Scott Morrison’s Broken Promise to Protect LGBT Students is Now Two Years Old

Two years ago today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in religious schools against discrimination. He stated, unequivocally: ‘We do not think that children should be discriminated against.’ 

This promise was made following the leaking of the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review’s recommendations, which sought to clarify but not repeal the existing ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT kids just because of who they are, and the significant public backlash it received from people who did not realise these schools already enjoyed this extraordinary special privilege under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Morrison further committed to introducing amendments to prevent religious schools mistreating LGBT students in this way before the end of 2018, saying: ‘I believe this view is shared across the Parliament and we should use the next fortnight to ensure this matter is addressed.’ 

Scott Morrison has reneged on his promise to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination. Brazenly. Deliberately. And without any apparent consideration of the serious harms his broken promise will cause to a generation of LGBT kids.

Morrison’s Government never even bothered to introduce a Bill into Parliament to attempt to implement his commitment, let alone tried to have it passed.

When the Greens, with the Discrimination Free Schools Bill 2018, and then Labor, with the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018, both sought to do so themselves, the Liberal/National Government referred these Bills to Senate inquiries rather than debating them.

Even after those inquiries, which took place in late 2018 and over the summer of 2018/19 respectively, handed down their reports, the Morrison Government failed to support those proposals and still did not propose a Bill of their own. Instead, they stalled and effectively counted down the clock until the 2019 Federal election. 

On the very last day before the writs were issued for that election, Attorney-General Christian Porter referred the issue of ‘religious exceptions’ generally to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) for a detailed, 12-month review. 

After the Morrison Government was re-elected on 18 May 2019, they returned to power with even less sense of urgency to give effect to his promise from October 2018. Instead, they gave priority to preparing two Exposure Drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bill, in late 2019 and early 2020, legislation that would

  • Make it easier to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ minorities, including LGBTI people
  • Make it easier for health practitioners to refuse to provide services that benefit minorities, including LGBTI people
  • Make it easier for religious organisations to discriminate against others, and
  • Make it more difficult for big business to promote diversity and inclusion, including for LGBTI people.

On the other hand, they first delayed the ALRC’s reporting timeline until December 2020. And then, on 2 March 2020, the Attorney-General amended the ALRC’s reporting deadline to be ‘12 months from the date the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed by Parliament.’ 

That change alone is enough to guarantee Morrison’s promise – which, let’s remember, was to protect LGBT students before the end of 2018 – will not happen this term.

First, the Religious Discrimination Bill may not pass (and, in its current form, it most definitely should not). Second, even if it passes, it will not happen until the first half of 2021 at the earliest. At a minimum, that makes the ALRC’s new reporting deadline the first half of 2022, which is when the next federal election is due (by May 2022, although there is increasing speculation it will instead be held in late 2021).

Even after the ALRC ultimately delivers its report, it usually takes a Government at least six months to prepare a formal response, and six months again to introduce legislation based on its response. 

Which means, even if the Government still feels bound by Morrison’s original promise from October 2018, even if the Liberal/National Government is re-elected, even if Morrison remains Prime Minister, even if the ALRC recommends how to implement his commitment, even if the Government accepts the ALRC recommendation, even if the Government prepares and introduces legislation to make this change and even if Parliament passes it, that legislation will not happen until 2023, and will likely not take effect until 2024.

A student in Year 7 when Scott Morrison first promised to urgently protect LGBT kids in religious schools against discrimination will finish Year 12 before his Government gives effect to it – if they ever do.

This isn’t just any ordinary broken promise either. In raising hopes that some of the most vulnerable members of our community might finally be legally protected, and then comprehensively dashing them, Morrison has broken hearts, while leaving a trail of broken lives in his wake.

That’s because anti-discrimination exceptions allowing religious schools to mistreat LGBT students just because of who they are inflict serious, real-life harm on those kids.

Religious schools can harm LGBT kids through the hateful things they say to them. And they can harm LGBT kids by not saying anything positive at all, leaving children who are struggling to figure out who they are to suffer, alone, in the all-enveloping silence of the closet.

Religious schools can harm LGBT kids by expelling them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But, generally, they don’t need to – the threat alone is enough. Where a student does bravely decide to come out despite that school’s prejudiced views, the school can ‘encourage parents to find a more suitable environment for their child’ (and what parent would force a school to expel their child in such circumstances?).

Religious schools can harm LGBT kids in myriad ways that fall short of expulsion too, from special rules targeting same-sex attraction, and erasing gender diversity.

Above all, religious schools can harm LGBT kids by creating a toxic environment, where those students know they will not receive safety and protection if they need it – something other kids figure out all too quickly, and take advantage of with impunity. 

I know the above from bitter personal experience – barely surviving five years at a religious boarding school in Brisbane in the early 1990s.

When they weren’t saying hateful things about my sexual orientation (like the pastor who suggested that, for kids struggling with ‘confusion’, killing themselves was not the worst possible outcome), they said nothing at all, leaving a dangerous void in which homophobia can, and did, flourish.

Their explicit rules against same-sex attraction didn’t need to be enforced either – all students knew being ‘out and proud’ simply wasn’t an option. Worst of all, the school’s anti-LGBT stance meant other boarders were free to ‘police’ any students who displayed even the subtlest signs of difference: I was subjected to both verbal, and at times physical, abuse.

The most depressing part of all is the realisation that, in many parts of Australia, little has changed in the past 25 years. While, thankfully, Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory have all legislated to remove the special privileges allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT kids, other jurisdictions have not. 

In 2020, it is appalling and infuriating that religious schools in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia can still legally mistreat LGBT students simply because of who they are. 

And they still do, too. As Oliver Griffith wrote, in 2018, about his own, more-recent experiences at a religious school (in an article called Growing up gay in a Christian school had lasting effects on my life’):

‘Growing up gay in an environment like this is a challenge because you are faced with your realisation of your own identity and at the same time are taught by people you trust that you are a deviant, a danger to society, and otherwise should be shunned from the community… the open criticism of homosexuality meant that I was always aware that revealing who I was to the people around me could result in being ostracised from my friends and the teachers I had learnt to respect. Despite becoming aware of my sexuality at the age of 14, I never revealed this publicly until I was in my 20s.’

My, and Oliver’s, stories of survival are by no means unique. And, of course, there are the countless stories we will never get to hear, because those students took their own lives as a direct consequence of the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools, all legally supported by our Commonwealth Government.

The serious harms caused by the special exceptions provided to religious schools is backed up by the evidence. As expert in this area, Dr Tiffany Jones, wrote in the conclusion of their submission to the 2018 Senate inquiry titled ‘The Wrong of ‘Discrimination Rights’:

The data outlined in this submission adds to the author’s past submissions on [Sex Discrimination Act] Drafts citing evidence showing that the majority of LGBT students who attended religious schools rated them as homophobic spaces and that many LGBT students in religious schools suffered attempts to be ‘converted to heterosexuality’ or were forced out of their schools (eg in 2012). This submission shows new evidence that this trend continues in Australian religious schools, especially for people on the trans-spectrum. This is despite the fact that conversion attempts are widely and strongly denounced by peak psychology bodies.

Past submissions from the author showed there are significantly fewer policy-based protections for LGBT students in religious schools, which is highly problematic as policy protections are associated with decreased risks of experiencing homophobic and transphobic violence and decreased risks of self-harm and suicide rates for the group. However, the 2018 data shows that anti-LGBT conversion approaches contribute to harm the wellbeing of not only LGBT students, but most people attending those schools – who are significantly more likely to consider self-harm and suicide, and attempt self-harm and suicide.

The 2018 data show ‘gay’ is still the top insult in Australian schools. Trans-spectrum people suffer from more staff targeting just attending school as legally enforced. If our nation requires youth to attend school, and insists on funding religious schools, then those schools must be safe. The small portion of extremist conservative religious schools of Australia (not all religious schools, but those taking advantage of the SDA’s exemptions which effectively endorse anti-LGBT approaches) provide an educational environment lacking in basic social competencies for entering a modern diverse Australia and following its laws outside of the unrealistic ‘bubble’ of these schools. We need to ensure safety and better citizenship education at these schools. Not only for LGBTs, but for all students experiencing the wellbeing and educational deficits of discrimination on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. [emphasis in original]

Dr Jones is correct – if we compel students to attend school, then we must ensure that all school environments are safe for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids.

Currently, they are not. Religious schools are legally allowed to harm LGBT students, by what they say, and what they don’t say. By what they do (in enforcing anti-LGBT policies and rules), and what they don’t need to (because of the threat hanging over the heads of LGBT kids). And most of all, religious schools are legally permitted to harm LGBT students by creating toxic cultures in which homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and violence can thrive.

Two years ago today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination. He has done nothing in the two years since to give effect to this commitment.

While Scott Morrison might be able to walk away from his words, he cannot walk away from his responsibility for the serious harm being inflicted, needlessly, on another generation of LGBT kids because of his inaction. Harm that will still be felt by too many long after his time as Prime Minister comes to an end.

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

Scott Morrison’s broken promise to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination turns two years old today (11 October 2020).

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

Over the past week, the Australian media has been busy re-living the Sydney 2000 Olympics during its 20thanniversary. While this trip down nostalgia lane has been a welcome distraction from the living nightmare that is 2020, it has also been a reminder of the lost opportunity to build on that brief moment of unity.

To borrow from a certain fracking drag queen reality TV host, in the two decades since the Olympics Sydney[i] has been ‘resting on pretty’.

In terms of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, the situation could just as easily be described as ‘resting on party’.

Known around the world for the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, Party and Festival, Sydney’s reputation as an LGBT-inclusive city is not reflected in the reality of its laws, politics and media.

Indeed, in terms of legal rights, Sydney and the state of NSW now have the worst LGBTI laws of any jurisdiction in Australia. If that sounds like a hyperbolic claim, consider this:

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

That is because the exceptions in section 56(d) – allowing religious organisations to lawfully discriminate against us – are the equal-broadest in the country (and a long way behind the best practice laws in Tasmania), while NSW is the only place to allow all private schools, religious and non-religious alike, to discriminate against students, teachers and other staff on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

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

For trans and gender diverse people, NSW’s laws – covering multiple areas of life – are also the worst in the country.

The ADA only protects transgender people with binary gender identities (‘male-to-female’ or ‘female-to-male’), while excluding people who identify as non-binary (although, sadly, it is not the only jurisdiction to do so: Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory also offer limited protection). 

As with lesbians and gay men, however, the ADA allows all private schools, even those that are non-religious, to discriminate against transgender students, teachers and other staff.

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

Intersex people might be the only LGBTI group in respect of which NSW does not have the outright worst laws in Australia. Sadly, that’s more due of the lack of progress in the majority of states and territories, than it is because of any particular progress on intersex law reform here.

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

Meanwhile, no Australian jurisdiction has prohibited the ongoing human rights abuses that are unnecessary surgeries and other involuntary medical treatments on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.

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

Finally, Queensland recently introduced prohibitions on sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices (albeit only within healthcare settings), while the ACT passed more comprehensive reforms which targeted conversion practices more broadly, including in religious environments.

Bans on gay and trans conversion practices are also seriously being considered in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. However, once again, there have been no signs whatsoever that the NSW Government, or Parliament, are interested in ending this psychological torture.

Overall, then, it is clear that on contemporary LGBTI law reform issues – from expanding anti-discrimination protections, enacting birth certificate reform, ending non-consensual medical interventions on intersex children, to eradicating gay and trans conversion practices – NSW is a laggard.

Sydney might be a beautiful city, but on LGBTI rights NSW is undeniably backward.

Some people might argue that the people of Sydney are more accepting of the LGBTI community than their politicians. And that may be partly true, especially in pockets of the city. However, the outcome of the 2017 same-sex marriage law postal survey contradicts that view.

NSW was the only state or territory in Australia where the Yes vote for marriage equality was lower than 60%: just 57.8% of people in NSW supported removing anti-LGBTI discrimination from the Marriage Act 1961(Cth). The next lowest state was Queensland, but its result was nearly 3 points higher (60.7%).

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

Based on this (admittedly context-specific) example, Sydney has the highest rates of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the entire country.

The history of marriage equality in Australia is just as illustrative of the corrosive impact politicians from Sydney have had on the rights of all LGBTI Australians.

The Liberal Prime Ministers who first banned marriage equality (John Howard), first proposed to hold an unnecessary, wasteful, divisive and harmful public vote on our rights (Tony Abbott),[vii] actually held that vote (Malcolm Turnbull) and paid for it (Scott Morrison, as Treasurer), were all from Sydney.

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

It is likely no coincidence Sydney is the home of News Corp Australia, where it publishes Bernard Lane’s campaign against trans-affirming healthcare (in The Australian) and Miranda Devine’s columns targeting LGBTI-inclusive education (in the Daily Telegraph).

Perhaps the most depressing realisation of all is that, in September 2020, there is more chance things will get worse rather than better.

As we have already seen, there are no public signs the NSW Government is interested in reforming trans and gender diverse access to birth certificates, ending non-consensual medical interventions on intersex children, or banning gay and trans conversion practices.

Nor is there any current indication they will act to modernise the nation’s worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law, to include bisexuals, non-binary people and intersex people, and repeal the exceptions which allow religious organisations, and private schools, to lawfully discriminate against our community.

Even at a procedural level, the NSW Government does not have a formal LGBTI consultative mechanism, unlike the Victorian LGBTIQ Taskforce, Queensland LGBTI Roundtable, ACT LGBTIQ+ Ministerial Advisory Council, and a range of long-standing Tasmanian LGBTIQ+ Government working groups.

On the other hand, while there are no legislative proposals to improve the rights of LGBTI people currently before NSW Parliament, there are several Bills which, if passed, would set our legal rights back even further.

That includes the Mark Latham/One Nation Anti-Discrimination (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020, that would undermine our existing, limited protections against discrimination, which the Government and Opposition nevertheless saw fit to refer to a Joint Select Committee for consideration.

And then there’s the truly awful Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 – also from Latham/One Nation – which not only seeks to erase trans and gender diverse students and teachers entirely from all NSW schools, but also attempts to introduce a UK ‘section 28’-style provision making life difficult for all LGBTI kids, while introducing an erroneous and stigmatising legislative definition of intersex, too.

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

We are now 18 months into the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government’s term. It is time for them to step up – not just to defend LGBTI people in NSW against Mark Latham’s, and One Nation’s, attacks on our community, by rejecting outright his deeply flawed ‘religious freedom’ and anti-trans kids legislative proposals.

But also to make long-overdue progress on other important issues, including birth certificate changes, protecting intersex kids, ending conversion practices and engaging in broader anti-discrimination reforms.

As of this week, they have 30 months left until the next State election. How they use their time between now and 25 March, 2023, will determine whether NSW will continue to have the worst LGBTI laws in Australia, or at least something closer to the national average.

There is another significant event in Sydney from mid-February to early March in 2023 which is highly relevant to this conversation: World Pride will be hosted by the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Assuming it is not cancelled because of coronavirus, large numbers of LGBTI eyes from around the globe will be focused squarely on us. The world already knows Sydney puts on a good party, Olympics, Mardi Gras or otherwise. But during World Pride they will also be looking at the State of our rights.

If the NSW Government doesn’t undertake essential, and long overdue, reforms in the next two-and-a-half years, we will be greeting our international guests by saying ‘Welcome to Sydney: Australia’s capital of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia’.

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Take Action

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are at least three things you can do to avoid that potential embarrassment (a good outcome) and make the lives of LGBTI people in NSW better on a day-to-day basis (a great one):

  1. Get involved

For too long, the burden of fighting for our rights has been borne by too few. There are a range of different organisations you can join or support to help make a difference, including:

And there are plenty of others too (including Union Pride, as well as LGBTI advocacy groups within political parties). 

2. Defend our community against attacks

As the above article (hopefully) makes clear, LGBTI rights in NSW are currently under attack by Mark Latham.

You can help the campaign against One Nation’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill, aka the anti-trans kids Bill, in the following ways:

  • Sign the Gender Centre, just.equal and AllOut petition 
  • Sign Sam Guerra’s individual Change.Org petition (which is already over 80,000 signatures), and
  • Use Equality Australia’s platform to write to the Premier, Deputy Premier, Education Minister, Opposition Leader and Education Minister here.

You can also find out about, and take action against, the One Nation Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 on the Equality Australia website here.

3. Support campaigns for positive change

A lot of our time, at both NSW and Commonwealth level, is currently being spent fighting against proposals that would take our rights backward. That is necessary and important work – but we won’t achieve progress without campaigns which seek to make our existing laws better.

Whether it is anti-discrimination law reform, improving birth certificate access, ending non-consensual medical interventions on intersex children, or banning gay and trans conversion practices – or a wide range of other important LGBTI issues – find a campaign and help drive it forward.

Positive change doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens when we use our voice.

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Footnotes:

[i] I should clarify here that this post is about the small ‘c’ city of Sydney (meaning the large metropolitan area of 5 million people), and not the capital ‘C’ City of Sydney Council, which is largely progressive.

[ii] Disappointingly, the Queensland Government has failed to make progress on birth certificate reform since its 2018 Discussion Paper, and, as far as I am aware, have not promised to take action on this issue even if they are re-elected on 31 October.

[iii] Which is a protected attribute in both the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA).

[iv] Which is the preferred protected attribute for intersex advocates, as per the March 2017 Darlington Statement, and was recently included in the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT), while the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 covers ‘intersex variations of sex characteristics’.

[v] ‘Intersex status’ was included in the 2018 amendments to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), which prohibited ‘public threats of violence on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status’, although to date this legislation has still not been used.

[vi] Of the other five, three were in regional Queensland, and two were in suburban Melbourne. Zero electorates in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory voted No.

[vii] Tony Abbott’s decision, as Opposition Leader, to deny Coalition MPs and Senators a conscience vote also cruelled any chance of Stephen Jones’ 2012 marriage equality legislation being passed.

I Stand With Trans Kids, and Against Mark Latham

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

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

It does this by adding the following definition to the Education Act 1990 (NSW):

gender fluidity means a belief there is a difference between biological sex (including people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation) and human gender and that human gender is socially constructed rather [than] being equivalent to a person’s biological sex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Latham stated in his Second Reading Speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in relation to the education of children, moral and ethical standards, political and social values, and matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality.

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

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

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

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

17B Teaching to be non-ideological

In government schools,[i] the education is to consist of strictly non-ideological instruction in matters of parental primacy. The words non-ideological instruction are to be taken to include general teaching about matters of parental primacy as distinct from advocating or promoting dogmatic or polemical ideology.[ii]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8818836-3x2-940x627

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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

Opening Statement to Victorian Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

On 25 June, I was invited to give evidence to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections. My opening statement, highlighting the need to introduce prohibitions on vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, is published below (the full transcript of my evidence, including answers to questions from members of the Legislative Assembly’s Legal and Social Issues Committee, can be found here).

This evidence builds on my submission to the inquiry in December 2019. The Committee’s original timeline requires them to report by 1 September 2020, although given current circumstances it would of course be understandable for this deadline to be extended. Hopefully, whenever the Committee reports, they recommend that LGBTI Victorians are finally provided with legal protections against vilification.

**********

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear today and give evidence on this important topic. I do so as an advocate for LGBTI anti-discrimination law reform for close to two decades. This includes previously serving as the chair of the policy working groups of both Victorian and New South Wales gay and lesbian rights lobbies, although I appear here in a personal capacity. In my comments I will focus on terms of reference 4, ‘comparisons in the operation of the Victorian Act with legislation in other jurisdictions’, and 8, ‘possible extension of protections or expansion of protection to classes of people not currently protected’.

Starting with the comparative approach, it is clear that Victoria has fallen behind the standards set by several other Australian jurisdictions. In my own state of New South Wales protections against vilification on the basis of homosexuality were first added to the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1993, just four years after racial vilification was first prohibited and before passage of the commonwealth Racial Hatred Act 1995. Transgender vilification protections were then added in 1996. While there are limitations to these protections, such as the exclusion of bisexual, non-binary and intersex people, many LG and T people here have enjoyed anti-vilification coverage for close to a quarter of a century.

LGBT people have also been protected against vilification in Queensland for almost 20 years following the inclusion of both sexuality and gender identity in their vilification provisions in 2002. The ACT Discrimination Act has included prohibitions on vilification on the basis of sexuality and transsexuality from 2004, with gender identity replacing transsexuality in 2010 and intersex added in 2016, meaning the ACT’s vilification provisions cover the entire LGBTI community, one of two such laws in the country.

The other jurisdiction to cover all of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people is Tasmania, which has the most extensive anti-vilification laws in Australia. These protections have two parts. Section 19 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits public acts that:

incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons …

That section has included sexual orientation from its commencement in 1999, and it included transsexuality within sexual orientation from that time until 2014. Gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics were both added in May last year. Section 17 separately prohibits:

conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of an attribute …

Those provisions have covered sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, or intersex variations of sex characteristics, since 2014. From a comparative approach alone, it is disappointing the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act has not been extended beyond racial and religious vilification since it commenced in 2002.

Turning now to the second issue—the possible extension of protection to classes of people not currently protected—I think the preamble to the Act is quite instructive. Paragraph 3 in particular reads:

… some Victorians are vilified on the ground of their race or their religious belief or activity. Vilifying conduct is contrary to democratic values because of its effect on people of diverse ethnic, Indigenous and religious backgrounds. It diminishes their dignity, sense of self-worth and belonging to the community. It also reduces their ability to contribute to, or fully participate in, all social, political, economic and cultural aspects of society as equals, thus reducing the benefit that diversity brings to the community.

From an LGBTI advocate’s perspective, it seems obvious to me that the exact same description could be applied to my community. Some people are vilified on the ground of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. This conduct is contrary to democratic values because of its effect on us. Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersex phobia diminish our dignity, sense of self-worth and belonging to the community. It also reduces our ability to contribute to or fully participate in all aspects of society as equals and reduces the benefits of diversity.

Explaining this to you in a more structured or systematic way, I would submit (1) sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics are fundamental or inherent human characteristics; (2) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are frequently subjected to vilification on the basis of who they are; and (3) that vilification can cause serious harm and should therefore be legally prohibited.

In 2020 the first point is obviously not up for serious debate. In terms of points 2 and 3, I would draw the committee’s attention to a community survey which I conducted at the end of 2016 with 1672 LGBTIQ respondents from around Australia, including 386 in Victoria [*see below]. One of the questions asked, ‘Have you ever experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?’. Overall 74 per cent of respondents answered yes, with 48 per cent of all respondents then reporting at least one instance of verbal harassment or abuse in the previous 12 months.

That is one in two LGBTIQ Australians indicating they were verbally abused in the year 2016 alone, which I should note was before the postal survey. Perhaps unsurprisingly but nevertheless disappointingly, these rates were even higher amongst transgender respondents: 68.3 per cent reported abuse in the previous 12 months. And intersex respondents, 82.2 per cent in the previous year. The rates in Victoria were average for the country, 74.1 per cent reporting abuse or harassment ever and 49.8 per cent in the previous 12 months.

Now I acknowledge that many—indeed, likely most—of these responses would fall short of the legal standard for vilification, but no doubt some would meet it. Taking just one respondent’s experience:

I have been referred to as a tranny and had both my sexuality and gender identity mocked and invalidated repeatedly. I have been told to kill myself an innumerable number of times, including being told to ‘get my teeth and gender straight or kill myself’, and that my gender is ‘cancer’. This is just a short list of the abuse I’ve suffered.

When asked for the location for anti-LGBTI comments in the previous 12 months, 92 per cent of respondents said social media, 83 per cent said politics, 81 per cent religion, 80 per cent media and 67 per cent in a public space. Finally, when asked to explain the impact that witnessing homophobic, bi-phobic, transphobic and intersex-phobic comments had on him, here are just two of the comments received:

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

And:

… 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.

This brings me back to the preamble of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act and the benefit that including sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes would bring. In my view it would not only reflect Victoria’s democratic values but enhance the dignity, self-worth and belonging of a significant cohort of Victorians. That would be a positive outcome, and I hope the committee, and the Parliament ultimately, agrees. Thank you.”

*These figures, and quotes, are taken from my 2016 research survey ‘The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia’.

No Homophobia No Exceptions (1)

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

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

Submission re Aged Care Worker Regulation Scheme – Consultation Paper

Department of Health

Submitted online

Monday 29 June 2020

 

To whom it may concern

Submission re Aged Care Worker Regulation Scheme – Consultation Paper

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important topic. In this submission, I will respond to the information presented in the Consultation Paper, while highlighting a fundamental issue that is not addressed in its 56 pages.

Specifically, in discussing existing screening of aged care workers, as well as options for increased screening and/or registration, the Consultation Paper fails to mention a de facto form of screening which already takes place – the lawful exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees by some government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations.

This discrimination is permitted because of the religious exceptions included in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

While sub-section 37(2)(a) provides that government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations are not able to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people accessing their services, sub-section 37(2)(b) allows those same organisations to fire, or refuse to hire, LGBT employees simply because of who they are.

Such workplace discrimination is unacceptable in principle. But it is also unacceptable in the context of issues confronting the aged care sector, as articulated in the Consultation Paper.

For example, one of the three problems highlighted on pages 7 and 8, under the heading ‘What are the limitations of the existing approach?’ is the following:

Concern that some critical workers (such as personal care workers) may not have adequate qualifications or skills, English proficiency and/or access to continuous professional development (CPD) to support the delivery of safe and high-quality consumer-centred care

-As noted above, PCWs comprise approximately 70 per cent of the aged care workforce. Over the coming years, there will be an increasing demand for PCWs with industry estimates suggesting that an additional 980,000 workers will need to be recruited to perform roles such as those of PCWs.

In a system with concerns about workforce skills, and a looming shortage of personal care workers (as identified in the quote above), it makes absolutely zero sense to allow a significant proportion of aged care services to legally discriminate against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

This discrimination has a range of negative consequences, both for the individual aged care service, as well as for the system as a whole.

For individual services, by limiting the pool of applicants to cisgender, heterosexual people, it is inevitable that in some circumstances better qualified applicants will be rejected because of personal attributes that have no connection to their ability to perform the role.

In other words, where services only hire the best cisgender, heterosexual person for the job, rather than the best person full stop, the overall quality of care provided will be adversely affected, to the detriment of people accessing that service.

However, the systemic outcomes of such discrimination are even worse.

LGBT people considering a career in aged care may decide against entering the industry entirely if they are aware that a substantial proportion of aged care services can refuse to hire them solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Further, LGBT people who are already in the industry and experience discrimination because of who they are may be more likely to exit the industry prematurely rather than risk being confronted by additional mistreatment.

In this way, the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees both limits the number of people considering working in aged care in the first place, and accelerates current employees leaving – at the exact same time the Consultation Paper suggests there is a growing demand for more aged care workers.

Sub-section 37(2)(b) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is therefore a structural barrier to an expanded, and better-qualified, aged care workforce, and one that must be removed as a matter of priority.

This view is reinforced by examining the ‘Objectives of an aged care worker screening or registration scheme’, as outlined on pages 13 and 14 of the Consultation Paper.

All six of these objectives are compromised by the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees.

  1. Improve the quality and safety of aged care and enhance protections for consumers

As seen in the above discussion, allowing individual aged care services to hire the best cisgender, heterosexual person for the job, rather than the best person overall irrespective of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, inevitably means that centre is not able to provide the best possible care to consumers.

This problem is amplified for LGBT employees who are currently employed in government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations and who must constantly worry about the potential of being discriminated against by current, or future, service operators. Every extra second employees spend hiding who they are for fear of mistreatment is one less second they are able to devote to providing the best possible care to consumers.

  1. Avoid unnecessary barriers to workforce entry and facilitate the attraction and retention of aged care workers

Allowing discrimination against current and potential employees simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seems to be the definition of unnecessary.

  1. Promote consumer-directed care

This is an often-overlooked problem created by the current inconsistent approach adopted in sub-section 37(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act: while LGBT people accessing government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations have the right to be out, employees of the same services do not.

The absence of ‘out’ LGBT employees – and the (understandable) reluctance of LGBT workers to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the workplace, even to LGBT residents – actually heightens the isolation LGBT residents may feel, at a time when they are already facing increased loneliness.

  1. Avoid duplicative regulatory requirements for providers and workers operating across sectors

It is inconsistent to determine that an employee is capable to provide aged care services in one government-funded facility, but not another, simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The role is essentially the same. The qualifications for performing it should be, too.

  1. Protect the rights of workers

This is perhaps the most obvious of the objectives – a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is irrelevant to their ability to perform the role of an aged care worker. It is unnecessary, and above all unjustified, discrimination to allow these workers to be fired, or refused to be hired, just because of who they are.

  1. Minimise the cost to workers, providers, consumers and governments

Encouraging more people to train to be aged care workers, but then allowing them to be discriminated against because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, is inherently wasteful.

It is a waste of the individual’s time, and in many cases, money (both spending to obtain the necessary qualifications, and lost income because of discrimination). It is wasteful for governments, who subsidise their training and must train even more people to replace those who may be lost to the industry because of discrimination. And it is wasteful for consumers, who miss out on the best possible care because of an irrelevant attribute.

Based on all of these arguments, and while I acknowledge the Consultation Paper’s arguments in favour of enhanced screening and/or registration requirements for aged care workers, I submit that the first step to improve the quality of the aged care workforce should be to remove an existing, unnecessary and harmful de facto screening process.

That is to remove the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against employees and potential employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

This would obviously have a positive outcome for LGBT aged care workers, including making their retention in the overall industry more likely.

Above all, it would improve the quality of aged care provided in Australia – and that would meet the objectives of any aged care worker regulation scheme.

Recommendation: That sub-section 37(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) be amended to remove the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees and potential employees.

Thank you in advance for considering this submission. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided if you require additional information.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Richard Colbeck

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck

Australian trans, gender diverse and intersex employees need better protection, too

On Tuesday morning, Australian news sites and social media feeds alike trumpeted the US Supreme Court decision to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees against discrimination.

As with too many issues of social justice, however, it seems our ability to see discrimination clearly is much better from across the vast Pacific Ocean than it is at home.

I wonder how many of those who shared that welcome news are aware the Fair Work Act here does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex employees against adverse action and unlawful termination?

That’s because the relevant provisions of our industrial law (sections 351 and 772 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)) cover ‘race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin’ – but not gender identity or sex characteristics (intersex status).

The consequence of this exclusion is that trans, gender diverse and intersex employees who are subjected to abuse at work, or even dismissed, on the basis of who they are cannot make a complaint to the Fair Work Commission.

This lack of protection is particularly harmful given these are populations that already experience low rates of employment.

A recent survey by Equality Australia found that, while the proportion of LGBTIQ+ people aged 25 to 64 years who were unemployed or looking for work increased from 6% pre COVID-19 to 10.8% post COVID-19, for trans and gender diverse people specifically it rose from an already-high 10.5% to a shocking 15.2% now.

That’s almost 1-in-6 trans and gender diverse adults unemployed today, with the potential to go much, much higher in coming months.

I raised the lack of protection for trans, gender diverse and intersex employees with the Turnbull Government in 2018, with then-Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, Craig Laundy, rejecting calls to address this legislative gap, instead pointing to general discrimination protections in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA).

And it’s true that gender identity and intersex status are covered in the SDA – but this ignores the fact complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission can take much longer to conciliate, and enforcing them may require action in the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court, at the risk of significant costs orders against the complainant.

In contrast, arbitration by the Fair Work Commission can be much quicker, and it is generally a ‘no-costs’ jurisdiction.

That’s exactly why sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family responsibilities and pregnancy are covered under *both* the SDA and Fair Work Act, allowing parties to choose an expedited, low-cost resolution if it suits their circumstances.

Women, and even lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, discriminated against in the workplace can exercise that choice. As can employees discriminated against on the basis of race, disability and age, who are all protected by their respective federal discrimination Acts, as well having access to the Fair Work Commission.

That choice is denied to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Trans, gender diverse and intersex employees are confronted by the possibility of longer wait times, and potentially higher costs, to address the same type of dispute.

Of course, a lot has happened in the two years since Minister Laundy refused to fix this problem. The economic crisis brought on by coronavirus means that the Government, business and unions are now involved in consultations on how to reform the industrial relations regime to get people back to work.

This is an ideal opportunity for Prime Minister Morrison, and Attorney-General Porter – who is also the Minister for Industrial Relations – to help trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians into employment, and to protect them against possible mistreatment once there.

This is obviously not the only employment-related discrimination provision that needs updating (hello LGBT teachers in religious schools outside Tasmania and the ACT, LGBT employees in religious aged care homes and other service delivery organisations outside Tasmania, bisexual employees in the NSW public service, and non-binary and intersex employees in the NSW, Victorian, Queensland, WA and NT public services, too – see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws).

Indeed, Australia’s LGBTI anti-discrimination regime could perhaps be described as a ‘patchwork’ – except it is still missing far too many patches and for too many of us it simply doesn’t work.

But it is possibly the problem that is most easily fixed. It would only take a couple of quick legislative stitches to ensure trans, gender diverse and intersex people finally enjoy the cover of the Fair Work Act.

Take Action

As indicated above, the Morrison Government is currently engaged in consultation with business and unions about its coronavirus-related industrial relations reforms. Which means now is the perfect time to ask for the Fair Work Act 2009(Cth) to be amended to cover gender identity and sex characteristics (intersex status). Why not start with the AG himself:

The Hon Christian Porter MP

Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

(02) 6277 7300

Online contact

Twitter: @cporterwa

Update 21 June 2020:

It has been brought to my attention that there is a possibility the Fair Work Commission would interpret ‘sex’ to include gender identity and potentially intersex status, based on this information on their website.

However, this interpretation is open to legal challenge, and may be overturned in the Federal Court. I remain of the view the only way to put workplace protection for trans, gender diverse and intersex people beyond doubt would be to add gender identity and sex characteristics to the Fair Work Act.

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The US Supreme Court decision highlights the lack of Fair Work Act coverage of trans, gender diverse and intersex employees in Australia.

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

Did You Know? Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification

Hate-speech against minority groups is inherently harmful, and most people accept it should be regulated in some way (even if there is debate about what such regulation should look like).

Indeed, almost a quarter of a century since racial vilification was prohibited under Commonwealth law – the Racial Hatred Act was passed by Parliament in August 1995 – many probably assume that vilification against minority groups, including against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, is already outlawed.

Which means that some would likely be surprised to discover the majority of Australian jurisdictions do not prohibit vilification against LGBTI people, and that even among those states and territories that do, only two cover all parts of our community.

Tasmania

The first jurisdiction that prohibits vilification against all of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people is Tasmania.

Section 19 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) outlaws ‘inciting hatred’:

‘A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of’ protected attributes including sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics.’

Tasmania also has best practice protections under section 17(1), which further provides that:

‘A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person… in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed.’

Once again, the attributes covered include sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT is the second jurisdiction that prohibits vilification against all of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people.

Section 67A of the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) makes vilification unlawful:

‘It is unlawful for a person to incite hatred toward, revulsion of, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of people on the ground of any of the following, other than in private:

(b) gender identity

(d) intersex status

(g) sexuality.’

Although it should be noted that intersex advocates have called for discrimination and vilification protections on the basis of ‘intersex status’ to be replaced by the attribute of ‘sex characteristics’,[i] based on the definition in the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.[ii]

Queensland

Queensland is one of two other jurisdictions that protect some, but not all, parts of the LGBTI community against vilification.

Section 124A of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) provides that:

‘A person must 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, religion, sexuality or gender identity of the person or members of the group.’[iii]

And it should be noted that the definition of gender identity in this Act only includes ‘binary’ transgender gender, not non-binary or other gender diverse people (‘gender identity, in relation to a person, means that the person… identifies, or has identified, as a member of the opposite sex by living or seeking to live as a member of that sex’).

Meaning that only LGB and some T Queenslanders are protected. Unfortunately, there is no indication the Queensland Government will update the definition of gender identity, and include sex characteristics as a protected attribute, before the upcoming state election, scheduled for 31 October 2020.

New South Wales

The situation in NSW is far more complex. The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) contains civil sanctions against vilification targeting binary transgender people, as well as lesbians and gay men.

Specifically, section 38S(1) prohibits anti-transgender vilification:

‘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.’

However, this clause does not protect non-binary or other gender diverse people, because the definition in section 38A of the Act is out-dated:

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

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

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

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

Section 49ZT(1) then prohibits vilification – meaning inciting 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’.

Note that this only refers to homosexuality, meaning civil sanctions under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) do not cover bisexual people.

On the other hand, amendments to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), introduced in 2018, created a criminal offence of ‘publicly threatening or inciting violence on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status’. Section 93Z(1) now provides that:

‘A person who, by a public act, intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards another person or a group of persons on any of the following grounds is guilty of an offence:

(c) the sexual orientation of the other person or one or more of the members of the group

(d) the gender identity of the other person or one or more of the members of the group

(e) that the other person is, or one or more of the members of the group are, of intersex status…’

The individual penalty for contravention of this provision is up to 100 penalty units or 3 years imprisonment (or both).

The next NSW state election is not due until 25 March 2023, meaning there is plenty of time available for the current Government to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) to ensure its civil vilification prohibitions also cover bisexuals, non-binary or other gender diverse people and intersex people – as well as fixing some of the many, many other problems with Australia’s worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law.[iv]

*

Five other jurisdictions do not prohibit anti-LGBTI vilification, at all:

Commonwealth

There is currently no prohibition – civil or criminal – on anti-LGBTI vilification in Commonwealth law.

This remains the case almost 25 years since the Racial Hatred Act 1995 (Cth) added section 18C to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (‘the RDA’):

‘(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.’

Unfortunately, it seems far more likely the Morrison Liberal/National Government will wind back section 18C of the RDA (something former Attorney-General George Brandis attempted, but thankfully failed, to do), than to introduce an LGBTI equivalent before the next federal election, due in May 2022.

Indeed, current Attorney-General Christian Porter’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, if passed, would immediately undermine Tasmania’s existing prohibition on conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules LGBTI people,[v] as well as leaving the door open to explicitly overriding all state and territory LGBTI anti-vilification laws, via simple regulation, in the future.[vi]

Victoria

Victoria is another jurisdiction that fails to protect LGBTI people against vilification.

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) contains no prohibitions against vilification, for anyone. While, as the name suggests, the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) currently only prohibits racial and religious vilification.

On the positive side, and unlike the Commonwealth, there are at least signs of possible progress in Victoria, with Fiona Patten MLC having introduced a Racial and Religious Tolerance Bill 2019. Her Bill would add sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics (among other categories) to the list of protected attributes in that Act.

The issue of anti-vilification protections is also being considered by a parliamentary committee, with that inquiry due to report by 1 September 2020.[vii] Which leaves sufficient time for the Victorian Government to take action to address this shortcoming before the next election, on 26 November 2022.

Western Australia

Another jurisdiction with disappointingly out-dated anti-discrimination legislation – perhaps the second-worst in the country behind only NSW – is Western Australia.

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) does not contain any prohibitions on vilification, on any attribute. However, the Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA) does create a range of offences linked to racial vilification[viii] – although there are no equivalent offences for anti-LGBTI vilification.

The Western Australian Government has referred the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) to the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia for review. Encouragingly, one of the terms of reference for this inquiry is to consider ‘the inclusion of vilification, including racial, religious, sexual orientation and impairment vilification’.

However, the website for the inquiry has not been updated for more than 12 months (since 6 March 2019), and the next Western Australian election is due in less than 12 months (scheduled for 13 March 2021), making it highly unlikely for LGBTI anti-vilification protections to be passed this term.

South Australia

South Australia also has no anti-vilification coverage for the LGBTI community.

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) does not include any vilification provisions, while, as the name suggests, the Racial Vilification Act 1996 (SA) only covers vilification based on race.

Unlike Victoria and Western Australia, though, I am not aware of any South Australian Government processes considering the issue of LGBTI anti-vilification laws prior to their next state election, to be held on 19 March 2022.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory is unique, in that it is the only Australian jurisdiction without its own racial vilification provisions. However, section 18C of the RDA still applies, which means racial vilification is outlawed – there is no such luck for LGBTI Territorians.

The Northern Territory Attorney-General’s Department did conduct a public consultation about their Anti-Discrimination Act (NT) in January 2018, which included consideration of ‘introducing specific anti-vilification laws prohibiting offensive conduct on the basis of race, religious belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.’

Unfortunately, that inquiry’s website has not been updated since May 2019 – with that ‘radio silence’ making it extremely unlikely LGBTI anti-vilification laws will be passed before the Northern Territory election which is just over two months away (22 August 2020).

*

Vilification against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community can be incredibly damaging, especially for younger and/or vulnerable individuals. This was demonstrated, painfully and unequivocally, by the harm caused by the Turnbull Liberal/National Government’s wasteful and unnecessary same-sex marriage postal survey in 2017.

However, it is disturbing to realise that, in 2020, fewer than one million Australians – out of a population of more than 25 million – live in jurisdictions that prohibit vilification against all parts of the LGBTI community: Tasmania and the ACT.

As we have seen, another two states – Queensland and NSW – offer only partial coverage, while the Commonwealth, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory offer no legal protection at all.

Well. That. Is. Simply. Not. Good. Enough.

This winter, I will be regularly posting about these and other serious weaknesses of Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws.[ix] #WinterOfDiscriminationContent. To follow, you can:

  • Sign up to my blog (via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile)
  • Follow me on twitter, and/or
  • Like No Homophobia, No Exceptions on Facebook.

Anti-discrimination protections are essential to the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Australian life. And we have allowed them to atrophy for far too long. So, as well as fighting against a Religious Discrimination Bill that undermines those rights we already have, we need to fight even harder to make sure LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws are made much, much better.

LGBTI Vilification Australia June 2020

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

Footnotes:

[i] ‘Article 9. We call for effective legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics.’ Darlington Statement, 10 March 2017.

[ii] ‘Understanding ‘sex characteristics’ as each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’ The Yogyakarta Principles plus 10: Additional principles and state obligations on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics to complement the Yogyakarta Principles, 10 November 2017.

[iii] Somewhat confusingly, section 124A is found in Chapter 4, Part 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), titled ‘Racial and religious vilification’, which may lead some people to erroneously assume LGBT vilification is not prohibited.

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

[v] Clause 42(1)(b) of the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill.

[vi] Clause 42(1)(c) of the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill. For more, see: The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked.

[vii] You can see my submission to that inquiry, here.

[viii] Including:

Section 77 Conduct intended to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Section 78 Conduct likely to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Section 79 Possession of material for dissemination with intent to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Section 80 Possession of material for dissemination that is likely to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Section 80A Conduct intended to racially harass

Section 80B Conduct likely to racially harass.

[ix] For a comparative analysis, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

Discrimination Under the Cover of Corona

Coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19. Whatever you call it, it has been the biggest single story of this century (so far). Challenging health systems, governments, economies and communities – its dominance of the news cycle has overshadowed all other issues.

Of course, that does not mean those other challenges have gone away – especially climate change. Indeed, many existing problems have been exacerbated by, or exacerbated the negative impact of, coronavirus, including wealth inequality. Discrimination has sadly also been turbo-charged by the virus, with many disturbing examples of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism reported during the past few months.

But, as an LGBTI advocate, it is another type of mistreatment I want to focus on here: discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. While less prominent to date in comparison to racism, I am concerned about a potential outbreak of anti-LGBT discrimination under the cover of corona, in at least three ways:

  1. Discrimination in employment

Even with the Government’s temporary JobKeeper program, Australia’s unemployment numbers are expected to at least double between March and June 2020. We could see more than 1,000,000 people permanently lose their jobs in this period alone (not to mention many more who will have their hours, or pay – or often both – reduced).

While in many workplaces, the entire staff will be terminated, elsewhere employers will keep on some employees while dismissing others. With this process happening across so many businesses, small and large, and across so many sectors, simultaneously, it is inevitable some will (ab)use this opportunity to sack people for illegitimate reasons, including bosses firing LGBT workers simply because of who they are.

Even where homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are not ‘explicit’ in this way, some employers may take irrelevant factors into consideration in making their decisions – such as whether the employee has a partner, whether that partner is also employed, and whether they have children to support. Such discrimination, on the basis of marital or relationship status, or family responsibilities, is likely to disproportionately harm LGBT employees.[i]

For a variety of reasons, we will likely never know the full extent of anti-LGBT discrimination in employment during this crisis – although it should be noted the Sydney Morning Herald is already reporting that:

‘The number of workers raising issues with unfair dismissals has surged because of the coronavirus shutdown, with 65 per cent more employees bringing cases to the national industrial tribunal last month [April] than the same time last year.’ 

  1. Discrimination in service delivery

One serious problem highlighted by the coronavirus crisis has been the ‘hollowing out’ of governments, at all levels, and corresponding outsourcing of what should be public services to the private sector.

In particular, a disturbingly high proportion of essential social services in Australia are now delivered by religious organisations, despite usually using public monies. This includes housing and emergency accommodation, community support, food and even healthcare.

At a time when many Australians will be accessing these services for the first time, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will have the additional worry of whether such faith bodies will refuse to serve them, or treat them differently to cisgender heterosexual people in the same circumstances.

This is not to suggest that all or even most of these religious organisations will engage in homophobic, biphobic or transphobic discrimination – but some of these services inevitably will, to the detriment of LGBT Australians when they are at their most vulnerable.

  1. Anti-LGBT vilification

The third potential outbreak which concerns me is anti-LGBT vilification. That is, attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals – and the LGBT community more broadly – claiming that we are somehow responsible for promulgating the coronavirus, or deserving of infection because of our supposed ‘sinful lifestyles’.

This is not a hypothetical fear, either. At the start of April, Melbourne Jewish radio station J-AIR broadcast the following homophobic and transphobic comments from a Rabbi Kessin:

‘And basically he’s [god’s] 98% finished, that’s how close we are to redemption. Therefore god wants to do is bring the redemption. However, there are certain problems that must be addressed by god in order for the redemption to actually happen. And what we begin to see is that the pandemic is an exact designer drug, if you want to use that expression, that will remove these problems.

Ah, in other words, the plague itself is a vehicle, is an instrument, to accelerate the messianic process by removing these major problems. What are they? You see. So therefore what we see is the following.

The first major problem is that man has corrupted his nature. There is a tremendous amount of, ah, what’s called immorality in the world today. It’s widespread. There’s, in Hebrew it’s called “prichus”. We want, we could say it’s also in the form of homosexuality, and gays and so on and so forth, where all of a sudden the gender differentiation is, is tremendously blurred. So that is an incredible corruption of man’s nature.’

There are, obviously, strong echoes of the homophobic vilification endured by the gay and HIV-positive community as part of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And we learnt from that experience that more bigots will emerge in the months ahead claiming that coronavirus is ‘divine punishment’ of the LGBT community for having the temerity to exist.

These three risks – anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, and service delivery, and anti-LGBT vilification – demonstrate the importance of robust anti-discrimination and vilification protections. Unfortunately, they also reveal serious weaknesses in Australia’s existing anti-discrimination and vilification framework, in at least four ways:

  1. Onus on complainants

Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are primarily complaint-based, which means responsibility falls on the victims of discrimination to pursue justice against their discriminator(s).

This is a problem at the best of times. That includes because of the usual significant power imbalances involved: between employee and employer; member and group; individual accessing services and service delivery organisation; customer and business; and more.

The burden of making a discrimination complaint should also not be underestimated, including the cost in both time and resources (such as obtaining legal advice, which can be costly), as well as the impact on mental health through stress. It is no surprise that many people who experience discrimination ultimately choose not to lodge a complaint.

And of course the coronavirus crisis means now is far from the best of times. Power imbalances are exacerbated, financial and other stresses already heightened. Even where LGBT Australians experience unequivocal discrimination, the problems of a complaint-based system mean they may not exercise their legal rights but instead focus on more immediate concerns (like where they are going to live, and how they will pay for food, electricity and other essentials).

Now more than ever our anti-discrimination laws should be improved by making it easier for organisations, such as trade unions, to make representative complaints on behalf of vulnerable individuals, as well as strengthening the powers of bodies like the Australian Human Rights Commission and its state and territory equivalents to investigate instances of discrimination even in the absence of individual complainants.

  1. Difficult to prove

Even where a victim of discrimination does choose to lodge a formal complaint, it can sometimes be difficult to prove, at least to the required legal standard.

This will not come as a surprise to most LGBT Australians – or indeed to members of other minority groups in the community. Almost all of us will have experienced multiple instances of mistreatment, where you know without a doubt that your sexual orientation, or gender identity, or sex, or race, or disability, or combination of these, is the motivation – while also knowing it would difficult to establish without an explicit admission by the perpetrator.

The coronavirus crisis, and the associated economic crisis, will only worsen this problem, with employers able to say they abandoned usual procedures because of the scale and speed of the challenge they were facing (and the potential they are given the benefit of the doubt in many circumstances, too). This doesn’t mean there was no discrimination – but it could make already high barriers even harder to overcome for the victims.

  1. Religious exceptions

Regular readers of this blog would be well aware of this major flaw in Australians LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Specifically, under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and the anti-discrimination laws of most state and territories (other than Tasmania’s best practice Anti-Discrimination Act 1998), it is entirely lawful for religious organisations to discriminate against employees, and people accessing services, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[ii]

This means that it is legal for a faith-based homeless service in Sydney to deny shelter to someone because they are lesbian, or for a religious-run welfare service in Melbourne to reject a client because they are trans. It also means these organisations can refuse to hire, or even fire, employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – which is especially concerning when these bodies may be given more public funding to address the challenges of the next 12 to 18 months, making them one of the few places actually hiring.

In order for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians to enjoy the same employment opportunities, and receive the same level of support, as everyone else, religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws must be repealed.

  1. Gaps in vilification protections

The fourth serious weakness in our current legislative framework is the fact that only a minority of jurisdictions protect LGBT people against vilification. The biggest gap is obviously at Commonwealth level, where there remains no sexual orientation or gender identity equivalent of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

But there is also no anti-LGBT vilification coverage in Victoria[iii] (meaning the earlier comments on a Melbourne Jewish radio station were likely lawful), or in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory.

Even where vilification protections exist, their coverage is sometimes incomplete. For example, civil prohibitions on vilification in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 only protect lesbians and gay men, and binary transgender people.[iv] Bisexuals, non-binary and intersex people need not apply (or complain).

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These four problems, with Australia’s LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws, are obviously major. But they do not mean all such legal claims will be unsuccessful – merely that people should be aware of the potential pitfalls along the complaints journey that awaits them.

I should also be clear that this isn’t legal advice, either – after all, I am not currently a practising lawyer. However, if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex and do experience discrimination or vilification, and are considering your options, there are places where you can seek advice. These include:

The Inner-City Legal Centre in Sydney

The LGBTIQ Legal Service in Melbourne

The LGBTI Legal Service in Brisbane

The HIV/AIDS Legal Centre in Sydney

Or you could contact the local Community Legal Centre in your area. A searchable map is located on the Community Legal Centres Australia website.

Alternatively, you could try the Legal Aid services in your respective state or territory.

The above organisations may assist you in determining whether you wish to make a complaint – and where. They may also be able to provide you with legal representation if you do complain.

Nevertheless, it is not compulsory to obtain advice, or be represented, in order to make an anti-discrimination, or anti-vilification, claim. You could instead decide to go directly to the relevant human rights body. These include:

The Australian Human Rights Commission for discrimination complaints, including employment discrimination [remembering that there are no LGBTI vilification protections under Commonwealth law]

The Fair Work Commission if the complaint relates to employment discrimination only [noting that only lesbian, gay and bisexual people can apply – because the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) does not cover gender identity or intersex status/sex characteristics][v]

Anti-Discrimination NSW

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

The Queensland Human Rights Commission

The WA Equal Opportunity Commission

The SA Equal Opportunity Commission

Equal Opportunity Tasmania

The ACT Human Rights Commission

The NT Anti-Discrimination Commission

A lot has been written in recent months about the coronavirus ‘not discriminating’. That SARS-CoV-2 is the ‘great leveller’. That in response to COVID-19 we are now all supposedly playing on the same team (namely ‘Team Australia’).

Of course, that simplistic slogan simply isn’t true. Just like life before the ‘rona, the rich will have fewer adverse outcomes than the poor. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to experience extremely high rates of disadvantage.

Racial minorities, especially Chinese-Australians and other people from Asian backgrounds, will endure even greater levels of racism than before the pandemic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is fond of telling Australians to ‘get out from under the doona’. He needs to also pay attention to the increased racist abuse which has sadly – but entirely predictably – emerged from under the covers.

As we have seen, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians, as another vulnerable group, are at risk, too – of increased discrimination in employment, in service delivery, and through vilification.

If that happens to you, there may be legal remedies available, including under Commonwealth, state and territory discrimination laws, or the Fair Work Act. As discussed earlier, there may also be good reasons why you ultimately choose not to make a complaint under any of these processes.

But one reason homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bigots shouldn’t be allowed to get away with anti-LGBT discrimination or vilification is that you simply weren’t aware of the options available.

Christian Porter

Commonwealth Attorney-General should spend more time fixing problems with our existing anti-discrimination laws, and less time trying to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill that would only exacerbate them.

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

Footnotes:

[i] Acknowledging of course that traditionally, and unfortunately still today, the most likely targets of discrimination on the basis marital or relationship status, or family responsibilities, are women.

[ii] For more on this subject, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

[iii] Although there is currently a Victoria Parliament inquiry considering expansion of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. See my submission to that inquiry here.

[iv] Although the criminal offence of publicly threatening or inciting violence, added to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) in 2018, does cover all of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. For more on the problems of LGBTI anti-discrimination law in NSW, see What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

[v] For more, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

Did You Know? Trans People in NSW and Queensland Still Require Surgery to Update Their Birth Certificates

This week marked an important milestone on the long march to trans and gender diverse equality in Australia. From 1 May 2020, trans and gender diverse people in Victoria can update their birth certificate and other identity documentation without requiring surgery.

Unfortunately, there are still two Australian jurisdictions that continue to impose this unjustified and unnecessary barrier, as well as a third where the laws also require urgent amendment.

New South Wales

Under section 32B of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995, in order to apply to alter the register to record a change of sex, a person must first have ‘undergone a sex affirmation procedure’, which is defined in section 32A as:

‘a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs carried out:

a) for the purpose of assisting a person to be considered to be a member of the opposite sex, or

b) to correct or eliminate ambiguities relating to the sex of the person.’

The Berejiklian Liberal National Government has given no commitments to fix this appalling provision during the current parliamentary term, with the next election not due until 25 March 2023 (which would represent a dozen years of inaction on this vital reform).

If the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW) is not updated before then, another event in February and March 2023 – Sydney World Pride – will ensure that the Berejiklian Government is rightly subject to significant global criticism.

Queensland

Section 22 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 provides that ‘the reassignment of a person’s sex after sexual reassignment surgery may be noted in the person’s entry in the register of birth.’

The Palaszczuk Labor Government actually engaged in a public consultation process about removing this requirement, releasing the Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families discussion paper more than two years ago.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to have been much movement on this issue since then, and time is quickly running out, with just five months left of sittings before Parliament is dissolved before the state election scheduled on 31 October 2020.

The clock is ticking for the Palaszczuk Government to fix the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 (Qld) – trans and gender diverse Queenslanders have waited long enough for access to identity documentation that accurately reflects who they are.

Western Australia

The situation is only slightly better in the nation’s West, where section 14 the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 allows people to apply for gender recognition certificates where that person ‘has undergone a reassignment procedure’. Section 3 defines ‘reassignment procedure’ as:

‘a medical or surgical procedure (or a combination of such procedures) to alter the genitals and other gender characteristics of a person, identified by a birth certificate as male or female, so that the person will be identified as a person of the opposite sex and includes, in relation to a child, any such procedure (or combination of procedures) to correct or eliminate ambiguities in the child’s gender characteristics.’

Fortunately, following a decision of the High Court in AB v Western Australia; AH v Western Australia [2011] HCA 42 6 October 2011, this has been interpreted such that genital surgery is not required. However, physical medical treatment, such as hormone therapy, remains a pre-requisite to access a new birth certificate in Western Australia.

These issues were examined in the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia’s 2018 Report: Review of Western Australian legislation in relation to the registration or change of a person’s sex and/or gender and status relating to sex characteristics, which recommended that applications for change of gender involve a simple administrative process, including a statutory declaration, with no requirement for surgical or other medical treatment.

With less than 12 months left before the next state election, due on 13 March 2021, the pressure is on the McGowan Labor Government to implement these reforms.

South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory

These three jurisdictions have abolished the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to have surgery, or other physical medical interventions, in order to access updated birth certificates and identity documentation.

However, they do still require doctors or other health practitioners, such as counsellors or psychologists, to approve such applications, which remains inappropriate medicalisation of people’s gender identities, that should instead be based on self-identification.

Section 29L of South Australia’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 provides that ‘if the Registrar is satisfied that the applicant has undertaken a sufficient amount of appropriate clinical treatment in relation to their sex or gender identity, the Registrar may make an entry about the change of the person’s sex or gender identity in the Register…’, with section 29H clarifying that ‘clinical treatment need not involve invasive medical treatment (and may include or be constituted by counselling).’

Likewise, section 24 of the Australian Capital Territory’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration 1997 provides that a person applying to have the register amended to reflect a change of sex must have ‘received appropriate clinical treatment for alteration of the person’s sex’. Clinical treatment is not further defined, meaning it does not explicitly require surgical intervention.

The Northern Territory has also adopted a similar approach, with section 28B of their Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act providing that trans and gender diverse people can update their birth certificates if they can show that they have ‘received appropriate clinical treatment in relation to the adult’s sex or gender’.

It is positive that each of South Australia, the ACT and NT have removed the requirement for surgery or other physical medical interventions. However, in order to reflect the self-determination of trans and gender diverse people, they should still amend their laws to remove the role of health practitioners as ‘gate-keepers’ of their identity.

Victoria

As indicated above, Victoria’s new birth certificate reforms mean trans and gender diverse Victorians can update their identity documentation without having surgery or other physical medical interventions.

Importantly, these changes, which were introduced by the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Act 2019 (Vic), also mean that trans and gender diverse people do not need approval from doctors or other health practitioners, such as counsellors or psychologists. Their role as ‘gate-keepers’ is over.

However, there is one requirement which fails the principle of complete ‘self-identification’. That’s because section 30A of the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 requires adults to submit a ‘supporting statement’ made by a person who is aged 18 years or over and who has known the applicant for at least 12 months and state that the person making the supporting statement:

  • believes that the applicant makes the application to alter the record of their sex in good faith, and
  • supports the application.

This second requirement in particular (that another person must ‘support’ the application of a trans or gender diverse person for a new birth certificate) is unnecessary, and is the reason why Victoria’s new scheme, while a massive improvement from the previous regime, falls short of Australian best practice.

Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 8.08.02 am

Ideally, access to accurate identity documentation for trans and gender diverse people should not depend on whether another person ‘supports’ their application.

Tasmania

That honour belongs to Tasmania’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. Following amendments earlier last year, it allows trans and gender diverse Tasmanians (aged over 16) to self-determine their own gender identity.

Without the need for surgery or other physical medical interventions. Without the need for medical approval. And based solely on self-identification.

When NSW, Queensland and Western Australia finally bring their own birth certificate laws into the 21st century, it is the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999 (Tas) they should be emulating.

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

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

Coronavirus and the Religious Discrimination Bill

2020 is still less than ten weeks old. A lot has already happened in that time.

Obviously, the year started with the climate change-driven bushfires that devastated large swathes of South-Eastern Australia.

Around the same time, the first reports were emerging about a respiratory illness, caused by a novel coronavirus and which is now called COVID-19, wreaking havoc in Wuhan, China.

On a personal level, both at work and outside, most of my time has been spent trying to stop the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, which will inflict its own serious harm on the Australian community.

At first glance, there may not appear to be much to connect these three developments. But dig a little deeper and there is a clear interaction between the Religious Discrimination Bill and the first two crises, at least in terms of how Australia responds to them.

For example, in relation to the bushfires in January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison encouraged Australians to give freely to charities, and then specifically named three: the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul.

While the Red Cross is secular in ethos, the ‘Salvos’ and St Vincent de Paul are faith-based charities, which means that under clause 11 of the Religious Discrimination Bill they would legally be able to:

  • discriminate in terms of who they provide assistance to, including by ‘preferencing’ people who are Christian and consequently neglecting people who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist or agnostic, and
  • discriminate in terms of who they employ, including by not hiring the most qualified person for the job, but instead the most religious.

To date, St Vincent de Paul has largely rejected these new special privileges, but as far as I understand, the Salvation Army has not (at least not Australia-wide). I wonder how many people would give so generously in the future if they were aware their money is funding religious discrimination and not emergency relief?

Nevertheless, it is the second major crisis – the coronavirus – and the Religious Discrimination Bill that I want to primarily focus on today.

Once again, despite superficially seeming unrelated, the Government’s proposed legislation could have a major influence on how our country responds to this grave threat. Indeed, I would argue that COVID-19 provides (at least) five reasons why the Religious Discrimination Bill must be abandoned.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill allows hospitals to hire the most religious, not the most qualified

In the coming months, we are going to be relying on our health care system more than ever before. From GPs to pharmacists, health information lines to hospitals – both public and religious. All parts of the system must be high quality – and that means all must hire the best-qualified person for each and every position.

Unfortunately, the Religious Discrimination Bill subverts that entirely reasonable expectation. Under clauses 32(8) and (10), religious hospitals would be permitted to discriminate in employment on the ground of religious belief.

That means a religious hospital would be legally able to hire a doctor, or nurse, or pharmacist, or other essential employee, because of their religious beliefs and instead of a better-qualified alternative candidate.

Surely that must have an impact on the standard of care that patients will receive. Imagine the worry if one of your loved ones is taken to the emergency department of a faith-based hospital and you can’t be certain whether the health practitioner is there because of what they believe, not what they can do.

The fact that religious hospitals receive public funding to deliver these services makes this proposal even more sickening.

If the Australian Government wants us to have confidence in all parts of the health system as it responds to coronavirus, then it must abandon legislation that inevitably damages that confidence.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill allows aged care facilities to hire the most religious, not the most qualified

Another area that has an important role in dealing with COVID-19 is our aged care sector. This is because the death rates from coronavirus are much higher among people aged over 70, and especially 80, and where they have existing medical conditions – exactly the demographic profile of aged care facilities.

Because of these particular vulnerabilities, we will be relying on our aged care workers to limit the spread of infection and keep our elderly as safe as possible – as well as to respond appropriately where transmission does occur.

Unfortunately, the same provisions of the Religious Discrimination Bill named above – clauses 32(8) and (10) – also allow religious aged-care services to discriminate in employment of the ground of religious belief.

Once again, that means aged care services operated by faith-based organisations will be permitted to hire someone because of their religious beliefs rather than their qualifications. Once again, the services will be able to discriminate in this way even where they are government-funded.[i]

As someone with a grandmother who turned 99 last Wednesday, and who is in a nursing home, I would hate to think she is being cared for by someone who is there because of their views and not their vocational skills.

Older Australians must be looked after by the people most likely to keep them safe, irrespective of their religious beliefs. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic. The Religious Discrimination Bill directly contradicts this principle, and is another reason why it must be abandoned.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill will already make it more difficult for women, LGBTI people and other vulnerable groups to access essential health care. Coronavirus will exacerbate this problem

Of course, while COVID-19 will likely receive the lion’s share of health care system resources in the weeks and months ahead, people will continue to get sick in other ways, and to rely on health practitioners to keep them well.

Unfortunately, as has been highlighted previously,[ii] clauses 8(6) and (7) of the Religious Discrimination Bill would make it easier for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists and midwives to refuse to participate in particular health services.

As Attorney-General Christian Porter has himself conceded, these provisions would allow doctors and pharmacists to:

  • refuse to provide reproductive health services, even where this has a disproportionate impact on women
  • refuse to provide access to hormone therapy, including puberty blockers, even where this has a disproportionate impact on trans and gender diverse people, and
  • refuse to provide PEP and/or PrEP, even where this disproportionately exposes gay and bisexual men to the risk of HIV transmission.

Where patients are denied this essential health care, they are supposed to find another health practitioner who is willing and able to do so (although the refusing practitioner likely does not have any obligation to make a referral).

As has been pointed out, this may be practically difficult, both for time-critical services (such as PEP, or the ‘morning after’ pill), as well as for people in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia.

Well, the impact of the novel coronavirus could make this situation much worse. For example, say you are a trans youth living in a regional centre, and rely on a certain doctor and/or pharmacist to provide access to puberty blockers.

And then that doctor or pharmacist is required to self-isolate for a minimum of two weeks because of potential exposure to COVID-19. Note that this is already happening in Sydney and Melbourne, with individual health practitioners ordered to stay away from work at extremely short notice.

What exactly is the trans young person meant to do in these circumstances, especially where other doctors and pharmacists in town have the ‘right’ to turn them away?

With the impending massive strain of coronavirus on our health care system, all effort should be made to ensure it operates effectively and efficiently for all people who need health care – all types of health care. The Religious Discrimination instead erects barriers to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. It must be abandoned.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill will divide Australia at a time it needs unity

It is only early days in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on Australia, with the total number of people diagnosed remaining at fewer than 100 (at the time of writing).

However, the impact on our social cohesion is already quite large. This includes countless reported incidents of racism directed at Chinese-Australians, and Asian-Australians more generally.

And of course just this week we witnessed the run on the nation’s toilet paper supply – with panic buying leading to physical altercations in a number of supermarkets around the country.

As the situation worsens, and more and more people are infected, this pandemic will likely test the ties that bind us together, often in unexpected ways.

This is exactly the wrong time for our Government to introduce legislation that divides the community into ever-smaller groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It is the wrong time to allow schools, and universities, and charities, and accommodation providers, and hospitals, and aged care services, and conference venues, and camp sites, to discriminate on the ground of religious belief in terms of who they offer services to, and/or employ.

It is the wrong time for our Government to pursue a Bill that encourages religious individuals to make degrading and demeaning ‘statements of belief’ against women, LGBTI people, people with disability, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and even people from minority faiths, in all areas of public life.[iii]

While I haven’t seen many examples yet, I’m sure there will soon be a deluge of extremists seeking to exploit coronavirus, blaming it on women exercising reproductive choice, gay men having sex, LGBTI people getting married – all with the possible tick of approval from the Religious Discrimination Bill.

If the Government wants to lead on COVID-19, and bring the community together to deal with a common threat, it must abandon legislation that makes nearly everybody an enemy of somebody else.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill is a distraction for a Government that should be focused on more important things

The fifth and final reason why the Government must abandon the Religious Discrimination Bill is arguably the most important – and that is because it is an unnecessary distraction from much more important issues that warrant their urgent attention.

Like responding to the immediate health challenges presented by coronavirus, particularly as the illness begins its inevitable spread across the community.

And dealing with the significant economic fallout, with Australia now facing our first economic recession in almost three decades.

There is an entire generation of people (including myself and my partner) who have grown up not knowing what a recession looks like, but it seems we are soon to find out. And it won’t be pretty.

Surely the Government should be focused on taking action to stop the economy grinding to a halt, and preventing rising unemployment in education, tourism, retail, construction and pretty much every other industry in the country.

Oh, and then there’s the equally urgent need to make structural changes to reduce our carbon emissions, to minimise the chances of the other disaster that heralded the start of 2020 (the bushfires) from happening again.

Instead, the Morrison Government is wasting its time on proposed legislation that almost nobody actually wants, except religious fundamentalists who demand it so they can use it as a weapon against non-believers.

In pushing forward with the Religious Discrimination Bill, the Government is wasting our time, too – because we must continue to expend our time, energy and resources to stop this abhorrent and appalling legislation.

If it sounds like I’m sick and tired, that’s only because I am. Sick and tired of having to defend my community against the constant attacks against it, from a Government that can’t find the time to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination, but has miraculously created the time to progress two exposure drafts (and counting) of this law.

And if it sounds like I’m anxious about coronavirus, well I am that too. If we’re being honest, most of us are right now. That anxiety might turn out to be unfounded. Or it could be an entirely rational response to what confronts us. It could even be we aren’t worried enough.

We don’t really know – only the weeks and months ahead will truly tell.

Here’s what we do know. As of this morning, a third Australian has tragically died from COVID-19, out of more than 3,500 deaths – and 105,000 cases – worldwide. Each of those numbers will continue to grow.

But there’s one death that would not be mourned – if the Morrison Government finally did the right thing and abandoned its Religious Discrimination Bill. That would be a mercy killing, and it would be met with relief from most members of the Australian community.

 

Coronavirus

 

For more on this subject, see The Religious Discrimination Bill: What you should know.

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Footnotes:

[i] I should highlight here that government-funded aged care facilities operated by religious bodies are already entitled to discriminate in employment in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, under section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). As I have argued previously this provision already jeopardises the standard of care provided to people accessing aged care services and it must be removed. See Submission to Royal Commission into Aged Care.

[ii] See The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must be Blocked.

[iii] Under clause 42 of the Bill, which effectively exempts ‘statements of belief’ from all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, unless they meet the high bar of being malicious, harassing, threatening, seriously intimidating, vilifying (meaning inciting hatred or violence) or promoting the commission of a serious criminal offence.