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

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

14 February 2021

Dear NSW MPs

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

This legislation makes me sick.

This legislation is sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t need to be this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Things you can do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Update 28 February 2021

I received the following correspondence on Thursday:

Dear Mr Lawrie

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

[Name omitted]

A/Director, Curriculum Secondary Learners

25 February 2021

Upon receiving this correspondence, I had three main thoughts:

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

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

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

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.