The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 3: Where Discriminatory Comments Occur & Their Impact

This post is the third in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to two questions, which asked about the ‘location’ where they witnessed anti-LGBTIQ comments in 2016, and the impact that these comments had on them.

The results of the first may or may not be surprising (depending on whether you use social media or not), while the responses to the second are, as expected, often heartbreaking to read.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia-11

Question 1: Over the past 12 months, have you witnessed homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic comments in any of the following (select as many as appropriate):

Media

Social Media

Politics

Religion

Public Space

None of the Above

1,645 people answered this question, and this was the overall response (ranked from highest to lowest):

  • Social Media 92% (1,506 responses)
  • Politics 83% (1,367)
  • Religion 81% (1,330)
  • Media 80% (1,308)
  • Public Space 67% (1,109)
  • None of the Above 3% (50).

It is clear that, in 2016, more LGBTIQ Australians witnessed homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic comments on social media than in any other category – and by a considerable margin.

There is an important caveat to this finding, because a significant proportion of these anti-LGBTIQ comments may in fact be posts incorporating homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia from politics, religion or the media (for example, sharing media stories about the joint Liberal-National Government/fundamentalist christian campaign against Safe Schools).

Even if we accept that, it is nevertheless apparent that the primary medium through which we receive anti-LGBTIQ comments, of any kind, is via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram (or, for people younger than me, Snapchat and other apps I probably haven’t even heard of).

The next three highest-ranked answers – politics, religion and the media – were all very close together.

But, it should also be noted that a higher proportion of LGBTIQ people reported witnessing religious homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia than the proportion of Australians who identify as religious[ii]. That is a pretty impressive effort by the Australian Christian Lobby, Catholic Church and others.

Thankfully, the proportion of respondents who indicated they witnessed anti-LGBTIQ comments in a public space was lower than for other categories – although, at two-thirds of all respondents, it is still depressingly high.

However, the most depressing statistic of all is that just 3% of LGBTIQ people who answered this question – or 50 people in total – reported that they had not witnessed homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia via social media, politics, religion, media or in a public space during the past 12 months.

The next time a conservative politician – or NewsCorp columnist or Christian Lobby spokesperson for that matter – tries to claim that anti-LGBTIQ prejudice no longer exists, or isn’t a problem in contemporary Australia, simply show them these findings.

LGBTIQ Status

There was remarkable consistency across the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities in their respective answers to this question[iii]:

  • Lesbian: Social media 91.4%; Politics 82.4%; Media 78.6%; Religion 77.7%; Public space 69.3% and None of the above 1.8%
  • Gay: Social media 85%; Religion 78.6%; Politics 78.2%; Media 72.8%; Public space 58.8% and None of the above 3.6%
  • Bisexual: Social media 89%; Politics 80.6%; Media 79.9%; Religion 76.6%; Public space 70% and None of the above 3.3%
  • Transgender: Social media 92.7%; Media 87%; Politics 85.4%; Religion 81.8%; Public space 75.5% and None of the above 1%
  • Intersex[iv]: Social media 75%; Religion 70%; Media & Public space both 65%; Politics 60% and None of the above 0%
  • Queer: Social media 90.4%; Politics 84.7%; Media 83.4%; Religion 79%; Public space 76.7% and None of the above 1.1%.

As can be seen, the highest-ranked response – for each category – was Social media, with percentages ranging from 75% to 92.7%, confirming the role of Facebook and other platforms as conduits for anti-LGBTIQ comments.

As with verbal harassment and abuse, analysed in Part 1, the figures reported by bisexual, and especially gay, respondents were significantly lower than for LTI or Q people.

This is particularly apparent in terms of the answer for ‘None of the Above’: 3.6% of gay people, and 3.3% of bisexuals, checked this answer, whereas the next highest rate for any group was lesbians at around half that (1.8%).

On the other hand, and again consistent with earlier figures for verbal harassment and abuse, transgender and to a slightly lesser extent queer respondents were most likely to witness homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments.

In fact, trans people reported the highest rates of anti-LGBTIQ comments in all of social media, politics, religion and media (which is perhaps not that surprising after 12 months of sustained attacks on safe schools and ‘gender fluidity’), while the highest rates for anti-LGBTIQ comments in public spaces were reported by queer people.

Meanwhile, only 1% of trans, and 1.1% of queer, respondents answered none of the above – just one-third of the rates for gay and bisexual people.

The answers to this question once again confirm two things:

  1. Rates of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are unacceptably high in Australia, and
  2. Anti-LGBTIQ prejudice disproportionately impacts trans, intersex and queer people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

In contrast to Parts 1 and 2 of the survey results, the figures for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were not significantly higher than for their non-Indigenous counterparts – although nor were they significantly lower (except for perhaps in relation to politics):

  • Social Media 90.3%
  • Religion 79%
  • Media 75.8%
  • Politics 72.6%
  • Public Space 67.7%
  • None of the Above 1.6% (or just 1 out of 62 respondents).

Age

The responses in terms of different age groups threw up a couple of surprises:

  • Aged 24 and under: Social media 91.5%; Politics 81.2%; Media 78.8%; Religion 78.1%; Public space 70.8% and None of the above 2.5%
  • 25 to 44: Social media 89%; Politics 85.7%; Religion 81.7%; Media 80.5%; Public space 67.3% and None of the above 2.5%
  • 45 to 64: Social media 85.8%; Religion 77.6%; Politics 75.8%; Media 71.9%; Public space 52% and None of the above 3.9%
  • Aged 65 and over[v]: Social media and Religion both 67.6%; Politics 59.4%; Media 54%; Public space 24.3% and None of the above 10.8%.

As expected, people aged 24 and under were more likely to report witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments in social media than any other cohort – although it was only slightly higher than for people aged 25-44, and social media remained the highest-ranked answer (either stand-alone, or equal) for all age groups.

Young people were also more likely to witness homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments in public spaces.

However, perhaps more surprisingly, it was their counterparts aged 25 to 44 who were actually most likely to witness anti-LGBTIQ comments in the contexts of politics, religion and the media.

Both groups also reported similar rates for ‘none of the above’: 2.5% or around 1 in every 40 people said they did not witness anti-LGBTIQ comments in these contexts in the last 12 months.

In short, people aged between 25 and 44 appear just as likely to have witnessed homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments in 2016 as their younger LGBTIQ equivalents (although people aged under 25 may nevertheless feel the impact more, particularly if they are yet to develop coping mechanisms to deal with encountering such prejudice).

Less surprisingly, the answers for the two older age cohorts show reduced exposure to anti-LGBTIQ comments, especially in public spaces (just 52% for people aged 45 to 64 and 24.3% for those aged 65 and over). The rates for none of the above also increased significantly for both groups.

[NB Unlike previous – and planned – posts, this article will not examine the different responses for each Australian state and territory because the results are not considered relevant.]

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Question 2: If you feel comfortable, please indicate the impact that these homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic comments had on you [Optional]

This question allowed respondents to describe, in their own words, the impact that witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments during 2016 had on them – and the answers provided are, to put it frankly, depressing.

As with Part 2 of the survey results, at this point I would recommend that you only read further if you are emotionally prepared to do so.

To help you decide whether to continue, please be aware that comments include descriptions of mental health issues, depression and suicide (including suicide ideation). Relevant help numbers are provided at the end of the article.

A lightly-edited[vi] version of the answers to this question – outlining the personal impact of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments – can be found at the following link:

question-2-the-impact-of-discriminatory-comments

From my perspective, a number of key themes emerge in these comments:

While a small number of respondents indicated that witnessing such comments had little or even no impact on them, the majority indicated that anti-LGBTIQ comments had caused major impacts, contributing to mental health issues, depression and even suicide ideation.

“Every day I consider suicide. My life looks normal on the surface, but why should I bother living when the majority hates me? I’m not wanted and seen as a freak. I just want to feel normal and safe, but straights will never allow that in my country (Australia). Homophobia makes me wish I was dead.”

“I feel like it raises the suicide rates and makes us feel less than human as [it] makes people feel homophobia is ok because we don’t have equality. In the last year I’ve had 4 friends commit suicide due to homophobia.”

“They make me feel worthless, like a freak, like I don’t deserve to live, like I don’t deserve anything, like I’ll be alone forever, like no one will love me, like I should just kill myself because it would be easier.”

The feeling of being ‘lesser’ than others was also common:

“It makes you feel separate. More like an oddity than a person. Like you’re… less”

“It just makes me feel like shit to be frank. Like I’m not a worthwhile human being. Like I’m a joke and not a living, breathing person with thoughts and feelings.”

“It hurts my self worth, makes me feel as though my identity is something negative and is something that I should be ashamed of.”

A sense of ‘hopelessness’ was also pervasive:

“It makes you feel that the world will never change & there is no place for you in it.”

“It is depressing to realise that, despite the progress that has been made on many fronts, just how widespread anti-LGBTI prejudice really is, including from our so-called political leaders.”

“Homophobia in media and everyday life is a constant reminder to the lgbtq community that they are and probably always will be seen as less than others.”

“It made me feel helpless, like nothing was ever going to change no matter how hard people work at being accepting.”

A number of commenters expressed despair at the level of anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in Australia, and associated alienation from their country:

“They made me feel as if my own country didn’t want me and that I wasn’t really a person.”

“I question whether Australian society is as accepting as I thought it was.”

“Disgust and shame at both myself and Australia. I feel marginalised, oppressed, fearful, frustrated and in some cases terrified of the country I live in.”

“If anything, these comments have disturbed me, and made me feel quite frightened for mine, my partner’s and Australia’s future moving forward…”

“These actions and comments make me feel like Australia is still leaving [sic] in the 1900s and I love my country and people, but sad that there a [sic] still so many closed minded people in this country.”

Or simply “Used to it. This is Australia after all.”

Another strong theme was modifying behaviour to avoid being subject to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia:

“Witnessing or hearing discriminatory acts/language makes me feel unsafe. It makes me modify my behaviour in certain situations to avoid potential violence.”

“They make me feel like I have to adjust my behaviour to make straight people feel comfortable. My partner of 5 years and I don’t hold hands or kiss in public because of this. I hate being a different person in public from the one I am at home. On our train line, it would simply not be safe to hold hands or kiss.”

“It makes me feel unsafe to walk down the street ever since embracing my sexuality. I would certainly not feel comfortable walking down the street hand in hand with my partner and I am careful not to make too much eye contact if I’m wearing something that might indicate my sexuality.”

For some, this even extended to an increased fear of disclosure/’coming out’:

“Increased anxiety about people finding out I’m gay. Less likely to come out.”

“It’s made me scared to come out to some people including my mother.”

“Scares me into not coming out to the people closest to me and makes me feel ashamed for being myself.”

“I feel sad and I actively hide my sexuality.”

“They made me ashamed and want to hide myself further in the closet.”

Some indicated anti-LGBTIQ comments had little impact – but only because they were ‘used to it’, ‘numb to it’, or had developed ‘thick skins’:

“I’m fine, I’m all grown up and used to it now. But if we can stop it happening to others in the future, that should be our primary focus.”

“I’m a lot more thick-skinned now but it really affected me as a kid and teenager growing up and I spent a lot of puberty feeling very suicidal. These days it mostly just makes me angry.”

“I have quite a thick skin and don’t care what other people say, however I am disappointed that more of society have not moved on.”

Or, even more pithily:

  • “I’m used to it, kind of just get number over the years.”
  • “Very little, I have a thick skin.”
  • “I am very used to hearing phobic comments.”
  • “I’m so used to it I just switch off.”

However, even for those who claimed to have learnt to ‘live with it’, there was still significant concern about its impact, on themselves and others:

“I usually end up numbing myself to the full effect of these comments because to truly engage with my feelings about it would mean constant pain, anger and disillusionment in humanity and I wouldn’t get through the day. But when it takes over, it’s a horrible experience.”

“It bothers me, but I learn to live with it. If someone is rude to me or if I find something rude, I can’t waste my emotional energy getting caught up in it anymore. But it is a problem, because I know these statements have a much stronger impact on others who are lgbt, who have suffered a lot more because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Some respondents ‘turned lemons into lemonade’, and used homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments as motivation:

“They make me annoyed or angry. They make me more determined to help pro-lgbt causes or keep active.”

“In general, abuse makes me feel both unwanted and even more determined to promote equality so that future generations of LGBTQI people do not have to endure the abuse and discrimination that some people have received.”

“The current attitude towards the LGBTIQ community makes me angry and ever more passionate to step up and attempt to make a change.”

“It gets me fired up! I can’t help it – I have to respond. I’ve been fighting this fight for over twenty years, so I can’t let it go unchecked… I stick it to them.”

“Makes me more determined to work against the hate.”

“Makes me stronger in my resolve to educate people about LGBTIQ issues – eg being gay is not a choice, it is not a disease that other people can catch from me, I am not sick, disordered or mentally unbalanced; I don’t need to be cured or changed, I am not any more a ‘sinner’ than any other human being etc. I am perfectly happy and content.”

One of the most common type of comment was an expression of care, and concern, for younger and/or more vulnerable members of the LGBTIQ community:

“I’m fairly resilient, so these things tend not to affect me. However, they do cause me great concern for those who may not be resilient, or the young in our community.”

“They don’t worry me now because I am fully accepting of myself but I hate to think of the effect they would have on younger people.”

“I feel angry about the impact it would have on younger people (I’m older now and I’m more concerned about protecting the younger ones).”

“Mostly it’s really deflating and makes me concerned for younger lgbtiq+ people who don’t have support networks.”

“Made me feel sad for the younger ones, still coming to terms with who they are, fighting depression.”

“It’s hurtful and worrying. I’m old enough now to not let it bother me but it concerns me to think about how this affects teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. Hatred in the public sphere is only continuing this.”

“While I’m at a point in my life where I realise that the people who publicly express these negative points of view often in a negative way are ignorant and their negativity is their problem, not mine, I feel sad and angry thinking that less secure, particularly younger LGBTIQ+ individuals, may be impacted extremely detrimentally by these comments.”

“I fear for young LGBTQ people who don’t have the support or self awareness to know that there is nothing wrong with them and that they will find their place one day, if not today.”

“Made me feel unsafe and also made me feel sad for all the young kids who’s health would be more majorly impacted by this, almost every LGBT+ person I know has attempted suicide or suffered from trauma as a response to abuse and I feel this.”

“I have witnessed friends being vilified and the victims of homophobic rants. The psychological toll as a result of the constant barrage from all forms of media, politics, religion & the public confirms the reasoning behind the high mortality rate for young LGBTI members of our community.”

These two comments probably best sum up this view:

“It really distresses me that people still act this way. I worry for the younger youth who this could have a greater impact on. Whoever says homophobia doesn’t exist in today’s society is very wrong.”

“It upsets me that young LGBTIQ children are being constantly reminded that they are not treated the same as others in this society when they watch out-of-touch, backward-thinking politicians who do not see how hurtful their words against same-sex marriage and the safe schools program are. It is so upsetting that they cannot see the damage they are doing.”

The parents in rainbow families also expressed concern for the potential harm anti-LGBTIQ comments cause to their children:

“I don’t feel homophobia has an impact on me but I often wonder if it’s upsetting to my son. He tells me it bother him sometimes.”

“I feel confident in my personal relationship however when in public spaces with my children I worry about negative reactions to my lesbian relationship if I show any form of public affection towards my partner. It is better sometimes to ‘pass’ as a parent rather than show we are a family, purely because I do not want my children to observe homophobic reactions or hear homophobic comments about their parents or family.”

The care shown by LGBTIQ people for their children, and for younger members of the community, stands in marked contrast to the ‘christian’ values too-often on display by religious fundamentalists, with some respondents nominating religious intolerance as the source of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia:

“Especially the comments from people representing my religion are really painful and I find myself often thinking if I can even be part of such a community that should be about mercy and love and is often just full of hate.”

“The Tasmanian Archbishop’s attempts to change the anti-discrimination act have resulted in me moving school despite having a supportive school I think it is no longer appropriate for me to attend a school that is overseen by someone who has openly proclaimed his dislike of homosexuals, and is attempting to change laws to discriminate against them.”

“I went to catholic school and the church felt it right to give a pamphlet to each child outlining what a marriage is and making sure to discourage anyone who was in the LGBTQI community.”

“It’s everywhere. Every time someone mentions gay marriage or trans health there is always a rebuttal speaker from some religious group.”

“all these churchie people… they preach and say we are sinning… Yet they are being the judgmental ones. I don’t know any LGBTIQ people that go around with fliers etc saying join our church etc. So why do they try [to] pressure us to change who we are?”

“Christian people on Facebook posting anti-gay marriage and safe schools program under the guise of love the sinner not the sin…”

That last comment was typical of many that raised homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments in the context of last year’s dual anti-LGBTIQ campaigns – against Safe Schools and for a plebiscite:

“well I hear all the hate-filled rhetoric from the religious alt right that sadly have too much of a voice in gov from groups like the christian lobby and other politicians. the whole gay marriage plebiscite seemed to give every anti-gay hate group a paid advertisement on social media…”

“Made me feel unsafe being out in my work space ie political discussions about safe schools and queer people corrupting children made me feel I might lose my job at a school.”

“The same sex marriage debate and the vilification of the safe schools program has allowed homophobia to run rife in politics and in the media leading to public aping of homophobic beliefs.”

“Particularly the discussion in the media regarding the plebiscite had a huge effect on my emotional well being. I found myself harbouring a lot of stress, feeling less safe, and often feeling emotional and being brought to tears.”

“plebiscite! The very idea that our government (the same one that is apparently working for the Australian people) can legislate hate speech (or an entire campaign) against a minority under the guise of politics disgusts me and makes me ashamed to call myself Australian.”

“A feeling of being lesser than anyone else. Worry for young people, especially when the plebiscite about equal marriage was being threatened. This also gave other homophobes permission to be expressive about their hatred.”

“The constant negativity and blatant homophobia present in the political and mainstream media spheres, especially over Safe Schools and on marriage equality, has left me emotionally wrung out and uneasy, including making me less likely to decide to announce, share or defend my position on these issues in places I feel comfortable in, including my workplace in a secondary school.”

A number of commenters also highlighted the Trump factor, and the fear of Australia importing US-style anti-trans bathroom laws:

“Trump supporters have also gotten on the anti-LGBTQ movement and all over social media if you tag anything with one of those, you are instantly trolled. Trump hired people to set up fake accounts and constantly go out and attack our community so a by-product of the US election was the LGBTQ community all around the world was attacked and criminalised and marginalised.”

“While I’m not trans, I have friends who are, and even in a relatively tolerant country like Australia they still encounter discrimination every day. We hear about the horrendous bathroom law debates raging in the US and think, there’s one more place we aren’t safe. The same intolerance exists in Australia; it’s just quieter.”

In fact, the existing high-levels of transphobic comments generally was raised by several respondents:

“I only recently began to take steps to transition socially, and it feels like every other day there’s a new reminder of how much hate and harassment still exist. The thought of coming out and having to face this regularly terrifies me.”

“I see constant transphobia in people’s reactions towards trans/non binary/queer people.”

“A trans* friend of mine died and majority of the comments were transphobic of nature and it hurt me to witness how my peers felt about individuals being transgender.”

“Lyle Shelton has made incredibly transphobic remarks that have had me on the verge of tears.”

(At least) 2 people highlighted the failure of Victorian birth certificate reform late last year as a particular source of transphobic comments:

“Shocking. I am significantly affected by the ongoing ceaseless abuse we experience at the hands of media and parliament. The recent comments in the Victorian parliament voiced by the opposition were appalling. The constant transphobia lends itself to a constant low level of depression only countered by actual interaction with mainstream people who seem to be much more accepting…”

“It’s a kick in the guts every time I see the media misrepresent trans people. In politics it’s worse though – that they didn’t change the law about birth certificates last year has made my life harder at a practical level.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given both its popularity and the high share of respondents indicating social media as a source of anti-LGBTIQ comments, at least a dozen respondents specifically cited prejudice on Facebook:

“Facebook is covered with homophobic comments and pictures that don’t get removed.”

“Homophobic/transphobic comments from people on posts on Facebook…”

“I follow a large amount of people on social media where I almost daily see harassment to multitudes of people in the queer community.”

“Found them rather disturbing particularly on Facebook where posters ‘go for it’ with their opinions from the safety of a keyboard. I found it scary and rather confronting the amount of homophobia in the community in Australia, and doubly scary in other parts of the world. I think if a person is secure in their sexuality then they don’t feel the need to hate whereas (in my experience) if a person has issues, either consciously or unconsciously then they ‘project’ this through homophobia onto GLBT people.”

This commenter raised particularly concerning issues with Facebook:

“I don’t feel mentally capable of reading comments on social media posts about LGBTQI issues for fear of harassment and homophobic/transphobic comments. I don’t comment at all because I’m harassed. Someone reported my name on Facebook and I was forced to provide legal identification and change my account to my birth name or my account would be shut down. I now cannot change my name on Facebook until I legally pay (220$) to have my name changed. Seeing my birthname daily causes me huge amounts of distress and dysphoria.”

Given the prevalence of anti-LGBTIQ comments on social media, it is unsurprising some survey respondents are resorting to ‘switching off’:

“Frankly, makes me not want to live, but I don’t tell anyone that because I think that’s what these people actually want. They want me to hate myself and take care of ‘the issue’ (ie me) for them. So I’ve unplugged from it for the most part and focus on loving myself.”

“Lesbians have copped it a bit this year and it’s made me more stressed than usual. Thinking of cutting myself off from media outlets.”

“I had to block people on social media. I choose what I read in the media and its source.”

“I considered seeking counselling to deal with my mental health regarding [anti-LGBTIQ comments] specifically, as well as removing myself from social media and avoiding news articles.”

“I found them disturbing, misleading & hurtful. I was closely following the plebiscite debate and also had clients at my work being affected by the comments in the media. After a while of hearing the same negativity about LGBTIQ people it starts to get to me. I have to take a break from reading things because they are saying ignorant and nasty things about me and my family. I have found it quite stressful and depressing.”

“I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can use my experiences to hopefully discourage this kind of behaviour. It still makes me livid to hear or read LGBTI-phobic comments because they touch on the very essence of who I am and the people I love. I have also noticed that particularly political LGBTI-phobia has a real impact on my mental health. In the interest of my own sanity I often choose to disengage, which then subsequently makes me feel guilty because surely someone has to speak up to change people’s minds.”

Overall, these responses highlight the profound impact that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments – in social media, politics, religion, media and public spaces – had on LGBTIQ Australians over the past 12 months.

The following two quotes, for me, summarise just how important it is to push back against this rising, and hurtful, wave of prejudice:

“This behaviour creates a cage for all members of the LGBTAQI+ community. Any negative act towards someone from this community pushes us back into the cage of fear we’re all trying so hard to destroy.”

“I feel like there is a war on gender and sexuality and everywhere is a battleground of some sort and I’m a civilian trying to just live and explore myself but it’s not ‘safe’. Having friends who are accepting and part of the community helps but it still feels like a war…”

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Conclusion

The results of these two questions have confirmed not only that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments are rife in Australia, but also that they are having a terrible impact on many – too many – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.

These comments are being observed in a wide range of areas, including politics, religion and the media – but are especially prevalent on social media, with 92% of respondents witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments in this medium in 2016.

In fact, social media was the highest-ranked (or equal highest), for all categories of LGBTI and Q, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ respondents and irrespective of age cohort.

On the other hand, just 3% of survey respondents – or about 1 in every 33 people – had not witnessed homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia on media, social media, politics, religion or public space in the past 12 months.

This is nothing less than shocking, as were the quotes highlighted above (and in the linked document) where people explained in their own words the impact that witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments has had on their lives. If you are mentally prepared, I encourage you to read them at length.

As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the third in my series of six articles reporting the results of my ‘The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia’ survey.

The remaining three articles, which will focus on discrimination in education, employment and health and other areas, will be published during May[vii].

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)

Footnotes:

[i] The previous posts can be found here:

Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

[ii] According to the ABS, 22% of respondents to the 2011 census indicated they had ‘no religion’, although this figure is expected to rise dramatically in the 2016 census following a change in how this question was asked.

[iii] Note that the percentages for each of these groups will be reduced compared to the overall rates described above, because they are calculated based on the total number of people from that group completing the survey rather than the (lesser) number of people from that group who answered this question.

[iv] Noting that there was a small sample size for intersex respondents (n=20) meaning these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[v] Noting that there was a small sample size for respondents aged 65 and over (n=37) meaning these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[vi] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information

-Removing potentially defamatory comments and

-Removing offensive (for example, transphobic) remarks.

I have also corrected some spelling/grammatical mistakes for ease of reading.

[vii] These posts were originally scheduled for April, but have been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances.

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The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

This post is the second in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to three questions about experiences of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence, including publishing their personal stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic violence.

It makes for particularly tough reading – not only are the reported rates of physical abuse, both over their lifetimes and specifically during the last 12 months, far too high, many of the examples of violence that were provided are, frankly, brutal reminders of the unacceptable state of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australia today.

If the topics covered in this post raise any issues for you, contact details of relevant support services are provided at the end of the article.

the-state-of-homophobia-biphobia-transphobia-6

Question 1: Have you ever experienced physical abuse or violence because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?

&

Question 2: Has one or more instances of this physical abuse or violence occurred in the past 12 months?

Overall, 26% of survey respondents – 431 people out of the 1,647 who answered question 1 – indicated they had experienced physical abuse or violence because of their LGBTIQ status at some point in their life.

128 people – or 30% of respondents who answered yes to question 1[ii] – then answered question 2 by stating that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence had occurred during the last 12 months.

Including those who answered no to question 1, that means approximately 7.8% of all respondents reported experiencing physical abuse or violence in the past year alone.

It should be noted that these rates are significantly lower than the numbers who had previously reported receiving anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment or abuse. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence in Australia is unacceptably high:

  • 1 in 4 LGBTIQ people have been physically assaulted simply because of who they are, and
  • 1 in every 13 LGBTIQ respondents has experienced such abuse or violence in the last 12 months alone.

The following sections show the results to these two questions according to different demographic groupings, including LGBTIQ status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, age, and residence by state and territory.

LGBTIQ Status

There were some potentially surprising results in reported rates of lifetime anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence. However, the respective answers of different groups to question 2 were more predictable – and more depressing for that reason. The results for both questions were as follows:

Lesbian: 24.1% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[iii]

Gay: 34.4% ever, and of those 23.6% during the past 12 months[iv]

Bisexual: 14.6% ever, of those 44.2% in last 12 months[v]

Transgender: 33.6% ever, of those 47.2% in last 12 months[vi]

Intersex: 46.7% ever, of those 71.4% in last 12 months[vii], and

Queer: 27.1% ever, of those 44% in last 12 months[viii].

The rates for intersex respondents were clearly the highest – on both measures – although the small sample size (n=15) should be remembered at this point. Of the remaining LGBTQ groups, the category reporting the highest lifetime rates of physical abuse or violence were people identifying as gay, followed closely by transgender people.

There are a range of possible explanations for this, including physical bullying of gay students during school, and ‘historical’ incidents of anti-gay violence that may have happened many years ago (and there is some evidence for both factors in the personal stories of violence detailed below)

Sadly, the relatively high rates reported by transgender respondents were largely predictable. Disturbingly, they were higher again where a person indicated they were both transgender and gay – with 45.6% reporting lifetime physical abuse or violence. These numbers are obviously horrific [ix].

It is equally worrying to look at the proportion of each group overall who reported an instance of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence in the past 12 months:

  • Lesbian: 6.5%
  • Gay: 8.1%
  • Bisexual: 6.5%
  • Transgender: 15.6%
  • Intersex: 33.3%
  • Queer: 12%

On this measure, the proportion of gay respondents reporting physical abuse or violence is much lower, and is in fact similar to both lesbian and bisexual survey respondents.

However, this finding demonstrates the disproportionate impact of recent anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse and violence on transgender (including people who identified as both transgender and gay, where the figure was 24.6%, on 1 in 4 people reporting abuse in the last year alone), intersex and queer members of the community.

Therefore, while there have historically been high rates of homophobic (and specifically anti-gay), transphobic and intersexphobic violence in Australia, there appears to be comparatively far higher rates of transphobic, intersexphobic and anti-queer physical abuse during the last 12 months.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

As with verbal harassment and abuse, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported higher rates of physical abuse or violence than their non-Indigenous LGBTIQ counterparts.

36.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents reported anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse at some point during their lifetime[x], which is higher than both gay and transgender people, discussed above. Of those, 40.9% indicated at least one instance of such violence had occurred in the past 12 months[xi].

Taken together, this means that 15% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported homophobic, biphobic or transphobic physical abuse or violence during the past year – double the rate of non-Indigenous LGBTIQ Australians (7.5%).

Age

There were some significant differences in terms of experiences of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence depending on the age cohort of the respondent:

24 and under: 18.7% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 47.6% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xii]

25 to 44: 33.1% ever, and of those 27.2% in the last 12 months[xiii]

45 to 64: 39.9% ever, and of those 16.4% in the last 12 months[xiv], and

65 and over: 30.1% ever, and of those 9.1% in the last 12 months[xv].

Thankfully, the proportion of LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under reporting lifetime physical abuse or violence was lower than their counterparts in other age cohorts. Of course, this result should be expected given their lesser ‘life experience’ (ie fewer years in which abuse may have occurred), but that was not the case for verbal harassment or abuse which was reported at similar rates to older groups.

Rates of lifetime homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse or violence then increased for people aged 25 to 44, and again for people aged 45 to 64, before declining for people aged 65 and over.

One possible explanation for this is the age at which these groups ‘came of age’: people aged 65+ turned 18 before 1970, and lower visibility of LGBTIQ people (and especially some communities within this umbrella term) may have lessened their experiences of direct physical violence (while exacerbating other problems, including social exclusion and mental health issues).

On the other hand, people aged 45 to 64 generally turned 18 in the 1970s and 1980s, and likely bore the brunt of societal backlash to increased visibility of non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual Australians, including via physical assaults.

It is however worrying that for those people who turned 18 in the supposedly more accepting 1990s and 2000s (who are now aged 25 to 44), the rates of physical abuse or violence remained relatively high – with 1 in 3 survey respondents in this demographic affected.

Turning to anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse in the past 12 months, the results were very different:

  • 8.8% of all respondents aged 24 or under reported abuse in the last year, compared to
  • 7.1% of people aged 25 to 44
  • 6.5% of people aged 45 to 64, and
  • 2.8% of people aged 65 and over.

Once again, we see that current homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse and violence is disproportionately affecting younger LGBTIQ Australians – who are 35.4% more likely to report such abuse than people aged 45 to 64.

Despite all of the progress that we have made, on so many fronts, the fact that 1 in 12 LGBTIQ people aged under 25 reported physical abuse or violence in the last year alone is a confronting, and in many ways, devastating, statistic.

State or Territory of Residence

The rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic violence did not differ greatly between most states and territories:

NSW: 26% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xvi]

Victoria: 29.5% ever, and of those 29% in the last 12 months[xvii]

Queensland: 26.4% ever, and of those 21.2% in the last 12 months[xviii]

Western Australia: 28.1% ever, and 45.2% in the last 12 months[xix]

South Australia: 25.2% ever, and of those 29.4% in the last 12 months[xx]

Tasmania: 19.8% ever, and of those 45.4% in the last 12 months[xxi]

ACT: 14.3% ever, and of those 37.5% in the last 12 months[xxii], and

Northern Territory: 23.8% ever, and of those 20% in the last 12 months[xxiii].

Despite the similarity between jurisdictions, there are three things here worth noting:

  • Western Australia had by far the highest overall proportion of LGBTIQ people reporting physical abuse or violence in the last year, at 12.4%[xxiv]
  • The ACT has reported significantly lower levels of physical abuse than the national average (5.4% in the past 12 months), and was also significantly lower in terms of verbal harassment or abuse, and
  • Despite having the second lowest lifetime rates of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, Tasmania actually reported the second highest rates in the past 12 months (9%), repeating a similar pattern for verbal abuse.

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Question 3: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of this homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence [Optional]:

This question allowed respondents to provide an example of the physical abuse or violence they had experienced, irrespective of when it had occurred.

As anticipated, many of the stories that have been shared are both incredibly powerful, and profoundly upsetting.

At this point, I would recommend that you only read further if you are emotionally and mentally prepared to do so. To help you decide whether to continue, please be aware that some stories involve details of physical violence and injury, as well as sexual and child sexual assault.

A lightly-edited[xxv] version of the stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence that were shared can be found at the following link:

question 3 physical abuse or violence comments

From my perspective, several consistent themes emerge from these stories, including:

The most common type of story shared involved anti-LGBTIQ abuse in the school environment (at least 38 respondents mentioned school). For example:

“Other kids would throw food at me at school and threaten to kill me. One time a group of bigger boys held me down and drew penises on my face at school. Teachers did nothing. People just laughed. I wanted to die.”

“During the HSC, the day of my last exam. A group of guys waited for me around the corner of the hall. They grabbed me by the neck and dragged me around the corner whilst beating me.”

“I was violently assaulted during high school. A boy at my school also stalked me and threatened to rape me to ‘make me straight.’”

A number of respondents explicitly indicated that the homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse occurred some time ago:

“Many years ago at high school. Managed to steer clear of physically violent homophobic behaviour since then.”[xxvi]

“I was bullied relentlessly when I was at school. It was a long time ago (in the 70s) and it included physical abuse. I’m one of the lucky ones, I survived. Many other young LGBTI Australian youth didn’t… and this is still continuing today, validated by politicians and religious ‘leaders’ who have no concern about the harm they are doing by imposing their hetero-normative agendas.”

“I have been punched in the street a few times in the 1990s and once had a bottle broken over my head and was stabbed in the face with the broken bottle (year 2000).”

Several stories involved anti-lesbian violence, including attempts of ‘corrective rape’ and sexual assault:

“I have been bashed in the street for holding my partner’s hand, I have been threatened with rape for dancing with another woman, I have had the police stand in my lounge room making threatening gestures when my partner and I reported a crime, refusing to do anything because ‘some people just don’t like dykes’ and we’d ‘just have to get used to that.’”

“Men grope me, stick their hands down my pants in public places and try to force me to kiss them. When I say I’m a lesbian it’s always either ‘that’s okay I don’t mind’, ‘I can change that’, ‘you’ve just never had a good fuck’.”

“When I lived in Queensland (not where I currently reside) I had strangers at parties come up to my girlfriend and I and forcibly try to dance with us and grope us and insist that we should have sex with them/have a threesome because we need ‘some real fucking’.”

Another common theme was anti-trans violence, such as the ‘policing’ of gender appearance or behaviour, and again including sexual assault:

“Was physically abused by a middle-aged woman who was confused by my gender presentation and took it upon herself to check + feel my chest for the presence of breast tissue (which was underneath my binder).”

“I’ve been sexually assaulted by partners because of my gender non-conforming behaviour, to try and ‘correct’ me into being femme.”

“When I wasn’t out about being a trans man, this bi girl that also knew I was bi thought it was ok and appropriate to sexually assault me and grab my vagina.”

“I was sexually assaulted when a group of young men found out I was transgender.”

A disturbing proportion of stories involved physical abuse and violence from parents, family members and partners in intimate relationships:

“My dad tried to beat the gay out of me a lot growing up.”

“As a child I was beaten at different times by both parents, one publicly, and being told to man up.”

“My mum hit/tried to strangle me when I came out to her as trans.”

“A boyfriend at the time – I told him I’m queer (pan, if you like) and he started grabbing me without my consent sexually in public.”

At least a dozen stories referred to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in spaces and places that the LGBTIQ community call ‘home’:

“I got king-hit/coward-punched whilst walking down Oxford Street in Sydney during Mardi Gras.”

“I have been poofter bashed – just off Oxford St – and was once assaulted by police officers (which I took action about).”

“When I lived in Sydney in the mid-1990s I was bashed by a group of ‘skin-heads’ on Darlinghurst Rd as I walked home after work.”

“Physically assaulted and knocked unconscious by men loitering at a McDonalds on a popular gay night strip in Melbourne.”

“Several years ago I was assaulted in Malvern Rd Prahran by 5 guys yelling death to fags – luckily for me as the group kicked me as I lay helpless a driver stopped and they got scared off.”

And then there were some stories that defied easy ‘categorisation’, but which were so powerful that I felt compelled to reproduce here:

“I’ve been verbally abused, threatened by men, chased by youths with knives and survived an attempted rape and murder by a straight man who saw me come out of a gay pub.”

“Attacked during lgbt rally, egged until I got welts, physically attacked, had people bang on the windows of my room + house and yell they’d kill me etc.”

“Glass bottles thrown at my head and at my lesbian friends because we needed to “get back to the Valley with the freaks” and “needed them to show us dick” so we would stop being into women; guy holding up my girlfriend by her throat because we kissed in a pub; sexual assaults to me (several) partly because they knew I was bisexual so I was “automatically up for sex”. I wasn’t. There was no consent. I even said no and they said I was lying because I am bi.”

“I, my partner and her elderly father were all bashed by a bunch of teenage boys who chased us from the train station to our home kicking us, hitting us, spitting at us, throwing things at us and verbally abusing us. They then attacked my father-in-law when he attempted to come to our aid. He was in his mid-60s at the time of the attack.”

Some shorter comments were nevertheless shocking:

“Being beaten by 3 older men who had followed me home after I left my boyfriend on public transport. I was 16.”

“My partner and I were assaulted whilst kissing to say good bye.”

“My partner and I had glass beer bottles thrown at us walking down the street while holding hands.”

“I was last assaulted for my sexuality in early 2013, and dozens of times before that.”

Finally, and disturbingly, there were at least three stories in which the person who experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse tried to downplay the extent of the violence:

“Bashed (not badly) numerous times by strangers, usually with onlookers. Extreme harassment and threats from police on several occasions.”

“Mild beatings by groups of boys in late high school.”

“Just being punched in the face.”

Describing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in this way is likely part of a psychological coping strategy for these respondents – but, from this author’s perspective, there is no circumstance in which the word ‘just’ ought to appear in front of the phrase being punched in the face.

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Conclusion

The results of this survey suggest that 1 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence at some point in their lives.

30% of that group – or 1 in 13 out of all survey respondents – reported anti-LGBTIQ physical violence in the past 12 months alone, confirming once again that 2016 was an awful year for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.

These proportions were even higher for some sections within the community. While the overall rate was 7.8% reporting abuse in the last year, the equivalent figure was:

  • 15.6% of transgender people
  • 33% of intersex people
  • 12% of queer people
  • 15% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people.

LGBTIQ respondents age 24 and under were also 35.4% more likely to report recent homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse than people aged 45 to 64.

Some of our political leaders like to espouse the idea that Australia is an inclusive and tolerant country, welcoming of differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. That may be the case for some people – but these figures reveal a different, harsher, reality for many LGBTIQ Australians.

And, if anyone doubts the impact of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse and violence in this nation, I encourage them to read the personal stories from survey respondents, detailed above. If they do, they will come away with a better understanding of what life is like for far too many people.

As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the second in a series of six articles reporting the results of my ‘The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia’ Survey.

The next four will be published over the remainder of March and April, with part 3 – which focuses on the places where prejudice occurs – to be published in a couple of weeks.

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au

Footnotes:

[i] The first was published two weeks ago: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

[ii] Only people who answered yes to question 1 were provided with an opportunity to answer question 2, with 430 people completing the second question and 302 (70%) indicating they had not experienced physical abuse or violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the past 12 months.

[iii] Question 1: 78 yes/246 no. Question 2: 21 yes/56 no.

[iv] Question 1: 220 yes/419 no. Question 2: 52 yes/168 no.

[v] Question 1: 76 yes/445 no. Question 2: 34 yes/43 no.

[vi] Question 1: 125 yes/247 no. Question 2: 58 yes/65 no.

[vii] Question 1: 7 yes/8 no. Question 2: 5 yes/2 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re intersex status must be treated with caution. For this reason, intersex status is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[viii] Question 1: 133 yes/358 no. Question 2: 59 yes/75 no.

[ix] Other figures for people who identified as both transgender and another category:

-Transgender and lesbian: 30.2% lifetime abuse, including 14% of all trans and lesbian respondents experiencing such abuse in the last 12 months alone

-Transgender and bisexual: 26.6% lifetime abuse, 15.3% in the last 12 months, and

-Transgender and queer: 33.5% lifetime abuse, 18.1% in the last 12 months.

[x] Question 1: 22 yes/38 no.

[xi] Question 2: 9 yes/13 no.

[xii] Question 1: 165 yes/719 no. Question 2: 78 yes/86 no.

[xiii] Question 1: 144 yes/291 no. Question 2: 31 yes/114 no.

[xiv] Question 1: 110 yes/166 no. Question 2: 18 yes/91 no.

[xv] Question 1: 11 yes/25 no. Question 2: 1 yes/10 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people aged 65 and over must be treated with caution. For this reason, this group is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[xvi] Question 1: 140 yes/399 no. Question 2: 38 yes/101 no.

[xvii] Question 1: 113 yes/270 no. Question 2: 33 yes/81 no.

[xviii] Question 1: 66 yes/184 no. Question 2: 14 yes/52 no.

[xix] Question 1: 43 yes/90 no. Question 2: 19 yes/23 no.

[xx] Question 1: 34 yes/101 no. Question 2: 10 yes/24 no.

[xxi] Question 1: 22 yes/89 no. Question 2: 10 yes/12 no.

[xxii] Question 1: 8 yes/48 no. Question 2: 3 yes/5 no.

[xxiii] Question 1: 5 yes/16 no. Question 2: 1 yes/4 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re the Northern Territory must be treated with caution. For this reason, the NT is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[xxiv] Full results: NSW 7.1%, Victoria 8.6%, Queensland 5.6%, WA 12.4%, SA 7.4%, Tasmania 9%, ACT 5.4%, NT 4.8%.

[xxv] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information, and

-Removing offensive (for example, racist) remarks.

I have also chosen to exclude a couple of stories where the connection between the physical abuse or violence experienced and anti-LGBTIQ motivation was not clear, and one longer story which could not be edited to retain key points without also potentially disclosing the identity of the person concerned.

[xxvi] It seems one of the lessons many learned at school was to hide or minimise visible displays of same-sex behaviour, to avoid future abuse or violence.

Will NSW Reforms Prioritise Racial Vilification at the Expense of LGBTI Vilification?

Post Update #3: 12 January 2017

Contrary to the response received from the Department of Justice in November 2015 (included below), and commitments given by Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton in October 2015, the NSW Government did not release an Exposure Draft Bill to reform vilification laws in early 2016.

In fact, as noted by the Sydney Morning Herald in November 2016: “NSW Parliament has risen for the year without any action on reforms promised by the NSW Attorney-General to ethnic communities a year ago to make it easier to prosecute serious racial vilification cases in the state.”

That means there has been an entire year of inaction on much-needed reforms to vilification laws, that would have not only strengthened racial vilification laws, but also harmonised provisions across the different grounds for vilification (including homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification).

This inaction is incredibly disappointing given that same 12-month period has seen a wide range of homophobic and transphobic public debate in NSW, and across Australia (see 2016: Annus Homophobicus). Hopefully 2017 will see this situation change – although, based on the past year, I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

 

Post Update #2: 23 December 2015

I received the following response to my letter (below) on 19 November 2015, not from the Attorney-General Ms Upton, but instead from the Director of the Community Relations Unit in the Department of Justice [and apologies for the delay in posting before now]:

“I refer to your email to the Attorney General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, about your concerns regarding a review of the NSW racial vilification laws. The Attorney General has asked me to reply on her behalf.

NSW is one of the most culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse
communities in the world. To protect the diversity of our community, the
Government has committed to amending the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (the Act), in particular the racial vilification laws.

Currently, the vilification offences make it clear that for vilification to
be an offence it must threaten violence or incite others to threaten
violence.

As you are aware, the New South Wales Legislative Council’s Law and Justice Committee conducted a review of racial vilification laws in New South Wales, in particular section 20D of the Act.

Section 20D of the Act makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred
towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of
persons on the grounds of race by means which include; threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.

In its Report, the Committee concluded that improvements were required to the Act. These improvements include allowing the President of the
Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints directly to the NSW Police,
extending the time limit for commencing prosecutions from six months to 12 months and clarifying reckless actions are sufficient to establish an
intention to incite under section 20D.

In light of the Committee’s Report, the NSW Government considers the racial vilification offence and other vilification offences relating to
homosexuality, HIV/AIDS status and transgender status in the Act also need revising.

The Government intends to release for public consultation an exposure draft Bill amending the State’s vilification laws, with legislation to be
introduced into Parliament in the first half of 2016. Details regarding the
draft exposure Bill will be released in early 2016.

Thank you for taking the time to write about this issue.

Yours faithfully

Director
Community Relations Unit
NSW Department of Justice”

 

Post Update #1: 1 November 2015

The NSW Attorney-General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, announced the NSW Government’s position of vilification reforms on Monday 19 October 2015.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald[i]:

“The government will overhaul hate speech laws in NSW following the terror attack at Parramatta police headquarters and calls from the opposition for stronger laws to clamp down on ‘radical preachers’.

Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said the government will strengthen and streamline racial vilification laws, defying right-wing commentators who have previously said proposed reforms were ‘straight out of the Leninist playbook.’

Ms Upton said recent events had ‘reinforced the necessarily of being vigilant to and guarding against the spread of racial vilification’.”

Importantly, the Guardian[ii] also reported that “LGBTIQ groups have been lobbying for hate speech against members of their communities to be included in any new laws and it is understood the proposed changes would include them” although it did not provide any further information on this issue.

I sought clarification through twitter from the Attorney-General on the inclusion, or exclusion, of LGBTI vilification in the reforms, and received the following reply:

IMG_0640

This response obviously gives hope that vilification provisions contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 may finally be amended to be genuinely LGBTI inclusive, although it will be important to closely scrutinise the Government’s exposure draft Bill, which is expected to be released for public consultation in January 2016.

One final cause for optimism – on the day before Attorney-General Upton’s announcement, the Leader of the NSW Opposition, Luke Foley, made a similar commitment on vilification reform. As reported by samesame[iii]:

“The Labor opposition in New South Wales wants to ensure people who promote or advocate violence based on race, gender or sexual orientation are punished under the law.”

All we need to do now is hold both the Liberal-National Government, and Labor Opposition, to their public commitments.

[i] “Hate speech overhaul to try to spread of racial vilification”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/hate-speech-overhaul–to-try-to-stop-spread-of-racial-vilification-20151018-gkbukb.html

[ii] “New South Wales hate speech laws to clamp down on ‘violent extremists’”, The Guardian, 19 October 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/19/new-south-wales-hate-speech-laws-to-clamp-down-on-violent-extremists

[iii] “NSW Opposition: ‘Hate speech should be a crime’”, samesame, 19 October 2015: http://www.samesame.com.au/news/12884/NSW-opposition-Hate-speech-should-be-a-crime

 

Original Post: 16 October 2015

The Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

Attorney-General

GPO Box 5341

Sydney NSW 2001

office@upton.minister.nsw.gov.au

Friday 16 October 2015

Dear Attorney-General

REFORMS TO NSW ANTI-VILIFICATION LAWS

I am writing to you on the subject of possible changes to anti-vilification laws in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977(‘the Act’), as flagged by you in two tweets on 18 September 2015[i], and as confirmed in an article which appeared in The Australian on 23 September 2015, in which your spokesperson “said the NSW government was ‘working towards reform’ in the area”.[ii]

Specifically, I am writing to seek your assurance that any reforms to anti-vilification laws will apply equally across all grounds of vilification, including homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification which are also included in the Act, and will not prioritise racial vilification as more important, or worthy of punishment, than vilification on the basis of other attributes.

Instead, I urge you and the Liberal-National Government to ensure that anti-vilification laws apply fairly both to members of NSW’s ethnic communities, and to the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

To begin with, I note that currently the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act only protect lesbian, gay[iii] and transgender[iv] members of the LGBTI community. There is no legal protection for bisexual and intersex people against vilification on the basis of who they are (or against discrimination more broadly, for that matter).

If reforms are to be made to anti-vilification laws in NSW, then the specific inclusion of bisexual and intersex people in the Act must be a priority.

Even more concerningly, I note that there is a discrepancy in the penalties for vilification which are contained in the Act, depending on the attribute which is involved.

For example, while the maximum penalty for homosexual and transgender vilification by an individual is set at “10 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both”[v], the penalty for racial or HIV vilification by an individual is set at “50 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.”[vi]

Given the vast majority of prosecutions for vilification offences in NSW are unlikely to result in imprisonment, the consequence of this discrepancy is to send the message to the community, whether intentionally or otherwise, that racial and HIV vilification is five times more important, or worthy of punishment, than homosexual or transgender vilification.

I find this message to be inherently offensive – that equivalent acts of vilification should attract differing penalties simply because it involved sexual orientation or gender identity rather than race. I sincerely hope that you agree – and that you will therefore commit to harmonising the penalties for vilification contained in the Act.

However, I am concerned that, rather than ameliorating existing problems, the reforms to NSW’s anti-vilification laws which you have indicated you are considering will instead compound the differential treatment of racial vilification compared to homosexual or transgender vilification.

That is because these reforms appear to be based primarily on the recommendations of the 2013 Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales.[vii]

This Inquiry made a number of recommendations to amend racial vilification laws, including to:

  • Include “quasi-public places, such as the lobby of a strata or company title apartment block” (Recommendation 1)
  • Clarify that “recklessness is sufficient to establish intention to incite” (Recommendation 3)
  • “[R]eview the adequacy of the maximum penalty units in section 20D of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, taking into account the maximum penalty units for comparable offences within the Crimes Act 1900 and other Australian jurisdictions” (Recommendation 6)
  • “[R]epeal the requirement for the Attorney-General’s consent to prosecutions of serious racial vilification” (Recommendation 7)
  • Extend the time limits for commencing prosecutions for racial vilification offences to 12 months, or alternatively to extend the timeframe for the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints to the Attorney-General (Recommendations 9, 10)
  • “[A]llow the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW to directly refer serious racial vilification complaints to the NSW Police Force” (Recommendation 11) and
  • Provide training to NSW Police Force members about the offence of serious racial vilification (Recommendation 14).[viii]

It is arguable that the inquiry itself was flawed from the beginning given it focused on only one out of the four existing grounds of vilification in the Act.

However, what is beyond doubt is that, were you to adopt the recommendations of this Inquiry as a whole, but only with respect to racial vilification, you and the Liberal-National Government would in effect be creating a discriminatory ‘hierarchy’ of vilification laws and procedures in NSW law.

The offences of racial and homosexual vilification are drafted in exactly the same way – the only difference being substitution of the word homosexuality for race.[ix]

In which case, there cannot be any justification for the introduction and passage of laws which would mean that only racial vilification applies in quasi-public places, or includes recklessness, or attracts higher penalties, or does not need Attorney-General approval to commence proceedings, or has longer timeframes for prosecution, or can be directly referred to Police, or for which NSW Police Force members are specifically trained.

Therefore, the implementation of these reforms, if applied exclusively to racial vilification, would be both discriminatory and unjustifiable.

However, what would make them repugnant is the fact that the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s own rationale for at least one of its recommendations – to extend the time limits for commencing prosecution of vilification offences to 12 months – is in fact based on a case of alleged homosexual vilification. As discussed in Chapter 6 of the Committee Report:

“6.20 The Board referred to a recent case involving homosexual vilification, Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2013] NSWSC 44, which illustrated the potential issues surrounding the timeframe for lodging vilification complaints. In that case, Mr Margan lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW within the 12 month timeframe required under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act. However the Director of Prosecutions (DPP), and later the Supreme Court, dismissed the offence as statute barred as it was a summary offence and proceedings were required to be commenced within six months.

Committee comment

6.21 The Committee understands that there is a significant discrepancy between the timeframes for lodging complaints under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act (12 months of an incident occurring) and s179 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (summary offences must commence within six months of an incident occurring). The case of Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor highlighted the injurious impact that this discrepancy can have on vilification complaints.

6.22 It appears sensible to align the above timeframes. Therefore the Committee recommends that the NSW Government extend the time limit for prosecutions under section 179 of the Criminal Procedure Act to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act.”[x]

And yet, despite noting the ‘injurious impact’ of the discrepancies in time limits on Mr Margan, whose complaint was based on homosexual vilification, the Committee’s recommendation was explicitly restricted to racial vilification:

Recommendation 9

That, for the purposes of racial vilification proceedings only [emphasis added], the NSW Government extend the time limit for commencing prosecutions under section 79 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.”[xi]

If you and the Liberal-National Government were to implement Recommendation 9 as it stands then you would only be adding insult to injury.

For all of the reasons outlined above, I urge you to ensure that any reforms which you make to the anti-vilification laws contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act treat vilification equally across all grounds, and do not unjustifiably, and above all unjustly, prioritise racial vilification offences and discriminate against homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification protections.

Finally, if you are serious about modernising the vilification provisions contained in the Act you should also expand the grounds covered to offer vilification protection to bisexual and intersex people for the first time (and indeed to provide them with anti-discrimination coverage too), and to remove the existing discrepancies in penalties between racial and HIV vilification offences on the one hand, and homosexual and transgender vilification offences on the other.

Thank you in advance for taking my correspondence into consideration. Should you require additional information, or wish to clarify any of the above comments, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

NSW Attorney-General the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

NSW Attorney-General the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

[i] Gabrielle Upton MP (@gabrielleupton), 8:55am – 18 Sep 2015: “.@shumba60 Racial vilification abhorrent. NSW Govt considering proposed changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @mikebairdMP #nswpol”

Gabrielle Upton MP (gabrielleupton), 3:39pm – 18 Sep 2015: “.@VicAlhadeff #NSWGovt wants inclusive, diverse comm. Considering changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @NSWJBD @ajnnews #nswpol”

[ii] “Taunts to Trigger Race-Hate Law Overhaul”, The Australian, September 23 2015: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/taunts-to-trigger-race-hate-law-overhaul/story-e6frgczx-1227539272920?sv=64dde3a02ebcfb4c634183c907bbeacf

[iii] Sub-section 49ZT(1) Homosexual vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group.”

[iv] Sub-section 38S(1) Transgender vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of: (a) a person on the ground that the person is a transgender person, or (b) a group of persons on the ground that the members of the group are transgender persons.”

[v] S49ZTA(1)(b), s38T(1)(b)

[vi] S20D(1)(b), s49ZXC(1)(b)

[vii] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/E08D4387100A3C56CA257C35007FCC4D?open&refnavid=x

[viii] Ibid, pp xii-xiii.

[ix] S20D Offence of serious racial vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”

S49ZTA Offence of serious homosexual vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”

[x] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013, pp84-85.

[xi] Ibid, p85.

Submission to Australian Human Rights Commission Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex (SOGII) Rights Consultation

One of my favourite campaigns of recent times – It Gets Better – performs a valuable role, letting vulnerable LGBTI youth know that, while the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia they may be experiencing is awful, for most of them, it will get better. I emphasise the word most here because we should always remember that it does not get better for everyone.

Meanwhile, as the LGBTI movement itself ‘ages’, many of us are increasingly celebrating the past, and reflecting on significant community milestones (such as last year’s 30th anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in NSW, or the 40th anniversary of Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras which is now only three years away). But, while absolutely necessary, looking backwards should never obscure the challenges that remain ahead.

This consultation, including an examination of legislation, policies and practices by government(s) that unduly restrict sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex rights, provides an opportunity to highlight some of the major obstacles which continue to prevent LGBTI Australians achieving full equality. In this submission, I will concentrate on six such areas:

  1. Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex children

These unjustified practices – surgeries performed with the aim of ‘normalising’ intersex children according to the expectations of their parents, their doctors, and/or society at large, so that they conform to an exclusionary man/woman binary model of sex – are human rights abuses, plain and simple.

Obviously done without the child’s consent, such practices can involve sterilisation, as well as other ‘cosmetic’ (ie unnecessary), largely irreversible surgery on genitalia to make their bodies fit within the idea of what a man or woman ‘should’ be, ignoring the individual involved and their fundamental rights to bodily integrity, and personal autonomy.

That these practices continue in 2015 is abhorrent – and the fact the Commonwealth Government has yet to formally respond to the Senate’s 2013 Report into this issue (http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Involuntary_Sterilisation/Sec_Report/~/media/Committees/Senate/committee/clac_ctte/involuntary_sterilisation/second_report/report.ashx) is, or at least should be, a scandal.

  1. Restrictions on the rights of transgender people

Another group within the LGBTI community whose rights continue to trail those whose identities are based on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay and bisexual people) are transgender Australians.

This includes the fact there continue to be ‘out-of-pocket’, in many cases quite significant, expenses for medical support for trans* people simply to affirm their gender identity. This is a denial of their human rights – access to trans* surgeries and related medical services should not be restricted by the capacity to pay, but instead should be fully publicly-subsidised through Medicare.

The ongoing requirement that married transgender Australians must divorce their spouses in order for their gender identity to be legally recognised is also a fundamental breach of their rights, and must end.

  1. Processing and resettlement of LGBTI refugees in countries which criminalise homosexuality

Australian Governments, of both persuasions, are guilty of violating the human rights of LGBTI refugees. These are people who are (often) fleeing persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and seeking our protection.

Australia’s response? To detain them, indefinitely, in inhumane prison camps on Nauru and Manus Island. For many, while detained they are at risk of prosecution under the laws of Papua New Guinea and/or Nauru, both of which continue to criminalise male-male intercourse. Even after they are found to be refugees, they are then ‘resettled’ in these countries, in effect exposing people who have fled persecution to potentially more persecution.

While I believe the offshore processing and resettlement of all refugees is unjust, it should be recognised it has a disproportionately negative impact on LGBTI refugees.

  1. Denial of the right of LGBTI students to an inclusive education

It is encouraging that greater numbers of young LGBTI people feel comfortable in disclosing their status at an earlier age – and for some, that they attend genuinely inclusive schools. However, this inclusion is by no means universal.

For example, the recently developed national Health & Physical Education curriculum does not even include the words lesbian, gay or bisexual, and does not guarantee students will be taught comprehensive sexual health education (even omitting the term HIV). This is a massive failure to ensure all students learn vital information that is relevant to their health.

Similarly, while the national Safe Schools Program is a welcome initiative to counter homophobia and bullying, participation in the program is optional, with most schools (and even some entire jurisdictions) opting out. The right to attend school free of discrimination should not depend on a student’s geographic location, or their parent/s’ choice of school.

Finally, religious exceptions to anti-discrimination legislation (in all jurisdictions outside Tasmania), mean many LGBTI students are at risk of discrimination, by their school, simply for being who they are.

  1. Limitations on anti-discrimination protections

Students are not the only LGBTI individuals let down by Australia’s current anti-discrimination framework. These same religious exceptions mean that, in most jurisdictions, LGBTI people can be discriminated against in a wide range of areas of public life, both as employees and people accessing services, in education, health, community services and (as employees) in aged care.

The attributes which are protected under anti-discrimination law also vary widely, with intersex people only truly protected under Commonwealth and Tasmanian law, different definitions of transgender (including extremely narrow protections in Western Australian legislation), and NSW excluding bisexual people altogether.

Finally, only four jurisdictions have vilification protections for (some) members of the LGBTI community – with no Commonwealth LGBTI equivalent of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

  1. Ongoing lack of marriage equality

I include this not because I consider it as important as the issues listed above, but simply as someone who has been engaged to be married for more than five years – and has no idea how much longer he will have to wait to exercise the same rights as cisgender heterosexual couples, with the only difference being who I love. Marriage discrimination is wrong, it is unjust, and it must go.

This submission is by no means comprehensive – there are a variety of other issues which I have excluded due to arbitrary word length restrictions (including mental health issues, anti-LGBTI violence, and discrimination against rainbow families – with my partner and I able to adopt in Sydney, but not Melbourne or Brisbane).

In conclusion, while it does get better, and over time, it most certainly has got better, there are still many ways in which the rights of LGBTI Australians continue to be denied – and about which we, as LGBTI advocates and activists, should remain angry, and most importantly, take action.

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who is leading the consultation on SOGII Rights

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who is leading the consultation on SOGII Rights

NB Public submissions to the AHRC SOGII Rights consultation close on Friday 6 February. For more details, head to: <https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sogii-rights

For more information on some of the topics listed above, see my previous posts on:

– Submission to Involuntary and Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People Senate Inquiry <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/01/submission-to-involuntary-and-coerced-sterilisation-senate-inquiry/

– Letter to Scott Morrison About Treatment of LGBTI Asylum-Seekers and Refugees Sent to Manus Island <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/02/letter-to-scott-morrison-about-treatment-of-lgbti-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-sent-to-manus-island-png/

– Letter to Minister Pyne Calling for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/12/09/letter-to-minister-pyne-calling-for-coag-to-reject-health-physical-education-curriculum-due-to-ongoing-lgbti-exclusion/

– The Last Major Battle for Gay & Lesbian Legal Equality in Australia Won’t be about Marriage <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/26/the-last-major-battle-for-gay-lesbian-legal-equality-in-australia-wont-be-about-marriage/  and

– Bill Shorten, Will you Lead on Marriage Equality? <https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/01/24/bill-shorten-will-you-lead-on-marriage-equality/

No Homophobia No Exceptions Facebook Page

As I have written previously, I strongly believe that, long after marriage equality has been won in Australia, we, the members of the LGBTI community, will still be fighting for the right not to be discriminated against, in public life, by religious organisations (see: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/26/the-last-major-battle-for-gay-lesbian-legal-equality-in-australia-wont-be-about-marriage/).

The campaign to remove the special rights which are given to religious organisations to discriminate against us in health, education, community services and elsewhere will be a long one – and we will not win it unless we start taking action now.

As part of that much larger battle, today I have started my own small Facebook page, called No Homophobia No Exceptions, with the aim of drawing attention to this issue and, where possible, to campaign for an end to religious exceptions in Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

If you support this campaign, I encourage you to like the page: https://www.facebook.com/lgbtiantidiscrimination I have also included below the short, and long, description of the page for your information.

NHNE profile pic

Short Description

Online campaign for the removal of religious exceptions to LGBTI anti-discrimination laws.

Long Description

No Homophobia No Exceptions is a page dedicated to fighting against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

Its primary goal is the removal of exceptions to anti-discrimination laws, including the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, which allow religious organisations to discriminate against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

No Homophobia No Exceptions also supports broader law reform to ensure that all members of the LGBTI community have access to anti-discrimination protections (for example, intersex status is only covered federally and in Tasmania, Western Australian legislation only includes trans people who have had gender reassignment, and NSW law excludes bisexual people).

It also supports the introduction of comprehensive anti-vilification protections for the LGBTI community (currently, only four Australian jurisdictions include some form of LGBTI vilification laws, and most only apply to some sections of the community).

Finally, No Homophobia No Exceptions recognises that the fight against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia will not be won with legislation alone. As a result, this page aims to shine a light on examples of discrimination against the LGBTI community, both to campaign for them to be redressed, and as part of the wider cultural movement for LGBTI equality and acceptance.

#NoHomophobiaNoExceptions

If you support this campaign, please like: https://www.facebook.com/lgbtiantidiscrimination Thanks, Alastair

Submission to NSW Parliament Inquiry into False or Misleading Health Practices re Ex-Gay Therapy and Intersex Sterilisation

Earlier this year, NSW Parliament’s Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission called for submissions to an inquiry into the promotion of false or misleading health-related information or practices.

I wrote the following submission, looking at two practices in particular which negatively affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community: the practice of so-called ‘ex-gay therapy’ or conversion therapy, as well as the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people.

At this stage, while the Committee has chosen to publish 63 of the submissions it has received, it has not published mine, so I am reproducing it here. As always, I would be interested in your thoughts/feedback on the below.

Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission

Parliament House

Macquarie St

SYDNEY NSW 2000

Friday 7 February 2014

Dear Committee

SUBMISSION TO INQUIRY INTO THE PROMOTION OF FALSE OR MISLEADING HEALTH-RELATED INFORMATION OR PRACTICES

In this submission, I would like to address two areas of ‘health-related practices’ which negatively affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex (LGBTI) communities.

Specifically, with respect to term of reference (c) “the promotion of health-related activities and/or provision of treatment that departs from accepted medical practice which may be harmful to individual or public health”, I believe the Committee should examine:

i)              ‘ex-gay’ or ‘reparative’ therapy, and

ii)             the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people.

Ex-gay or reparative therapy

I can think of few ‘health-related practices’ which so clearly fall within term of reference (c) of this inquiry than so-called ‘ex-gay’ or ‘reparative’ therapy.

This practice, which although more common in the United States is nevertheless still practiced in New South Wales, involves organisations, usually religious, offering ‘counselling’ to help transform people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual into being heterosexual, and in some cases to attempt to transform people who are trans* into being cisgender.

In short, ex-gay or reparative therapy involves attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, based on the belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans* is somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘unnatural’.

There are three main problems with ex-gay or reparative therapy.

First, there is absolutely nothing wrong or unnatural with being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans*. Differences in sexual orientations and gender identities are entirely natural, and this diversity should be accepted and celebrated. Any attempts to prevent people from being LGBT simply demonstrate the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of the people running ex-gay organisations.

Second, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these practices. Sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be ‘changed’ through these interventions. Indeed, the Australian Psychological Society, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and Pan American Health Organisation all note that reparative therapy does not work, and recommend against its practice.

Third, and most importantly, not only is ex-gay therapy based on homophobia, and discredited ‘pseudo-science’, but it is also fundamentally dangerous. Reparative therapy takes people who are already vulnerable, tells them that they are inherently wrong, and asks them to change something about themselves that cannot be changed. Inevitably, it leads to significant mental health problems, including self-hatred, depression and tragically, in some cases, suicide. The people that run ex-gay organisations are guilty of inflicting psychological and sometimes physical damage on others.

Given the level of harm that is perpetrated by these people, I believe it is incumbent on the NSW Parliament to introduce a legislative ban on ex-gay or reparative therapy. This should include the creation of a criminal offence for running ex-gay therapy, with an aggravated offence for running ex-gay therapy for people under the age of 18. This is necessary to send a signal that these homophobic, biphobic and transphobic practices are no longer tolerated in contemporary society, particularly in the case of minors.

Finally, while at this stage there is no evidence linking registered medical practitioners with these discredited practices in New South Wales, there is evidence overseas that some counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists or other registered medical practitioners either practice ex-gay therapy themselves, or will refer patients to ex-gay organisations. The Committee should consider additional appropriate sanctions for any practitioners caught doing so in NSW, including potential de-registration and civil penalties.

Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people

In contrast to ex-gay therapy, which is largely performed by people who are not registered medical practitioners, some abuses perpetrated against intersex people in Australia are undertaken by the medical profession themselves.

As outlined by Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII Australia), in their submission to last year’s Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia (dated 15 February 2013, pages 3-4):

“Every individual member of OII Australia has experienced some form of non-consensual medical intervention, including the following:

  • Pressure to conform to gender norms and to be a “real man” or “real woman”.
  • Involuntary gonadectomy (sterilisation) and clitorectomy (clitoris removal or reduction) as an infant, child or adolescent.
  • Medical and familial pressure to take hormone treatment.
  • Medical and familial pressure to undertake genital “normalisation” surgery.
  • Surgical intervention that went outside the terms of consent, including surgery that was normalising without consent.
  • Disclosure of non-relevant medical data to third parties without consent.”

While I understand that the terms of reference state that “[t]he inquiry will focus on individuals who are not recognised health practitioners, and organisations that are not registered health service providers”, given the significant levels of harm involved in these practices against intersex people, I would encourage the Committee to nevertheless examine this subject.

I would therefore recommend the Committee take into consideration the 2nd Report of the Senate Standing Committee on this topic, as well as OII Australia’s submissions to that Inquiry. I have also attached my own submission from that inquiry with this submission (link here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/01/submission-to-involuntary-and-coerced-sterilisation-senate-inquiry/ ).

Thank you for considering my submission on these important topics.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Submission to National Curriculum Review re Health & Physical Education Curriculum

The following is my submission to the review of the national curriculum, initiated by the Commonwealth Minister for Education, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP at the end of 2013. Given the appointment of Mr Kevin Donnelly to co-chair this review, I am not confident that all, or indeed, any of the concerns below will be listened to. But the inclusion of LGBTI students and content in our schools system is so important that I believe it is still worth a shot.

National Curriculum Review Submission

Thursday 13 March 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on the development of the national school curriculum.

In this submission I will limit my comments to the development of the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum. In particular, I will be commenting on whether the HPE curriculum as drafted addresses the needs of, and genuinely includes, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students.

I have previously made submissions on the initial public consultation draft of the HPE curriculum, released in December 2012 (a copy of my submission is provided at <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ), and on the revised draft released for limited public consultation in June and July 2013 (see <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ).

In both of those submissions I was strongly critical of the fact that the draft HPE curriculums did not genuinely attempt to include LGBTI students (including omission of the words lesbian, gay or bisexual), did not provide adequate sexual health education, and did not provide adequate information regarding HIV and other Blood Borne Viruses (BBVs), including viral hepatitis.

A second revised draft of the curriculum was prepared by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) ahead of the meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers in November 2013. It has been reported that Education Ministers did not agree to the second revised draft, but instead simply noted its development in anticipation of this review.

Nevertheless, the second revised draft HPE curriculum was published in February 2014 on the Australian Curriculum website (www.australiancurriculum.edu.au).

I have analysed the second revised draft, and sincerely hope that my comments below convey the seriousness of my concerns about the ongoing exclusion of LGBTI students and content, and the potential negative health impacts that this exclusion will have over the short, medium and long-term.

The current version of the national Health & Physical Education curriculum does nothing to put all ‘Students First’, which I understand to be the guiding principle of this review. In fact, by continuing to exclude some students, and marginalising content which is relevant to their needs, the draft HPE curriculum places lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students last.

If the HPE curriculum were to be implemented as it currently stands, it would actively contribute to, and reinforce, the disproportionate rates of mental health problems, depression and, most tragically, suicide, which continue to affect young LGBTI people.

By failing to include detailed BBV and sexual health education, the HPE curriculum would also leave young people, and gay and bisexual men and trans* people specifically, exposed to unnecessary risk of transmission of HIV and other infections.

And by not ensuring that all students are provided with information that is relevant to their own needs and personal circumstances, the HPE curriculum will undermine the fundamental human right to health of the next generation of young LGBTI people. This right must be respected, and not denied to people merely on the basis of other peoples’ attitudes towards their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

This review is an(other) opportunity to address some of the serious shortcomings of the draft HPE curriculum. Please seize this opportunity and recommend that the curriculum be amended to ensure LGBTI students are included, with content that is relevant and targeted to meet their needs, including around sexual health and BBV education.

The remainder of this submission will look at five key areas of the draft HPE curriculum. They are:

  • Terminology
  • Student Diversity
  • Bullying & Discrimination
  • Sexual Health, and
  • HIV and other BBVs.

Terminology

One significant problem that has consistently appeared through the initial draft, revised draft and now second revised draft of the Health & Physical Education curriculum is that of terminology. Specifically, the HPE curriculum has either completely excluded terms that are essential for young people to learn, or included terms or definitions that are not appropriate in the circumstances.

The biggest problem in terminology, featured in all three drafts, has been the failure to even include the words lesbian, gay or bisexual. Despite these being the most common forms of identification for people whose sexual orientation is ‘not heterosexual’, these terms have never appeared in any version of this document.

In fact, the ongoing refusal to name lesbians, gay men and bisexuals – despite the fact that students will have heard these terms regularly amongst their families and friends, in culture and in broader society, and that an increasing number of young people, including students, will be using these terms to describe themselves – is almost bizarre in its stubbornness to deny reality.

Even if there may be a reason for sometimes using the umbrella term same-sex attracted, to ensure that people who may be sexually attracted to people of their own sex but who do not use the terms lesbian, gay or bisexual to identify themselves are included, there is absolutely no justification for not naming lesbian, gay and bisexual identities within the HPE curriculum (for example, by using the description “same-sex attracted, including lesbian, gay and bisexual people”). The failure to do so contributes to the marginalisation of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people.

On a related issue, the HPE curriculum as drafted appears to use the incredibly broad, and arguably poorly-defined, term ‘sexuality’ at multiple points in the document when ‘sexual orientation’ would be more appropriate.

For example, the Glossary defines ‘sexuality’ as “[a] central aspect of being human throughout life. Sexuality encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction and is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors”. The breadth of this definition makes some of the references to sexuality in the curriculum either too vague to be practicable, or even unintelligible.

The more widely-accepted term ‘sexual orientation’, which the curriculum does not define, and only appears to use once (in the definition of ‘sexuality’, reproduced above), would be more constructive, especially when references are made to differences or diversity in ‘sexuality’. Using the term sexual orientation would also more clearly include different orientations (including lesbian, gay and bisexual) than using the term sexuality alone.

On a positive note, there have been some improvements in references to, and definitions for, diversity in gender identity, including transgender people (which at least is included as part of the Glossary definition of ‘gender diverse’).

There have also been improvements in terms of the recognition of intersex people, who are now at least referenced in the statement on student diversity, and provided with a separate definition in the Glossary (where previously it had been erroneously included within the definition of gender diverse).

Nevertheless, defining a term in the Glossary and then using it once in the main text of the curriculum itself (and even then only as part of an ‘aspirational statement’ at the beginning of the document) is not sufficient to guarantee that the needs of transgender and intersex students are met.

In summary, the HPE curriculum needs to be significantly amended, such that it actually includes the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual, and that it adequately includes information about these sexual orientations, as well as transgender and intersex people, throughout the document.

Student Diversity

As discussed above, the HPE curriculum includes a statement on ‘Student Diversity’ at the beginning of the document, and this includes two paragraphs on ‘Same-sex attracted and gender-diverse students’.

I welcome some of the changes that have been made to this section between the revised draft and the second revised draft. In particular, these paragraphs now make a variety of positive statements (including that “it is crucial to acknowledge and affirm diversity in relation to sexuality and gender’” – noting my view, expressed earlier, that the use of ‘sexual orientation’ would be preferable here – while talking about “inclusive… programs” and the needs of “all students”).

Indeed, the last sentence of the section is particularly encouraging where it notes that being inclusive and relevant is “particularly important when teaching about reproduction and sexual health, to ensure that the needs of all students are met, including students who may be same-sex attracted, gender diverse or intersex”.

However, these positive developments continue to be undermined by the preceding statements that the HPE curriculum “is designed to allow schools flexibility to meet the learning needs of all young people, particularly in the health focus area of relationships and sexuality” (emphasis added) and that “[a]ll schools communities have a responsibility when implementing the HPE curriculum to ensure that teaching is inclusive and relevant to the lived experiences of all students” (emphasis added).

Both of these statements appear to leave the decision whether, and in what way, schools will include LGBTI students and content up to the schools themselves. In the first instance, whether LGBTI students and content are included at all is too important to be left to the ‘flexibility’ of the school itself.

Second, and far more importantly, the reference to ‘lived experiences’ could be argued to leave a loophole for schools to assert that, unless students first identify themselves or disclose their status as LGBTI, they do not exist in the eyes of the school and therefore the school does not have a responsibility to include them or content relevant to their needs.

This approach – apparently leaving it up to students to ‘come out’ before they are entitled to receive vital health information, despite the fact that doing so can, in many Australian jurisdictions, lead to the potential expulsion of that student, let alone other personal consequences for the student with their family or friends – fundamentally undermines the concept of health, and health education, as a universal human right.

And, while this appears to be a somewhat negative and narrow interpretation of these paragraphs, it is a realistic one given that a statement which appeared in the initial consultation draft, which stated that “same-sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all Australian schools” was abandoned in the revised draft, and, despite arguments put forward for its re-inclusion was not included in the second revised draft.

In my view, whether to include LGBTI students and content should not be an issue of ‘flexibility’ between different schools. Instead, there should be a minimum level of LGBTI education provided to every student in every school – and, after all, isn’t a national minimum standard what the curriculum should be aiming to achieve?

This would be further supported by the re-inclusion of a statement which notes that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students exists across all Australian schools, and all schools must provide LGBTI-specific content to each and every student”.

Bullying & Discrimination

One area where there has been significant improvement from the initial draft and revised draft to the second revised draft has been an increase in content that attempts to redress anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination.

In particular, I welcome the commitment in the Glossary definition of ‘discrimination’ that “[t]he types of discrimination that students must learn about include racial, sex and gender discrimination, homophobia and transphobia” (emphasis added).

I also welcome the increased content in year band descriptions that explicitly includes learning about homophobia, in years 7/8 and 9/10.

However, there are still a range of improvements that could be made to ensure that the curriculum adequately informs students about the need to stamp out discrimination and bullying of LGBTI students.

First, it is important to note that ‘homophobia’ does not necessarily include all forms of discrimination or prejudice against LGBTI people. The inclusion of transphobia in the Glossary is valuable, however, it should also be included in the year band descriptions to ensure that it is not overlooked. Both the Glossary and year band descriptions should also include biphobia and anti-intersex discrimination, which should not automatically be subsumed within a catch-all category of ‘homophobia’.

Second, discussion of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination should not be left until years 7/8 to be introduced into the HPE curriculum, but should be commenced in years 5/6 alongside education about racism.

This is vital not only because anti-LGBTI bullying and discrimination can occur from a young age (including all-too-common insults like “that’s so gay”), but also because some young lesbian, gay and bisexual students are coming out earlier and earlier (and deserve to be protected), while some trans* and intersex youth may have disclosed their status earlier still.

Third, in the year band description for years 9/10, heading “[c]ritique behaviours and contextual factors that influence health and wellbeing of their communities” instead of using the term “such as… homophobia” (emphasis added) the curriculum should say “including homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex prejudice” to ensure that schools cannot opt out of providing this content.

Fourth, I would highlight the inconsistency in providing information about homophobia and transphobia to students, which as I have indicated above is a positive development, with the ongoing exclusion of the words lesbian, gay and bisexual from the document in its entirety, and the exclusion of the words transgender and intersex from the year band descriptions (which provide the main content of the curriculum).

It would seem nigh on impossible to appropriately teach students about the negatives of homophobia and transphobia (together with biphobia and anti-intersex discrimination, which should be added) at the same time that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students are either not explicitly mentioned in the year band descriptions, or not even mentioned at all in the entire curriculum.

Sexual health

One of the key aspects of any Health & Physical Education curriculum must be the provision of comprehensive, inclusive and up-to-date education around sexual health.

Unfortunately, none of the three drafts of the HPE curriculum released to date have provided even a bare minimum of information about the best practices to support sexual health, not just for LGBTI people, but also for cisgender heterosexual students.

While the Glossary does at least provide a definition of ‘sexual health’ (“[a] state of physical, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”), there is either limited or no support to implement this in practice in the year band descriptions.

In the year bands 5/6 and 7/8, which represent key ages for sexual health education, there is some discussion of physical changes surrounding puberty, and even changing feelings and attractions, but there does not appear to be any unit or module where students are taught the ‘nitty-gritty’ of sexual health, including discussion of different sexual practices, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the best ways to reduce the risks of STI transmission (including but not limited to condom usage).

I continue to find it extraordinary that the national minimum standard for Health & Physical Education to students does not even refer to STIs or condoms.

One of the arguments that has been mounted in defence of this omission is that this level of detail is not necessary in the curriculum, and that it will be covered as different jurisdictions and school systems implement their own syllabus.

I completely disagree. Given how fundamental sexual health is to the health and wellbeing of young people, surely the national HPE curriculum is the perfect place to guarantee that all students, rights across the country and irrespective of whether they attend government or non-government schools, receive the best possible information.

In addition, the reticence to provide any real detail around sexual health in the curriculum, on the basis that ‘specifics’ are not required, looks more like evasion when compared with some of the other sections of the curriculum which are, in fact, quite detailed (for example, in the year 5/6 band description it suggests “experimenting with different music genres such as Indian Bhangra music when performing creative dances”).

If something as specific as Indian Bhangra music can be named in the HPE document, then there must also be space for detailed discussion of the importance of sexual health, different sexual practices, STIs and condoms.

HIV and other BBVs

My fifth and final concern is related to the fourth, and that is the complete exclusion of HIV, and other BBVs like viral hepatitis, from the curriculum.

As I have written previously, I simply cannot understand that a national Health & Physical Education curriculum, developed and written in the years 2012 and 2013, does not even refer to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which together directly affect almost half a million Australians.

It is vital that students learn about these BBVs, and most importantly how to reduce the risks of their transmission (for example, condom usage, hepatitis B vaccination, not sharing injecting equipment and safe tattooing and body art practices). If we do not provide this information, at the age that young people need it most, then we are failing in our duty of care towards the next generation.

The ongoing exclusion of HIV in particular looks odd (or, to be less charitable, short-sighted and ill-conceived). More than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, and with Melbourne hosting the 20th International AIDS Conference in July 2014, the proposed national minimum standard for Health & Physical Education curriculum does not even bother to mention it.

This is far from the ‘best practice’ approach that Australia adopted to the HIV epidemic in the 1980s. A best practice approach to the HPE curriculum now would, as a minimum, ensure that all students learn about HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and the best ways to reduce the risks of transmission.

 

Conclusion

 

As I have outlined above, I have serious concerns about the second revised draft Health & Physical Education curriculum, including its continued exclusion of LGBTI students and content relevant to their needs, as well as minimal or non-existent education regarding sexual health and HIV and other BBVs.

As reviewers of the national curriculum, I believe it is your responsibility to remedy these significant shortcomings, and ensure that the final HPE curriculum adopted is one that provides for the best possible health education and outcomes for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

That is my definition of Students First.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie