Germaine Greer, ABC’s #QandA & Transphobia

Updated 22 April 2017:

ABC’s #QandA producers have done it again, inviting notorious transphobe Germaine Greer to appear – yet again – on next Monday night’s episode.

In fact, Ms Greer’s appearance will be, at least, the third since the below post was written about the International Women’s Day episode in March 2015 (with other appearances in April 2016 and September 2016).

The frequent promotion by our national broadcaster of someone whose repugnant views about transgender people should be ignored rather than indulged is galling.

Importantly, Greer has already been given – and used – the opportunity of appearing on #QandA to ‘clarify’ her views on gender identity, but chose instead to continue her attacks on transgender people.

On the 11 April 2016 episode, Ms Greer deliberately mis-gendered Caitlyn Jenner, commenting that:

“I don’t believe that a man who has lived for 40 years as a man and had children with a woman and enjoyed the services, the unpaid services of a wife, which most women will never know, that he then decides that the whole time he’s been a woman, and at that point I’d like to say, “Hang on a minute, “you believed you were a woman, but you married another woman. “That wasn’t fair, was it?””

Here’s a hint Germaine – because you seem to be a bit slow on the uptake – Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, whether you like it or not (and it certainly appears to be the latter).

She even returned to the subject, later in the conversation, to take on a hypothetical middle-aged trans person, saying:

“If you’re a 50-year-old- truck driver who’s had four children with a wife and you decide that the whole time you’ve been a woman, I think you’re probably wrong.”

Imagine, for a second, that statement being made about another social group, say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or Jewish people, or Muslim people – that, despite what you say you are, despite your fundamental identity, I will assert that your identity is incorrect. In effect, I will tell you that the person you say you are doesn’t exist.

This erasure wouldn’t be accepted – and it shouldn’t be accepted in relation to transgender and non-binary gender diverse people, either.

It’s time for Ms Greer to be taken off the speed dial list for ABC’s #QandA producers, and for her to be replaced by a feminist who is capable of accepting life in the 21st century. There is absolutely no shortage from which to choose.

**********

Original Post 8 March 2015 (previous title: My Question to Tony Jones, Annabelle Crabb, #QandA Producers, Mark Scott & The ABC):

On Monday March 9th 2015, the ABC’s Q&A program will hold its first ever all-female show, to align with International Women’s Day (which is today, Sunday March 8).

There have actually been Q&A’s with all-female guests before – although they still featured Tony Jones as host, whereas tomorrow night Annabel Crabb will be moderating the conversation.

This is of course a welcome development, especially given the ongoing under-representation of women in political life in Australia, nowhere more than around the federal Cabinet table (with one of the two women currently in Cabinet, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, also a guest tomorrow night).

It’s just such a shame that it is undermined by the inclusion of Germaine Greer as a panellist.

Don’t get me wrong, Ms Greer was one of the most influential Australians of the 20th century, and her academic and public work on feminism, and improving the situation of women around the world, should be, indeed must be, respected.

Unfortunately, her views on gender identity, and in particular surrounding issues of transgender identity, have steadfastly refused to enter the 21st century. She has been, and remains, a vocal and unapologetic transphobe.

And it is this transphobia which, I believe, makes her an unsuitable guest for Q&A. It is my firm view that the ABC more generally, and Q&A specifically, should not be giving a platform to someone whose opinions are so abhorrent.

Now, that might seem like an extreme statement. Until you recognise that her comments about transgender people, and trans-women in particular, are far more extreme.

For example, in her 1999 book, The Whole Woman, Ms Greer wrote:

“Governments that consist of very few women have hurried to recognise as women men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated to prove it, because they see women not as another sex but as a non-sex.”

“No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight. The insistence that man-made women be accepted as women is the institutional expression of the mistaken conviction that women are defective males.”

Proving that it is possible to learn nothing about a subject in 10 years, Ms Greer wrote the following for The Guardian in 2009:

“Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.”

In 2015, another six years having passed, and yet Ms Greer still doesn’t seem to be any the wiser about transgender issues. Delivering a public lecture at Cambridge University in January, she returned to her discriminatory ways.

According to the Huffington Post, transphobia itself became a target of her speech:

“Women are 51% of the world’s population and [I’ve been told] I’ve got to worry about transphobia… I didn’t know there was such a thing [as transphobia]. Arachnophobia, yes. Transphobia, no.”

Perhaps in an effort to single-handedly demonstrate that transphobia does exist, Ms Greer also repeated her 2009 view that it was a ‘delusion’ to describe the wish of ‘men to become women’, and “suggested that trans women do not know what it is to “have a big, hairy, smelly vagina.””.

And “[s]he further argued that the surgical procedures and medical treatments associated with transitioning are “unethical” because they “remove healthy tissue and create lifelong dependence on medicine.””.

So there we have (at least) three examples, spread across 16 years, of someone who actively belittles and demeans one group within the community simply because of who they are.

Imagine for a second that she (or indeed any potential Q&A guest) made similar comments about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or Jewish people. That they questioned these groups’ ‘authenticity’, called them ‘delusional’ or ‘ghastly parodies’, at the same time as suggesting that racism, or anti-Semitism, were not in fact all-too-real phenomena.

Would the ABC nevertheless go ahead and book them for this program, effectively providing them with a platform for their bigoted views? I expect (and sincerely hope) that they would not.

Which indicates, or at least strongly implies, that the ABC does not consider transphobia to be as serious an issue as racism, or anti-Semitism, or other forms of discrimination.

What makes the decision to invite Germaine Greer onto the program even worse is that she has already appeared, on multiple occasions (and on one of her previous appearances hardly covered herself in glory, in March 2012 disrespecting then Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, by telling her “Face it Julia, you have a fat arse…”)

Are the producers seriously suggesting that a panel of five guests (plus host Annabel Crabb) could not be filled with intelligent and talented women without having to invite a notorious transphobe back for a repeat performance?

The fact that they have done so is, I believe, a serious failure of judgment.

Of course, writing this as a cisgender gay man I am exposing myself to potential criticism, that somehow I am being anti-feminist (for daring to criticise the ‘right’ of someone like Ms Greer to appear).

But I am comfortable enough to know that a) that’s not true and b) that it is more important to stand up for the rights of all of the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

And it is not as if I am alone in making such criticisms. Author Roxane Gay, who is herself appearing on Monday night’s Q&A, had the following to say in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald:

“I think she’s [Germaine Greer’s] bigoted and full of hate. She doesn’t acknowledge transgender women as women. That’s not acceptable. I honestly don’t know why she’s being included. I think it’s going to be uncomfortable.”

I too don’t know why Germaine Greer is being included on tomorrow night’s show. So, in the long tradition of Q&A, I would like to submit the following question:

My question is to Tony Jones, Annabel Crabb, #QandA Producers, Mark Scott and the ABC: Why do you consider it acceptable to provide a public platform for a transphobe like Germaine Greer? Or, in other words, why do you believe transphobia is less offensive than racism or anti-Semitism?

I would love for them (rather than the other guests) to provide a response to this, although I have to say I am not holding my breath.

Transphobe Germaine Greer

Transphobe Germaine Greer

One final thing. As I noted at the beginning, while this is the first all-female show, it is not the first all-female panel. And there have been other panels looking at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, and one program looking specifically at HIV (held during AIDS2014 in Melbourne).

Perhaps a future Q&A could be devoted to LGBTI issues. With five guests, that means there could be at least one lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex person each appearing (noting of course individuals can be more than one of these).

Such a show would go some way towards demonstrating that the LGBTI community is about more than just marriage equality, and that there is also an incredible amount of diversity, both in experience and opinions, within our ranks.

There are a large number of opportunities for such a panel during the year, not only during the (just completed) Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, but possibly even later in 2015 to celebrate 40 years of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in South Australia (the first Australian state to do so). So, Q&A, how about it?

Update 22 April 2017: Later in 2015, #QandA producers actually did stage a program focusing on LGBTI issues. Hosted by gay comedian Tom Ballard, it followed a screening of the documentary Between a Frock and a Hard Place, looking back at the success of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The panel for the ‘#QandGay’ included:

Gay rights activist and author Dennis Altman

Entertainer Paul Capsis

Broadcaster and journalist Julie McCrossin

Christian Democratic Party MP Fred Nile

Transgender woman Julia Doulman and

Student and queer activist Katherine Hudson.

That’s right, not content on including notorious transphobe Germaine Greer on the International Women’s Day episode, #QandA producers apparently believed that a discussion about the progress of LGBTI rights in Australia required the input of notorious homophobe Fred Nile. I guess, based on that logic, the next panel to focus on issues about race will include a neo-Nazi. You know, for balance…

No 2 Australia Finally Adopts Federal Anti-Discrimination Protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People

I have already written about the significance of this achievement (link: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/06/30/federal-lgbti-anti-discrimination-protections-at-last/), so I won’t go into a lot of new detail here.

Still, as far as highlights of 2013 go, it would be pretty difficult to overlook the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act in June. From 1 August, LGBTI people in Australia finally had anti-discrimination protections under federal law. And we only had to wait 38 years after the Racial Discrimination Act, and 29 years since the original Sex Discrimination Act (and yes, that was sarcastic – the passage of this Bill was long, long overdue).

There were two particular aspects of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Act that warrant particular celebration. First, it is the first anti-discrimination law passed anywhere in the world to explicitly include intersex people. That is a pretty amazing achievement, and another testament to the great work and advocacy by OII Australia and other groups.

Second, the legislation includes an amendment that means aged care service providers operated by religious organisations are not legally allowed to discriminate against LGBTI people accessing their services. Again, this is a significant victory, and will help to ensure the generation of LGBTI people who fought so hard – and successfully – for our civil rights, have the opportunity to grow old with dignity.

Nevertheless, the fact that a special ‘carve-out’ is necessary for aged care service delivery by religious organisations emphasises the major weakness of the anti-discrimination protections that were passed: schools, hospitals and other community service organisations that are run by religious groups are legally allowed to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, both employees and service recipients (NB religious organisations do not have exceptions allowing them to discriminate against intersex people).

These religious exemptions or exceptions are contrary to the fundamental concept of anti-discrimination law – that people should not be discriminated against for things that are irrelevant to their capacity to perform a job, or their right to access a service.

Fighting to remove these religious exceptions will be the biggest test for LGBTI advocates and activists over the next 5, 10 or even15 years (achieving marriage equality will likely turn out to be both easier, and quicker, than removing religious exceptions, and religious organisations will probably fight much harder to retain them than to retain a discriminatory Marriage Act).

Still, fight them we must, because for however long a religious school can sack a teacher for being gay or bisexual, or a service organisation can refuse to provide that service because the intended recipient is transgender, then we are not truly equal.

As an indication of how difficult this fight will be, I am re-posting the exchange between myself, now Attorney-General George Brandis and Tony Jones on #QandA back in June, the night before the legislation, including the aged care carve-out, was passed (and, no this is not just – well, not entirely – because I had so much fun doing this):

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: My question is to Senator Brandis. Last Tuesday you announced that the Coalition would block any LGBTI anti-discrimination bill that did not allow religious aged-care service providers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is despite the fact that these agencies themselves do not believe they need this exception. You seem to be putting a theoretical religious freedom above practical protections. Why don’t you believe that older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Australians, people who have grown up when their love was criminalised, who lost friends and lovers to HIV and AIDS, have the right to grow old in dignity and respect that they deserve?

GEORGE BRANDIS: It is a very important question that you ask and let me explain what the Opposition’s position is. But there was one statement in your question which wasn’t quite right. You said that the religious institutions, the churches, didn’t themselves want the exemption so far as concerned aged care facilities. That’s not right. Some said they didn’t want it. Most said they did. So don’t be misled by a misleading statement by the Attorney-General. On the broader issue, when the bill, the sex discrimination bill, was introduced into the Parliament, I took a submission to the Shadow Cabinet and to our party room which was, I think without a dissenting voice, endorsed that we should support it. And the reason we support it is because it is actually the policy we took to the 2010 election, that the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act should extend to sexuality as a protected attribute. The Government knew that they had the Opposition on board with this. In fact, the Government’s measure was itself taken from the Opposition’s report on the broader human rights and anti-discrimination bill, the bill that was abandoned by the Government earlier this year because it was acknowledged to have gone way too far. So we had, on this very tricky and important issue of discrimination against gay people, we had bipartisanship and unanimity. And then into the middle of this harmonious bipartisan moment, the Labor Party, out of the blue, threw in an amendment never anticipated, never expected, that would have caused the religious exemption issue to come into play. Now, if you want to build a consensus around this issue, that gay people should be protected from discrimination by the Sex Discrimination Act, then you would not have done that and the Labor Party, on all other grounds, in all other arenas, has said that it will respect the religious exemption. I am cynical about why the Labor Party did that…

TONY JONES: Okay, George.

GEORGE BRANDIS: …knowing that by introducing the religious exemption, it would make it impossible for that bipartisanship to continue.

TONY JONES: George Brandis, the questioner has his hand up so we’ll go back to you.

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: I would just like to pick up a point you seem to be making. In Senator Humphrey’s dissenting report to the sex discrimination senate inquiry, the two organisations that he quoted justifying the call for religious exception in that circumstance were the Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Women’s League. Neither of them provide religious aged care services. So in that circumstance, why are we trying to impose a religious exception to the detriment of older LGBT people for those groups that don’t actually run those services?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I’m very familiar with that minority report because I was one of the signatories to it and I had a lot to do with drafting it. There were many more submissions to the inquiry from other churches and religious institutions than those two. So don’t infer that because those two were mentioned as a ‘For example’, those were the only ones, because they weren’t.

TONY JONES: Okay. George, I would like the hear other people on this subject. Anne Summers?

ANN SUMMERS: Well, I’m afraid I don’t know much about the legislation. I mean I just obviously would support the principle that LGBT people should be able to go to retirement homes and nursing homes free from any form of discrimination, which I take to be the central point and I know that, you know, one of the problems with homes that are run by some religions is they have been discriminatory in the past and I imagine what we are trying to avoid is the continuation of that discrimination and I would support that.

TONY JONES: Yeah, very briefly, George, before I go back to the other panelists, shouldn’t anti-discrimination be universal?

GEORGE BRANDIS: No.

TONY JONES: Why shouldn’t it?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Anti-discrimination laws should not be universal because the right to fair treatment is one of several very important but sometimes inconsistent values. The right of people who practice or profess a particular religious faith to live their lives and to conduct their institutions in accordance with the precepts of their religious faith is integral to religious freedom and religious freedom is also a fundamentally important value.

TONY JONES: So religious…

GEORGE BRANDIS: And if I may say…

TONY JONES: But just on principle, you are saying that religious freedom supersedes the freedom of your sexuality?

 

 

GEORGE BRANDIS: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Yes, I am. But I am also making a political point. There are – we in the Liberal Party have joined with people in the Labor Party to progress this agenda for years and those who wanted to see the Sex Discrimination Act extend to protect people on the grounds of their sexuality were furious that the Labor Party decided to throw in a curve ball into the debate that deprived the country of the opportunity for unanimity on this. [emphasis added].

 

That exchange, and especially Senator Brandis’ statement that religious freedoms clearly trump our right to not be discriminated against, show just how hard this battle will be.

Underscoring this point is Attorney-General Brandis’ recent appointment of Tim Wilson as a new Human Rights Commissioner, responsible for promoting ‘traditional freedoms’. Recruited from the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs, on 23 January this year Mr Wilson appeared at a Senate hearing into the then draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (transcript here: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/commsen/8eb3bdec-c603-4d2d-9564-674c7bd7b5c2/toc_pdf/Legal%20and%20Constitutional%20Affairs%20Legislation%20Committee_2013_01_23_1612_Official.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22committees/commsen/8eb3bdec-c603-4d2d-9564-674c7bd7b5c2/0000%22).

During his testimony, he argued that anti-discrimination protections should only apply to government employees and services – basically, that anti-discrimination law should not protect people from being fired for being gay, or being expelled for being a lesbian, or being denied a service for being bisexual, transgender or intersex. Given the extremity of these views, if this is any indication of how Attorney-General Brandis will approach anti-discrimination reforms then we will need to be prepared to fight any moves to wind back our hard-won protections in 2014.

In the meantime, the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 will stand as the most significant LGBTI victory of the past 12 months. Thank you to the former Labor Government, then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Senators Penny Wong and Louise Pratt and everyone else who helped to make this happen.

#QandA, Senator Brandis and LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Reforms

On Monday night (June 24th) I had the opportunity to attend the filming of QandA at the ABC studios in Ultimo, Sydney. As on two previous occasions, I was told that my question had been shortlisted. However, unlike those previous occasions, this time I got to ask it.

I feel privileged to have done so. I got to ask Senator George Brandis, the Shadow Attorney-General, live on national television why the Liberal and National Parties were so desperate that religious aged care facilities should be able to discriminate on the basis on sexual orientation and gender identity, that they would scupper the entire anti-discrimination reform if this exception was not preserved.

And it was also timely – the Senate had voted on the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 that evening (where it was passed by the Labor Government and the Greens), and it was due to be voted on by the House of Representatives the following day (and where the numbers were also far closer).

The answer given by Senator Brandis to my question (and to my supplementary) was of course disappointing, confirming that the Liberal and National Parties do not believe that the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians not to be discriminated against is either fundamental or universal.

But it was his answer to Tony Jones’ follow-up that was truly extraordinary, particularly this exchange:

Tony Jones: But just on principle, you are saying that religious freedom supersedes the freedom of your sexuality?

George Brandis: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Yes I am.

All Australians, and especially LGBTI Australians, should consider this statement, from the likely Attorney-General under a Tony Abbott-led Government, before casting their ballot later this year.

There was one final bonus of my appearance on QandA, and it was unexpected. On Thursday (June 27th) the Australian Christian Lobby put out a media release condemning the Government for the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill, and supporting Senator Brandis’ position. This media release included the full transcript of my exchange with Senator Brandis, as well as Tony Jones’ questions.

So, not only do I now have the ‘street cred’ of having been quoted disapprovingly in an ACL media release, but they also saved me the time and effort of having to put together the following transcript. Thanks ACL!

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: My question is to Senator Brandis. Last Tuesday you announced that the Coalition would block any LGBIT anti-discrimination bill that did not allow religious aged-care service providers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is despite the fact that these agencies themselves do not believe they need this exception. You seem to be putting a theoretical religious freedom above practical protections. Why don’t you believe that older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Australians, people who have grown up when their love was criminalised, who lost friends and lovers to HIV and AIDS, have the right to grow old in dignity and respect that they deserve?

GEORGE BRANDIS: It is a very important question that you ask and let me explain what the Opposition’s position is. But there was one statement in your question which wasn’t quite right. You said that the religious institutions, the churches, didn’t themselves want the exemption so far as concerned aged care facilities. That’s not right. Some said they didn’t want it. Most said they did. So don’t be misled by a misleading statement by the Attorney-General. On the broader issue, when the bill, the sex discrimination bill, was introduced into the Parliament, I took a submission to the Shadow Cabinet and to our party room which was, I think without a dissenting voice, endorsed that we should support it. And the reason we support it is because it is actually the policy we took to the 2010 election, that the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act should extend to sexuality as a protected attribute. The Government knew that they had the Opposition on board with this. In fact, the Government’s measure was itself taken from the Opposition’s report on the broader human rights and anti-discrimination bill, the bill that was abandoned by the Government earlier this year because it was acknowledged to have gone way too far. So we had, on this very tricky and important issue of discrimination against gay people, we had bipartisanship and unanimity. And then into the middle of this harmonious bipartisan moment, the Labor Party, out of the blue, threw in an amendment never anticipated, never expected, that would have caused the religious exemption issue to come into play. Now, if you want to build a consensus around this issue, that gay people should be protected from discrimination by the Sex Discrimination Act, then you would not have done that and the Labor Party, on all other grounds, in all other arenas, has said that it will respect the religious exemption. I am cynical about why the Labor Party did that…

TONY JONES: Okay, George.

GEORGE BRANDIS: …knowing that by introducing the religious exemption, it would make it impossible for that bipartisanship to continue.

TONY JONES: George Brandis, the questioner has his hand up so we’ll go back to you.

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: I would just like to pick up a point you seem to be making. In Senator Humphrey’s dissenting report to the sex discrimination senate inquiry, the two organisations that he quoted justifying the call for religious exception in that circumstance were the Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Women’s League. Neither of them provide religious aged care services. So in that circumstance, why are we trying to impose a religious exception to the detriment of older LGBT people for those groups that don’t actually run those services?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I’m very familiar with that minority report because I was one of the signatories to it and I had a lot to do with drafting it. There were many more submissions to the inquiry from other churches and religious institutions than those two. So don’t infer that because those two were mentioned as a ‘For example’, those were the only ones, because they weren’t.

TONY JONES: Okay. George, I would like the hear other people on this subject. Anne Summers?

ANN SUMMERS: Well, I’m afraid I don’t know much about the legislation. I mean I just obviously would support the principle that LGBT people should be able to go to retirement homes and nursing homes free from any form of discrimination, which I take to be the central point and I know that, you know, one of the problems with homes that are run by some religions is they have been discriminatory in the past and I imagine what we are trying to avoid is the continuation of that discrimination and I would support that.

TONY JONES: Yeah, very briefly, George, before I go back to the other panelists, shouldn’t anti-discrimination be universal?

GEORGE BRANDIS: No.

TONY JONES: Why shouldn’t it?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Anti-discrimination laws should not be universal because the right to fair treatment is one of several very important but sometimes inconsistent values. The right of people who practice or profess a particular religious faith to live their lives and to conduct their institutions in accordance with the precepts of their religious faith is integral to religious freedom and religious freedom is also a fundamentally important value.

TONY JONES: So religious…

GEORGE BRANDIS: And if I may say…

TONY JONES: But just on principle, you are saying that religious freedom supersedes the freedom of your sexuality?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Yes, I am. But I am also making a political point. There are – we in the Liberal Party have joined with people in the Labor Party to progress this agenda for years and those who wanted to see the Sex Discrimination Act extend to protect people on the grounds of their sexuality were furious that the Labor Party decided to throw in a curve ball into the debate that deprived the country of the opportunity for unanimity on this.