfectly okay, because it could be seen as promoting an ‘ideological’ view.

While on first glance the provisions of the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 which apply to sexuality appear to be less harsh than the more direct attack on trans and gender diverse kids, the outcome could nevertheless be the same – silence, invisibility and lack of support, leading to dead children.

Finally, it should be noted that the provisions of this Bill are damaging to intersex kids too.

The definition of ‘gender fluidity’, reproduced above, includes this phrase: ‘including people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation’, which is presumably a reference to people born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.

Except intersex variations of sex characteristics are not *disorders*, and the use of this terminology is particularly destructive, reinforcing stereotypes that these differences are wrong and something to be ‘corrected’. This term therefore increases the stigmatisation of intersex children, and will lead to further unnecessary and harmful medical and surgical interventions – an ongoing human rights abuse that must be ended, not perpetuated.

Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is a direct assault on all parts of the LGBTI community, and especially LGBTI children. Above all, it seeks to completely erase trans and gender diverse content, inclusion programs and counselling from every school in NSW – and thereby erase trans and gender diverse kids themselves.

That’s why, in my view, it is the most damaging attack on the LGBTI community this century. Worse than John Howard’s original ban on same-sex marriage. Worse than the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill (although it also has far-reaching negative consequences for LGBTI Australians). Worse even than Latham’s own Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020.

Because it is a calculated and deliberate campaign against the most vulnerable among us.

It is a transphobic (and homophobic, and biphobic, and intersexphobic) agenda that we must resist with all our resources.

Unfortunately, we are already off to a bad start, with the NSW Legislative Council also voting on Wednesday to refer this legislation to Portfolio Committee No. 3 – Education, for inquiry. For those who are not aware, the chair of that Committee is … Mark Latham himself.

Which means we will need to appeal directly to the other members of the Committee to reject his proposal:

  • Matthew Mason-Cox (LIB, Deputy Chair)
  • Anthony D’Adam (ALP)
  • Wes Fang (NAT)
  • Scott Farlow (LIB)
  • Courtney Houssos (ALP), and
  • David Shoebridge (GRNS).

Ultimately, and perhaps somewhat ironically, the debate surrounding a Bill which explicitly mentions ‘moral and ethical standards, political and social values’ is a test of character for the Members of the NSW Parliament.

The question is one for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and Opposition Leader Jodi McKay: do you stand with trans and gender diverse kids, and LGBTI kids generally, or do you support a Bill that purges LGBTI content from classes, removes support from teachers, counsellors and others, and renders LGBTI kids themselves invisible?

Most importantly, they must make their decision quickly, and rule out supporting the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, before the inevitable toxic debate, inside and outside Parliament, led by Latham and backed by his cheerleaders in the right-wing media.

I stand with trans kids, and against Mark Latham. What about you Gladys and Jodi?

For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/ or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

8818836-3x2-940x627

Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is a worse attack on the LGBTI community than John Howard’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage.

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

Footnotes:

[i] Presumably, non-government schools will be able to be ‘ideological’ and provide instruction which condemns same-sex attraction.

[ii] Section 17B ends with: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, this section does not apply to special religious education provided under section 32 of this Act’, which leaves open the possibility that homophobic materials will be able to be distributed in special religious education in government schools.

Did You Know? The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act Doesn’t Protect Bisexuals Against Discrimination

The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is on tonight, and I am looking forward to attending the festivities in Taylor Square.

Although it will likely be in less noteworthy company than last year when, through an unlikely combination of circumstances, I ended up watching most of the parade standing next to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Always the activist, and never one to waste an opportunity, I did manage to ask her an LGBTI rights question during the event. The question I chose:

Are you aware that NSW is the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not protect bisexuals against discrimination?

The Premier answered that ‘no, she wasn’t aware of that’ (or words to that effect) before turning back to talk to her companions.

In her defence, she would not have been alone in not knowing about this bizarre, and unacceptable, loophole in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (although she definitely cannot claim ignorance now).

It is a gap that has existed from the time discrimination on the basis of homosexuality was prohibited in late 1982 (a full 18 months before male homosexuality was even decriminalised in this state).

And one that wasn’t fixed when a definition of ‘homosexual’ was inserted in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1994: ‘homosexual means male or female homosexual’.

This is the definition that remains to this day. Which quite clearly excludes people whose sexual orientation is towards people of the same sex and people of different sexes. [Interestingly, it also prevents heterosexual people from enjoying protection under the Act].

As I stated in my question to Ms Berejiklian, NSW is alone in having such a narrow definition.

The Commonwealth prohibits discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’ in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, with a definition that clearly covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual people.

Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania all also prohibit discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’, while Queensland the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory cover ‘sexuality’ [for more, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws].

What does NSW’s exclusion of bisexuals mean in a practical sense?

Well, on the positive side, because bisexuals are still protected under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act, discrimination against them in NSW remains prohibited in most (although not all) circumstances.

However, there are limits to this coverage – limits that do not apply to lesbians and gay men.

For example, section 13 of the Sex Discrimination Act provides that protections against discrimination in employment under that Act ‘do not apply in relation to employment by an instrumentality of a State.’

Instrumentalities are independent government agencies or corporations. In effect, bisexual employees of independent NSW Government agencies are not protected against discrimination during their employment.[i] Ironically, this means bisexual employees of Anti-Discrimination NSW itself are potentially not protected.

Another practical effect of the exclusion of bisexuals from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is that they are not covered by civil prohibitions on vilification, unlike their gay and lesbian counterparts.

For example, section 49ZT of the Act defines homosexual vilification as ‘to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person of group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person of members of the group.’

Because there is also no prohibition against anti-LGBTI vilification at Commonwealth level, this means bisexual people cannot make a civil complaint of vilification in any circumstance.

Confusingly, bisexual people are protected by the 2018 amendments to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), with section 93Z(1)(c) criminalising:

‘a public act [that] intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards another person or a group of persons on [the ground of] the sexual orientation of the other person or one or more of the members of the group.’

Sexual orientation is then broadly defined in section 93Z(5) as:

‘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.’

Which is obviously welcome, but invites the logical question that, if the NSW Government was willing to include ‘sexual orientation’ in the Crimes Act, why hasn’t it also updated the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act along the same, inclusive, lines?

The third practical effect of the general exclusion of bisexuals from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act is that it limits their options in terms of where to lodge complaints and/or file lawsuits.

Whereas lesbians and gay men discriminated against in NSW have the ability to complain to either Anti-Discrimination NSW or the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) – and therefore of pursuing legal action in either the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) or multiple courts – bisexuals can only complain to the AHRC and can only file in court.

This has implications in terms of the timelines for lodging complaints, the allocation of costs and the potential award of damages.

Each of these practical effects should be sufficient in and of itself to convince the NSW Government to update the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and replace ‘homosexuality’ with ‘sexual orientation’.

But, as with most anti-discrimination laws, the symbolic effect is just as important. After all, what does it say about the place of bisexuals in our own community, and society more widely, that they continue to be excluded from the primary legislation in this state which is designed to ensure all people are treated equally?

Unfortunately, it is not just bisexuals who are excluded in this way either.

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 also excludes non-binary people, because the definition of transgender in section 38A only covers someone who ‘identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex’.

Similarly, the Act also fails to provide discrimination protections to intersex people, because it does not include a protected attribute of either ‘sex characteristics’ (the terminology preferred by Intersex Human Rights Australia) or ‘intersex status’ (the protected attribute in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984).

Although, unlike for bisexuality, NSW is far from alone in these deficiencies:

  • NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory all fail to protect non-binary people, and
  • Those same jurisdictions (NSW, Victoria, Queensland, WA and the NT) also exclude intersex people from their discrimination frameworks.

There is a long, long way to go before Australian anti-discrimination laws adequately and appropriately protect LGBTI Australians against discrimination.

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 arguably has the longest journey ahead.[ii] Let’s hope Premier Berejiklian hears that message loud and clear at tonight’s Mardi Gras – and every parade until this exclusionary and out-dated law is fixed.

Bi Pride

This article is part of a series. Find other ‘Did You Know?’ posts here.

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

Footnotes:

[i] To complicate matters, bisexual employees of NSW Government agencies are protected against unlawful termination, because section 772 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) applies. However, the adverse action protections in section 351 of that Act (which prohibit mistreatment during employment) don’t apply because they must also be prohibited by an equivalent Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination law – which is not the case here.

[ii] For more problems see: What’s Wrong with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

An LGBTI Agenda for NSW

Today marks exactly two years until the next NSW State election (scheduled for Saturday 23 March, 2019).

 

Despite the fact we are half-way through it, there has been a distinct lack of progress on policy and law reform issues that affect NSW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities during the current term of Parliament.

 

This is in marked contrast to the previous term – which saw the abolition of the homosexual advance defence (or ‘gay panic’ defence), as well as the establishment of a framework to expunge historical convictions for gay sex offences.

 

The parliamentary term before that was even more productive, with a suite of measures for rainbow families (including the recognition of lesbian co-parents, equal access to assisted reproductive technology and altruistic surrogacy, and the introduction of same-sex adoption) as well as the establishment of the registered relationships scheme.

 

With a (relatively) new Premier in Gladys Berejiklian, now is the time for the Liberal-National Government specifically, and the NSW Parliament generally, to take action to remedy their disappointing recent lack of activity.

 

Here are 12 issues, in no particular order, which I believe need to be addressed as a matter of priority – and if Premier Berejiklian won’t fix them in the next 24 months, then they must be on the agenda of whoever forms government in March 2019.

 

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The first four issues relate to the state’s fundamentally broken anti-discrimination laws, with the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 now one of, if not, the worst LGBTI anti-discrimination regime in the country[i].

 

  1. Include bisexual people in anti-discrimination laws

 

NSW was actually the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce anti-discrimination protections on the basis of homosexuality, in 1982.

 

However, 35 years later and these laws still do not cover bisexuality – meaning bisexual people do not have legal protection against discrimination under state law (although, since 2013, they have enjoyed some protections under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984).

 

NSW is the only state or territory where bisexuality is excluded. This is a gross omission, and one that the NSW Parliament must rectify urgently.

 

  1. Include intersex people in anti-discrimination laws

 

The historic 2013 reforms to the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 also meant that Australia was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to provide explicit anti-discrimination protection to people with intersex traits.

 

Since then, Tasmania, the ACT and more recently South Australia have all included intersex people in their respective anti-discrimination laws. It is time for other jurisdictions to catch up, and that includes NSW.

 

  1. Remove excessive and unjustified religious exceptions

 

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 also has the broadest ‘religious exceptions’ in the country. These legal loopholes allow religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay and trans people in a wide variety of circumstances, and even where the organisation itself is in receipt of state or Commonwealth money.

 

The most egregious of these loopholes allow all ‘private educational authorities’, including non-religious schools and colleges, to discriminate against lesbian, gay and trans teachers and students.

 

There is absolutely no justification for a school – any school, religious and non-religious alike – to be able to fire a teacher, or expel a student, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

All religious exceptions, including those exceptions applying to ‘private educational authorities’, should be abolished beyond those which allow a religious body to appoint ministers of religion or conduct religious ceremonies.

 

  1. Reform anti-vilification offences

 

NSW is one of only four Australian jurisdictions that provide anti-vilification protections to any part of the LGBTI community. But the relevant provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 are flawed in two key ways:

 

  • As with anti-discrimination (described above), they do not cover bisexual or intersex people, and
  • The maximum fine for a first time offence of homosexual or transgender vilification is lower than the maximum fine for racial or HIV/AIDS vilification.

 

There is no legitimate reason why racial vilification should be considered more serious than anti-LGBTI vilification so, at the same time as adding bisexuality and intersex status to these provisions, the penalties that apply must also be harmonised.

 

**********

 

The following are four equally important law reform and policy issues for the state:

 

  1. Reform access to identity documentation for trans people

 

The current process for transgender people to access new identity documentation in NSW – which requires them to first undergo irreversible sex affirmation surgical procedures – is inappropriate for a number of reasons.

 

This includes the fact it is overly-onerous (including imposing financial and other barriers), and makes an issue that should be one of personal identification into a medical one. It also excludes trans people who do not wish to undergo surgical interventions, and does not provide a process to recognise the identities of non-binary gender diverse people.

 

As suggested in the Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich’s Discussion Paper on this subject[ii], the process should be a simple one, whereby individuals can change their birth certificates and other documentation via statutory declaration, without the need for medical interference.

 

At the same time, the requirement for married persons to divorce prior to obtaining new identity documentation (ie ‘forced trans divorce’) should also be abolished.

 

  1. Ban involuntary sterilisation of intersex infants

 

One of the major human rights abuses occurring in Australia today – not just within the LGBTI community, but across all communities – is the ongoing practice of involuntary, and unnecessary, surgical interventions on intersex children.

 

Usually performed for entirely ‘cosmetic’ reasons – to impose a binary sex on a non-binary body – this is nothing short of child abuse. People born with intersex characteristics should be able to make relevant medical decisions for themselves, rather than have procedures, and agendas, imposed upon them.

 

The NSW Government has a role to play in helping to end this practice within state borders, although ultimately the involuntary sterilisation of intersex infants must also be banned nation-wide.

 

  1. Ban gay conversion therapy

 

Another harmful practice that needs to be stamped out is ‘gay conversion therapy’ (sometimes described as ‘ex-gay therapy’).

 

While thankfully less common that it used to be, this practice – which preys on young and other vulnerable LGBT people who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, and uses pseudo-science and coercion in an attempt to make them ‘straight’/cisgender – continues today.

 

There is absolutely no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence that it constitutes extreme psychological abuse, often causing or exacerbating mental health issues such as depression.

 

There are multiple policy options to address this problem; my own preference would be to make both the advertising, and provision, of ‘conversion therapy’ criminal offences. Where this targets people aged under 18, the offence would be aggravated, attracting a higher penalty (and possible imprisonment)[iii].

 

  1. Improve the Relationship Register

 

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National Government continue to dither on marriage equality (despite it being both the right thing to do, and overwhelmingly popular), in NSW the primary means to formalise a same-sex relationship remains the relationships register.

 

However, there are two main problems with the ‘register’ as it currently stands:

 

  • Nomenclature: The term ‘registered relationship’ is unappealing, and fails to reflect the fundamental nature of the relationship that it purports to describe. I believe it should be replaced with Queensland’s adopted term: civil partnership.
  • Lack of ceremony. The NSW relationship register also does not provide the option to create a registered relationship/civil partnership via a formally-recognised ceremony. This should also be rectified.

 

Fortunately, the five-year review of the NSW Relationships Register Act 2010 was conducted at the start of last year[iv], meaning this issue should already be on the Government’s radar. Unfortunately, more than 12 months later no progress appears to have been made.

 

**********

 

The following two issues relate to the need to ensure education is LGBTI-inclusive:

 

  1. Expand the Safe Schools program

 

Despite the controversy, stirred up by the homophobic troika of the Australian Christian Lobby, The Australian newspaper and right-wing extremists within the Commonwealth Government, Safe Schools remains at its core an essential anti-bullying program designed to protect vulnerable LGBTI students from harassment and abuse.

 

Whereas the Victorian Government has decided to fund the program itself, and aims to roll it out to all government secondary schools, in NSW the implementation of Safe Schools has been patchy at best, with limited take-up, and future funding in extreme doubt.

 

Whatever the program is called – Safe Schools, Proud Schools (which was a previous NSW initiative) or something else – there is an ongoing need for an anti-bullying program to specifically promote the inclusion of LGBTI students in all NSW schools, and not just those schools who put their hands up to participate.

 

  1. Ensure the PDHPE curriculum includes LGBTI content

 

Contrary to what Lyle Shelton et al might believe, the LGBTI agenda for schools goes far beyond just Safe Schools. There is also a need to ensure the curriculum includes content that is relevant for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

 

One of the key documents that should include this information is the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) curriculum.

 

The NSW Education Standards Authority is currently preparing a new K-10 PDHPE curriculum. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be genuinely-inclusive of LGBTI students, with only one reference to LGBTI issues (conveniently, all in the same paragraph, on the same page), and inadequate definitions of sexuality/sexual orientation.

 

Fortunately, there is an opportunity to make a submission to the consultation process: full details here. But, irrespective of what the Education Standards Authority recommends, if the PDHPE curriculum does not appropriately include LGBTI students and content, then the Parliament has a responsibility to step in to ensure it is fixed.

 

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The final two issues do not involve policy or law reform, but do feature ‘borrowing’ ideas from our colleagues south of the Murray River:

 

  1. Appoint an LGBTI Commissioner

 

The appointment of Rowena Allen as Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality appears to have been a major success, bringing together LGBTI policy oversight in a central point whilst also ensuring that LGBTI inclusion is made a priority across all Government departments and agencies.

 

I believe NSW should adopt a similar model, appointing an LGBTI Commissioner (possibly within the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet), supported by an equality policy unit, and facilitating LGBTI community representative panels on (at a minimum) health, education and law/justice.

 

  1. Create a Pride Centre

 

Another promising Victorian initiative has been the decision to fund and establish a ‘Pride Centre’, as a focal point for the LGBTI community, and future home for several LGBTI community organisations (with the announcement, just last week, that it will be located in St Kilda).

 

If it acted quickly, the NSW Government could acquire the T2 Building in Taylor Square – just metres from where the 1st Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Parade started in June 1978 – before it is sold off by the City of Sydney. This is an opportunity to use this historic site for purposes that benefit the LGBTI community, and including the possible housing of an LGBTI Museum and/or exhibition space.

 

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This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I’m sure there are issues I have forgotten (sorry), and I’m equally sure that readers of this blog will be able to suggest plenty of additional items (please leave your ideas in the comments below).

 

But the most important point is that, if we are going to achieve LGBTI policy and law reform in the remaining two years of this parliamentary term, we need to be articulating what that agenda looks like.

 

And, just as importantly, if we want to achieve our remaining policy goals in the subsequent term – from 2019 to 2023 – then, with only two years left until the next election, we must be putting forward our demands now.

 

Gladys Berejiklian at Mardi Gras

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at the recent Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. It’s time to back up this symbolic display of support with progress on policies and law reform.

 

Footnotes:

[i] For more, see What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[ii] See my submission to that consultation, here: Submission to Alex Greenwich Discussion Paper re Removing Surgical Requirement for Changes to Birth Certificate.

[iii] For more on both of the last two topics – intersex sterilization, and gay conversion therapy – see my Submission to NSW Parliament Inquiry into False or Misleading Health Practices re Ex-Gay Therapy and Intersex Sterilisation.

[iv] See my submission to that review, here: Submission to Review of NSW Relationships Register Act 2010.