Submission re the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020

Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment

Submitted online via aph.gov.au  

19 March 2021

To the Committee

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission regarding the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020.

I do so as a long-standing advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and as a gay man who (barely) survived five years at a homophobic religious boarding school in Queensland in the early 1990s[i]and who hopes to help protect trans and gender diverse students from experiencing similar discrimination today.

Contrary to its name, this legislation is not about prohibiting the indoctrination of children, but instead appears to be motivated by prejudice against the gender identity and/or gender expression of trans and non-binary young people.

It is not about providing balance, but is instead aimed at banning the information these children need to grow up feeling safe and supported, and reach their full potential.

And it is not about ensuring all students enjoy an inclusive education, but instead seeks to erase trans and gender diverse kids. From the curriculum, and from the classroom.

These disturbing truths are revealed by Senator Hanson’s Second Reading Speech, where she spends almost half of its word count arguing against ‘gender theory indoctrination in schools’, which she claims ‘involves some teachers and schools pushing the idea that a child’s biological sex does not determine where you are male or female.’

Not only does Senator Hanson fail to understand the difference between sex assigned at birth and gender identity – and the existence of hundreds of thousands of trans and gender diverse Australians demonstrate that these two can and frequently do diverge.

But she also seems to believe that banning curriculum materials which mention said reality of gender diversity will somehow prevent children from becoming trans or non-binary in the first place (from the Second Reading Speech: ‘The preoccupation with gender identity by some teachers and schools is correlated with an increase in children identifying as transgender, which is why I say these educators are transgendering our children’).

I know from bitter personal experience that the consequence of a homophobic education, where the curriculum did not even acknowledge the existence of same-sex attraction let alone affirm that it was a valid sexual orientation, did not make me any less gay, but it did nearly cost me my life.

The same will inevitably be true for trans and gender diverse students should this legislation pass. The choice is not between whether a child is trans or non-binary on one hand, or cisgender on the other. The choice is between whether a trans or non-binary child is happy and healthy, or depressed and at significant risk of self-harm.

On this most basic of outcomes, our schools are currently failing. Badly. The recent findings of the Writing Themselves In 4[ii] survey indicate that, far from schools being overwhelmingly supportive environments where being trans and gender diverse is encouraged, in many, indeed most, there is either silence or active hostility.

From that report:

  • One-half (51.2%; n=1,953) of secondary school participants reported that trans and gender diverse people were never mentioned in a supportive or inclusive way;[iii]
  • Almost three-quarters of trans men (74.3%; n=278) and two-thirds of trans women (67.7%; n=46) and non-binary participants (65.8%; n=746) said that in the past 12 months they had felt unsafe or uncomfortable at their educational institution due to their sexuality or gender identity;[iv]
  • Only 41.0% (n=378) of trans and gender diverse participants in secondary schools reported being able to safely use their chosen name or pronouns in the past 12 months, while only 50.9% (n=469) were able to wear clothes that matched their gender identity;[v] and
  • Over seven-tenths (70.2%; n=2,579) of secondary school participants… reported hearing negative language about gender identity or gender expression sometimes or frequently in the past 12 months.[vi]

Many trans and gender diverse students are not thriving in these toxic environments. Nor are they being ‘created’ by overly-supportive schools and teachers. They are merely doing their best to survive despite the transphobia which far too often surrounds them.

There is one point on which I agree with Senator Hanson. In her Second Reading Speech, she declares that ‘Our children deserve an education that will allow them to reach their potential.’ Unlike Senator Hanson, however, I believe that this statement should apply to all students, and not just those who are cisgender.

Trans and non-binary children have the same right to learn, and grow, as any other child. As every other child. Our schools should be doing more to support them, not less. That includes increasing their visibility in the curriculum, rather than having all references to gender diversity erased because of discriminatory legislation proposed by an extremist Senator.

I call on the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment, and the Parliament more broadly, to reject this attack on some of Australia’s most vulnerable.

Recommendation: That the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020 be rejected in its entirety.

Before I conclude this submission, I would like to raise two additional arguments, both of which militate for rejection of this legislation.

First, the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020 needs to be seen in its wider context. In my view, it is merely one small part of a larger, dangerous and divisive culture war being waged right now against trans and gender diverse Australians.

The proponents of this culture war include organisations that were opposed to the right of all couples to marry irrespective of their sexual orientations, gender identities and/or sex characteristics. Having lost that fight, including through the 2017 same-sex marriage postal survey, they appear to have turned their attention to denying the fundamental rights of trans and gender diverse Australians, and especially trans and non-binary young people.

These organisations have found supporters in columnists, and media publications, that seem happy to publish attacks on the ability of trans kids just to be themselves.

Unfortunately, these organisations also appear to have found supporters in the Senate itself, with the passage of Senator Roberts’ motion number 1055, on Wednesday 17 March 2021. As well as seeking to reinforce the use of binary-only gender descriptors, it included the following concerning clauses (among others):

‘That the Senate notes that:

ii. broad scale genuine inclusion cannot be achieved through distortions of biological and relational descriptors,

iii. an individual’s right to choose their descriptors and pronouns for personal use must not dehumanise the human race and undermine gender.’

In response, I would submit that denying the existence of trans and non-binary people is a far greater threat to ‘broad scale genuine inclusion’. More importantly, a trans or non-binary person affirming their gender descriptors and pronouns does not pose any threat to any person who is prepared to accept and respect other people for who they are.

Nor does the use of diverse gender descriptors and/or pronouns ‘dehumanise the human race’ in any way. Indeed, I would encourage Senators who voted in support of that motion to reflect on exactly who was being dehumanised by its contents.

The anti-trans agenda has found even greater support among state and territory parliaments, including in my jurisdiction of NSW. The state leader of Senator Hanson’s Party has introduced his own legislation seeking to make life much more difficult for LGBTI students, and for trans and non-binary students in particular.

As I have written elsewhere,[vii] the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is:

‘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.’

While discussing the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, I should note that were both it and Senator Hanson’s own Bill to pass their respective Parliaments, it is highly likely the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020 would result in the defunding of NSW public schools.

That is because of the operation of proposed section 22AA of the Australian Education Act 2013 (Cth), and especially sub-section (1)(b):

‘A payment of financial assistance under this Act to a State or Territory is subject to the condition that the State or Territory has in force laws that…

require a staff member (however described) of a school to provide students with a balanced presentation of opposing views on political, historical and scientific issues as such issues arise in the teaching of a subject.’

Given the NSW Bill expressly prohibits the teaching of particular views, including in relation to the scientific diversity of gender identity, it cannot possibly be described as balanced according to that word’s ordinary meaning.

Putting that particular issue to one side, I raise the broader context of the Bill currently before the Committee because it will have consequences outside of its own flawed provisions.

If the Committee, and Parliament, choose to support the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020, it will only embolden the proponents of the culture war against trans and non-binary kids.

On the other hand, the Committee, and Parliament, have the opportunity through this inquiry and subsequent legislative debate to send a strong signal that trans and gender diverse Australians have the right to be themselves, and above all that trans and non-binary children will be protected against further attacks.

The second and final additional argument I would like to raise relates to the impracticability of the Bill itself. Specifically, proposed section (7) of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Act 2008 (Act), provides that:

‘The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority must ensure that:

(a) the national school curriculum is developed and administered to provide a balanced presentation of opposing views on political, historical and scientific issues; and

(b) information, resources, support and guidance that promote a balanced presentation of opposing views on political, historical and scientific issues are provided to the teaching profession.’

However, the Bill does not define what is meant by the term ‘balance’. The Explanatory Memorandum fails to provide further clarification, simply noting this provision requires ACARA ‘to promote a balanced presentation of opposing views where they exist’ (emphasis added).

Which leaves us with Senator Hanson’s Second Reading Speech to assist with legislative interpretation. In the context of her views on, or rather against, climate change science –which dominates the other half of her statement – the notion of ‘balance’ becomes problematic.

It appears Senator Hanson would like to provide an equal platform in the science curriculum to climate change denialism alongside evidence-based climate science which irrefutably shows the earth is heating, and that this heating is caused by human activity. 

To do what Senator Hanson proposes – to provide space in the science curriculum just because some people believe it, rather than because it is based on evidence – would undermine the very nature of science itself.

Nevertheless, it is the application of the Bill’s vague notions of ‘balance’ to the subject of history that reveals just how unworkable this legislation is.

To raise just one example, how would this legislation affect the history curriculum around World War II, and specifically the Holocaust? Abhorrent though their views are, some people continue to espouse Holocaust denialist arguments. To apply the language used in the Explanatory Memorandum, they are ‘opposing views (about history) where they exist’.

It is therefore at least possible that, if passed, the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020 would mandate ACARA to include Holocaust denialism as part of the Australian history curriculum.

Such an outcome is obviously unacceptable. It reflects a Bill that is an unworkable mess, and one that would create a mess of Australia’s curriculum, not just in history, but in politics, science and elsewhere too.

In my view, this impracticability is the inevitable outcome of a Senator trying to impose their ideological obsessions – in this case, climate change denialism, and the erasure of trans and non-binary kids – through the national education system.

I would much prefer our school curriculum to be drafted by experts who understand their subject matter, as well as the learning and developmental needs of children – all children – rather than a Senator who does not seem to even understand her own legislation. 

I sincerely hope the majority of the Committee, and the Parliament, share that preference.

Thank you for considering this submission as part of the inquiry into the Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020. Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided, should the Committee require additional information.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Pauline Hanson has joined her NSW state leader Mark Latham in introducing legislation attacking trans and non-binary kids.
Just like his Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, her Australian Education Legislation Amendment (Prohibiting the Indoctrination of Children) Bill 2020 must be rejected.

Footnotes:

[i] For more on my experiences, see ‘The Longest Five Years’, via https://alastairlawrie.net/2019/03/17/the-longest-five-years/ 17 March 2019.

[ii] Adam O. Hill et al, ‘Writing Themselves In 4: The Health and Wellbeing of LGBTQA+ Young People in Australia’, La Trobe University Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, February 2021, available at https://www.latrobe.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/1198945/Writing-Themselves-In-4-National-report.pdf

[iii] Ibid, p48.

[iv] Ibid, p52.

[v] Ibid, p54.

[vi] Ibid, p57.

[vii] See ‘NSW MPs can be champions for trans and gender diverse kids. Or bullies.’, via https://alastairlawrie.net/2021/02/14/nsw-mps-can-be-champions-for-trans-and-gender-diverse-kids-or-bullies/ 14 February 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr Lawrie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

Kevin Conolly MP

Member for Riverstone

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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

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

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

14 February 2021

Dear NSW MPs

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

This legislation makes me sick.

This legislation is sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t need to be this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Things you can do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Update 28 February 2021

I received the following correspondence on Thursday:

Dear Mr Lawrie

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

[Name omitted]

A/Director, Curriculum Secondary Learners

25 February 2021

Upon receiving this correspondence, I had three main thoughts:

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

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

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

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.

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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.