The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 6: Discrimination in Health, Community Services or Aged Care

This post is the final in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

 

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

 

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to four questions, asking whether they have experienced discrimination in health, community services or aged care, whether any of this discrimination occurred in the past 12 months, whether this discrimination related to religious organisations and to provide an example of the discrimination that they experienced.

 

The responses reveal a disturbing pattern of discrimination across these areas, with many LGBTIQ Australians denied equal access to services simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

The question about whether any of this discrimination occurred in relation to religious organisations is important because of the existence of ‘special rights’ to discriminate for these bodies in most states and territories[ii], leaving LGBTI people in these circumstances without any legal redress.

 

I also encourage you to read the examples provided in response to question four, which reveal some of the different types of discrimination that LGBTIQ people have encountered in health, community services or aged care.

 

 

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia-11

 

Question 1: Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to health, community services or aged care

 

Question 2: Has one or more instances of this discrimination (in health, community services or aged care) occurred in the past 12 months?

 

&

 

Question 3: Did any of this discrimination (in health, community services or aged care) occur in relation to a religious organisation?

 

Of the 1,611 people who answered the first question, 345 – or 21% – said they had experienced discrimination in one of these areas at some point in their lives.

 

Disturbingly, 189 survey respondents[iii] reported experiencing anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care in the past 12 months alone. In other words, more than half of those who had experienced discrimination in these areas reported at least one instance of this mistreatment just in 2016 – that is simply shocking.

 

The proportion reporting discrimination by religious organisations was 3.7%[iv]. This is thankfully lower than the rates reported for discrimination by religious organisations in education (Survey Results, Part 4) and employment (Survey Results, Part 5), although this nevertheless represents roughly 1 in 25 LGBTI people exposed without adequate protections from anti-discrimination schemes.

 

LGBTIQ Status

 

There were some significant differences in reported discrimination in health, community services and aged care between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer survey respondents:

 

Lesbian

 

  • 26.5%[v] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 14.5%[vi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3.5%[vii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Gay

 

  • 19.8%[viii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 9.9%[ix] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 2.7%[x] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Bisexual

 

  • 16.1%[xi] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 8.7%[xii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 4.7%[xiii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Transgender

 

  • 35.3%[xiv] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 24.9%[xv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3.8%[xvi] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Intersex

 

  • 40%[xvii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 13.3%[xviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6.7%[xix] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Queer

 

  • 29.6%[xx] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 19.2%[xxi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 4.6%[xxii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

LGBTIQ Category Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
Lesbian 26.5 14.5 3.5
Gay 19.8 9.9 2.7
Bisexual 16.1 8.7 4.7
Transgender 35.3 24.9 3.8
Intersex 40 13.3 6.7
Queer 29.6 19.2 4.6

 

The highest rate for lifetime discrimination was from intersex respondents, although the small sample size for that group (n=15) means this figure should be treated with some caution. It is also interesting that intersex people reported average rates of recent discrimination in these areas.

 

Of the other groups, gay and particularly bisexual respondents reported lower rates of both lifetime, and recent, discrimination in health, community services and aged care than other groups.

 

In contrast to earlier survey results, lesbians reported higher rates of discrimination on both measures. One possible explanation is greater involvement, and therefore potential exposure to discrimination in, family-related health and community services.

 

Once again, higher rates of discrimination, and especially recent mistreatment, were reported by transgender and, to a slightly lesser extent, queer survey respondents.

 

It is particularly disturbing that one in five queer respondents, and fully one quarter of trans people, experienced discrimination in these areas in the past 12 months alone.

 

Taking a closer look at the trans cohort, and in particular respondents who identified as both trans and another LGBQ category, the figures were as follows:

 

Trans and lesbian: 37.2%[xxiii] ever, and 25.6% in the last 12 months

 

Trans and gay: 40.4%[xxiv] ever, and 28.1% in the last 12 months

 

Trans and bisexual: 26.7%[xxv] ever, and 16.7% in the last 12 months, and

 

Trans and queer: 40.1%[xxvi] ever, and 32.2% in the last 12 months.

 

These groups were largely consistent, although trans and bi respondents reported lower rates on both measures, while trans and queer respondents were more likely to experience recent discrimination (at almost 1 in 3 people overall).

 

Finally, there is little that stands out in the reported rates of discrimination by religious organisations in these areas, with the range from 2.7% (gay) to 6.7% (intersex).

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

 

The rates of discrimination for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were higher for both lifetime discrimination, and especially for recent discrimination, than for their non-Indigenous counterparts.

 

On the other hand, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported lower rates of discrimination by religious organisations in health, community services or aged care. The full figures are as follows:

 

  • 24.6%[xxvii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point (compared to 21.3% of non-Indigenous people)
  • 17.5%[xxviii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months (compared to 11.5% of non-Indigenous people) and
  • 1.8%[xxix] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation (compared to 3.7% of non-Indigenous people).

 

  Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander 24.6 17.5 1.8
Non-Indigenous 21.3 11.5 3.7

 

Age

 

Aged 24 and under

 

  • 15.7%[xxx] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.8%[xxxi] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 3.3%[xxxii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

25 to 44

 

  • 31.1%[xxxiii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 15.8%[xxxiv] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 3.9%[xxxv] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

45 to 64

 

  • 23.7%[xxxvi] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 9.1%[xxxvii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 4%[xxxviii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

65 and over

 

  • 25.8%[xxxix] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 9.7%[xl] experienced any instance in the past 12 months
  • 9.7%[xli] reported discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Age cohort Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
24 and under 15.7 10.8 3.3
25 to 44 31.1 15.8 3.9
45 to 64 23.7 9.1 4
65 and over 25.8 9.7 9.7

 

Given their lesser years of life experience, it is perhaps unsurprising that young people experienced lower levels of lifetime discrimination in these areas. Although the fact that more than 1 in 10 LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under reported homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic discrimination in health or community services over the past 12 months is alarming.

 

What is perhaps most surprising is that people aged 25 to 44 were most likely to report both lifetime discrimination in these areas (with almost a third of respondents affected), as well as anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in the past 12 months (at almost 1 in every 6 respondents).

 

Meanwhile, the highest rate of reported discrimination by religious organisations was from LGBTIQ people aged 65 and over – which is possibly explained by recent interactions with religious-operated aged care services.

 

State or Territory of Residence

 

The final demographic category according to which I have analysed the survey results is the state or territory of residence:

 

New South Wales

 

  • 21.4%[xlii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.9%[xliii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 2.7%[xliv] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Victoria

 

  • 22.8%[xlv] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 12.4%[xlvi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 4%[xlvii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Queensland

 

  • 22%[xlviii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 11.4%[xlix] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6.1%[l] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Western Australia

 

  • 22.1%[li] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 12.8%[lii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 2.7%[liii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

South Australia

 

  • 19.5%[liv] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 14.3%[lv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3%[lvi] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Tasmania

 

  • 16%[lvii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.4%[lviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 1.9%[lix] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

  • 23.2%[lx] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.7%[lxi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 7.1%[lxii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Northern Territory

 

  • 20%[lxiii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10%[lxiv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 5%[lxv] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

State or territory Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
NSW 21.4 10.9 2.7
Victoria 22.8 12.4 4
Queensland 22 11.4 6.1
WA 22.1 12.8 2.7
SA 19.5 14.3 3
Tasmania 16 10.4 1.9
ACT 23.2 10.7 7.1
NT 20 10 5

 

These results were largely consistent across state and territory boundaries (thus lending weight to the overall figures, discussed earlier).

 

The lowest lifetime rates of discrimination in health, community services or aged care were in Tasmania, while the highest (but only just) were in the ACT. Meanwhile, South Australians were most likely to experience discrimination in the last 12 months, while LGBTIQ people in Queensland and the ACT reported the highest rates of discrimination in these areas by religious organisations.

 

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Question 4: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of the discrimination you experienced in relation to health, community services or aged care [Optional]:

 

This question allowed respondents to provide examples of the anti-LGBTIQ discrimination they had experienced and, just as with previous survey results, these comments are often confronting to read.

 

A lightly-edited[lxvi] version of the answers to this question – providing examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in relation to health, community services or aged care – can be found at the following link:

 

 

question-4-examples-of-health-community-services-and-aged-care-discrimination

 

These answers demonstrate a range of different ways in which LGBTIQ people were mistreated in comparison to cisgender heterosexual people, including:

 

One of the most common stories was denial of LGBTIQ relationships, including refusal to treat partners as next of kin:

 

“I was asked if I was in a relationship and what not and gender during a visit to a new and local doctor, I said yes and gender non-binary and I was put down as single and female. Single because my partner was a woman and the system didn’t have an option for same sex couples and it was “easier”.”

 

“Having my female partner not being able to be with me in emergency because it was family and partners only. (Had no family in the region at the time)”

 

“My wife was in emergency at [redacted] Hospital and the doctor did not want to discuss with me her condition or provide me with a carers certificate because of our sexuality”

 

“While an inmate in the mental health unit, the doctor assigned to me was very uncomfortable when my partner was in the room. And even though I gave permission, he would not treat my partner with respect or discuss my care with her.”

 

“At a hospital where my partner of over ten years was not accepted as my next of kin. I had to put my son down”

 

“Was at a hospital after becoming very ill and my girlfriend was holding my hand. Once my nurse noticed, her attitude towards me changed and she told me that “friends” couldn’t visit”

 

“While my girlfriend was in hospital and had come in via ambulance I was denied access to her / the ability to see her while she was in the emergency department because a receptionist didn’t believe we were partners. Clearly thought I was ‘just a friend’”

 

“I was critically ill and my partner was ignored by hospital staff as my next of kin”

 

Another common story related to an assumption that being gay (or bi, or trans) automatically equates to being at high risk of HIV, including being subjected to additional testing or ‘safety precautions’ – or, in one case, being denied testing:

 

“Feeling like the dentist did not want to treat me because I answered the at risk of HIV questions (in the 90s)”

 

“Disclosing that I had a same sex partner opened me up to extra medical testing before procedures, including unnecessary HIV testing unrelated to my procedure.”

 

“I was informed that due to being bisexual, I was at a high risk of STDs, regardless of the fact that I am married and in a monogamous relationship.”

 

“A doctor was dismissive of my health concerns and wrote me off as an HIV magnet for being transgender.”

 

“Because I am open about being gay, I have been repeatedly advised by health practitioners to have an HIV test when consulting them about a range of health issues that have no relation to HIV. Of course, I have had HIV tests and would do so again if I thought I had been at risk.”

 

“A GP refused to test me for HIV as he had “better things to do than take care of sexually promiscuous people like” me. I had not told him anything about my sex life apart from the fact that I was gay – this was purely a homophobic assumption on his behalf. He suggested I go to a free sexual health centre in the city instead.”

 

It is unsurprising that these attitudes translated to adverse treatment of people who are HIV-positive:

 

“A doctor was bombastic when I presented at ED when he learned I was HIV +. He just carried on about my HIV Status and not the issue I presented for”

 

Several respondents cited the blanket ban on sexually-active gay men donating blood as being anti-LGBTIQ discrimination:

 

“Apparently just cause I’m gay I can’t donate blood, even tho [sic] I get tested all the time probably more times than a straight person would in their life time”

 

“Gay men are not allowed to give blood if they’ve had sex within the past year. It is alienating and presumptuous”

 

This approach also applies to some transgender people:

 

“Refused to donate blood. Because blood donation is a purely altruistic act, this makes one feel apart from the community. The policy of the local blood collection organisations is to treat all transgender people like gay men, irrespective of the sex they were assigned at birth, the state of the individual’s legal document, the individual’s genitals, etc.”

 

There was a range of stories about homophobia from GPs:

 

“I had a sore throat and my GP suggested that it may be because men weren’t designed to suck cock.”

 

“Doctor called me a homo, and multiple doctors being uncomfortable discussing sexual health issues once finding out my sexuality.”

 

“Being told by a doctor that I am more prone to disease because I am homosexual”

 

“A GP at my local health centre treated me with caution and wrote a ridiculous warning on my medical file for anyone to see. “Warning: Homosexual relations”.”

 

Lesbian respondents also described a variety of discrimination they had experienced:

 

“Talking about sex with GPs and health providers, there’s an assumption that sex is only with the opposite sex and that nothing else is sexual. Even when in a monogamous same sex relationship doctors would assume and ask questions about male sex partners and dismiss my actual partner. Ie, could you be pregnant? When they know I’m a cis woman only having sex with a cis woman.”

 

“Local doctor told me that I couldn’t go on the pill to stop my painful periods due to endometriosis because I was not in a sexually active relationship with a man, that because I was lesbian and not at risk of falling pregnant there was no need to be put on the pill”

 

“I have had a doctor tell me that I shouldn’t get a pap smear because I had never had sex with someone who had a penis, which is just wrong information and could be detrimental to my health. This denial was also mixed with her confusion and homophobia around the fact that I was queer and I felt very uncomfortable and shamed.”

 

This included a particularly-horrific situation involving sexual assault:

 

“I have received many instances of refusal of care or denial of optimal care by health professionals because of my sexuality. But the one that still traumatises me is when I went for a Pap smear with a female gp and she inserted her fingers into my vagina (for what I now know is an optional test) without telling me. I screamed and told her to stop, but she continued saying people like me like this kind of thing…she raped me. While looking at me in the face. Because I am gay.”

 

As with previous survey results, the most frequent stories of discrimination came from trans respondents. This included blatant transphobia, as well as deadnaming and misgendering:

 

“I was referred to by a receptionist to one of her co-workers as ‘a dude who wants to cut his d*ck off.’ The other replied with ‘well, you don’t want those types to breed.’”

 

“In 2005 I was involved in a car crash which necessitated a precautionary visit to the emergency dept at [redacted] in Perth. An orderly could not contain his mirth at me being a transgender person and kept commenting about it and laughing at me several times over a period of hours while I was required to stay motionless on my back awaiting a spinal scan.”

 

“I was repeatedly misgendered by nurses in a public hospital despite my efforts to correct them”

 

“being continually misgendered and deadnamed at a hospital”

 

“No doctor has refused to treat me but I have had doctors refuse to refer to me as a male once they find out, or assume every ailment must be linked to being transgender.”

 

It also included a refusal to provide essential trans-related medical services:

 

“Doctor telling me I should not get PBS for testosterone because it’s a lifestyle choice not a medical condition”

 

“Had a doctor tell me to stop HRT because it was dangerous, he did not seem to think being trans was real.”

 

“Was prevented from getting access to medical treatment and to start my transitioning for over 6 yrs by doctors.”

 

“My first psychiatrist was a gatekeeper who denied me access to services essential to transition.”

 

Several trans respondents complained about systemic discrimination in place simply to access transition:

 

“I think having to get diagnosed with gender dysphoria and have your life torn open by a psychologist is fucking pretty discriminatory. It’s bullshit. My body, my rules.”

 

“the entire process for getting access to gender related assistance is transphobic”

 

This comment seemed to sum up the feelings of many:

 

“Most doctors are totally clueless about how to treat trans people.”

 

A concerning theme to several stories was homophobic, biphobic and transphobic treatment of LGBTIQ people accessing mental health services:

 

“I was in a psychiatric ward for severe mental health issues and I mentioned that I was queer. The registrar fixated on it and tried to make it out that my sexuality was the root of all my problems. He tried to pathologise it.”

 

“I also had a session with a counsellor who referred to me as having a split personality when they found out I was Transgender.”

 

“Psychologists were the worst, though. I have serious mental illness and part of the problem was sexual assault trauma and problems with harassment and discrimination because of being bisexual. The psychologists told me that it didn’t exist and that I had to choose and that “if you want women it means you need mothering in your relationships so work on that with men”. Dangerous lies.”

 

“My counsellor didn’t “believe” in LGBT people or issues and told me I just needed to “get a job, join a gym and eat healthy””

 

“In a psychiatric ward I got told that my being gay was a part of my mental illness and a contributing factor to my depression”

 

Domestic and family violence was also cited as an area of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination:

 

“I’ve contacted domestic violence places for support groups and been told ‘women only’ even though I’m non-binary, assigned female at birth, and don’t pass as male. When I’ve asked where I’m meant to go, they’re suggested men’s behavioural change programs (I was the victim, I ended up with PTSD!) and then said they had no idea.”

 

“DV situation cops didn’t take a woman abusing a woman seriously”

 

“Having no services for DV Support to get help after a 8 yr DV relationship. Mainstream services having no understanding of LGBTIQ relationships/ community”

 

Finally, there were several examples of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination on the basis of religious belief:

 

“I was hospitalised for a suicide attempt. While there, I was sent a chaplain instead of a nurse to watch me. He spent 6 hours telling me how I was going to hell and how much god hated me and my gender was all in my head.”

 

“I was offered help by the salvation army after I was forced to leave home. I was told that I could just go home, once I mentioned that the cause of my situation was abuse related to my sexuality, the belief seemed to be that I should somehow change my mind and then my parents would accept me.”

 

“I was refused for a counselling service because the organization was religion based and insisted they wouldn’t work with someone that was beyond help like me.”

 

“My job in regards to [employment-related organisation] was with a religious org and it ran aged care services. The org wouldn’t recognise an aging couple’s relationship and they were placed in 2 separate care homes”

 

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Conclusion

 

The results of these four questions have confirmed that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in health, community services or aged care is relatively widespread, and has a significant impact on many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.

 

This includes more than 1 in every 5 respondents people reporting lifetime experience of such discrimination, with 11.7% reporting at least one instance of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care in the last 12 months alone.

 

Some groups within the community reported even higher rates than these already high averages, with intersex and trans people, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people and people aged 25 to 44 particularly affected.

 

While the rates of discrimination by religious organisations were comparatively low, it is important to note than in most cases, such discrimination is entirely lawful, due to the wide-ranging and completely unjustified religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws in the majority of Australian jurisdictions.

 

The personal examples of discrimination in health, community services and aged care shared in response to question 4 demonstrate the different forms such prejudice can take, with many heart-breaking stories of homophobia, transphobia and even discrimination by mental health services.

 

As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the last in my series of six articles reporting the results of my The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia survey.

 

Thank you to all those people who participated in the survey, and of course to everyone who has read the results I have published. Hopefully, through this process we have demonstrated the ongoing problems caused by homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in Australia – and the urgent need for our lawmakers and decision-makers to take action to address these issues.

 

Finally, if you would like to continue to receive articles on LGBTI rights, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

 

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

 

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people.

Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)

 

Footnotes:

[i] The previous posts can be found here:

Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

Part 3: Where Discriminatory Comments Occur and Their Impact 

Part 4: Discrimination in Education

Part 5: Discrimination in Employment

[ii] Noting that discrimination against LGBTI people accessing aged care services from Commonwealth-funded aged care facilities operated by religious organisations is prohibited by the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (although those same protections do not cover LGBTI employees in those facilities).

[iii] 343 people responded to question 2: 189 yes/154 no.

[iv] 344 people responded to question 3: 59 yes/285 no.

[v] 317 people responded to question 1: 84 yes/233 no.

[vi] 46 respondents.

[vii] 11 respondents.

[viii] 626 people responded to question 1: 124 yes/502 no.

[ix] 62 respondents.

[x] 17 respondents.

[xi] 508 people responded to question 1: 82 yes/426 no.

[xii] 44 respondents.

[xiii] 24 respondents.

[xiv] 365 people responded to question 1: 129 yes/236 no.

[xv] 91 respondents.

[xvi] 14 respondents.

[xvii] 15 people responded to question 1: 6 yes/9 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xviii] 2 respondents.

[xix] 1 respondent.

[xx] 480 people responded to question 1: 142 yes/338 no.

[xxi] 92 respondents.

[xxii] 22 respondents.

[xxiii] 43 respondents total, with 16 yes to question 1 and 11 yes to question 2.

[xxiv] 57 respondents total, with 23 yes to question 1 and 16 yes to question 2.

[xxv] 120 respondents total, with 32 yes to question1 and 20 yes to question 2.

[xxvi] 183 respondents total, with 75 yes to question 1 and 59 yes to question 2.

[xxvii] 57 people responded to question 1: 14 yes/43 no.

[xxviii] 10 respondents.

[xxix] 1 respondent.

[xxx] 860 people responded to question 1: 135 yes/725 no.

[xxxi] 93 respondents.

[xxxii] 28 respondents.

[xxxiii] 431 people responded to question 1: 134 yes/297 no.

[xxxiv] 68 respondents.

[xxxv] 17 respondents.

[xxxvi] 274 people responded to question 1: 65 yes/209 no.

[xxxvii] 25 respondents.

[xxxviii] 11 respondents.

[xxxix] 31 people responded to question 1: 8 yes/23 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xl] 3 respondents.

[xli] 3 respondents.

[xlii] 524 people responded to question 1: 112 yes/412 no.

[xliii] 57 respondents.

[xliv] 14 respondents.

[xlv] 378 people responded to question 1: 86 yes/292 no.

[xlvi] 47 respondents.

[xlvii] 15 respondents.

[xlviii] 245 people responded to question 1: 54 yes/191 no.

[xlix] 28 respondents.

[l] 15 respondents.

[li] 149 people responded to question 1: 33 yes/116 no.

[lii] 19 respondents.

[liii] 4 respondents.

[liv] 133 people responded to question 1: 26 yes/107 no.

[lv] 19 respondents.

[lvi] 4 respondents.

[lvii] 106 people responded to question 1: 17 yes/89 no.

[lviii] 11 respondents.

[lix] 2 respondents.

[lx] 56 people responded to question 1: 13 yes/43 no.

[lxi] 6 respondents.

[lxii] 4 respondents.

[lxiii] 20 people responded to question 1: 4 yes/16 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[lxiv] 2 respondents.

[lxv] 1 respondent.

[lxvi] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information

-Removing potentially defamatory comments and

-Removing offensive remarks.

I have also corrected some spelling/grammatical mistakes for ease of reading.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

This post is the second in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to three questions about experiences of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence, including publishing their personal stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic violence.

It makes for particularly tough reading – not only are the reported rates of physical abuse, both over their lifetimes and specifically during the last 12 months, far too high, many of the examples of violence that were provided are, frankly, brutal reminders of the unacceptable state of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australia today.

If the topics covered in this post raise any issues for you, contact details of relevant support services are provided at the end of the article.

the-state-of-homophobia-biphobia-transphobia-6

Question 1: Have you ever experienced physical abuse or violence because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?

&

Question 2: Has one or more instances of this physical abuse or violence occurred in the past 12 months?

Overall, 26% of survey respondents – 431 people out of the 1,647 who answered question 1 – indicated they had experienced physical abuse or violence because of their LGBTIQ status at some point in their life.

128 people – or 30% of respondents who answered yes to question 1[ii] – then answered question 2 by stating that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence had occurred during the last 12 months.

Including those who answered no to question 1, that means approximately 7.8% of all respondents reported experiencing physical abuse or violence in the past year alone.

It should be noted that these rates are significantly lower than the numbers who had previously reported receiving anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment or abuse. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence in Australia is unacceptably high:

  • 1 in 4 LGBTIQ people have been physically assaulted simply because of who they are, and
  • 1 in every 13 LGBTIQ respondents has experienced such abuse or violence in the last 12 months alone.

The following sections show the results to these two questions according to different demographic groupings, including LGBTIQ status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, age, and residence by state and territory.

LGBTIQ Status

There were some potentially surprising results in reported rates of lifetime anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence. However, the respective answers of different groups to question 2 were more predictable – and more depressing for that reason. The results for both questions were as follows:

Lesbian: 24.1% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[iii]

Gay: 34.4% ever, and of those 23.6% during the past 12 months[iv]

Bisexual: 14.6% ever, of those 44.2% in last 12 months[v]

Transgender: 33.6% ever, of those 47.2% in last 12 months[vi]

Intersex: 46.7% ever, of those 71.4% in last 12 months[vii], and

Queer: 27.1% ever, of those 44% in last 12 months[viii].

The rates for intersex respondents were clearly the highest – on both measures – although the small sample size (n=15) should be remembered at this point. Of the remaining LGBTQ groups, the category reporting the highest lifetime rates of physical abuse or violence were people identifying as gay, followed closely by transgender people.

There are a range of possible explanations for this, including physical bullying of gay students during school, and ‘historical’ incidents of anti-gay violence that may have happened many years ago (and there is some evidence for both factors in the personal stories of violence detailed below)

Sadly, the relatively high rates reported by transgender respondents were largely predictable. Disturbingly, they were higher again where a person indicated they were both transgender and gay – with 45.6% reporting lifetime physical abuse or violence. These numbers are obviously horrific [ix].

It is equally worrying to look at the proportion of each group overall who reported an instance of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence in the past 12 months:

  • Lesbian: 6.5%
  • Gay: 8.1%
  • Bisexual: 6.5%
  • Transgender: 15.6%
  • Intersex: 33.3%
  • Queer: 12%

On this measure, the proportion of gay respondents reporting physical abuse or violence is much lower, and is in fact similar to both lesbian and bisexual survey respondents.

However, this finding demonstrates the disproportionate impact of recent anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse and violence on transgender (including people who identified as both transgender and gay, where the figure was 24.6%, on 1 in 4 people reporting abuse in the last year alone), intersex and queer members of the community.

Therefore, while there have historically been high rates of homophobic (and specifically anti-gay), transphobic and intersexphobic violence in Australia, there appears to be comparatively far higher rates of transphobic, intersexphobic and anti-queer physical abuse during the last 12 months.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

As with verbal harassment and abuse, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported higher rates of physical abuse or violence than their non-Indigenous LGBTIQ counterparts.

36.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents reported anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse at some point during their lifetime[x], which is higher than both gay and transgender people, discussed above. Of those, 40.9% indicated at least one instance of such violence had occurred in the past 12 months[xi].

Taken together, this means that 15% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported homophobic, biphobic or transphobic physical abuse or violence during the past year – double the rate of non-Indigenous LGBTIQ Australians (7.5%).

Age

There were some significant differences in terms of experiences of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence depending on the age cohort of the respondent:

24 and under: 18.7% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 47.6% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xii]

25 to 44: 33.1% ever, and of those 27.2% in the last 12 months[xiii]

45 to 64: 39.9% ever, and of those 16.4% in the last 12 months[xiv], and

65 and over: 30.1% ever, and of those 9.1% in the last 12 months[xv].

Thankfully, the proportion of LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under reporting lifetime physical abuse or violence was lower than their counterparts in other age cohorts. Of course, this result should be expected given their lesser ‘life experience’ (ie fewer years in which abuse may have occurred), but that was not the case for verbal harassment or abuse which was reported at similar rates to older groups.

Rates of lifetime homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse or violence then increased for people aged 25 to 44, and again for people aged 45 to 64, before declining for people aged 65 and over.

One possible explanation for this is the age at which these groups ‘came of age’: people aged 65+ turned 18 before 1970, and lower visibility of LGBTIQ people (and especially some communities within this umbrella term) may have lessened their experiences of direct physical violence (while exacerbating other problems, including social exclusion and mental health issues).

On the other hand, people aged 45 to 64 generally turned 18 in the 1970s and 1980s, and likely bore the brunt of societal backlash to increased visibility of non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual Australians, including via physical assaults.

It is however worrying that for those people who turned 18 in the supposedly more accepting 1990s and 2000s (who are now aged 25 to 44), the rates of physical abuse or violence remained relatively high – with 1 in 3 survey respondents in this demographic affected.

Turning to anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse in the past 12 months, the results were very different:

  • 8.8% of all respondents aged 24 or under reported abuse in the last year, compared to
  • 7.1% of people aged 25 to 44
  • 6.5% of people aged 45 to 64, and
  • 2.8% of people aged 65 and over.

Once again, we see that current homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse and violence is disproportionately affecting younger LGBTIQ Australians – who are 35.4% more likely to report such abuse than people aged 45 to 64.

Despite all of the progress that we have made, on so many fronts, the fact that 1 in 12 LGBTIQ people aged under 25 reported physical abuse or violence in the last year alone is a confronting, and in many ways, devastating, statistic.

State or Territory of Residence

The rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic violence did not differ greatly between most states and territories:

NSW: 26% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xvi]

Victoria: 29.5% ever, and of those 29% in the last 12 months[xvii]

Queensland: 26.4% ever, and of those 21.2% in the last 12 months[xviii]

Western Australia: 28.1% ever, and 45.2% in the last 12 months[xix]

South Australia: 25.2% ever, and of those 29.4% in the last 12 months[xx]

Tasmania: 19.8% ever, and of those 45.4% in the last 12 months[xxi]

ACT: 14.3% ever, and of those 37.5% in the last 12 months[xxii], and

Northern Territory: 23.8% ever, and of those 20% in the last 12 months[xxiii].

Despite the similarity between jurisdictions, there are three things here worth noting:

  • Western Australia had by far the highest overall proportion of LGBTIQ people reporting physical abuse or violence in the last year, at 12.4%[xxiv]
  • The ACT has reported significantly lower levels of physical abuse than the national average (5.4% in the past 12 months), and was also significantly lower in terms of verbal harassment or abuse, and
  • Despite having the second lowest lifetime rates of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, Tasmania actually reported the second highest rates in the past 12 months (9%), repeating a similar pattern for verbal abuse.

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Question 3: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of this homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence [Optional]:

This question allowed respondents to provide an example of the physical abuse or violence they had experienced, irrespective of when it had occurred.

As anticipated, many of the stories that have been shared are both incredibly powerful, and profoundly upsetting.

At this point, I would recommend that you only read further if you are emotionally and mentally prepared to do so. To help you decide whether to continue, please be aware that some stories involve details of physical violence and injury, as well as sexual and child sexual assault.

A lightly-edited[xxv] version of the stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence that were shared can be found at the following link:

question 3 physical abuse or violence comments

From my perspective, several consistent themes emerge from these stories, including:

The most common type of story shared involved anti-LGBTIQ abuse in the school environment (at least 38 respondents mentioned school). For example:

“Other kids would throw food at me at school and threaten to kill me. One time a group of bigger boys held me down and drew penises on my face at school. Teachers did nothing. People just laughed. I wanted to die.”

“During the HSC, the day of my last exam. A group of guys waited for me around the corner of the hall. They grabbed me by the neck and dragged me around the corner whilst beating me.”

“I was violently assaulted during high school. A boy at my school also stalked me and threatened to rape me to ‘make me straight.’”

A number of respondents explicitly indicated that the homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse occurred some time ago:

“Many years ago at high school. Managed to steer clear of physically violent homophobic behaviour since then.”[xxvi]

“I was bullied relentlessly when I was at school. It was a long time ago (in the 70s) and it included physical abuse. I’m one of the lucky ones, I survived. Many other young LGBTI Australian youth didn’t… and this is still continuing today, validated by politicians and religious ‘leaders’ who have no concern about the harm they are doing by imposing their hetero-normative agendas.”

“I have been punched in the street a few times in the 1990s and once had a bottle broken over my head and was stabbed in the face with the broken bottle (year 2000).”

Several stories involved anti-lesbian violence, including attempts of ‘corrective rape’ and sexual assault:

“I have been bashed in the street for holding my partner’s hand, I have been threatened with rape for dancing with another woman, I have had the police stand in my lounge room making threatening gestures when my partner and I reported a crime, refusing to do anything because ‘some people just don’t like dykes’ and we’d ‘just have to get used to that.’”

“Men grope me, stick their hands down my pants in public places and try to force me to kiss them. When I say I’m a lesbian it’s always either ‘that’s okay I don’t mind’, ‘I can change that’, ‘you’ve just never had a good fuck’.”

“When I lived in Queensland (not where I currently reside) I had strangers at parties come up to my girlfriend and I and forcibly try to dance with us and grope us and insist that we should have sex with them/have a threesome because we need ‘some real fucking’.”

Another common theme was anti-trans violence, such as the ‘policing’ of gender appearance or behaviour, and again including sexual assault:

“Was physically abused by a middle-aged woman who was confused by my gender presentation and took it upon herself to check + feel my chest for the presence of breast tissue (which was underneath my binder).”

“I’ve been sexually assaulted by partners because of my gender non-conforming behaviour, to try and ‘correct’ me into being femme.”

“When I wasn’t out about being a trans man, this bi girl that also knew I was bi thought it was ok and appropriate to sexually assault me and grab my vagina.”

“I was sexually assaulted when a group of young men found out I was transgender.”

A disturbing proportion of stories involved physical abuse and violence from parents, family members and partners in intimate relationships:

“My dad tried to beat the gay out of me a lot growing up.”

“As a child I was beaten at different times by both parents, one publicly, and being told to man up.”

“My mum hit/tried to strangle me when I came out to her as trans.”

“A boyfriend at the time – I told him I’m queer (pan, if you like) and he started grabbing me without my consent sexually in public.”

At least a dozen stories referred to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in spaces and places that the LGBTIQ community call ‘home’:

“I got king-hit/coward-punched whilst walking down Oxford Street in Sydney during Mardi Gras.”

“I have been poofter bashed – just off Oxford St – and was once assaulted by police officers (which I took action about).”

“When I lived in Sydney in the mid-1990s I was bashed by a group of ‘skin-heads’ on Darlinghurst Rd as I walked home after work.”

“Physically assaulted and knocked unconscious by men loitering at a McDonalds on a popular gay night strip in Melbourne.”

“Several years ago I was assaulted in Malvern Rd Prahran by 5 guys yelling death to fags – luckily for me as the group kicked me as I lay helpless a driver stopped and they got scared off.”

And then there were some stories that defied easy ‘categorisation’, but which were so powerful that I felt compelled to reproduce here:

“I’ve been verbally abused, threatened by men, chased by youths with knives and survived an attempted rape and murder by a straight man who saw me come out of a gay pub.”

“Attacked during lgbt rally, egged until I got welts, physically attacked, had people bang on the windows of my room + house and yell they’d kill me etc.”

“Glass bottles thrown at my head and at my lesbian friends because we needed to “get back to the Valley with the freaks” and “needed them to show us dick” so we would stop being into women; guy holding up my girlfriend by her throat because we kissed in a pub; sexual assaults to me (several) partly because they knew I was bisexual so I was “automatically up for sex”. I wasn’t. There was no consent. I even said no and they said I was lying because I am bi.”

“I, my partner and her elderly father were all bashed by a bunch of teenage boys who chased us from the train station to our home kicking us, hitting us, spitting at us, throwing things at us and verbally abusing us. They then attacked my father-in-law when he attempted to come to our aid. He was in his mid-60s at the time of the attack.”

Some shorter comments were nevertheless shocking:

“Being beaten by 3 older men who had followed me home after I left my boyfriend on public transport. I was 16.”

“My partner and I were assaulted whilst kissing to say good bye.”

“My partner and I had glass beer bottles thrown at us walking down the street while holding hands.”

“I was last assaulted for my sexuality in early 2013, and dozens of times before that.”

Finally, and disturbingly, there were at least three stories in which the person who experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse tried to downplay the extent of the violence:

“Bashed (not badly) numerous times by strangers, usually with onlookers. Extreme harassment and threats from police on several occasions.”

“Mild beatings by groups of boys in late high school.”

“Just being punched in the face.”

Describing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in this way is likely part of a psychological coping strategy for these respondents – but, from this author’s perspective, there is no circumstance in which the word ‘just’ ought to appear in front of the phrase being punched in the face.

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Conclusion

The results of this survey suggest that 1 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence at some point in their lives.

30% of that group – or 1 in 13 out of all survey respondents – reported anti-LGBTIQ physical violence in the past 12 months alone, confirming once again that 2016 was an awful year for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.

These proportions were even higher for some sections within the community. While the overall rate was 7.8% reporting abuse in the last year, the equivalent figure was:

  • 15.6% of transgender people
  • 33% of intersex people
  • 12% of queer people
  • 15% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people.

LGBTIQ respondents age 24 and under were also 35.4% more likely to report recent homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse than people aged 45 to 64.

Some of our political leaders like to espouse the idea that Australia is an inclusive and tolerant country, welcoming of differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. That may be the case for some people – but these figures reveal a different, harsher, reality for many LGBTIQ Australians.

And, if anyone doubts the impact of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse and violence in this nation, I encourage them to read the personal stories from survey respondents, detailed above. If they do, they will come away with a better understanding of what life is like for far too many people.

As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the second in a series of six articles reporting the results of my ‘The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia’ Survey.

The next four will be published over the remainder of March and April, with part 3 – which focuses on the places where prejudice occurs – to be published in a couple of weeks.

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au

Footnotes:

[i] The first was published two weeks ago: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

[ii] Only people who answered yes to question 1 were provided with an opportunity to answer question 2, with 430 people completing the second question and 302 (70%) indicating they had not experienced physical abuse or violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the past 12 months.

[iii] Question 1: 78 yes/246 no. Question 2: 21 yes/56 no.

[iv] Question 1: 220 yes/419 no. Question 2: 52 yes/168 no.

[v] Question 1: 76 yes/445 no. Question 2: 34 yes/43 no.

[vi] Question 1: 125 yes/247 no. Question 2: 58 yes/65 no.

[vii] Question 1: 7 yes/8 no. Question 2: 5 yes/2 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re intersex status must be treated with caution. For this reason, intersex status is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[viii] Question 1: 133 yes/358 no. Question 2: 59 yes/75 no.

[ix] Other figures for people who identified as both transgender and another category:

-Transgender and lesbian: 30.2% lifetime abuse, including 14% of all trans and lesbian respondents experiencing such abuse in the last 12 months alone

-Transgender and bisexual: 26.6% lifetime abuse, 15.3% in the last 12 months, and

-Transgender and queer: 33.5% lifetime abuse, 18.1% in the last 12 months.

[x] Question 1: 22 yes/38 no.

[xi] Question 2: 9 yes/13 no.

[xii] Question 1: 165 yes/719 no. Question 2: 78 yes/86 no.

[xiii] Question 1: 144 yes/291 no. Question 2: 31 yes/114 no.

[xiv] Question 1: 110 yes/166 no. Question 2: 18 yes/91 no.

[xv] Question 1: 11 yes/25 no. Question 2: 1 yes/10 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people aged 65 and over must be treated with caution. For this reason, this group is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[xvi] Question 1: 140 yes/399 no. Question 2: 38 yes/101 no.

[xvii] Question 1: 113 yes/270 no. Question 2: 33 yes/81 no.

[xviii] Question 1: 66 yes/184 no. Question 2: 14 yes/52 no.

[xix] Question 1: 43 yes/90 no. Question 2: 19 yes/23 no.

[xx] Question 1: 34 yes/101 no. Question 2: 10 yes/24 no.

[xxi] Question 1: 22 yes/89 no. Question 2: 10 yes/12 no.

[xxii] Question 1: 8 yes/48 no. Question 2: 3 yes/5 no.

[xxiii] Question 1: 5 yes/16 no. Question 2: 1 yes/4 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re the Northern Territory must be treated with caution. For this reason, the NT is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[xxiv] Full results: NSW 7.1%, Victoria 8.6%, Queensland 5.6%, WA 12.4%, SA 7.4%, Tasmania 9%, ACT 5.4%, NT 4.8%.

[xxv] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information, and

-Removing offensive (for example, racist) remarks.

I have also chosen to exclude a couple of stories where the connection between the physical abuse or violence experienced and anti-LGBTIQ motivation was not clear, and one longer story which could not be edited to retain key points without also potentially disclosing the identity of the person concerned.

[xxvi] It seems one of the lessons many learned at school was to hide or minimise visible displays of same-sex behaviour, to avoid future abuse or violence.

What’s Wrong With the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991?

 

This post is the seventh in a series examining the anti-discrimination laws that exist in each Australian jurisdiction and analysing how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination. Previous articles have looked at the frameworks in Victoria, NSW, the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory, the ACT and Western Australia.

 

Specifically, each post has considered three main aspects of LGBTI anti-discrimination legislation:

  • Protected attributes
  • Religious exceptions, and
  • Anti-vilification coverage.

 

Contrary to what some might expect, Queensland’s laws are at least ‘average’, and in some cases, particularly in relation to anti-vilification laws, ‘better than average’, across these three areas. Unfortunately, that says more about the major flaws that exist across most anti-discrimination laws in Australia than it necessarily does about the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (‘the Act’) itself.

 

There are still significant problems that must be addressed with this legislation, beginning with the issue of who is – and isn’t – covered.

 

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Protected Attributes

 

Like most of its counterparts in other states, Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act does not protect all parts of the LGBTI community from discrimination.

 

On the positive side, it does cover all lesbian, gay and bisexual people – with discrimination on the basis of ‘sexuality’ prohibited in section 7 of the Act (defined as “sexuality means heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality” in the Dictionary found in the Schedule).

 

On the less positive side, it only covers some transgender people, and not others. That is because, while section 7 also includes ‘gender identity’, the Act’s definition of this term is out-dated:

 

“gender identity, in relation to a person, means that the person-

(a) identifies, or has identified, as a member of the opposite sex by living or seeking to live as a member of that sex; or

(b) is of indeterminate sex and seeks to live as a member of a particular sex.”

 

While this does protect transgender people who were previously identified as male but now identify as female (and vice-versa), it does not include non-binary trans people. In order to rectify this situation, the Act’s definition of gender identity should be updated to reflect the definition used in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984[i].

 

Even worse off than transgender Queenslanders, however, are people with intersex traits – while part (b) of the definition of ‘gender identity’ may apply to some intersex people in limited circumstances, there is no stand-alone protected attribute for intersex people and therefore no clear-cut protection against discrimination for them.

 

Again, this could be rectified with the introduction of intersex status as a protected attribute, using the definition of ‘intersex status’ as featured in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984[ii].

 

Overall: While the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 does protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and some transgender people, from discrimination, it leaves other trans people (especially those whose identity is non-binary) and most intersex people out in the cold. This should be fixed as a matter of priority, by updating the definition of gender identity, and adding intersex status as a protected attribute.

 

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Religious Exceptions

 

Queensland has adopted a unique approach to religious exceptions through the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, in which case I will spend more time than normal discussing this element.

 

The primary religious exception is found in section 109:

 

“Religious bodies

(1) The Act does not apply in relation to-

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(b) the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(c) the selection or appointment of people to perform functions in relation to, or otherwise participate in, any religious observance or practice; or

(d) unless section 90 (Accommodation with religious purposes) applies – an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is –

(i) in accordance with the doctrine of the religion concerned; and

(ii) necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the religion.

(2) An exemption under subsection (1)(d) does not apply in the work or work-related area or in the education area.”

 

As I have observed in previous posts, the first three sub-sections ((a), (b) and (c)) are at least concerned with the appointment of ministers of religion, or the conduct of religious celebrations, and are therefore more likely to be excusable on the basis of protecting ‘religious freedom’.

 

Unfortunately, the wording used in sub-section (d) – “in accordance with the doctrine of the religion concerned and necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the religion” – is incredibly broad, and permits discrimination against a wide range of people in terms of service delivery.

 

However, sub-section (2) is unusual and, as far as I can tell, not replicated in any other state or territory legislation. In essence, it provides that religious bodies cannot discriminate against employees unless their role is directly connected with ‘religious observance or practice’. It also means religious schools cannot discriminate against students on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity[iii].

 

If section 109 was the only source of religious exceptions in the legislation, Queensland’s Act would almost be assessed as positive. However, there are other sections that complicate this assessment.

 

Chief among them is section 25:

 

“Genuine occupational requirements

(1) A person may impose genuine occupational requirements for a position.

Examples of genuine requirements for a position-

…Example 4-

Employing persons of a particular religion to teach in a school established for students of the particular religion

(2) Subsection (3) applies in relation to-

(a) work for an educational institution (an employer) under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes; or

(b) any other work for a body established for religious purposes (also an employer) if the work genuinely and necessarily involves adhering to and communicating the body’s religious beliefs.

(3) It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

Example for paragraph (a)

A staff member openly acts in a way contrary to a requirement imposed by the staff member’s employer in his or her contract of employment, that the staff member abstain from acting in a way openly contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs in the course of, or in connection with the staff member’s employment.

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.

(4) Subsection (3) does not authorise the seeking of information contrary to section 124[iv].

(5) For subsection (3), whether the discrimination is not unreasonable depends on all the circumstances of the case, including, for example, the following-

(a) whether the action taken or proposed to be taken by the employer is harsh or unjust or disproportionate to the person’s actions;

(b) the consequences for both the person and the employer should the discrimination happen or not happen.

(6) Subsection (3) does not apply to discrimination on the basis of age, race or impairment.

(7) To remove any doubt, it is declared that subsection (3) does not affect a provision of an agreement with respect to work to which subsection (3) applies, under which the employer agrees not to discriminate in a particular way.

(8) In this section-

religion includes religious affiliation, beliefs and activities.”

 

That is obviously a lot to take in. So here are my three key observations:

 

  • This section expands the religious exceptions offered under section 109, so that religious bodies can discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity against teachers and other staff in schools generally, but against employees in other religious organisations only “if the work genuinely and necessarily involves adhering to and communicating the body’s religious beliefs”.
  • In both cases this is limited by a potentially vague ‘reasonableness test’ (determining “whether the action taken or proposed to be taken by the employer is harsh or unjust or disproportionate to the person’s actions”), and
  • In both cases it is also limited by a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clause – discrimination is only permitted where “the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs” and the religious school or body cannot ask about sexuality or gender identity. This would therefore protect teachers or other staff who did not discuss their sexual orientation at their school or workplace[v].

 

Of course, as even the US Government and Military has eventually been forced to concede, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a terrible policy, ‘invisibilising’ LGBT people in the workplace, forcing them to deny who they are and silencing them in everyday conversations (for example, gay teachers would not be able to openly acknowledge their partners at all in the classroom or even in the staffroom). It also exposes LGBT employees to potential harassment and bullying.

 

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is also a terrible policy with respect to LGBT students, because it denies them visible role models to look up to, or to seek relevant information from.

 

But, and here is the extraordinary part, these exceptions – allowing religious schools and other bodies to discriminate against ‘out’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees – are actually the second-best religious exceptions in Australia (behind only Tasmania), because they don’t allow these organisations to explicitly deny employment solely on the basis of sexuality or gender identity.

 

The other, much more unambiguously positive part of the Act’s religious exceptions is that section 25 does not apply to students – which means that, while a religious school can reject students who are not from a particular religion, they cannot reject students on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.

 

Overall: Queensland’s approach to religious exceptions is unique, and its protection of LGBT students against discrimination is to be welcomed. However, other parts of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provide overly-generous rights to religious schools and other bodies to discriminate against LGBT employees, and people accessing services, and these should be significantly curtailed.

 

Specifically, subsection 109(1)(d), which allows discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity in relation to service-provision, should be repealed.

 

And, while the limitations on discrimination in relation to employment (including a ‘reasonableness test’ and a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clause) might mean Queensland’s legislation is better than most, permitting discrimination in such circumstances is still unacceptable in the 21st century, meaning section 25 should ultimately also be abolished.

 

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

 

Queensland is one of only four Australian jurisdictions to provide anti-vilification protections to LGBT people – the others being NSW, the ACT and Tasmania (noting that Commonwealth anti-vilification law only applies to race).

 

And unlike NSW, the Queensland Act treats all types of prohibited vilification exactly the same – establishing vilification on the basis of race, religion, sexuality and gender identity in the same section (124A)[vi], and creating the offence of serious racial, religious, sexuality or gender identity in another (section 131A).

 

This also means that the same procedures are used, and that the same penalties apply (“for an individual – 70 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment; or for a corporation – 350 penalty units”), which are both positive features.

 

Of course, given the out-dated definition of gender identity used, and the Act’s exclusion of intersex status, not all parts of Queensland’s LGBTI community are currently protected against vilification – although this could be rectified at the same time as the protected attributes, described earlier.

 

One other, relatively minor, fault that should also be corrected is that, while the offences themselves cover sexuality and gender identity alongside race and religion, the titles of the relevant Parts or Chapters do not (“Part 4 Racial and religious vilification” and “Chapter 5A Serious racial and religious vilification”).

 

This obviously does not impact on the substantive rights involved. However, it may be misleading to a casual reader of the legislation, and in some cases may cause people to mistakenly believe that they are not protected against vilification. As a result, it would be preferable if these titles were renamed to be genuinely inclusive.

 

Overall: Queensland’s anti-vilification protections are comparatively strong, but could be further strengthened by updating the definition of gender identity, adding intersex status, and ensuring that the titles of relevant Parts/Chapters are inclusive and not potentially misleading.

 

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Other Issues

 

There are two additional serious problems with the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, and it would be negligent to conclude this analysis without addressing them.

 

The first is the truly awful subsection 28(1), which states:

 

“Work with children

(1) It is not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of lawful sexual activity[vii] or gender identity against a person with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under subdivision 1 if-

(a) the work involves the care or instruction of minors; and

(b) the discrimination is reasonably necessary to protect the physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of minors having full regard to all the relevant circumstances of the case, including the person’s actions.”

 

This is genuinely appalling – the very law that is supposed to protect transgender people against discrimination implies that trans employees may be unsuitable to work with children, and could even be a threat to the ‘physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of minors’.

 

There was never a time that such a prejudiced subsection would have been acceptable, and it most definitely is not in 2016 – there is no excuse for the Palaszczuk Labor Government to leave this provision in place today.

 

The second additional flaw is found in section 45A, which states that the protection against discrimination in goods and services, located in section 46, “does not apply to the provision of assisted reproductive technology services if the discrimination is on the basis of relationship status or sexuality.”

 

Again, there can be no justification for such discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people in terms of their access to in-vitro fertilisation, artificial insemination or gamete, zygote or embryo transfer. This section must also be repealed as part of the overall much-needed updating of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

 

**********

 

Footnotes:

[i] Defined in section 4 of that Act as “gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerism or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.”

[ii] Defined in section 4 of that Act as “intersex status means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

(a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or

(b) a combination of female and male; or

(c) neither female nor male.”

[iii] Although section 42 does allow religious schools to discriminate against “applicants who are not of the particular sex or religion”. A similar provision allows religious boarding schools to discriminate on the basis of sex or religion as well (section 89).

[iv] “124 Unnecessary information

(1) A person must not ask another person, either orally or in writing, to supply information on which unlawful discrimination might be based.”

[v] Without looking at any relevant case law, it is unclear how well, or poorly, the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ approach serves transgender people in the workplace.

[vi] “Section 124A Vilification on grounds of race, religion, sexuality or gender identity unlawful

(1) A person must not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race, religion, sexuality or gender identity of the person or members of the group.

(2) Section (1) does not make unlawful-

(a) the publication of a fair report of a public act mentioned in subsection (1); or

(b) the publication of material in circumstances in which the publication would be subject to a defence of absolute privilege in proceedings for defamation; or

(c) a public act, done reasonably and in good faith, for academic, artistic, scientific or research purposes or for other purposes in the public interest, including public discussion or debate about, and expositions of, any act or matter.”

[vii] The Act defines lawful sexual activity as “means a person’s status as a lawfully employed sex worker, whether or not self-employed”.

What’s Wrong With Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984?

This post is now the sixth in a series examining the anti-discrimination laws that exist in each Australian jurisdiction and analysing how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination. Previous articles have looked at the frameworks in Victoria, NSW, the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory and the ACT.

Specifically, each post has considered three main aspects of LGBTI anti-discrimination legislation:

  • Protected attributes
  • Religious exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

Unfortunately, as we shall see below, the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (‘the Act’) has significant problems in terms of all three elements, making it serious competition to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 for the (unwanted title of) worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law in the country.

With a WA state election scheduled for 11 March 2017, now less than five months away, the onus is on all major parties to indicate whether, and if so how, they will remedy the Act’s serious flaws.

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Protected Attributes

As with most Australian anti-discrimination laws (other than those in the Commonwealth, Tasmania and the ACT), the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 only protects some parts of the LGBTI community from discrimination, but not others.

On the positive side, it does include all lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the community – with ‘sexual orientation’ defined in section 4 as:

“in relation to a person, means heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism or bisexuality and includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism or bisexuality imputed to the person.”[i]

On the negative side, however, it completely excludes intersex people from anti-discrimination protection, an omission that should be rectified immediately.

On the negative and downright bizarre side, the Western Australian Act adopts a completely unique approach that results in only transgender people whose gender identity as been officially recognised by the State Government benefiting from anti-discrimination coverage.

Specifically, rather than prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity (which would be best practice), the Act only prohibits discrimination against “a gender reassigned person on gender history grounds”.[ii]

Section 4 of the Act states that “gender reassigned person means a person who has been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 or a certificate which is an equivalent certificate for the purposes of that Act”, while section 35AA prescribes that “[f]or the purposes of this Part, a person has a gender history if the person identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex.”

Prima facie, the combination of these two definitions mean that only people who have transitioned from male to female, or vice versa, and had that transition recognised by the Government via the Gender Reassignment Act are protected from discrimination. People who have yet to transition, or any trans person who is non-binary, are not covered by these clauses. This is a serious flaw, and one that must be corrected by the WA State Government.

Conclusion: While lesbian, gay and bisexual Western Australians are included in the protected attributes of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, intersex people are completely excluded, as are a large number of trans people (either because their gender identity has not been formally recognised under the Gender Reassignment Act, or because their gender identity is non-binary).

Both flaws should be rectified as a matter of priority, potentially using the definitions of gender identity and intersex status found in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

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Religious Exceptions

While it’s approach to trans anti-discrimination regulation is unique, the Equal Opportunity Act’s provisions surrounding the rights of religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people are pretty standard for a state and territory (or even Commonwealth) law[iii]. Unfortunately, that ‘standard’ allows homophobic, biphobic and transphobic discrimination in an incredibly wide range of circumstances.

Section 72 of the Act states:

Religious bodies

Nothing in this Act affects-

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of any religious order; or

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(c) the selection or appointment of persons to perform duties or functions for the purposes of or in connection with, or otherwise to participate in any religious observance or practice; or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

The first three sub-sections ((a), (b) and (c)), can potentially be justified on the basis that there is a direct connection with the appointment and training of religious office-holders, or the conduct of religious ceremonies.

However, sub-section 72(d) is effectively a blanket exception that allows any religious organisation – including religious-operated schools, hospitals and community services – to discriminate against LGBT employees, and LGBT people accessing their services. This is clearly unacceptable.

Religious schools don’t even need to rely on this broad exception. That’s because they have additional, specific protections in section 73, which allow them to discriminate against teachers and other employees (sub-section (1)), contract workers (sub-section (2)), and even students (sub-section (3)).

Sub-section (1) is incredibly generous (with sub-section (2) adopting similar wording):

“(1) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

Even though the wording used in relation to students is slightly narrower, it nevertheless envisages discrimination against students on the basis of sexual orientation or against gender reassigned persons on the basis of their gender history:

“(3) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act, other than the grounds of race, impairment or age, in connection with the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in favour of adherents of that religion or creed generally, but not in a manner that discriminates against a particular class or group of persons who are not adherents of that religion or creed.”[iv]

Given education is conducted in the public sphere, it is, in nearly all circumstances, at least partially paid for by taxpayers, and above all it is the right of students to receive a comprehensive and inclusive education free from discrimination, there can be no justification for the continued existence of the exceptions for religious schools outlined in section 73. They, just like sub-section 72(d), should be repealed as a matter of priority.

Conclusion: The religious exceptions contained in the WA Equal Opportunity Act are, sadly, similar to those that exist in most Australian jurisdictions, in that they provide religious organisations generally, and religious schools in particular, extremely generous rights to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans employees and people accessing services. These religious exceptions must be curtailed to better protect LGBT Western Australians against discrimination.

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

This will be the shortest section of this post because, well, there isn’t any: there is currently no prohibition on vilification of LGBTI people under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984. This lack of protection is similar to the Commonwealth, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Interestingly, the Act also excludes racial vilification. Instead, Western Australia has chosen to outlaw racial vilification via the Criminal Code 1913, which creates a total of eight related offences, including:

Section 77. Conduct intended to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Any person who engages in any conduct, otherwise than in private, by which the person intends to create, promote or increase animosity towards, or harassment of a racial group, or a person as a member of a racial group, is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years” and

Section 78. Conduct likely to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Any person who engages in any conduct, otherwise than in private, that is likely to create, promote or increase animosity towards, or harassment of, a racial group, or a person as a member of a racial group, is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 5 years.”[v]

However, there are exactly zero offences outlawing vilification of LGBTI people in the Code. This disparity is completely unjustified, especially given the real and damaging impact of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia on people’s lives (similar to the detrimental impact of racism).

If vilification offences are to be retained, as I believe they should (even if some right-wing Commonwealth MPs and Senators may disagree), then they should be expanded to cover vilification against members of the LGBTI community.

Conclusion: Neither the Equal Opportunity Act nor the Criminal Code prohibit LGBTI vilification, despite the latter creating a number of offences against racial vilification. Similar offences should also be established against the vilification of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Western Australians.

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Other Issues

We have already seen, under ‘Protected Attributes’ above, that the Equal Opportunity Act offers only limited anti-discrimination protections to Western Australia’s trans and gender diverse community.

Unfortunately, this ‘anti-trans’ approach is replicated in a number of other sections of the Act, and is even featured in the Long Title: “An Act to promote equality of opportunity in Western Australia and to provide remedies in respect of discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, family responsibility or family status, race, religious or political conviction, impairment, age, or publication of details on the Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website, or involving sexual or racial harassment or, in certain cases, on gender history grounds” [emphasis added].

Note that, not only does ‘gender history’ come last, it is also the only ground which features the qualifier ‘in certain cases’.

The objects of the Act are also exclusionary with respect to trans people. While object (a) in section 3 the Act seeks to ‘eliminate, so far as possible’ discrimination on grounds including sexual orientation and “in certain cases, gender history”, object (d) excludes trans people altogether:

“to promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the equality of persons of all races and of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation, religious or political convictions or their impairments or ages.”

Apparently, promoting recognition and acceptance of transgender people is not a priority.

This approach is also reflected in substantive parts of the Bill. Whereas section 35ZD allows discrimination in favour of people on the basis of their sexual orientation “to ensure that persons of a particular sexual orientation have equal opportunities with other persons” and “to afford persons of a particular sexual orientation access to facilities, services or opportunities to meet their special needs” (ie positive discrimination), there is no equivalent section for transgender people (or gender reassigned people with a gender history).

There is even a sub-section (74(3a)) that ensures an aged care service cannot discriminate solely in favour of transgender people (even though other aged care services can discriminate on the basis of ‘class, type, sex, race, age or religious or political conviction’[vi]).

Even the way some sections of Part IX, which aims to provide ‘Equal opportunity in public employment’, are drafted indicate that transgender discrimination is to be considered separately. For example, section 140 states:

“The objects of this Part are-

(a) to eliminate and ensure the absence of discrimination in employment on the ground of sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility or family status, sexual orientation, race, religious or political conviction, impairment, age or the publication of relevant details on the Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website; and

(aa) to eliminate and ensure the absence of discrimination in employment against gender reassigned persons on gender history grounds; and

(b) to promote equal employment opportunity for all persons.”[vii]

It is bizarre that even the protected attribute of ‘publication of relevant details on the Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website’ is included with sex, race and sexual orientation (among others), while gender reassigned persons are included in a separate sub-section.

Whenever the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 is updated to ensure all transgender and gender diverse people are protected from discrimination, these additional sections will need to be updated to ensure that, as a protected attribute, gender identity is finally treated equally to other attributes.

Footnotes:

[i] With discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation then prohibited under Part IIB of the Act.

[ii] Section 35AB.

[iii] Other than Tasmania’s exceptions, which are significantly narrower and, to a lesser extent, Queensland’s.

[iv] Interestingly, the phrase “other than the grounds of race, impairment or age” is omitted from the exceptions relating to teachers and contract workers – presumably religious schools can discriminate on these attributes then too.

[v] Other related offences include:

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

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

80A Conduct intended to racially harass

80B Conduct likely to racially harass

80C Possession of material for display with intent to racially harass

80D Possession of material for display that is likely to racially harass

[vi] Sub-section 74(2)(a).

[vii] Section 146 includes a similar delineation.

Letter to Paul Lynch re LGBTI Anti-Vilification Reform

In June, NSW Shadow Attorney-General Mr Paul Lynch MP introduced the Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016. Details of the Bill can be found here.

 

In short, the legislation seeks to implement the recommendations of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s 2013 Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in NSW.

 

Importantly, in doing so the Bill ignores the Report’s (implicit) approach to treat racial vilification differently from the other forms of vilification currently prohibited by the Anti-Discrimination 1977: namely homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification.

 

Just as importantly, however, the Bill fails to update the definitions of these grounds, and also fails to extend anti-vilification coverage to bisexual and intersex people in NSW.

 

The following is my letter to the Shadow Attorney-General about his Bill, sent before the return of State Parliament next week (Tuesday 2 August 2016).

 

**********

 

Mr Paul Lynch MP

Shadow Attorney-General

100 Moore St

Liverpool NSW 2170

liverpool@parliament.nsw.gov.au

 

24 July 2016

 

 

Dear Mr Lynch

 

LGBTI Anti-Vilification Reform

 

I am writing to you about your Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’), currently before NSW Parliament.

 

Specifically, I am writing to congratulate you on what is included in the Bill, while also encouraging you to amend the Bill to address other inadequacies within the NSW anti-vilification framework.

 

First, to the positives. I welcome the fact that the Bill removes one of the more bizarre and, in my opinion, completely unjustifiable aspects of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (‘the Act’) – that the penalties for the offences of serious racial and HIV/AIDS vilification are different to, and slightly higher than, the penalties for the offences of serious homosexual and transgender vilification.

 

By consolidating these offences in one place – the proposed new section 91N of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 – your Bill would ensure there is no difference in severity in how these offences are treated by the Government, and therefore avoids sending the signal that some forms of vilification are worse than others.

 

I also welcome the fact you have avoided one of the key pitfalls of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in NSW, which, given it exclusively focused on racial vilification, only suggested changes to the laws surrounding one of the four existing attributes that attract anti-vilification protection.

 

Were these recommendations to be implemented in their entirety (and no other changes made), it would exacerbate, rather than remove, the inequality in treatment between serious racial vilification and the three other current grounds (homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification).

 

I further support the substantive amendments proposed in your Bill, including:

 

  • Removing the requirement for the Attorney-General to give consent to prosecution for any vilification offence
  • Extending the time within which prosecutions for vilification offences must be commenced from 6 months to 12 months (addressing a flaw in the current Act highlighted by the case of Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2-13] NSWSC 44)
  • Adopting the recommendation of the Law and Justice Standing Committee report that recklessness is sufficient to establish intention to vilify
  • Clarifying which public acts constitute unlawful vilification
  • Providing that vilification applies whether or not the person or members of the group vilified have the characteristic that was the ground for the promotion of hatred, contempt or ridicule concerned, and
  • Ensuring that the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board refers vilification complaints to the Commissioner of Police where the President considers that the offence of serious racial, transgender, homosexual or HIV/AIDS vilification may have been committed.

 

In terms of the proposal to replace ‘incitement’ with ‘promotion’ within the definition of vilification itself, while I have not had the opportunity to examine this amendment in great depth, on a prima facie basis it appears reasonable.

 

Finally, I agree with your decision to relocate the offence of serious vilification to the Crimes Act 1900, for the reasons outlined in your Second Reading Speech:

 

“Certainly, the legal effect of a provision should be the same whether it is located in the Crimes Act or in the Anti-Discrimination Act. However, there is significant symbolism in the provision being located in the Crimes Act in the new section 91N. And symbolism, as everyone in this Chamber knows, is important.”

 

Now, I will turn my attention to the shortcomings of the Bill and, unfortunately, in my opinion they are significant.

 

Specifically, while what the Bill includes is to be welcomed, it is flawed because of what it excludes. It fails to address one of the main problems of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, which is that it only protects some parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and not others.

 

As I have detailed elsewhere (see “What’s wrong with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?”), the out-dated terminology used in the Act means that only lesbian, gay and transgender people are protected (and even then not all transgender people are covered).

 

Meanwhile, there is still no anti-vilification protection for bisexual people, or for intersex people, in NSW (with the absence of Commonwealth LGBTI anti-vilification laws only compounding this problem).

 

In my view, the limited coverage offered by the NSW anti-vilification framework is an even greater problem than those issues identified by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law.

 

As such, I believe this issue should be addressed before, or at least simultaneously to, those provisions contained in your Bill. Otherwise, the differential treatment of groups within the LGBTI community would only become further entrenched.

 

For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to consider amending your Bill to ensure that all sections of the LGBTI community are protected against vilification. To achieve this, you may wish to incorporate the definitions included in the historic Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013.

 

This would involve:

 

  • Replacing the current protected attribute of homosexual with ‘sexual orientation’ (and which would therefore cover bisexual people)
  • Amending the protected attribute of transgender to the more inclusive term ‘gender identity’, and
  • Introducing the new protected attribute of ‘intersex status’.

 

If you are interested in pursuing these changes then I also encourage you to consult with the LGBTI community, and its representative organisations, beforehand (to ensure that any consequential difficulties are avoided).

 

To conclude, and despite the issues described above, I genuinely welcome the provisions contained in the Crimes and Anti-Discrimination Legislation Amendment (Vilification) Bill 2016. However, by extending the scope of vilification offences to protect bisexual and intersex people, I sincerely believe you would significantly improve your legislation.

 

Thank you for your consideration of this letter. I am of course happy to discuss any of the issues raised at the contact details provided below.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

print.jpg

NSW Shadow Attorney-General Paul Lynch

 

What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

This post is the second[i] in a series looking at anti-discrimination laws around Australia and how well, or in many cases how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people against discrimination and vilification.

 

This includes analysing three key issues: protected attributes, religious exceptions and anti-vilification coverage. Unfortunately, as we shall see below, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 has serious shortcomings in all three of these areas, and NSW has gone from having the first gay anti-discrimination laws in Australia, to having the worst LGBTI anti-discrimination laws in the country.

 

It is clear that this legislation is in urgent need of major reform. What is less clear is whether the current NSW Government, and Parliament, is up to the task.

 

Protected Attributes

 

As indicated above, NSW was the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce anti-discrimination protections for ‘homosexuals’. In fact, it passed these laws in 1982, two years before homosexuality was decriminalised, meaning that a gay man could not be discriminated against for who he was (in some areas of public life at least), but could still be convicted for having sexual intercourse in private.

 

The problem is that the protected attributes included in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 have not kept pace in the decades since. There was one positive clarification in 1994 that “homosexual means male or female homosexual”[ii] (to overcome any erroneous assumption that homosexuality only referred to gay men).

 

However, the only major expansion in the past 34 years has been the introduction of transgender as a protected attribute in 1996:

 

Section 38A Interpretation

A reference in this Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person, whether or not the person is a recognised transgender person[iii]:

(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, or

(c) who, being of indeterminate sex, identifies as a member of a particular sex by living as a member of that sex,

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

 

While this reform was essential, it nevertheless fails to cover all discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Just as in Victoria, the scope of this protected attribute would appear to focus only on binary genders – covering those people whose sex was designated as male at birth, but now identify as female (and vice versa). It does not cover other people along a more inclusive gender identity spectrum, including people who do not identify as either male or female.

 

Section 38A of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is therefore no longer best practice, and a new, more inclusive definition[iv] should be adopted to ensure all transgender people benefit from anti-discrimination protection.

 

Intersex people are even worse off under the Act. Paragraph (c) of the definition above offers their only protection under NSW law, and, in the same way as Victoria, it is problematic because:

  • It inappropriately conflates intersex status, which relates to physical sex characteristics, with gender identity, and
  • It only appears to protect people with intersex variations where they identify as either male or female.

 

To remedy this situation, a stand-alone protected attribute of ‘intersex status’ should be introduced, potentially based on the world-first protections included in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013[v].

 

There is, however, one section within the LGBTI community that is not included in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, not even in an out-dated, fundamentally flawed or only partially-effective way. In fact, one of the five letters of the acronym has no anti-discrimination coverage at all: bisexual people.

 

NSW is the only jurisdiction in Australia where its anti-discrimination laws do not cover discrimination on the basis of bisexuality. That is as bizarre as it is offensive.

 

And it must be remedied at the earliest possible opportunity by the NSW Parliament, with either the introduction of a new stand-alone protected attribute of ‘bisexual’, or (preferably) by the modernisation of the current protected attribute of ‘homosexual’ to instead refer to ‘sexual orientation’, in line with the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984[vi].

 

Summary: The protected attributes contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 are the narrowest in the country, only offering protection to gay men, lesbians, and some transgender people. It needs to be updated to align with the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, with a modern definition of gender identity and a new protected attribute of intersex status. And it must be extended to offer anti-discrimination coverage to bisexual people, whose exclusion is a gross oversight that has been allowed to stand for far too long.

 

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Religious Exceptions

 

In contrast to its narrowly-defined protected attributes, the religious exceptions included in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act are in fact the broadest in Australia.

 

These loopholes allow religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender people in a wide variety of circumstances, and are so generous that they substantially, and substantively, undermine the overall purpose of the legislation (which is supposedly “[a]n Act to render unlawful racial, sex and other types of discrimination in certain circumstances and to promote equality of opportunity between all persons”).

 

The main exceptions permitting anti-LG&T discrimination by religious organisations are found in section 56 of the Act:

 

Section 56 Religious bodies

Nothing in this Act affects:

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of any religious order,

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order,

(c) the appointment of any other person in any capacity by a body established to propagate religion, or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

 

While sub-sections (a) and (b) might appear reasonable, as they are at least related to the internal training and appointment of ministers of religion, sub-sections (c) and especially (d) are outrageous in their breadth, essentially sanctioning discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender employees and people accessing services in any organisation that is considered ‘religious’, including schools, hospitals and countless social services.

 

The operation of these provisions, and sub-section 56(d) in particular, in giving effective carte blanche to religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in NSW was confirmed in a 2010 decision of the Court of Appeal[vii], allowing Wesley Mission to discriminate against a male same-sex couple who had applied to be foster carers to children in need.

 

Wesley successfully defended its prejudiced approach on the basis that; “[t]he biblical teaching on human sexuality makes it clear that monogamous heterosexual partnership within marriage is both the norm and ideal.”[viii] This was in spite of the fact Wesley allowed single men and women to be carers (apparently they believed that two dads or two mums had less to offer than one).

 

The ‘right to discriminate’ provided to religious organisations by section 56 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is essentially without restriction. And this general ability to exclude lesbian, gay and transgender people in NSW is supplemented by additional loopholes covering specific areas of public life.

 

One of these covers discrimination in adoption services. While the equal right of same-sex couples to adopt was recognised in NSW law in 2010, those very same reforms inserted the following into the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977:

 

Section 59A Adoption services

(1) Nothing in Part 3A [transgender protections] or 4C [homosexual protections] affects any policy or practice of a faith-based organisation concerning the provision of adoption services under the Adoption Act 2000 or anything done to give effect to any such policy or practice.”

 

Which means that a religious organisation that operates an adoption service is legally permitted to deny a child the best possible adoptive parents solely because they might be lesbian, gay or transgender.

 

Perhaps the most (in)famous exceptions in the Act are those that apply to ‘private educational authorities’[ix]. Even though subsection 56(d) already allows religious schools to do whatever they want in relation to lesbian, gay and transgender teachers and students, NSW Parliament added specific clauses to ensure that private educational authorities can:

 

  • Discriminate against transgender employees[x]
  • Discriminate against transgender students, including by refusing their admission, attaching conditions to their admission, denying them benefits as a student, or by expelling them[xi]
  • Discriminate against lesbian and gay employees[xii] and
  • Discriminate against lesbian and gay students, including by refusing their admission, attaching conditions to their admission, denying them benefits as a student, or by expelling them[xiii].

 

Imagine considering it justified to seek special rights to discriminate against these groups, let alone for State Parliament to condone such discrimination via legislation?

 

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of the ‘private education authorities’ exceptions is that they aren’t even restricted to religious schools – in fact, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1997 allows all non-government schools and colleges, even where they have absolutely nothing to do with religion, to refuse to employ lesbian, gay and transgender people, and exclude or expel LG&T students.

 

Summary: The religious exceptions contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 are the broadest in Australia, and fundamentally undermine the integrity of a framework which is supposed to address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Subsections 56(c) and (d) should be repealed, as well as the more specific exceptions offered to religious organisations in relation to adoption services, and those allowing private educational authorities to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender employees and students.

 

**********

 

Anti-Vilification Coverage

 

There is one area where NSW is at least somewhat ahead of other jurisdictions, and that is in its inclusion of anti-vilification protections for the LGBTI community – or some parts of it anyway, given, just as for anti-discrimination protections, its anti-vilification laws only covers lesbian, gay and some transgender people.

 

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 creates offences of serious transgender vilification[xiv], and serious homosexual vilification[xv]. These offences are based on, and drafted using the same wording as, the offence of serious racial vilification[xvi]:

 

“A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person [or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group/on the ground that the person is a transgender person, or a group of persons on the ground that the members of the group are transgender persons/or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group] by means which include:

(a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or

(b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”

 

And yet, despite having the same wording, and involving exactly the same legal tests, the offences have different penalties:

 

  • The maximum penalty for the offence of serious racial vilification by an individual is “50 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both”, whereas
  • The maximum penalty for the offences of serious transgender vilification and serious homosexual vilification is “10 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.”

 

There can be no justification for treating these offences differently – indeed, the unavoidable implication of imposing a higher fine for one type of vilification than another is that some types of vilification are more serious than others and therefore require greater punishment. Given homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are just as dangerous, and just as harmful, as racial vilification, that is simply not true.

 

There isn’t even a plausible defence that this discrepancy arose inadvertently – while the penalty for racial vilification was increased in 1994, which was after the offence of serious homosexual vilification had been created, transgender vilification provisions were introduced later still (in 1996), which means Parliament actively chose to introduce a lower penalty for it compared to racial vilification.

 

As well as introducing new vilification protections covering bisexual and intersex people, the NSW Government must harmonise these provisions. Fortunately, as part of its response to the State Parliamentary Inquiry into Racial Vilification, NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton MP has publicly committed, via twitter, that:

 

“#NSWGovt intends to ensure ADA offences for serious vilification are consistent across the board #nswpol”[xvii]

Gabrielle Upton MP

NSW Attorney-General, Gabrielle Upton MP

The Baird Liberal-National Government has in fact committed to release an exposure draft Bill to reform vilification law in NSW ‘in early 2016’. It is possible that public consultation on this Bill has been delayed (given the Australian Christian Lobby’s current crusade against state and territory anti-vilification laws in anticipation of a potential marriage equality plebiscite), although hopefully any such delay is short.

 

Summary: NSW is one of only four Australian states and territories that have anti-vilification protections covering any part of the LGBTI community. However, not only do they not protect bisexual or intersex people from vilification, the penalties imposed for homosexual and transgender vilification offences are different to, and less than, those imposed for racial vilification. The upcoming exposure draft Bill on vilification law, to be released by the State Government, must address both of these injustices: expanding its scope, and harmonising penalties.

 

**********

 

Other Issues

 

While the ‘What’s Wrong With’ series will primarily concentrate on the three main areas of protected attributes, religious exceptions and anti-vilification coverage, I will also raise other issues relating to LGBTI anti-discrimination laws where they are significant.

 

In the case of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, these include:

 

  • An incredibly broad exception allowing “the exclusion of a transgender person from participation in any sporting activity for members of the sex with which the transgender person identifies”[xviii]
  • A seemingly inappropriate exception allowing superannuation funds to “treat… the transgender person as being of the opposite sex to the sex with which the transgender person identifies”[xix] and
  • Perhaps most alarmingly, exceptions which allow employers to discriminate against lesbian, gay and transgender applicants and employees “if the number of persons employed by the employer… does not exceed 5”[xx].

 

In fact, a similar exception also permits discrimination in relation to the ground of sex[xxi] – but no such limitation applies to race[xxii].  Which means that the NSW Parliament has effectively determined that racial discrimination should not be tolerated in employment in any circumstances – but discrimination against lesbians, gay men, transgender people and even women is acceptable in some circumstances. That message is unconscionable, and these provisions must be made uniform (by abolishing the exceptions applying to homosexual, transgender and sex discrimination in employment).

 

**********

 

In conclusion, it is clear that, while NSW once had the first gay anti-discrimination laws in Australia, it now has the nation’s worst LGBTI laws – with significant problems in terms of protected attributes and religious exceptions, and serious shortcomings where it does have anti-vilification coverage. These, and other, issues must be addressed by the Baird Liberal-National Government, and NSW Parliament more broadly, as a matter of priority.

 

 

[i] The first, published in January 2016, looked at Victoria: What’s Wrong With the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010?

[ii] Section 4 Definitions.

[iii] From section 4: “recognised transgender person means a person the record of whose sex is altered under Part 5A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 or under the corresponding provisions of a law of another Australian jurisdiction.”

[iv] Potentially modelled on the definition adopted by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984: “gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.” [Although obviously exact wording should be agreed with NSW’s transgender community.]

[v] Section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 now includes: “intersex status means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

(a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or

(b) a combination of female and male; or

(c) neither female nor male.”

[Again, the final wording of the new definition would need to be agreed in consultation with NSW’s intersex community.]

[vi] Section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 states ““sexual orientation” means a person’s sexual orientation towards:

(a) persons of the same sex; or

(b) persons of a different sex; or

(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.”

[vii] OV & OW v Members of the Board of the Wesley Council [2010] NSWCA 155 (6 July 2010).

[viii] OW & OV v Members of the Board of the Wesley Mission Council [2010] NSWADT 293 (10 December 2010).

[ix] Defined in section 4 as “private educational authority means a person or body administering a school, college, university or other institution at which education or training is provided, not being:

(a) a school, college, university or other institution established under the Education Reform Act 1990 (by the Minister administering that Act), the Technical and Further Education Commission Act 1990 or an Act of incorporation of a university, or

(b) an agricultural college administered by the Minister for Agriculture.”

[x] Section 38C prohibits discrimination against transgender applicants and employees, but subsection (3)(c) clarifies that this prohibition does not apply to discrimination by private educational authorities.

[xi]Section 38K Education

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on transgender grounds:

(a) by refusing or failing to accept the person’s application for admission as a student, or

(b) in the terms on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on transgender grounds:

(a) by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority, or

(b) by expelling the student or subjecting the student to any other detriment.

(3) Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority.”

[xii] Section 49ZH prohibits discrimination against lesbian and gay applicants and employees, but, just like for transgender people, subsection (3)(c) clarifies that this prohibition does not apply to discrimination by private educational authorities.

[xiii]Section 49ZO Education

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by refusing or failing to accept the person’s application for admission as a student, or

(b) in the terms on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority, or

(b) by expelling the student or subjecting the student to any other detriment.

(3) Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority.”

[xiv] Section 38T.

[xv] Section 49ZTA.

[xvi] Section 20C.

[xvii] See Ms Upton’s tweet reproduced here: Will NSW Reforms Prioritise Racial Vilification at the Expense of LGBTI Vilification?

[xviii] Section 38P. It is hoped that, given the work in recent years by transgender groups, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian sporting organisations, these provisions could be amended if not repealed entirely in future years.

[xix] Section 38Q. I am genuinely interested to know what the policy rationale is for such a provision – if people have information about this, please write a comment, below.

[xx] Included in both sub-sections 38C(3)(b) and 49ZO(3)(b).

[xxi] Section 25(3)(b).

[xxii] Section 8, which covers Discrimination against applicants and employees on the ground of race, does not include any exception based on the number of employees that an employer has.

Will NSW Reforms Prioritise Racial Vilification at the Expense of LGBTI Vilification?

Post Update #3: 12 January 2017

Contrary to the response received from the Department of Justice in November 2015 (included below), and commitments given by Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton in October 2015, the NSW Government did not release an Exposure Draft Bill to reform vilification laws in early 2016.

In fact, as noted by the Sydney Morning Herald in November 2016: “NSW Parliament has risen for the year without any action on reforms promised by the NSW Attorney-General to ethnic communities a year ago to make it easier to prosecute serious racial vilification cases in the state.”

That means there has been an entire year of inaction on much-needed reforms to vilification laws, that would have not only strengthened racial vilification laws, but also harmonised provisions across the different grounds for vilification (including homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification).

This inaction is incredibly disappointing given that same 12-month period has seen a wide range of homophobic and transphobic public debate in NSW, and across Australia (see 2016: Annus Homophobicus). Hopefully 2017 will see this situation change – although, based on the past year, I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

 

Post Update #2: 23 December 2015

I received the following response to my letter (below) on 19 November 2015, not from the Attorney-General Ms Upton, but instead from the Director of the Community Relations Unit in the Department of Justice [and apologies for the delay in posting before now]:

“I refer to your email to the Attorney General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, about your concerns regarding a review of the NSW racial vilification laws. The Attorney General has asked me to reply on her behalf.

NSW is one of the most culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse
communities in the world. To protect the diversity of our community, the
Government has committed to amending the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (the Act), in particular the racial vilification laws.

Currently, the vilification offences make it clear that for vilification to
be an offence it must threaten violence or incite others to threaten
violence.

As you are aware, the New South Wales Legislative Council’s Law and Justice Committee conducted a review of racial vilification laws in New South Wales, in particular section 20D of the Act.

Section 20D of the Act makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred
towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of
persons on the grounds of race by means which include; threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.

In its Report, the Committee concluded that improvements were required to the Act. These improvements include allowing the President of the
Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints directly to the NSW Police,
extending the time limit for commencing prosecutions from six months to 12 months and clarifying reckless actions are sufficient to establish an
intention to incite under section 20D.

In light of the Committee’s Report, the NSW Government considers the racial vilification offence and other vilification offences relating to
homosexuality, HIV/AIDS status and transgender status in the Act also need revising.

The Government intends to release for public consultation an exposure draft Bill amending the State’s vilification laws, with legislation to be
introduced into Parliament in the first half of 2016. Details regarding the
draft exposure Bill will be released in early 2016.

Thank you for taking the time to write about this issue.

Yours faithfully

Director
Community Relations Unit
NSW Department of Justice”

 

Post Update #1: 1 November 2015

The NSW Attorney-General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, announced the NSW Government’s position of vilification reforms on Monday 19 October 2015.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald[i]:

“The government will overhaul hate speech laws in NSW following the terror attack at Parramatta police headquarters and calls from the opposition for stronger laws to clamp down on ‘radical preachers’.

Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said the government will strengthen and streamline racial vilification laws, defying right-wing commentators who have previously said proposed reforms were ‘straight out of the Leninist playbook.’

Ms Upton said recent events had ‘reinforced the necessarily of being vigilant to and guarding against the spread of racial vilification’.”

Importantly, the Guardian[ii] also reported that “LGBTIQ groups have been lobbying for hate speech against members of their communities to be included in any new laws and it is understood the proposed changes would include them” although it did not provide any further information on this issue.

I sought clarification through twitter from the Attorney-General on the inclusion, or exclusion, of LGBTI vilification in the reforms, and received the following reply:

IMG_0640

This response obviously gives hope that vilification provisions contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 may finally be amended to be genuinely LGBTI inclusive, although it will be important to closely scrutinise the Government’s exposure draft Bill, which is expected to be released for public consultation in January 2016.

One final cause for optimism – on the day before Attorney-General Upton’s announcement, the Leader of the NSW Opposition, Luke Foley, made a similar commitment on vilification reform. As reported by samesame[iii]:

“The Labor opposition in New South Wales wants to ensure people who promote or advocate violence based on race, gender or sexual orientation are punished under the law.”

All we need to do now is hold both the Liberal-National Government, and Labor Opposition, to their public commitments.

[i] “Hate speech overhaul to try to spread of racial vilification”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/hate-speech-overhaul–to-try-to-stop-spread-of-racial-vilification-20151018-gkbukb.html

[ii] “New South Wales hate speech laws to clamp down on ‘violent extremists’”, The Guardian, 19 October 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/19/new-south-wales-hate-speech-laws-to-clamp-down-on-violent-extremists

[iii] “NSW Opposition: ‘Hate speech should be a crime’”, samesame, 19 October 2015: http://www.samesame.com.au/news/12884/NSW-opposition-Hate-speech-should-be-a-crime

 

Original Post: 16 October 2015

The Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

Attorney-General

GPO Box 5341

Sydney NSW 2001

office@upton.minister.nsw.gov.au

Friday 16 October 2015

Dear Attorney-General

REFORMS TO NSW ANTI-VILIFICATION LAWS

I am writing to you on the subject of possible changes to anti-vilification laws in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977(‘the Act’), as flagged by you in two tweets on 18 September 2015[i], and as confirmed in an article which appeared in The Australian on 23 September 2015, in which your spokesperson “said the NSW government was ‘working towards reform’ in the area”.[ii]

Specifically, I am writing to seek your assurance that any reforms to anti-vilification laws will apply equally across all grounds of vilification, including homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification which are also included in the Act, and will not prioritise racial vilification as more important, or worthy of punishment, than vilification on the basis of other attributes.

Instead, I urge you and the Liberal-National Government to ensure that anti-vilification laws apply fairly both to members of NSW’s ethnic communities, and to the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

To begin with, I note that currently the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act only protect lesbian, gay[iii] and transgender[iv] members of the LGBTI community. There is no legal protection for bisexual and intersex people against vilification on the basis of who they are (or against discrimination more broadly, for that matter).

If reforms are to be made to anti-vilification laws in NSW, then the specific inclusion of bisexual and intersex people in the Act must be a priority.

Even more concerningly, I note that there is a discrepancy in the penalties for vilification which are contained in the Act, depending on the attribute which is involved.

For example, while the maximum penalty for homosexual and transgender vilification by an individual is set at “10 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both”[v], the penalty for racial or HIV vilification by an individual is set at “50 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.”[vi]

Given the vast majority of prosecutions for vilification offences in NSW are unlikely to result in imprisonment, the consequence of this discrepancy is to send the message to the community, whether intentionally or otherwise, that racial and HIV vilification is five times more important, or worthy of punishment, than homosexual or transgender vilification.

I find this message to be inherently offensive – that equivalent acts of vilification should attract differing penalties simply because it involved sexual orientation or gender identity rather than race. I sincerely hope that you agree – and that you will therefore commit to harmonising the penalties for vilification contained in the Act.

However, I am concerned that, rather than ameliorating existing problems, the reforms to NSW’s anti-vilification laws which you have indicated you are considering will instead compound the differential treatment of racial vilification compared to homosexual or transgender vilification.

That is because these reforms appear to be based primarily on the recommendations of the 2013 Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales.[vii]

This Inquiry made a number of recommendations to amend racial vilification laws, including to:

  • Include “quasi-public places, such as the lobby of a strata or company title apartment block” (Recommendation 1)
  • Clarify that “recklessness is sufficient to establish intention to incite” (Recommendation 3)
  • “[R]eview the adequacy of the maximum penalty units in section 20D of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, taking into account the maximum penalty units for comparable offences within the Crimes Act 1900 and other Australian jurisdictions” (Recommendation 6)
  • “[R]epeal the requirement for the Attorney-General’s consent to prosecutions of serious racial vilification” (Recommendation 7)
  • Extend the time limits for commencing prosecutions for racial vilification offences to 12 months, or alternatively to extend the timeframe for the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints to the Attorney-General (Recommendations 9, 10)
  • “[A]llow the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW to directly refer serious racial vilification complaints to the NSW Police Force” (Recommendation 11) and
  • Provide training to NSW Police Force members about the offence of serious racial vilification (Recommendation 14).[viii]

It is arguable that the inquiry itself was flawed from the beginning given it focused on only one out of the four existing grounds of vilification in the Act.

However, what is beyond doubt is that, were you to adopt the recommendations of this Inquiry as a whole, but only with respect to racial vilification, you and the Liberal-National Government would in effect be creating a discriminatory ‘hierarchy’ of vilification laws and procedures in NSW law.

The offences of racial and homosexual vilification are drafted in exactly the same way – the only difference being substitution of the word homosexuality for race.[ix]

In which case, there cannot be any justification for the introduction and passage of laws which would mean that only racial vilification applies in quasi-public places, or includes recklessness, or attracts higher penalties, or does not need Attorney-General approval to commence proceedings, or has longer timeframes for prosecution, or can be directly referred to Police, or for which NSW Police Force members are specifically trained.

Therefore, the implementation of these reforms, if applied exclusively to racial vilification, would be both discriminatory and unjustifiable.

However, what would make them repugnant is the fact that the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s own rationale for at least one of its recommendations – to extend the time limits for commencing prosecution of vilification offences to 12 months – is in fact based on a case of alleged homosexual vilification. As discussed in Chapter 6 of the Committee Report:

“6.20 The Board referred to a recent case involving homosexual vilification, Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2013] NSWSC 44, which illustrated the potential issues surrounding the timeframe for lodging vilification complaints. In that case, Mr Margan lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW within the 12 month timeframe required under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act. However the Director of Prosecutions (DPP), and later the Supreme Court, dismissed the offence as statute barred as it was a summary offence and proceedings were required to be commenced within six months.

Committee comment

6.21 The Committee understands that there is a significant discrepancy between the timeframes for lodging complaints under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act (12 months of an incident occurring) and s179 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (summary offences must commence within six months of an incident occurring). The case of Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor highlighted the injurious impact that this discrepancy can have on vilification complaints.

6.22 It appears sensible to align the above timeframes. Therefore the Committee recommends that the NSW Government extend the time limit for prosecutions under section 179 of the Criminal Procedure Act to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act.”[x]

And yet, despite noting the ‘injurious impact’ of the discrepancies in time limits on Mr Margan, whose complaint was based on homosexual vilification, the Committee’s recommendation was explicitly restricted to racial vilification:

Recommendation 9

That, for the purposes of racial vilification proceedings only [emphasis added], the NSW Government extend the time limit for commencing prosecutions under section 79 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.”[xi]

If you and the Liberal-National Government were to implement Recommendation 9 as it stands then you would only be adding insult to injury.

For all of the reasons outlined above, I urge you to ensure that any reforms which you make to the anti-vilification laws contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act treat vilification equally across all grounds, and do not unjustifiably, and above all unjustly, prioritise racial vilification offences and discriminate against homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification protections.

Finally, if you are serious about modernising the vilification provisions contained in the Act you should also expand the grounds covered to offer vilification protection to bisexual and intersex people for the first time (and indeed to provide them with anti-discrimination coverage too), and to remove the existing discrepancies in penalties between racial and HIV vilification offences on the one hand, and homosexual and transgender vilification offences on the other.

Thank you in advance for taking my correspondence into consideration. Should you require additional information, or wish to clarify any of the above comments, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

NSW Attorney-General the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

NSW Attorney-General the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP

[i] Gabrielle Upton MP (@gabrielleupton), 8:55am – 18 Sep 2015: “.@shumba60 Racial vilification abhorrent. NSW Govt considering proposed changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @mikebairdMP #nswpol”

Gabrielle Upton MP (gabrielleupton), 3:39pm – 18 Sep 2015: “.@VicAlhadeff #NSWGovt wants inclusive, diverse comm. Considering changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @NSWJBD @ajnnews #nswpol”

[ii] “Taunts to Trigger Race-Hate Law Overhaul”, The Australian, September 23 2015: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/taunts-to-trigger-race-hate-law-overhaul/story-e6frgczx-1227539272920?sv=64dde3a02ebcfb4c634183c907bbeacf

[iii] Sub-section 49ZT(1) Homosexual vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group.”

[iv] Sub-section 38S(1) Transgender vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of: (a) a person on the ground that the person is a transgender person, or (b) a group of persons on the ground that the members of the group are transgender persons.”

[v] S49ZTA(1)(b), s38T(1)(b)

[vi] S20D(1)(b), s49ZXC(1)(b)

[vii] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/E08D4387100A3C56CA257C35007FCC4D?open&refnavid=x

[viii] Ibid, pp xii-xiii.

[ix] S20D Offence of serious racial vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”

S49ZTA Offence of serious homosexual vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”

[x] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013, pp84-85.

[xi] Ibid, p85.