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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**********

Take Action

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

  1. Get involved

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

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

2. Defend our community against attacks

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

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

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

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

3. Support campaigns for positive change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Submission to Victorian Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

The Committee Manager

Legislative Assembly Legal and Social Issues Committee

Parliament House, Spring St

East Melbourne VIC 3002

Submitted via: avpinquiry@parliament.vic.gov.au

Thursday 19 December 2019

 

To the Committee

 

Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

 

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on this important subject.

 

I do so as a long-term advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, having previously served on the Committee of Management of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (2004-05, and 2007).

 

In this submission, I will primarily focus on term of reference 8: ‘Possible extension of protections or expansion of protection to classes of people not currently protected under the existing Act.’

 

As the Committee is aware, Victoria currently only provides protection against vilification on the basis of two attributes – race (section 7) and religion (section 8) – under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic).

 

From an LGBTI perspective this is incredibly disappointing, especially because the similar absence of LGBTI anti-vilification protections under Commonwealth law, which only covers race,[i] means that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Victorians currently have no vilification protections at either level.

 

This stands in contrast to the laws of several other Australian jurisdictions.

 

For example, Tasmania protects against ‘incite[ment of] hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of’ sexual orientation,[ii] gender identity[iii] and intersex variations of sex characteristics.[iv]

 

Tasmania’s best practice legislation also prohibits ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of an attribute’, which again includes sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics.[v]

 

The Australian Capital Territory protects against ‘incite[ment of] hatred toward, revulsion of, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’ persons on the basis of gender identity,[vi] intersex status[vii] and sexuality.[viii]

 

Although I note that intersex advocates have called for protection of the attribute of ‘sex characteristics’,[ix] rather than ‘intersex status’, reflecting both the biological rather than identity-based nature of variations of sex characteristics, and to promote consistency with the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.[x]

 

Queensland also prohibits the ‘incite[ment of] hatred towards, serious contempt of, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race, religion, sexuality or gender identity of the person of members of the group.’[xi]

 

Meanwhile, NSW has adopted two separate, and in some ways contradictory, approaches to vilification. It provides civil protection against vilification (which includes ‘incite[ment of] hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’) to binary[xii] transgender people,[xiii] and lesbians and gay men.[xiv]

 

On the other hand, in 2018 NSW Parliament amended the Crimes Act 1900 to provide that ‘[a] person who, by public act, intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards another person or a group of persons on any of the following grounds is guilty of an offence’ and nominated sexual orientation,[xv] gender identity[xvi] and intersex status.[xvii]

 

Overall, then, LGBTI people are protected against vilification in both Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, LGBT people are protected in Queensland, and lesbians, gay men and some trans people have access to civil protection in New South Wales, while all LGBTI people are covered by the narrower criminal offence of ‘publicly threatening or inciting violence’ in that state.

 

Of course, the fact other jurisdictions have adopted a different approach to this issue is not necessarily a compelling argument that Victoria should do the same. However, I do support such an expansion for two main reasons.

 

First, in principle, there is no reason why vilification on the basis of race or religion should be treated any differently to vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

Vilification on any of these attributes is serious, and racial or religious vilification is no more serious than anti-LGBTI vilification. This is especially so given the harm caused by each type of vilification can be severe, and therefore the conduct which contributes to this harm should be prohibited, irrespective of whether it is racist, anti-religious or homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic.

 

Second, in practice, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians remain exposed to unacceptably high rates of discrimination and vilification on the basis of who they are.

 

This was particularly demonstrated during the Commonwealth Government’s 2017 Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey, and its lingering aftermath.

 

This unnecessary, wasteful and divisive vote on the rights of a minority group encouraged people to ‘have their say’ about LGBTI Australians, and inevitably (and, it should be noted, entirely predictably) stirred up significant amounts of public homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia against us.

 

Sadly, once the genie of anti-LGBTI bigotry was deliberately let out of the bottle by the Turnbull Liberal-National Government, it will take the rest of us many years, if not decades, of concerted effort to put it back in again.

 

This can be seen by the ongoing hate-based campaign targeting trans and gender diverse people, and especially trans children, which appears on an almost daily basis in our nation’s newspapers, and elsewhere.

 

As we enter the 2020s, the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia whipped up by the Commonwealth Government in the last decade still haunts us, and will likely continue to do so for some time yet.

 

For both of these reasons, principled and practical, I urge the Victorian Parliament to follow the lead of other jurisdictions and introduce vilification protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

 

Recommendation 1: That the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) be amended to prohibit vilification on the basis of:

  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity, and
  • sex characteristics.

 

I note that the Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019, introduced by Fiona Patten MLC, proposes to do exactly that. It also proposes to add gender, and disability, to the list of attributes that would be protected against vilification under that legislation.

 

While I am not an expert on gender or disability-based vilification, for (at least) the first of the reasons outlined above, I can see no good reason why Victorians should not also be protected against vilification on the basis of these attributes.

 

Recommendation 2: That the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) be amended to prohibit vilification on the basis of gender and disability.

 

One final issue I would like to address in this submission also arises through Ms Patten’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019, and specifically relates to proposed amendments to section 24 of the principal Act which creates the offence of serious racial vilification.

 

These amendments would add the words ‘or recklessly’ to, and remove the words ‘the offender knows’ from, the fault element of this offence.

 

I support both changes. The first change would help create consistency with the offences established in other jurisdictions (including the recently-introduced NSW Crimes Act 1900 provisions).

 

The second would remove the ‘offender knows’ subjective test from this offence, which is important because such harmful conduct should be prohibited irrespective of whether the specific offender knew that was the likely outcome.

 

Recommendation 3: That serious vilification offences in the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) be amended to prohibit intentionally or recklessly engaging in conduct that is likely to incite hatred, or to threaten, or incite others to threaten, physical harm or harm to property.

 

Thank you for taking this submission into consideration as part of this inquiry. Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided, should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

Fiona Patten

Fiona Patten MLC, whose Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019 would protect LGBTI Victorians against vilification.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Section 18C Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

[ii] Section 19(c) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[iii] Section 19(e) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[iv] Section 19(e) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[v] Section 17(1) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[vi] Section 67A(1)(b) Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).

[vii] Section 67A(1)(d) Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).

[viii] Section 67A(1)(g) Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).

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

[x] Which defines sex characteristics as ‘each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’ Yogyakarta Principles plus 10, 10 November 2017.

[xi] Section 124A Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld).

[xii] Because the definition of transgender in section 38A only protects a person:

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

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

[xiii] Section 38S Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW).

[xiv] Section 49ZT Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW).

[xv] Section 93Z(1)(c) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

[xvi] Section 93Z(1)(d) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

[xvii] Section 93Z(1)(e) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).