Sydney World Pride is now just 17 months away. With the official Opening Ceremony scheduled for 24 February 2023, it promises to be one of the largest LGBTI celebrations in a post-pandemic world.
Unfortunately, when it comes to LGBTI law reform, there is very little reason to celebrate.
The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act is the worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law in the country. It’s the only one that fails to protect bisexuals, and the only one allowing all private schools, religious and non-religious alike, to discriminate against LGBT students. The ADA also excludes nonbinary people, and people with innate variations of sex characteristics.
While Queensland, the ACT and Victoria have already prohibited gay and trans conversion practices (to varying extents), and other states consider this vital reform, there’s no clear commitment for NSW to do the same.
Nor has the NSW Government promised to prohibit what are the worst of all human rights abuses against the LGBTI community: coercive surgeries and other involuntary medical treatments on intersex children.
In this context, it’s depressing to realise the next step on LGBTI rights here is likely to be a great leap backwards.
That includes support for a domestic version of the UK’s infamous ‘section 28’, which traumatised a generation of LGBT students there before being abandoned in 2003.
By threatening teachers with having their accreditation revoked for mentioning anything ‘political or ideological’ in relation to gender or sexuality – which could be as simple as telling struggling gay kids that who they are is perfectly okay – it will drive most teachers to say nothing at all, creating the perfect conditions for ignorance and shame to thrive.
Even worse are the proposed changes to Bulletin 55: Transgender Students in Schools, which would (among other things):
Prohibit students from confidentially coming out as transgender to their teachers or school counsellors
Effectively ban transgender students from being able to access toilets or changerooms matching their gender identity, and
Out students who transition while at school to the parents of every other student in their year group.
These anti-trans rules are just the tip of the iceberg. This Bill, and associated Committee Report, are truly a Titanic-size assault on the rights of trans and gender diverse kids in NSW.
In policing children’s names and pronouns, their ability to play sport and even go to the bathroom, these are really Texas Republican Party-level interventions in the daily lives of people whose lives don’t matter to them.
The Government now has six months to respond (coincidentally, the deadline is the Monday after next year’s Mardi Gras). With more Coalition MPs so far publicly expressing support for the Bill than opposing it, the starting assumption has to be they are more likely to implement these changes than reject them.
And if they do? The biggest victims will be a generation of trans and nonbinary kids whose own Government will be actively seeking to erase their very existence, closely followed by other LGBT students who will be offered silence rather than support from their schools.
As for World Pride, well, it seems highly likely there would be a global boycott – one I would fully endorse. To do otherwise would be to invite the world to come and dance over the bodies of trans kids, killed by the transphobia of NSW Parliamentarians.
Even if it ultimately does not pass, the debate since August 2020 has already caused significant harm to trans kids in NSW, and to the families who love them.
If we cannot keep trans kids safe, if we cannot protect LGBT students in private schools against discrimination, if we cannot stop the psychological torture from gay and trans conversion practices, if we cannot prevent the physical torture of intersex children – if we can’t defend the most vulnerable among us – tell me again what exactly we would be celebrating at Sydney World Pride?
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Today (26 March 2021) marks exactly ten years since the election of the NSW Liberal/National Government.
In that decade, and especially in their early years, they have passed a few important LGBT law reforms, including the long-overdue abolition of the homosexual advance defence (or ‘gay panic’ defence) in 2014 and establishing a scheme to expunge historical criminal records for same-sex intercourse in the same year.
However, the pace of reform has slowed markedly in recent times. The last new LGBTI laws were both passed in 2018, with the removal of ‘forced trans divorce’ (although this was necessitated by the passage of marriage equality in Commonwealth law, while NSW failed to seize the opportunity to amend identity laws more generally) and the introduction of an offence for publicly threatening or inciting violence against others, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status (although it replaced existing criminal vilification offences on the basis of homosexuality and transgender status, and as far as I am aware has not been enforced since it commenced).
Indeed, with this week also marking the halfway point of the Liberal/National Government’s third term, there have been no new laws passed addressing LGBTI issues since then, and none appear to be on the horizon.
This is not because the job of LGBTI law reform in NSW is complete. Far from it. As I have written previously, NSW now has the worst LGBT laws in Australia, and is only saved from that title with respect to intersex issues because some other jurisdictions are similarly appalling.
At least part of the problem is that many people, both inside and especially outside our communities, erroneously believe the struggle is over. Which is where my idea for a pride flag for NSW comes in.
From my perspective, the pride flag is inherently political. A symbol of our strength and resilience in overcoming anti-LGBTI prejudice and abuse, as well as a reminder to continue fighting until all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are truly ‘free and equal’.
With that in mind, here is what I think the six colours of the ‘traditional’ pride flag[i] could stand for in NSW today, as a way of bringing attention to at least some of the essential reforms which are still yet to be won here.
Red: Ban conversion practices
Anti-gay and anti-trans conversion practices (sometimes described as ‘ex-gay’ or ‘ex-trans’ therapy) continue in Australia today. Several jurisdictions have already taken steps to ban these practices, with general prohibitions, including in religious environments, now law in Victoria and the ACT, and a more limited ban, only covering health settings, in Queensland. Other states, including Tasmania, are actively considering their own legislation.
To date, the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government has given no firm indication they are considering laws to outlaw these destructive practices. They need to be pressured into taking urgent action to stop them.
Amber/Orange: Protect LGBT students & teachers
By now, we are all familiar with ‘amber alerts’ in the media to draw attention to vulnerable children in danger. Well, every day in NSW there should be an amber alert for LGBT kids – because, in 2021, religious schools are still legally permitted to discriminate against them on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
That is in part because of Scott Morrison’s broken promise from 2018 to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984(Cth) to remove the special privileges allowing religious schools to abuse, mistreat, suspend or even expel students just because of who they are.
Of course, LGBT students are not the only victims of such discrimination. The same provisions also allow private educational authorities to discriminate against LGBT teachers.
If we genuinely want our schools to be safe learning environments where all people are encouraged to reach their full potential, then the NSW Government must protect both LGBT students and teachers from discrimination.
Yellow: End coercive intersex surgeries
As I have written elsewhere, the worst human rights abuses currently affecting any part of the Australian LGBTI community are coercive medical treatments, including surgeries and other interventions, on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.
These egregious human rights violations carry lifelong consequences which is why they must be deferred until intersex people can consent, or not consent, to them. Some jurisdictions, including Tasmania and the ACT, appear to be moving in that direction. As yet, there is no sign of similar progress in NSW.
[NB The yellow comes from the intersex pride flag, which is yellow and purple.]
Under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW), trans and gender diverse people must undergo ‘a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs… for the purpose of assisting a person to be considered a member of the opposite sex’ before being allowed to update their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity.
This requirement is both unnecessary and inappropriate, especially when some people may not wish to undergo such surgeries, while others cannot afford to do so given the prohibitive costs involved.
NSW has fallen behind the majority of other Australian jurisdictions which have updated their birth certificate laws to allow access based on self-identification only (which is best practice), or at least without physical medical interventions. It is time the Government gave the green light to trans and gender diverse people here to access birth certificates without any medical gate-keeping.
Trans and gender diverse people in NSW are also let down by confusing and outdated anti-discrimination protections, as amply demonstrated by the controversy surrounding discriminatory efforts to prevent trans women who have not undergone surgery from accessing McIver’s Ladies Baths in Coogee.
On one hand, there is a definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) which some people might, mistakenly, try to use to justify limiting access on the basis of surgery:
‘recognised transgender person means a person the record of whose sex is altered under Part 5A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995[iii] or under the corresponding provisions of a law of another Australian jurisdiction.’
Except the substantive protections against transgender discrimination apply irrespective of whether the person has had surgery. According to section 38A:
‘A reference in this Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person, whether or not the person is a recognised transgender person–
(a) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or
(b) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex…
and includes a reference to the person being thought of as a transgender person, whether the person is, or was, in fact a transgender person’ [emphasis added].
Which means discriminating against transgender women who have not had surgery would probably be found to be unlawful.
Given this, the misleading definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ should be removed from section 4.
In other words, non-binary people in NSW are not explicitly covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. The NSW Government must remedy this by replacing ‘transgender’ with ‘gender identity’, potentially based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth):
‘gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth’.
Lavender/Purple: Bisexual discrimination law reform
The definition of transgender is not the only outdated terminology in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). The other protected attribute covering (some parts) of the LGBTI community is currently ‘homosexual.’ Section 4 of the Act defines that term to mean ‘male or female homosexual.’
This omission is truly appalling. It is well beyond time for the NSW Government to update the Anti-Discrimination Act to cover sexual orientation generally, in line with other jurisdictions including the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984:
‘sexual orientation means a person’s sexual orientation towards:
(a) persons of the same sex; or
(b) persons of a different sex; or
(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.’
[NB The lavender comes from the bisexual pride flag, which is pink, lavender and blue.]
But, in my opinion, these are some of the most essential reforms in order for people to feel pride that we are making real progress in overcoming homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.
I started this article by highlighting the fact today is the 10th anniversary of the election of the NSW Liberal/National Government.
Coincidentally, today also marks 100 weeks until the planned opening ceremony of World Pride 2023 in Sydney.
That means Premier Gladys Berejiklian has exactly 100 weeks to deliver on each of the six issues identified here.
If her Liberal/National Government fails to make these long-overdue and much-needed changes in that time, then I suggest we fly this ‘pride flag for NSW’ at half-mast during that opening ceremony to acknowledge the damage inflicted and pain caused by their ongoing inaction.
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[i] I also personally support the newer ‘Progress’ version of the pride flag, incorporating both elements of the trans flag, and black and brown stripes to represent people of colour.
[ii] The blue here could either represent part of the trans pride flag – which is blue, pink and white – or the blue of the Pacific Ocean at McIver’s Ladies Baths.
[iii] Which, as we have seen, only allows the granting of new identity documentation following invasive surgeries.
[iv] Indeed, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) also needs to be updated to include a new protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ covering intersex people, and to remove the general exception in section 56(d) which allows a wide range of religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees and people accessing their services.
The 2019 NSW election will be held on Saturday March 23.
It will determine who holds Government until March 2023.
Therefore, with just over a month to go, here are 23 LGBTI issues that parties and candidates should address.
Provide anti-discrimination protection to bisexual people
The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the only LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia that does not cover bisexual people. This should be amended as a matter of urgency, by adopting the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) definition of sexual orientation.[i]
Provide anti-discrimination protection to non-binary trans people
The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 also fails to protect non-binary trans people against mistreatment, because its definition of transgender is out-dated. This definition should be updated, possibly using the Sex Discrimination Act definition of gender identity, to ensure it covers all trans and gender diverse people.
Provide anti-discrimination protection to intersex people
The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 does not have a stand-alone protected attribute covering people born with intersex variations. It should be amended as a matter of urgency by adopting the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10 definition of sex characteristics: ‘each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’
Remove the special privileges that allow private schools and colleges to discriminate against LG&T students and teachers
The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the only LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia that allows all privates schools and colleges, religious and non-religious alike, to discriminate on the basis of homosexuality and transgender status.[ii] These special privileges must be repealed, so that all LGBTI students, teachers and staff are protected against discrimination no matter which school or college they attend.
Remove the general exception that allows religious organisations to discriminate in employment and service delivery
Section 56(d) of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 provides that its protections do not apply to any ‘act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religions susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.’ This incredibly broad exception allows wide-ranging discrimination against lesbian, gay and trans people. This provision should be replaced by the best-practice approach to religious exceptions in Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.
Remove the special privilege that allows religious adoption agencies to discriminate against LG&T prospective parents
Section 59A of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 allows religious adoption agencies to discriminate against prospective parents on the basis of homosexuality and transgender status. This special privilege should be repealed, because the ability of an individual or couple to provide a loving and nurturing environment for a child has nothing whatsoever to do with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Reform commercial surrogacy laws
Under the NSW Surrogacy Act 2010, it is illegal to enter into commercial surrogacy arrangements, either within NSW or elsewhere (including overseas), punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Despite this prohibition, people in NSW (including many same-sex male couples) continue to enter into international surrogacy arrangements. It is clearly not in the best interests of children born through such arrangements for either or both of their parents to be subject to criminal penalties. NSW should either legalise and appropriately regulate commercial surrogacy domestically, or remove the prohibition on international surrogacy.[iii]
Recognise multi-parent families
Modern families continue to evolve, particularly in terms of the number of parents who may be involved in a child’s upbringing, and especially within rainbow families (for example, with male donors playing an increasingly active role in the lives of children born with female co-parents). This growing complexity should be recognised under the law, including the option of recording more than two parents on official documentation.
Modernise the relationships register
The NSW relationships register may have declined in salience, especially within the LGBTI community, following the passage of same-sex marriage in December 2017. However, it remains an important option for couples to legally prove their relationship, especially for those who do not wish to marry (for whatever reason). However, the NSW Relationships Register Act 2010 requires modernisation, including by amending the term ‘registered relationship’ to ‘civil partnership’, and by allowing couples to hold a ceremony if they so choose.[iv]
Remove surgical and medical requirements for trans access to identity documentation
Another law requiring modernisation is the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995, which currently provides that, in order to record a change of sex, a person must first have undergone a sex affirmation procedure. This is completely inappropriate, especially because many trans and gender diverse people either do not want to, or cannot (often for financial reasons), undergo surgery. Gender identity should be based on exactly that, identity, with this law amended to allow documentation to be updated on the basis of statutory declaration only, without medical practitioners acting as gate-keepers.[v] The range of identities that are recorded should also be expanded, and this should be done in consultation with the trans and gender diverse community.
Ban unnecessary and involuntary medical treatment of intersex children
One of the worst human rights abuses perpetrated against any LGBTI community in Australia is the ongoing involuntary medical treatment of intersex children, which often includes unnecessary surgical modification to sex characteristics. Despite a 2013 Senate report recommending action to end these harmful practices, nothing has been done, including in NSW. With a new review being undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission,[vi] whoever is elected in March must take concrete steps to ban non-consensual, medically unnecessary modifications of sex characteristics as soon as possible. In doing so, they should consult with Intersex Human Rights Australia and other intersex organisations, and be guided by the Darlington Statement.
Ban gay and trans conversion therapy
Another abhorrent practice that should be banned immediately is gay or trans conversion therapy, which is not therapy but is psychological abuse. Thankfully, this problem has received increased attention over the past 12 months, including a focus on the need for multi-faceted strategies to address this issue. However, a key part of any response must be the criminalisation of medical practitioners or other organisations offering ‘ex-gay’ or ‘ex-trans’ therapy, with increased penalties where the victims of these practices are minors.[vii]
Establish a Royal Commission into gay and trans hate crimes
In late 2018, the NSW Parliament commenced an inquiry into hate crimes committed against the gay and trans communities between 1970 and 2010. This inquiry handed down an interim report in late February, recommending that it be re-established after the election. However, in my view a parliamentary inquiry is insufficient to properly investigate this issue, including both the extent of these crimes, and the failures of NSW Police to properly investigate them. Any new Government should establish a Royal Commission to thoroughly examine this issue.[viii]
Re-introduce Safe Schools
The Safe Schools program is an effective, evidence-based and age-appropriate initiative to help reduce bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students. Unfortunately, following a vitriolic homophobic and transphobic public campaign against it, the NSW Government axed Safe Schools in mid-2017. In its place is a generic anti-bullying program that does not adequately address the factors that contribute to anti-LGBTI bullying. The Safe Schools program should be re-introduced to ensure every student can learn and grow in a safe environment.[ix]
Include LGBTI content in the PDHPE Syllabus
The NSW Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) curriculum does not require schools to teach what lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex mean, or even that they exist. The new K-10 Syllabus, gradually implemented from the beginning of 2019, excludes LGBTI students and content that is relevant to their needs. It is also manifestly inadequate in terms of sexual health education, with minimal information about sexually transmissible infections and HIV. The Syllabus requires an urgent redraft to ensure LGBTI content is adequately covered.[x]
Expand efforts to end HIV
NSW has made significant progress in recent years to reduce new HIV transmissions, with increased testing, greater access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and higher treatment rates. However, new HIV diagnoses among overseas-born men who have sex with men are increasing. The NSW Government should create an affordability access scheme for people who are Medicare-ineligible that covers PrEP and HIV treatments (including for foreign students). The introduction of mandatory testing of people whose bodily fluids come into contact with police (aka ‘spitting laws’)[xi] should also be opposed.[xii]
Appoint a Minister for Equality
Both the NSW Government and Opposition currently have spokespeople with responsibility for women, ageing and multiculturalism. However, neither side has allocated a portfolio for equality. Whoever is elected on 23 March should appoint a Minister for Equality so that LGBTI issues finally have a seat at the Cabinet table.[xiii]
Establish an LGBTI Commissioner
The Victorian Government does have a Minister for Equality (the Hon Martin Foley MP). They have also appointed a Gender and Sexuality Commissioner (Ro Allen) whose role it is to co-ordinate LGBTI initiatives at a bureaucratic level. A new Government in NSW should also appoint an LGBTI Commissioner here.
Create an Office for Equality
While having leadership positions like a Minister for Equality and an LGBTI Commissioner are important, the work that is done by an Office for Equality within a central agency (like the Equality Branch within the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet) is essential to support LGBTI policies and programs across Government.
Convene LGBTI education, health and justice working groups
The NSW Government should establish formal consultative committees across (at least) these three policy areas to ensure that the voices of LGBTI communities are heard on a consistent, rather than ad hoc, basis.
Fund an LGBTI Pride Centre
Another initiative that is worth ‘borrowing’ from south of the NSW border is the creation of a Pride Centre, to house key LGBTI community organisations, potentially including a permanent LGBTI history museum. This centre would need to be developed in close partnership with LGBTI groups, with major decisions made by the community itself.
Provide funding for LGBTI community organisations
There is significant unmet need across NSW’s LGBTI communities, which should be addressed through increased funding for community advocacy, and service-delivery, organisations, with a focus on intersex, trans and bi groups, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI bodies. This should also include funding for LGBTI services focusing on youth, ageing, mental health, drug and alcohol, and family and partner violence issues, and to meet the needs of LGBTI people from culturally and linguistically diverse and refugee backgrounds.
Develop and implement an LGBTI Strategy
If, in reading this long list, it seems that NSW has a long way left to go on LGBTI issues, well that’s because it’s true. The birthplace of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade has fallen behind other states and territories when it comes to LGBTI-specific policies and programs. We need a whole-of-government strategy, including clear goals and transparent reporting against them, to help drive LGBTI inclusion forward.
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