Surprise!* Mark Latham’s Inquiry is just as unbalanced and transphobic as his Bill

[*Not surprising in the slightest]

In August 2020, NSW One Nation MLC Mark Latham introduced the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020. As I wrote at the time, this Bill is the worst legislative attack on LGBTI rights in Australia this century. 

In particular, Latham’s Bill seeks to erase trans and gender diverse students from classrooms and schoolyards across NSW. It would also establish a UK ‘section 28’-style prohibition on positive references to anything at all to do with LGBT people, as well as introducing an offensive and stigmatising definition of intersex variations of sex characteristics.

This Bill should have been immediately rejected by the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government and (at the time McKay) Labor Opposition. Instead, Coalition and Labor Members of the Legislative Council voted to refer the Bill for inquiry by the Portfolio Committee No. 3 – Education, which just so happens to be chaired by Mark Latham himself, thus creating a serious and ongoing conflict of interest.

Even if there might be circumstances in which an MLC should be given authority to lead an inquiry into their own legislation (and, readers, I can’t think of any right now), a chair in this situation should be acutely aware of the responsibilities of their position and their obligation to act impartially and respectfully.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated in the 11 months since then, Mark Latham is not such a chair. Indeed, Mark Latham’s Inquiry into Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill has been as unbalanced and transphobic as his legislation is, as evidenced in the following five areas:

  1. Lack of trans witnesses

Latham’s inquiry conducted hearings on April 20 and 21, 2021. Across those two days, 42 witnesses were scheduled to give evidence. Do you know how many were trans or nonbinary children – that is, the people who stand to lose the most if this legislation passes?

Zero.

In fact, there was only one identified trans witness out of 42 (the amazing Teddy Cook, from ACON), plus one parent of a trans child. As far as I am aware, that means 40 witnesses out of the 42 scheduled to appear (or 95% of witnesses) were neither trans themselves nor the parent of a trans child.

This imbalance alone is enough to dismiss the validity of the entire inquiry.

It’s not like there weren’t other trans individuals and organisations ready and willing to give evidence either. As I understand it, the Gender Centre – described in its submission as ‘NSW’s leading trans led organisation, providing 95% of all trans specific services in the state’ that ‘support over 500 NSW transgender and gender diverse families generally’ – were not invited to appear.

The selection of non-trans witnesses was biased, too. Of the religious organisations invited to give evidence, only faith groups that expressed support for the Bill were given a guernsey. 

As noted by Greens MLC David Shoebridge during the hearings: ‘Unfortunately, the Coalition and the Chair determined not to allow any witnesses to appear from the parts of the Christian faith who oppose the bill.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 8).

This meant religious organisations that expressed their opposition to the Bill through their submissions – including the Pitt St Uniting Church, and Uniting Church LGBTIQ Network – did not receive an invitation to appear.

In my view, the lack of trans witnesses, and biased selection of others, rendered this inquiry process illegitimate from the outset.

2. Disrespectful treatment of submitters and witnesses

It wasn’t just the selection of witnesses that was unbalanced, but also how organisations that made submissions, or appeared as witnesses, were (mis)treated – especially by the chair.

Take, for example, the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, who made a submission to the inquiry in which they expressed their opposition to Latham’s Bill.

For this ‘sin’, not only were they not invited, but they were attacked in their absence.

When Shoebridge noted that ‘The Chair and the Coalition would not allow them to come. They voted on majority to prevent them coming’, Latham ultimately responded with ‘Well, there has to be a degree of sanity here.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 36).

Imagine, as the Chair of an inquiry, thinking it appropriate to imply an organisation that made a submission to that inquiry ‘lacked sanity’.

The attack worsened from there, with Latham asking the witness from Catholic Schools NSW (who did oppose the Bill and were not coincidentally offered an invitation) to provide data about enrolment and academic performance of schools in the Parramatta Diocese specifically:

My understanding is that a number of the Parramatta parents are none too happy about this position and that the Parramatta diocese enrolment share and academic results have collapsed in recent times because of the so-called progressive approach to education. Do you have some data on that that you can furnish to the Committee?’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 36).

In my opinion, there can be no justification for asking questions which suggest a vendetta against religious bodies which have the temerity to take a different policy view to yours.

Nor was this the only example of Latham’s disrespect to submitters or witnesses. Later that day he made a series of what can only be described as unprofessional remarks in response to the evidence of Georgia Burke, representing the LGBTI Subcommittee of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.

Burke: ‘… The best interests of the children are entirely disregarded with the primacy of parents put to the forefront.’

Latham: ‘Jesus, seriously.’

Burke: ‘It is interesting to reflect on the comments of the special rapporteur to which we refer in our submission.’

Latham: ‘The best interests of the children are disregarded when the parents are put to the forefront?’

Shoebridge: ‘Carry on.’

[Labor MLC Anthony] D’Adam: ‘Carry on, they are just being rude.’

Latham: ‘That is unbelievable.’

Burke: ‘His report of 2010 – and I do have a copy with me if it assists the Committee for me to table that report.’

Latham: ‘Jesus Christ.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 63).

[As an aside, it might be interesting to know what the religious fundamentalists who support Latham’s similarly-extreme ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill think about his blasphemy?]

As chair, Latham also accused witnesses of either ‘fabrication’ (saying to Ghassan Kassisieh of Equality Australia: ‘That is not what the Bill says. That is just a fabrication, I am sorry.’ Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 63), or ‘making something up’ (to Jared Wilk of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties: ‘You see, that is the problem. You are making something up about the bill that is not actually true.’ Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 65).

This is not the behaviour of somebody who should be in charge of anything, let alone an inquiry into legislation which carries the very real potential to undermine the human rights of some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

3. Allowing irrelevant evidence

The potential impact of Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill is incredibly broad – applying not just to classroom teaching, but also to ‘instruction, counselling and advice’ provided to students by principals, school counsellors, non-teaching staff, contractors, advisors and consultants, non-school based staff, contractors, advisors and consultants, and even volunteers (proposed new section 17C of the Education Act 1990).

However, one thing it doesn’t actually apply to is school sport. Despite this, Latham’s inquiry invited Katherine Deves from ‘Save Women’s Sport Australasia’ to address the Committee, where they were given free rein to make comments like:

It requires them [women and girls] to forego their right to compete on a level playing field in sport because fair competition is destroyed, athletic opportunities are lost and players’ safety is completely disregarded. On 1 December last year a senior bureaucrat in the NSW Sports Minister’s office told me that a woman would have to be killed before gender inclusion sports policies would be withdrawn.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 24).

And

‘We believe that the female sports category should be for female-born females only. We need to start asking boys and men to be more accommodating of non-gender-conforming boys and accommodate them in their sports instead of expecting the girls and the women, to their own detriment, to accept them into their sports. We are getting stories now of boys competing in girls’ sports and winning and taking sports on the podium and taking sports on the team and girls being harmed.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 27).[i]

Leaving to one side the lack of evidence to substantiate these claims, this testimony had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bill – a point which Shoebridge raised: ‘Point of order: There is not a single part of the terms of reference of this inquiry that relates to sport and I cannot see how either the opening submission or this question relates to the terms of reference.’

About which Latham eventually ruled: ‘I do not think censorship here is appropriate. The witness can answer the question.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 27).

Except ensuring witnesses at least vaguely stick to the terms of reference of the inquiry is not censorship, but one of the core responsibilities of a Committee Chair, something Latham spectacularly failed to fulfil here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, women’s sport was not the only unrelated matter that was allowed to be raised – Latham also provided ample space for witnesses to talk about access to bathrooms, something that is also unaffected by his legislation.

For example, Terri Kelleher of the Australian Family Association was given the opportunity to make the following comments:

‘Why would you want to set up – because part of the instructions or guidelines for schools as a result or a flow-on from teaching gender fluidity, you know, that people are the gender they feel and it may not be their natal sex, is to allow natal males into girls’ toilets. Now, that is not saying that all males or all boys who identify as girls are going to be a threat, but it sets up a situation where that can occur. This is very serious in the light of the child-on-child sexual abuse in schools.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, pages 40-41).

And then allowed to elaborate:

‘One of the risks … is the staff is to monitor the length of time in a change room. So staff are to monitor the length of time. It puts teachers in a difficult situation. Are they to be rostered outside toilets? Does there always have to be someone supervising wherever the toilets may be used, which would be throughout the day?’ (page 41).

Which led to the following exchange between MLCs sitting on the Committee:

D’Adam: ‘Point of order: We are taking evidence on a bill that has nothing to do with unisex toilets.’

Shoebridge: ‘Or teachers sitting outside toilets timing.’

D’Adam: ‘It has nothing to do with it. It is outside the terms of reference of this inquiry and I would ask the Chair to bring the witness back to-‘

[Nationals MLC Wes] Fang: ‘I have been waiting for this one. ‘Any other matter’ – it has been called on me so many times.’

Latham: ‘Yes. Related matters. I think the use of – I raised earlier on the problem of boys declaring themselves to be girls to get into the girls’ change room. That was in order and I think this is in order as well.’ (page 41)

In effect, the Chair of the inquiry ruled that ‘bathroom panic’-style testimony was in order because he himself had raised the issue of change room access, from the Chair, earlier in the day. This is the opposite of an impartial investigation.

4. Providing a platform for transphobia

As we have already seen, by allowing witnesses to talk about unrelated matters like trans participation in sport and ‘bathroom panic’ (including rhetorically linking trans access to toilets to child sexual abuse), Latham ensured his inquiry provided a platform for transphobia. Nor were these the only examples of extreme prejudice against trans and gender diverse young people over those two days.

This includes multiple witnesses suggesting that the gender identities of the majority of trans and nonbinary kids were not real but instead the product of mental illness:

‘When parents are kept in the dark about gender ideology and about what children are exposed to related to gender fluidity, they face an increased risk of harm. School officials and others do not know of, or may disregard, a child’s personal history – perhaps trauma or abuse or other diagnosed conditions, whether autism or mental health issues. They may play a role in a child’s identity concerns.’ (Mary Hasson, Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 3).

Dianna Kenny of something called the ‘Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine’ was permitted to make the following extraordinary – and extraordinarily offensive – claim:

‘There is a very minute number of people who are what we try to call genuinely trans, and suddenly we have seen a 4,000 per cent increase in the number of young people identifying as trans. Only a tiny fraction of that 4,000 per cent increase are going to be what we call genuinely trans. The rest of them are in the thrall of the trans lobby, and they have serious mental health issues and other things that need to be addressed.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 33).

When asked by Labor MLC Anthony D’Adam about those people who Kenny claimed were not ‘genuinely transgender’ (‘Those who are not in that category – the others – you are saying that there is something wrong with them, that they are sick.’), Kenny replied:

‘It is a manifestation of serious mental health issues, yes. I work clinically with those people. I see them at close quarters. I work intensively with the families and with the young people themselves. The evidence is increasing exponentially that those young people have serious health issues that need to be addressed…’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, pages 33-34).[ii]

From my perspective, this does not read like a reasonable debate of issues related to the Bill but instead seems to be a free kick for witnesses to make derogatory comments about the mental health and wellbeing of trans and nonbinary kids.

Of course, being a parliamentary hearing about trans rights in 2021, a range of other transphobic tropes – from ‘desisters’[iii]/’de-transitioners’[iv] to ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’[v] and ‘social contagion’[vi] – made predictable appearances (and, just as predictably, none were based on high-quality, independently-verified research, because, well, it doesn’t exist).

Mark Sneddon of the Institute of Civil Society even gravely warned that: ‘What we are trying to do – or what I understand this bill is trying to do – is to reduce the social contagion influence putting more people onto the conveyor belt of gender transition.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 42).

A quote which, perhaps unintentionally, goes to the core of the whole debate. Through their evidence, these witnesses all appear to be implying that being trans or nonbinary is itself a negative thing, and should be avoided wherever possible, including through legislation which prevents students from even hearing that gender diversity exists.

Whereas the rest of us understand that a) trans and nonbinary people are a part of the natural spectrum of human gender identity (and indeed always have been), b) trans and nonbinary kids are awesome, and c) there are really two conveyor belts – one which lets trans and nonbinary kids be themselves and delivers them to health and happiness, and one which tells trans and nonbinary kids that they are wrong and should not exist, and abandons them to darkness and depression.

That is really what Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is all about – keeping trans and nonbinary students in the dark. About who they are. And that who they are is okay. More than okay. Beautiful.

Latham’s legislation is deeply transphobic. Which means it is no surprise that so was the evidence of many of the witnesses appearing at his inquiry. And that includes Latham himself, who even deliberately deadnamed and misgendered a prominent transgender Australian. (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 48).

5. Giving evidence from the chair

The fifth and final way Latham’s inquiry was unbalanced is not directly linked to trans and gender diverse children, but nevertheless goes to how ‘un-parliamentary’ his behaviour was – and that was his frequent attempts to give evidence from the chair.

For example, after raising the (unverified) story of a student whose school counsellor supported their social transition against the wishes of their parents, he was asked by Shoebridge ‘Is that in evidence?’ and by D’Adam: ‘Point of order: Is the chair giving evidence?’ To which Latham replied:

‘That is in evidence – and did not tell the family. So, Jack has asked me a question. I have given you a brief summary and will be presenting more of that evidence as the inquiry unfolds…’ (emphasis added, Hearing Transcript, 20 April, pages 24-25).[vii]

Perhaps the most extreme example came when Latham attempted to ask Ghassan Kassisieh of Equality Australia about a range of non-LGBTI issues, before making unsubstantiated claims about climate change, leading not just the Greens’ David Shoebridge but even the Nationals’ Wes Fang to suggest Latham should not be doing so as chair:

Latham: ‘Climate change – that while there is evidence of warming, it is not at some of the alarmist levels that have been projected. Sea levels are not rising and Tim Flannery was wrong about his predictions that our dams in western Sydney would never fill again.’

Shoebridge: ‘Point of order: Simply making these unfounded, biased assertions from the chair on matters unrelated to the terms of reference of this inquiry is not of assistance and, in fact, it does not fit with any of the terms of reference of this inquiry.’

Fang: ‘To the point of order-‘

Latham: ‘It fits in the submission. It is the witness’s submission – wanting to know the other side of the story. I am seeking a response about the other side of the story.’

Shoebridge: ‘Call me old-fashioned but I was looking at the terms of reference of the inquiry.’

Fang: ‘To the point of order: I actually support Mr Shoebridge here. Chair, you should not be doing it and, like Mr Shoebridge, if you are going to make these unsubstantiated comments you should do it just as a participating member, like Mr Shoebridge does often through this Committee.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 59).

Fang nails the problem here – Mark Latham should never have been permitted to prosecute the case for his own legislation as chair of the same Committee inquiring into it.

It was an inevitable conflict of interest, and just as inevitably led to serious shortcomings of the inquiry generally, and the hearings on April 20 and 21 in particular.

From a lack of trans witnesses, and only inviting faith bodies that supported the Bill to appear while ignoring those religious organisations that opposed it.

To criticising trans-supportive faith groups in their absence, implying they ‘lacked sanity’, and acting disrespectfully and unprofessionally to other witnesses.

Allowing completely irrelevant testimony, about trans inclusion in girl’s and women’s sports, and ‘bathroom panic’, which had exactly nothing to do with the legislation being considered.

And giving voice to transphobia, including providing a platform to witnesses who dismissed the gender identity of the majority of trans and nonbinary kids as not being real while simultaneously describing them as suffering ‘serious mental health issues’.

Before using the position of chair to give his own evidence, rather than impartially examining the evidence of witnesses.

If you were being charitable, you could describe these hearings, and the overall inquiry they were a part of, as a farce.

But, after reading through all of the testimony given over those two days, including the derogatory comments about some of the most vulnerable members of our community, I am not feeling especially charitable. So I will call it as it is:

This inquiry, and the fact Mark Latham has been allowed to serve as its chair, is a sick joke. And, if you can’t tell by now, I am not amused.

The other thing that is definitely not humorous? The fact the Coalition Government, and Labor Opposition, have allowed this embarrassing debasement of NSW Parliament to drag on for almost a full year.

This legislation seeks to erase trans and nonbinary kids in schools across NSW. It will cause harm to them, and to all LGBTI children and young people.

These things have been known since it was first introduced in August 2020 – and yet neither Gladys Berejiklian, nor Jodi McKay and now Chris Minns, have done the bare minimum: to speak out against it, and declare they will not support legislation that attacks kids.

What the fuck are they waiting for?

It’s beyond time for the major parties to finally reject Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, and Latham’s equally unbalanced and transphobic inquiry into it.

NSW Parliament can be, should be, better than this. Trans and nonbinary kids need it to be.

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

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Footnotes:


[i] Nor was Deves the only witness allowed to raise the irrelevant issue of trans inclusion in girl’s and women’s sports, with Terri Kelleher of the Australian Family Association making the following comments:

‘What right do they [girls in schools] have to fair sporting competitions? There is a worldwide movement at the moment speaking out for women’s and girl’s rights to their own sporting competitions on the ground that natal males have serious advantages over females.’ (Hearing Transcript, April 20, page 40).

[ii] Strangely enough, despite Kenny arguing that ‘genuinely transgender’ people are extremely rare, they are also capable of ‘destroying the fabric of the nuclear family’ (‘But to withdraw parental guidance and authority in the way that the transgender lobby has implemented with children declaring themselves to be transgender is really destroying the fabric of the nuclear family.’ Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 28), which indicates trans people must have super-powers.

[iii] John Steenhof of the Human Rights Law Alliance (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 36) and Mark Sneddon of the Institute for Civil Society (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 42).

[iv] Patrick Byrne of the National Civic Council, who suggested that transition – and not transphobia – was the cause of high rates of depression and suicide amongst transgender people: ‘Are you going to teach that there is a growing movement of de-transitioners and the risk if you go all the way down the road to full sex change surgery, a highly intrusive medical surgery, and then the longer-term risks from that. The best study on that was in Sweden, I think it was, the long-term effects of … transitioning, which had a suicide rate of 19 or 20 times the rest of the population.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 44), and Kirralie Smith of Binary Australia (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 9).

[v] Dianna Kenny of the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 29 and page 31).

[vi] Mary Hasson (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 3), and a favourite phrase of Dianna Kenny, who used it multiple times, including in this truly non-sensical quote revealing she apparently does not understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation:

‘Basically, what is happening is that children are being taught erroneous information and based on erroneous information these children are becoming extremely confused and as through a process of social contagion we are seeing very large increases in the number of children declaring themselves either non-binary, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, pansexual, omni-sexual, demi-boys and demi-girls.’ (Hearing Transcript, 21 April, page 25).

[vii] Another example occurred after a witness attempted to cite Latham’s Second Reading Speech for the Bill as ‘evidence’:

D’Adam: ‘Just to further elaborate, obviously we have all heard the second reading speech.’

Shoebridge: ‘It is not evidence.’

D’Adam: ‘That is not necessarily evidence of what is occurring. It is an assertion from a Member of Parliament.’

Latham: ‘Order! There is a professional development course. I will show you the course. We have got it on tape.

Shoebridge: ‘There is no order. It is not evidence.’ (Hearing Transcript, 20 April, page 37).

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

Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment

Submitted online via aph.gov.au  

19 March 2021

To the Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From that report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘That the Senate notes that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

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

Footnotes:

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

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

[iii] Ibid, p48.

[iv] Ibid, p52.

[v] Ibid, p54.

[vi] Ibid, p57.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mr Lawrie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

Kevin Conolly MP

Member for Riverstone

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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

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

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

14 February 2021

Dear NSW MPs

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

This legislation makes me sick.

This legislation is sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t need to be this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Things you can do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Update 28 February 2021

I received the following correspondence on Thursday:

Dear Mr Lawrie

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

[Name omitted]

A/Director, Curriculum Secondary Learners

25 February 2021

Upon receiving this correspondence, I had three main thoughts:

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

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

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

Submission re Tasmanian Law Reform Institute Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Issues Paper

via Law.Reform@utas.edu.au

28 January 2021

To whom it may concern

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

I do so as a long-term advocate for Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, including through my website www.alastairlawrie.net

While my primary law reform focus is on improving LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification legislation, I have also previously made multiple submissions in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, including in New South Wales[i] and Victoria.[ii]

In this submission, I will attempt to answer most, although not all, of the answers posed in the Issues Paper.

However, I also wish to acknowledge that the most important voices in this debate are those of the survivors of these abhorrent practices, including survivors of sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices in Tasmania.

Therefore, where my answers may diverge from the submissions made by survivors, both individuals and organisations, I urge you to prioritise their views as the experts on the wide scope of these practices, the serious harms they cause and the most effective way(s) in which to prohibit them.

Question 1: After considering the background and working definition, in your opinion, what are and are not ‘sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices’?

In my view, the terminology ‘sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices’ is appropriate, as it avoids the limitations of alternatives such as ‘ex-gay or ex-trans therapy’.

I defer to survivors on the matter of all of the possible acts that should be included in any definition. However, the scope of any definition must not be limited to only cover conversion practices which occur in health settings (a mistake made in the Queensland Health Legislation Amendment Act 2020).

On the other hand, it must cover conversion practices which occur in religious settings, both formal and informal, because that is where survivors tell us most of the harm is inflicted.

In terms of the possible definition, I think the TLRI working definition captures the core components of conversion practices:

(a) acts or statements;

(b) that are aimed at changing, suppressing, or eradicating the sexual orientation or gender identity of another person; and

(c) are based on a claim, assertion or notion that non-conforming sexual orientation or gender identity is a physical or psychological dysfunction that can be suppressed or changed.

My one concern in this definition is the use of the word ‘non-conforming’, implying that there are sexual orientations or gender identities which do conform, or are ‘the norm’.

I would suggest consideration of alternative phrasing, perhaps to words to the effect of ‘that a sexual orientation that is not heterosexuality or a gender identity that is not cisgender’.

This wording may also help to ensure that support services for same-sex attracted and gender diverse people exploring their identities, as well as assistance for people considering or undergoing a gender transition, are not captured in the definition (noting these have been expressly excluded in both the Queensland legislation, and the ACT Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Act 2020).

Finally, I support the inclusion of removing a person from Tasmania for the purpose of sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices conducted outside the state in any definition and/or offences, because the harm is still inflicted on Tasmanians.

Question 2: Should people be allowed to consent to SOGI conversion practices? If so, at what age, and under what conditions?

No, I do not believe it is possible to ‘consent’ to SOGI conversion practices, even for adults.

The ideology which underpins conversion practices – that people who are same-sex attracted or gender diverse are ‘broken’ and require ‘fixing’ – is dangerous and incredibly harmful. The ideology is also erroneous – LGBT people are beautiful, just as we are – meaning any consent derived from it is based on a falsehood.

In addition, people who have been indoctrinated with this abusive ideology, whether in familial, educational, health and/or religious settings, and therefore experience severe shame about who they are, are not in a position to provide genuine consent to what is simply further abuse.

As someone who attended a deeply homophobic religious boarding school in Queensland in the 1990s – where same-sex attraction was demonised from the school rules to the pulpit (with one pastor suggesting suicide was not the worst possible outcome for children struggling with their sexual orientation)[iii] – and consequently developed profound self-loathing, I may have even participated in more-formal conversion practices had they been offered, either at the school or afterwards.

I don’t believe that my ‘consent’ in such circumstances would have been any more real on the day I turned 18 than the day before.

The practices themselves are the problem, and they should be unlawful irrespective of who is being subjected to them.

On the other hand, I do support potential differentiation in penalty on the basis of who is being harmed. For example, while sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices should be unlawful in all circumstances, I favour increased maximum sentences where the victim is a child or young adult under the age of 18 or a person with decision-making impairments (to use the terminology outlined in the Issues Paper).

Question 3: Have you been involved in or offered, or are you aware of, any forms of SOGI conversion practices in Tasmania? If so, what were the effects on you, or the person exposed to them?

Not applicable.

Question 4: Do you think that Tasmanian law should be changed to address SOGI conversion practices? If so, should this be through comprehensive reform, amendment or both (a hybrid)?

I do not believe current Tasmanian laws are sufficient to deal with the harms caused by sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices. Nor do I believe they can be addressed simply by amendments to existing laws. Therefore, I support either comprehensive reform, or a hybrid approach.

This would, at a minimum, include creating criminal offences covering sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, as well as providing civil remedy options to ensure that survivors of these abuses have the ability to seek financial compensation.

As discussed in my answer to question 2, above, I believe these responses (criminal offences and civil remedies) should cover all people who are subjected to sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices. However, the available penalties should be higher where the person subject to harm is a child or young adult under the age of 18 or a person with decision-making impairments.

Question 5: Should some or all forms of SOGI conversion practices be criminalised in Tasmania? If so, which, if any should be dealt with as serious (indictable) crimes and which, if any, should be dealt with as less serious (summary) offences?

Yes, sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices should be criminalised.

Given the serious harms caused by these practices, I believe that at least some of these activities should constitute indictable offences.

As indicated in my answers to both questions 2 and 4, above, I also believe there should be higher maximum penalties where the person subject to harm is a child or young adult under the age of 18 or a person with decision-making impairments. This may involve the creation of separate offences, or the inclusion of age and decision-making capacity as aggravating factors in sentencing.

Again, given the seriousness of the harms inflicted by sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, I believe that imprisonment should be an option, particularly for the worst instances of abuse (although, being unfamiliar with sentences under Tasmanian criminal law, I am not in a position to recommend a maximum term of imprisonment).

Finally, as indicated in my response to question 1, I believe these offences must extend beyond just health practitioners to include religious settings, both formal and informal, because that is where survivors tell us most of the harm is inflicted, as well as other areas (for example, educational settings).

Question 6: Should some or all forms of SOGI conversion practices be made civil wrongs in Tasmania? If so, what sort of practices should people be liable for and how should those subject to such practices be compensated?

Yes, sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices should be made civil wrongs in Tasmania, in addition to being subject to criminal sanctions. This is necessary to allow the people harmed by such abuses to seek financial compensation.

Given people who have been exposed to the harmful ideology which underpins conversion practices may not be aware for some time afterwards that what they experienced was, in fact, abuse, I am in favour of extending the limitation period beyond the ordinary three years, and potentially up to 12 years.

Question 7: Should any existing Tasmanian laws (besides criminal laws or the Civil Liability Act 2002 (Tas)) be amended to cover SOGI conversion practices? If so, which ones and in which ways?

Provided that sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices are covered by both criminal penalties and civil remedies (including financial compensation), I am agnostic about the specific vehicle(s) to deliver the latter.

I note that inclusion within Tasmania’s best practice anti-discrimination framework, via the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, may confer some benefits (including in terms of access to dispute resolution, potential lesser exposure to costs as well as possible greater variation in outcomes such as public apologies).

Inclusion in the Anti-Discrimination Act may also allow the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner to investigate conversion practices, even in the absence of a specific complaint from survivors. 

However, I defer to the views of survivors about their preferred regulatory approach.

Question 8: Are there any other models or approaches that are preferable to, or should complement, changing the law?

I also defer to survivors, both individuals and organisations, about the best ways to detect or report sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices.

However, I agree with the view expressed in the Issues Paper that it may be difficult to enforce any law against these abuses.

This includes both the criminal law – where it may be difficult to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt (although I nevertheless support the creation of criminal offences to send a strong public statement that such practices are contrary to community interests, are wrong, and are fundamentally harmful). 

And it will also be difficult to enforce under civil law because it will place the onus on people who have experienced psychological abuse (and potentially physical abuse, too) to bring actions and to therefore possibly be retraumatised through the litigation process.

As with most complex problems, legislation alone will never be sufficient on its own to combat the ills of sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices.

This is especially true because eliminating such practices also means eradicating the harmful ideology which underpins it (that people who are same-sex attracted or gender diverse are ‘broken’ and require ‘fixing’). That will require the concerted and sustained efforts of government and non-government organisations, in partnership with survivors.

I obviously defer to survivor organisations about which support and other services require funding to accomplish this objective.

Question 9: Are there any other matters that you consider relevant to this Inquiry and would like to raise?

I agree with the view expressed in the Issues Paper that criminalisation may drive sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices further underground.

However, I do not believe this risk is sufficient to justify not prohibiting practices which inflict severe harm on many of the community’s most vulnerable people, including LGBT children and young adults.

This risk can also be mitigated by ensuring that law enforcement is appropriately trained and resourced to address the serious problems caused by conversion practices, as well as empowering an independent authority to investigate systemic issues (for example, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, as discussed above in response to Question 7).

Finally, I understand that some groups may oppose any regulation in this area on the basis of ‘religious freedom’.

However, such opposition does not understand that freedom of religion is not absolute. As Article 18(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights makes clear:

Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Laws which seek to protect people against sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices – which, in my view, constitute psychological torture and can and in many cases do lead to adverse mental health outcomes including depression, self-harm and even suicide – would therefore be clearly justified under international human rights law.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this submission. Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided, should you require additional information.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:


[i] Submission to NSW Parliament Inquiry into False or Misleading Health Practices re Ex-Gay Therapy and Intersex Sterilisation, 16 June 2014. Available at https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/06/16/submission-to-nsw-parliament-inquiry-into-false-or-misleading-health-practices-re-ex-gay-therapy-and-intersex-sterilisation/

[ii] Submission to Victorian Government Consultation on Banning Conversion Practices, 24 November 2019. Available at: https://alastairlawrie.net/2019/11/24/submission-to-victorian-government-consultation-on-banning-conversion-practices/

[iii] I have previously written about my experiences at that school, here: The longest five years.

Private Lives. Public Discrimination. Political Exacerbation.

In November, La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) released ‘Private Lives 3: The Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQ People in Australia’. 

Building on reports in 2005 and 2011, Private Lives is Australia’s largest national survey of the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people.

Covering a diversity of topics, from households and relationships, to housing and homelessness, general health and wellbeing, mental health and wellbeing, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, and intimate partner and family violence (among others), it makes for both fascinating reading and invaluable research. I strongly encourage you to download and read it.

However, as someone with a particular interest in all things LGBTIQ discrimination, it is their section on ‘Discrimination, harassment and feelings of acceptance’ I will focus on today.

The Private Lives 3 findings in this area are, frankly, disturbing.

Asked, ‘to what extent do you feel accepted in the following situations?’, just 60.7% of LGBTIQ Australians answered ‘a lot’ or ‘always’ in relation to work.

That figure dropped to 55.3% in educational institutions, and 43.4% when accessing a health or support service.

Only 30.5% of LGBTIQ people said they felt accepted a lot or always in public (eg in the street/park), and a perhaps unsurprising but still shockingly low figure of 10.5% at religious or faith-based events or services.

It is also unsurprising that cisgender members of the LGBTIQ community reported higher rates of acceptance than trans and non-binary people.

For example, while 68.5% of cisgender men and 61% of cisgender women felt accepted a lot or always at work, this fell to 50% for trans women, 48.8% for trans men and just 43% for non-binary people.[i]

There was a similar divergence in terms of acceptance by sexual orientation, with gay and, to a lesser extent, lesbian respondents reporting higher rates than bisexual, pansexual, queer and asexual people.

For example, while 69.6% of gay and 63.8% of lesbian people said they felt accepted at work always or a lot, just 53.6% of bisexual, 54.5% of pansexual, 54.5% or queer and 47.4% of asexual people said the same thing.[ii]

The responses to the question ‘In the past 12 months, to what extent do you feel you have been treated unfairly because of your sexual orientation or gender identity?’ are just as disturbing (if not more). As the authors (Hill, Bourne, McNair, Carman and Lyons) observe on page 40:

‘Almost six in ten participants reported that they had been treated unfairly to some degree (either a little, somewhat, a lot or always) because of their sexual orientation in the past 12 months, with 4.5% reporting a lot or always. Over three quarters (77.5%) of trans and gender diverse participants reported that they had been treated unfairly to some degree because of their gender identity in the past 12 months, with 19.8% reporting a lot or always.’

Even more shocking are the high reported rates of experiences of vilification – and worse – based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In the previous 12 months:[iii]

  • 34.6% of respondents reported experiencing verbal abuse (including hateful or obscene phone calls) due to their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • 23.6% experienced harassment such as being spat at and offensive gestures
  • 22.1% received written threats of abuse via emails or social media
  • 14.6% experienced threats of physical violence, physical attack or assault without a weapon
  • 11.8% experienced sexual assault
  • 11.4% received written threats of abuse in other ways
  • 10% experienced refusal of service
  • 9.9% experienced refusal of employment or being denied promotion
  • 5.3% received written threats of abuse via graffiti, and
  • 3.9% experienced physical attack or assault with a weapon (knife, bottle, stones).

‘Overall, trans and gender diverse participants reported higher levels of harassment and abuse than cisgender participants. For example, a greater proportion of trans women (51.6%), non-binary participants (49.4%) and trans men (45%) reported verbal abuse in the past 12 months due to their sexual orientation or gender identity compared to 28.7% of cisgender women and 32.7% of cisgender men.’

This is nothing short of an epidemic of discrimination, harassment, vilification and violence against LGBTQ Australians on the basis of their sexual orientation and, especially, gender identity. And it is getting worse, not better.

For example, reported rates of verbal abuse increased from 25.5% in Private Lives 2 (released in 2011) to 34.6% in Private Lives 3; harassment such as being spat at and offensive gestures rose from 15.5% in PL2 to 23.6% in PL3; physical attack or assault with a weapon doubled, from 1.8% to 3.9%; and sexual assault quadrupled, from 2.9% to 11.8%.

Let me think, what happened in the period between Private Lives 2, and the survey period for Private Lives 3 (from 24 July to 1 October 2019), which could have caused greater homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the Australian community?

It seems undeniable that the Coalition Government’s proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage, and actual postal survey – and the toxic public debate surrounding both – has directly contributed to increased anti-LGBTQ prejudice.

Nor should we underestimate the negative impact of the ‘religious freedom’ movement which they deliberately unleashed, with the Religious Freedom Review in 2018, and the Morrison Government’s First Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill which was released right in the middle of the Private Lives 3 survey period, in August 2019.

What should happen from here?

The Private Lives 3 survey results show us the scale of the problem: appalling rates of discrimination, harassment, vilification and violence against LGBTQ Australians on the basis of their sexual orientation and, especially, gender identity. And we have a pretty good idea about who is to blame (at least for making the situation much, much worse than it already was). But what is the solution?

I would argue the following three actions would be a good place to start (although I’m sure readers of this blog could offer other useful suggestions, via the comments section below):

  1. Improve LGBTI anti-discrimination laws

The introduction of Commonwealth anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTI community, through the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, was an important step, although by no means the end of the journey.

As I have written previously, these laws need to be strengthened, including by:

  • Updating ‘intersex status’ to ‘sex characteristics’
  • Protecting LGBT students, teachers and other staff in religious schools against discrimination
  • Limiting overly-generous religious exceptions that permit discrimination against LGBT people across many areas of public life, and
  • Appointing a Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Discrimination in employment, especially against trans and gender diverse employees as identified in Private Lives 3, also needs to be addressed by explicitly including gender identity and sex characteristics in adverse action and unlawful termination provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). 

2. Introduce LGBTI anti-vilification protections

One of the long-standing, missing pieces of LGBTI law reform, at least at Commonwealth level, is protection against anti-LGBTI vilification. The high rates of hate-speech reported through Private Lives 3 has merely confirmed the urgency of addressing this gap.

As I hav consistently advocated over many years,[iv] given homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia can be just as harmful as racism, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) should be amended to prohibit anti-LGBTI vilification on an equivalent basis to the prohibition of racial vilification in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

3. Publicly-fund programs against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia

Being an advocate for LGBTI law reform, it is easy to forget that changing the law can only ever be one part of the solution – and often only a small part at that.

To address the ongoing, high levels of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, healthcare, education and other areas of public life identified in Private Lives 3, we need well-funded, publicly-funded campaigns explicitly targeting homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

We also need our elected representatives to lead by example, by calling out prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, and making sure anti-LGBTIQ comments are never acceptable in public debate.

What is actually happening?

Unfortunately, when we examine what is being done in relation to the three actions described above, the answer is not much. In fact, worse than just political inaction, the Coalition Government seems intent on exacerbating these problems rather than solving them.

For example, the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill – which Attorney-General Christian Porter recently confirmed remained part of the Government’s legislative agenda – would make it easier for religious individuals and organisations to discriminate against LGBTIQ Australians, including by refusing to provide healthcare services that benefit members of our communities (for more, see The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked).

That same legislation also calculatingly, and explicitly, undermines state and territory anti-vilification laws (where they exist), by making it easier for people to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ LGBTI people as long as those comments are motivated by faith. This includes over-riding the ‘best practice’ Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

As for culture change, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first ‘gutted’ then abolished entirely the national, evidence-based program targeting bullying against LGBT kids in schools (Safe Schools).

Meanwhile, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison has publicly attacked school counsellors who support trans and gender diverse children, deriding them as ‘gender whisperers’ in a now-infamous tweet. And he has taken more concrete action to remove trans-inclusive toilet door signs in the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, than he has to implement his 2018 promise to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination (for more, see ‘Scott Morrison’s Broken Promise to Protect LGBT Students is Now Two Years Old).

The findings of Private Lives 3 reveal a bushfire of bigotry is burning in the Australian community – but far-too-often our elected representatives are the ones who are fanning the flames.

Of course, it isn’t just the Commonwealth Government who should be taking action to address discrimination, harassment, vilification and violence against LGBTQ Australians. Our state and territory governments, too, need to step up, including by modernising their own anti-discrimination laws.[v] The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), and Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) in particular have fallen far, far below community standards.

Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory also need to introduce their own LGBTI anti-vilification laws (in addition to the Commonwealth), while it is probably fair to say all Governments could be doing more to combat homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in their respective jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the sheer size of the challenge which confronts us, as so disturbingly revealed in the ‘Discrimination, harassment and feelings of acceptance’ pages of Private Lives 3, demonstrates a national approach is desperately needed.

That obviously means stopping those things which would simply make the problem worse – including by abandoning any Religious Discrimination Bill that would undermine the rights of LGBTIQ Australians. But it also requires positive steps to make things better.

We’ll find out in 2021 whether the Commonwealth Government, and Parliament more broadly, is willing to do that which is necessary – or allow anti-LGBTIQ prejudice to rage on.

Footnotes:


[i] The rates of acceptance at health services were even lower, showing a significant drop-off for cisgender women. Specially, while 55.5% of cisgender men felt accepted ‘a lot/always’, this fell to 42.4% for cisgender women, 46.5% for trans women, 30.1% for trans men and just one in five non-binary people (21.5%).

[ii] The rates of acceptance at health services were even lower. Only gay respondents felt accepted ‘a lot/always’ more often than not (54.8%), compared to just 40.1% of lesbian, 43.8% bisexual, 37.3% pansexual, 26.7% queer and 33.3% asexual respondents. 

[iii] Check out the full list on page 40 of the Private Lives 3 Report.

[iv] See also: ‘Did You Know? Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification‘.

[v] For a comprehensive discussion of LGBTI anti-discrimination protections around the country, see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws

I Stand With Trans Kids, and Against Mark Latham

Wednesday 5 August 2020 saw the introduction of the most damaging legislative attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights in Australia this century: Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020.

Don’t let the innocuous title fool you. This Bill seeks nothing less than the total erasure of any and all trans and gender diverse content, inclusion programs and even counselling from every school in NSW, government and non-government alike. In doing so, it seeks to completely erase trans and gender diverse kids, too.

It does this by adding the following definition to the Education Act 1990 (NSW):

gender fluidity means a belief there is a difference between biological sex (including people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation) and human gender and that human gender is socially constructed rather [than] being equivalent to a person’s biological sex.

This definition effectively excludes the very existence of trans and gender diverse people.

Latham’s Bill then prohibits the inclusion of anything to do with ‘gender fluidity’ from all courses approved for use in schools across NSW.

And it prohibits not just ‘the teaching of gender fluidity’ (proposed section 17A), but also any ‘instruction, counselling and advice provided to students by:

  • non-teaching school executives;
  • non-teaching school counsellors,
  • non-teaching staff, contractors, advisors and consultants of a school,
  • non-school based staff, contractors, advisors and consultants of a school, and
  • volunteers at a school’ (proposed section 17C).

Everyone – from teachers, to principals, counsellors, and parents volunteering in the classroom or the tuckshop – must adopt an official silence on anything to do with trans and gender diverse people.

The consequences for teachers breaching this silence are severe: the Bill proposes amendments to the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004 (NSW) that would cancel the accreditation of any teacher who even acknowledges that trans and gender diverse people are a thing.

As Latham stated in his Second Reading Speech:

My bill outlaws gender fluidity teaching, course development and teacher training and ends the accreditation, and thus the employment, of any individual breaking that law.

Of course, the consequences for trans and gender diverse students are far worse. They will be made to feel completely invisible, with no information about who they are, let alone reassurance who they are is okay.

There will be no trans and gender diverse content in health and physical education classes, at any age, or in any other subject, either. History, literature, indeed all of the social sciences, must be purged of any reference to trans and gender diverse characters and people. As Penny Sharpe MLC interjected during Latham’s speech, this is book-banning writ large.

Trans and gender diverse students will have nowhere to turn for assistance. School counsellors, who are supposed to help all students, will be prohibited from even talking about gender identity issues with them.

Even sympathetic teachers will feel compelled to pretend that the trans and gender diverse kids in their classrooms, sitting right in front of them, do not exist. They will be encouraged to misgender and deadname them, or jeopardise their careers. They would likely be unable to intervene to stop transphobic bullying and harassment of these kids as well.

Because to acknowledge that trans and gender diverse kids exist would be to acknowledge that sex is different to gender, and that gender exists on a spectrum.

Tragically, the purging of all trans and gender diverse content from courses, the invisibilisation of trans and gender diverse kids themselves, and the removal of all support from teachers, counsellors and others, will inevitably lead to trans and gender diverse kids killing themselves.

But then that’s possibly the point. The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 appears to be built on the ideology that it is better for a child to be dead than to be happy, well-adjusted and trans or gender diverse.

Before moving on, we should also highlight the serious problems this legislation will cause for trans and gender diverse employees. It seems likely that identification as non-binary will be prohibited – teachers, and other staff, would not be able to insist on the use of they/them pronouns, or other non-gendered language. They would be forced to deny who they are.

The situation for binary trans teachers and other staff would be nothing short of horrifying. If anyone in the school community, from students to other staff and even parents, became aware of their gender identity, and decided to weaponise it against them, they would be unable to defend themselves, because again to do so would be to affirm sex is not gender. They too would be powerless to stop themselves from being deadnamed and misgendered.

The attack on trans and gender diverse people, and especially trans and gender diverse kids, in this legislation is brutal. But other parts of the LGBTI community aren’t spared either.

That’s because the Bill also establishes a new framework in the Education Act 1990 (NSW) which restricts teaching around a wide range of issues. These are framed as ‘matters of parental primacy’, and defined as:

in relation to the education of children, moral and ethical standards, political and social values, and matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality.

It would then allow parents and guardians to remove their child from any course that even mentions sexuality (proposed section 17D) – meaning any class, from health and physical education, through any of the social sciences, which dares to state that lesbian, gay and bisexual people exist.

It would also compel schools to consult with parents and guardians at the start of each year about any course which includes anything to do with sexuality (proposed section 17E) and then attempt to teach that course consistently with ‘the moral and ethical standards and the political and social values of parents of students’ (proposed section 6(o)).

Of course, given it is impossible to teach any course consistent with the political and social values of all parents, and the significant administrative hurdles involved, most schools will simply jettison all courses that mention anything to do with same-sex attraction. Lesbian, gay and bisexual content will be purged just like trans and gender diverse information before it.

Even where schools do decide to include this information, proposed section 17B would intervene to limit its effectiveness:

17B Teaching to be non-ideological

In government schools,[i] the education is to consist of strictly non-ideological instruction in matters of parental primacy. The words non-ideological instruction are to be taken to include general teaching about matters of parental primacy as distinct from advocating or promoting dogmatic or polemical ideology.[ii]

The impact of this clause is potentially far-reaching. After all, if some parents believe homosexuality is ‘sinful’, then presumably it would be ‘ideological’ for a school to teach being lesbian, gay or bisexual is okay. And if some parents assert all sex outside marriage is prohibited, and that LGB people must be celibate, then it could be ‘ideological’ to provide safer sex education at all, but especially about non-heterosexual intercourse.

The use of the words ‘advocating or promoting’ is especially concerning. This provision is, in effect, an Australian equivalent of the UK’s notorious section 28, which was introduced by the Thatcher Government in 1988, and persisted until 2003 when it was finally repealed.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (UK) stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’

The word ‘promotion’ was interpreted broadly, meaning many teachers and schools simply refused to discuss anything to do with same-sex attraction, lest they be accused of ‘promoting’ it. This clause caused a generation of same-sex attracted students to be abandoned, left alone, scared and confused, and without access to safer sex education at the height of the HIV epidemic.

Mark Latham’s section 17B would have the same chilling effect as section 28 – teachers, principals, counsellors and volunteers (including parents) would fear telling a struggling lesbian, gay or bisexual student that who they are is perfectly okay, because it could be seen as promoting an ‘ideological’ view.

While on first glance the provisions of the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 which apply to sexuality appear to be less harsh than the more direct attack on trans and gender diverse kids, the outcome could nevertheless be the same – silence, invisibility and lack of support, leading to dead children.

Finally, it should be noted that the provisions of this Bill are damaging to intersex kids too.

The definition of ‘gender fluidity’, reproduced above, includes this phrase: ‘including people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation’, which is presumably a reference to people born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.

Except intersex variations of sex characteristics are not *disorders*, and the use of this terminology is particularly destructive, reinforcing stereotypes that these differences are wrong and something to be ‘corrected’. This term therefore increases the stigmatisation of intersex children, and will lead to further unnecessary and harmful medical and surgical interventions – an ongoing human rights abuse that must be ended, not perpetuated.

Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is a direct assault on all parts of the LGBTI community, and especially LGBTI children. Above all, it seeks to completely erase trans and gender diverse content, inclusion programs and counselling from every school in NSW – and thereby erase trans and gender diverse kids themselves.

That’s why, in my view, it is the most damaging attack on the LGBTI community this century. Worse than John Howard’s original ban on same-sex marriage. Worse than the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill (although it also has far-reaching negative consequences for LGBTI Australians). Worse even than Latham’s own Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020.

Because it is a calculated and deliberate campaign against the most vulnerable among us.

It is a transphobic (and homophobic, and biphobic, and intersexphobic) agenda that we must resist with all our resources.

Unfortunately, we are already off to a bad start, with the NSW Legislative Council also voting on Wednesday to refer this legislation to Portfolio Committee No. 3 – Education, for inquiry. For those who are not aware, the chair of that Committee is … Mark Latham himself.

Which means we will need to appeal directly to the other members of the Committee to reject his proposal:

  • Matthew Mason-Cox (LIB, Deputy Chair)
  • Anthony D’Adam (ALP)
  • Wes Fang (NAT)
  • Scott Farlow (LIB)
  • Courtney Houssos (ALP), and
  • David Shoebridge (GRNS).

Ultimately, and perhaps somewhat ironically, the debate surrounding a Bill which explicitly mentions ‘moral and ethical standards, political and social values’ is a test of character for the Members of the NSW Parliament.

The question is one for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and Opposition Leader Jodi McKay: do you stand with trans and gender diverse kids, and LGBTI kids generally, or do you support a Bill that purges LGBTI content from classes, removes support from teachers, counsellors and others, and renders LGBTI kids themselves invisible?

Most importantly, they must make their decision quickly, and rule out supporting the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, before the inevitable toxic debate, inside and outside Parliament, led by Latham and backed by his cheerleaders in the right-wing media.

I stand with trans kids, and against Mark Latham. What about you Gladys and Jodi?

For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/ or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is a worse attack on the LGBTI community than John Howard’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:

[i] Presumably, non-government schools will be able to be ‘ideological’ and provide instruction which condemns same-sex attraction.

[ii] Section 17B ends with: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, this section does not apply to special religious education provided under section 32 of this Act’, which leaves open the possibility that homophobic materials will be able to be distributed in special religious education in government schools.

Opening Statement to Victorian Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

On 25 June, I was invited to give evidence to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections. My opening statement, highlighting the need to introduce prohibitions on vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, is published below (the full transcript of my evidence, including answers to questions from members of the Legislative Assembly’s Legal and Social Issues Committee, can be found here).

This evidence builds on my submission to the inquiry in December 2019. The Committee’s original timeline requires them to report by 1 September 2020, although given current circumstances it would of course be understandable for this deadline to be extended. Hopefully, whenever the Committee reports, they recommend that LGBTI Victorians are finally provided with legal protections against vilification.

**********

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear today and give evidence on this important topic. I do so as an advocate for LGBTI anti-discrimination law reform for close to two decades. This includes previously serving as the chair of the policy working groups of both Victorian and New South Wales gay and lesbian rights lobbies, although I appear here in a personal capacity. In my comments I will focus on terms of reference 4, ‘comparisons in the operation of the Victorian Act with legislation in other jurisdictions’, and 8, ‘possible extension of protections or expansion of protection to classes of people not currently protected’.

Starting with the comparative approach, it is clear that Victoria has fallen behind the standards set by several other Australian jurisdictions. In my own state of New South Wales protections against vilification on the basis of homosexuality were first added to the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1993, just four years after racial vilification was first prohibited and before passage of the commonwealth Racial Hatred Act 1995. Transgender vilification protections were then added in 1996. While there are limitations to these protections, such as the exclusion of bisexual, non-binary and intersex people, many LG and T people here have enjoyed anti-vilification coverage for close to a quarter of a century.

LGBT people have also been protected against vilification in Queensland for almost 20 years following the inclusion of both sexuality and gender identity in their vilification provisions in 2002. The ACT Discrimination Act has included prohibitions on vilification on the basis of sexuality and transsexuality from 2004, with gender identity replacing transsexuality in 2010 and intersex added in 2016, meaning the ACT’s vilification provisions cover the entire LGBTI community, one of two such laws in the country.

The other jurisdiction to cover all of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people is Tasmania, which has the most extensive anti-vilification laws in Australia. These protections have two parts. Section 19 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits public acts that:

incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons …

That section has included sexual orientation from its commencement in 1999, and it included transsexuality within sexual orientation from that time until 2014. Gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics were both added in May last year. Section 17 separately prohibits:

conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of an attribute …

Those provisions have covered sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, or intersex variations of sex characteristics, since 2014. From a comparative approach alone, it is disappointing the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act has not been extended beyond racial and religious vilification since it commenced in 2002.

Turning now to the second issue—the possible extension of protection to classes of people not currently protected—I think the preamble to the Act is quite instructive. Paragraph 3 in particular reads:

… some Victorians are vilified on the ground of their race or their religious belief or activity. Vilifying conduct is contrary to democratic values because of its effect on people of diverse ethnic, Indigenous and religious backgrounds. It diminishes their dignity, sense of self-worth and belonging to the community. It also reduces their ability to contribute to, or fully participate in, all social, political, economic and cultural aspects of society as equals, thus reducing the benefit that diversity brings to the community.

From an LGBTI advocate’s perspective, it seems obvious to me that the exact same description could be applied to my community. Some people are vilified on the ground of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. This conduct is contrary to democratic values because of its effect on us. Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersex phobia diminish our dignity, sense of self-worth and belonging to the community. It also reduces our ability to contribute to or fully participate in all aspects of society as equals and reduces the benefits of diversity.

Explaining this to you in a more structured or systematic way, I would submit (1) sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics are fundamental or inherent human characteristics; (2) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are frequently subjected to vilification on the basis of who they are; and (3) that vilification can cause serious harm and should therefore be legally prohibited.

In 2020 the first point is obviously not up for serious debate. In terms of points 2 and 3, I would draw the committee’s attention to a community survey which I conducted at the end of 2016 with 1672 LGBTIQ respondents from around Australia, including 386 in Victoria [*see below]. One of the questions asked, ‘Have you ever experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?’. Overall 74 per cent of respondents answered yes, with 48 per cent of all respondents then reporting at least one instance of verbal harassment or abuse in the previous 12 months.

That is one in two LGBTIQ Australians indicating they were verbally abused in the year 2016 alone, which I should note was before the postal survey. Perhaps unsurprisingly but nevertheless disappointingly, these rates were even higher amongst transgender respondents: 68.3 per cent reported abuse in the previous 12 months. And intersex respondents, 82.2 per cent in the previous year. The rates in Victoria were average for the country, 74.1 per cent reporting abuse or harassment ever and 49.8 per cent in the previous 12 months.

Now I acknowledge that many—indeed, likely most—of these responses would fall short of the legal standard for vilification, but no doubt some would meet it. Taking just one respondent’s experience:

I have been referred to as a tranny and had both my sexuality and gender identity mocked and invalidated repeatedly. I have been told to kill myself an innumerable number of times, including being told to ‘get my teeth and gender straight or kill myself’, and that my gender is ‘cancer’. This is just a short list of the abuse I’ve suffered.

When asked for the location for anti-LGBTI comments in the previous 12 months, 92 per cent of respondents said social media, 83 per cent said politics, 81 per cent religion, 80 per cent media and 67 per cent in a public space. Finally, when asked to explain the impact that witnessing homophobic, bi-phobic, transphobic and intersex-phobic comments had on him, here are just two of the comments received:

They make me feel worthless, like a freak, like I don’t deserve to live, like I don’t deserve anything, like I will be alone forever, like no-one will love me, like I should just kill myself because it would be easier.

And:

… disgust and shame at both myself and Australia. I feel marginalised, oppressed, fearful, frustrated and in some cases terrified of the country I live in.

This brings me back to the preamble of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act and the benefit that including sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes would bring. In my view it would not only reflect Victoria’s democratic values but enhance the dignity, self-worth and belonging of a significant cohort of Victorians. That would be a positive outcome, and I hope the committee, and the Parliament ultimately, agrees. Thank you.”

*These figures, and quotes, are taken from my 2016 research survey ‘The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia’.

No Homophobia No Exceptions (1)

For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/ or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Did You Know? Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification

Hate-speech against minority groups is inherently harmful, and most people accept it should be regulated in some way (even if there is debate about what such regulation should look like).

Indeed, almost a quarter of a century since racial vilification was prohibited under Commonwealth law – the Racial Hatred Act was passed by Parliament in August 1995 – many probably assume that vilification against minority groups, including against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, is already outlawed.

Which means that some would likely be surprised to discover the majority of Australian jurisdictions do not prohibit vilification against LGBTI people, and that even among those states and territories that do, only two cover all parts of our community.

Tasmania

The first jurisdiction that prohibits vilification against all of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people is Tasmania.

Section 19 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) outlaws ‘inciting hatred’:

‘A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of’ protected attributes including sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics.’

Tasmania also has best practice protections under section 17(1), which further provides that:

‘A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person… in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed.’

Once again, the attributes covered include sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT is the second jurisdiction that prohibits vilification against all of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people.

Section 67A of the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) makes vilification unlawful:

‘It is unlawful for a person to incite hatred toward, revulsion of, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of people on the ground of any of the following, other than in private:

(b) gender identity

(d) intersex status

(g) sexuality.’

Although it should be noted that intersex advocates have called for discrimination and vilification protections on the basis of ‘intersex status’ to be replaced by the attribute of ‘sex characteristics’,[i] based on the definition in the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.[ii]

Queensland

Queensland is one of two other jurisdictions that protect some, but not all, parts of the LGBTI community against vilification.

Section 124A of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) provides that:

‘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.’[iii]

And it should be noted that the definition of gender identity in this Act only includes ‘binary’ transgender gender, not non-binary or other gender diverse people (‘gender identity, in relation to a person, means that the person… identifies, or has identified, as a member of the opposite sex by living or seeking to live as a member of that sex’).

Meaning that only LGB and some T Queenslanders are protected. Unfortunately, there is no indication the Queensland Government will update the definition of gender identity, and include sex characteristics as a protected attribute, before the upcoming state election, scheduled for 31 October 2020.

New South Wales

The situation in NSW is far more complex. The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) contains civil sanctions against vilification targeting binary transgender people, as well as lesbians and gay men.

Specifically, section 38S(1) prohibits anti-transgender vilification:

‘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.’

However, this clause does not protect non-binary or other gender diverse people, because the definition in section 38A of the Act is out-dated:

‘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-

(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…

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.’

Section 49ZT(1) then prohibits vilification – meaning inciting 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’.

Note that this only refers to homosexuality, meaning civil sanctions under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) do not cover bisexual people.

On the other hand, amendments to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), introduced in 2018, created a criminal offence of ‘publicly threatening or inciting violence on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status’. Section 93Z(1) now provides that:

‘A person who, by a public act, intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards another person or a group of persons on any of the following grounds is guilty of an offence:

(c) the sexual orientation of the other person or one or more of the members of the group

(d) the gender identity of the other person or one or more of the members of the group

(e) that the other person is, or one or more of the members of the group are, of intersex status…’

The individual penalty for contravention of this provision is up to 100 penalty units or 3 years imprisonment (or both).

The next NSW state election is not due until 25 March 2023, meaning there is plenty of time available for the current Government to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) to ensure its civil vilification prohibitions also cover bisexuals, non-binary or other gender diverse people and intersex people – as well as fixing some of the many, many other problems with Australia’s worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law.[iv]

*

Five other jurisdictions do not prohibit anti-LGBTI vilification, at all:

Commonwealth

There is currently no prohibition – civil or criminal – on anti-LGBTI vilification in Commonwealth law.

This remains the case almost 25 years since the Racial Hatred Act 1995 (Cth) added section 18C to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (‘the RDA’):

‘(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.’

Unfortunately, it seems far more likely the Morrison Liberal/National Government will wind back section 18C of the RDA (something former Attorney-General George Brandis attempted, but thankfully failed, to do), than to introduce an LGBTI equivalent before the next federal election, due in May 2022.

Indeed, current Attorney-General Christian Porter’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, if passed, would immediately undermine Tasmania’s existing prohibition on conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules LGBTI people,[v] as well as leaving the door open to explicitly overriding all state and territory LGBTI anti-vilification laws, via simple regulation, in the future.[vi]

Victoria

Victoria is another jurisdiction that fails to protect LGBTI people against vilification.

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) contains no prohibitions against vilification, for anyone. While, as the name suggests, the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) currently only prohibits racial and religious vilification.

On the positive side, and unlike the Commonwealth, there are at least signs of possible progress in Victoria, with Fiona Patten MLC having introduced a Racial and Religious Tolerance Bill 2019. Her Bill would add sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics (among other categories) to the list of protected attributes in that Act.

The issue of anti-vilification protections is also being considered by a parliamentary committee, with that inquiry due to report by 1 September 2020.[vii] Which leaves sufficient time for the Victorian Government to take action to address this shortcoming before the next election, on 26 November 2022.

Western Australia

Another jurisdiction with disappointingly out-dated anti-discrimination legislation – perhaps the second-worst in the country behind only NSW – is Western Australia.

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) does not contain any prohibitions on vilification, on any attribute. However, the Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA) does create a range of offences linked to racial vilification[viii] – although there are no equivalent offences for anti-LGBTI vilification.

The Western Australian Government has referred the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) to the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia for review. Encouragingly, one of the terms of reference for this inquiry is to consider ‘the inclusion of vilification, including racial, religious, sexual orientation and impairment vilification’.

However, the website for the inquiry has not been updated for more than 12 months (since 6 March 2019), and the next Western Australian election is due in less than 12 months (scheduled for 13 March 2021), making it highly unlikely for LGBTI anti-vilification protections to be passed this term.

South Australia

South Australia also has no anti-vilification coverage for the LGBTI community.

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) does not include any vilification provisions, while, as the name suggests, the Racial Vilification Act 1996 (SA) only covers vilification based on race.

Unlike Victoria and Western Australia, though, I am not aware of any South Australian Government processes considering the issue of LGBTI anti-vilification laws prior to their next state election, to be held on 19 March 2022.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory is unique, in that it is the only Australian jurisdiction without its own racial vilification provisions. However, section 18C of the RDA still applies, which means racial vilification is outlawed – there is no such luck for LGBTI Territorians.

The Northern Territory Attorney-General’s Department did conduct a public consultation about their Anti-Discrimination Act (NT) in January 2018, which included consideration of ‘introducing specific anti-vilification laws prohibiting offensive conduct on the basis of race, religious belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.’

Unfortunately, that inquiry’s website has not been updated since May 2019 – with that ‘radio silence’ making it extremely unlikely LGBTI anti-vilification laws will be passed before the Northern Territory election which is just over two months away (22 August 2020).

*

Vilification against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community can be incredibly damaging, especially for younger and/or vulnerable individuals. This was demonstrated, painfully and unequivocally, by the harm caused by the Turnbull Liberal/National Government’s wasteful and unnecessary same-sex marriage postal survey in 2017.

However, it is disturbing to realise that, in 2020, fewer than one million Australians – out of a population of more than 25 million – live in jurisdictions that prohibit vilification against all parts of the LGBTI community: Tasmania and the ACT.

As we have seen, another two states – Queensland and NSW – offer only partial coverage, while the Commonwealth, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory offer no legal protection at all.

Well. That. Is. Simply. Not. Good. Enough.

This winter, I will be regularly posting about these and other serious weaknesses of Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws.[ix] #WinterOfDiscriminationContent. To follow, you can:

  • Sign up to my blog (via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile)
  • Follow me on twitter, and/or
  • Like No Homophobia, No Exceptions on Facebook.

Anti-discrimination protections are essential to the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Australian life. And we have allowed them to atrophy for far too long. So, as well as fighting against a Religious Discrimination Bill that undermines those rights we already have, we need to fight even harder to make sure LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws are made much, much better.

LGBTI Vilification Australia June 2020

[This article is part of a series. Find other ‘Did You Know?’ posts here.]

Footnotes:

[i] ‘Article 9. We call for effective legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics.’ Darlington Statement, 10 March 2017.

[ii] ‘Understanding ‘sex characteristics’ as each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’ The Yogyakarta Principles plus 10: Additional principles and state obligations on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics to complement the Yogyakarta Principles, 10 November 2017.

[iii] Somewhat confusingly, section 124A is found in Chapter 4, Part 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), titled ‘Racial and religious vilification’, which may lead some people to erroneously assume LGBT vilification is not prohibited.

[iv] For more, see What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

[v] Clause 42(1)(b) of the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill.

[vi] Clause 42(1)(c) of the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill. For more, see: The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked.

[vii] You can see my submission to that inquiry, here.

[viii] Including:

Section 77 Conduct intended to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Section 78 Conduct likely to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

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

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

Section 80A Conduct intended to racially harass

Section 80B Conduct likely to racially harass.

[ix] For a comparative analysis, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

Discrimination Under the Cover of Corona

Coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19. Whatever you call it, it has been the biggest single story of this century (so far). Challenging health systems, governments, economies and communities – its dominance of the news cycle has overshadowed all other issues.

Of course, that does not mean those other challenges have gone away – especially climate change. Indeed, many existing problems have been exacerbated by, or exacerbated the negative impact of, coronavirus, including wealth inequality. Discrimination has sadly also been turbo-charged by the virus, with many disturbing examples of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism reported during the past few months.

But, as an LGBTI advocate, it is another type of mistreatment I want to focus on here: discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. While less prominent to date in comparison to racism, I am concerned about a potential outbreak of anti-LGBT discrimination under the cover of corona, in at least three ways:

  1. Discrimination in employment

Even with the Government’s temporary JobKeeper program, Australia’s unemployment numbers are expected to at least double between March and June 2020. We could see more than 1,000,000 people permanently lose their jobs in this period alone (not to mention many more who will have their hours, or pay – or often both – reduced).

While in many workplaces, the entire staff will be terminated, elsewhere employers will keep on some employees while dismissing others. With this process happening across so many businesses, small and large, and across so many sectors, simultaneously, it is inevitable some will (ab)use this opportunity to sack people for illegitimate reasons, including bosses firing LGBT workers simply because of who they are.

Even where homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are not ‘explicit’ in this way, some employers may take irrelevant factors into consideration in making their decisions – such as whether the employee has a partner, whether that partner is also employed, and whether they have children to support. Such discrimination, on the basis of marital or relationship status, or family responsibilities, is likely to disproportionately harm LGBT employees.[i]

For a variety of reasons, we will likely never know the full extent of anti-LGBT discrimination in employment during this crisis – although it should be noted the Sydney Morning Herald is already reporting that:

‘The number of workers raising issues with unfair dismissals has surged because of the coronavirus shutdown, with 65 per cent more employees bringing cases to the national industrial tribunal last month [April] than the same time last year.’ 

  1. Discrimination in service delivery

One serious problem highlighted by the coronavirus crisis has been the ‘hollowing out’ of governments, at all levels, and corresponding outsourcing of what should be public services to the private sector.

In particular, a disturbingly high proportion of essential social services in Australia are now delivered by religious organisations, despite usually using public monies. This includes housing and emergency accommodation, community support, food and even healthcare.

At a time when many Australians will be accessing these services for the first time, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will have the additional worry of whether such faith bodies will refuse to serve them, or treat them differently to cisgender heterosexual people in the same circumstances.

This is not to suggest that all or even most of these religious organisations will engage in homophobic, biphobic or transphobic discrimination – but some of these services inevitably will, to the detriment of LGBT Australians when they are at their most vulnerable.

  1. Anti-LGBT vilification

The third potential outbreak which concerns me is anti-LGBT vilification. That is, attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals – and the LGBT community more broadly – claiming that we are somehow responsible for promulgating the coronavirus, or deserving of infection because of our supposed ‘sinful lifestyles’.

This is not a hypothetical fear, either. At the start of April, Melbourne Jewish radio station J-AIR broadcast the following homophobic and transphobic comments from a Rabbi Kessin:

‘And basically he’s [god’s] 98% finished, that’s how close we are to redemption. Therefore god wants to do is bring the redemption. However, there are certain problems that must be addressed by god in order for the redemption to actually happen. And what we begin to see is that the pandemic is an exact designer drug, if you want to use that expression, that will remove these problems.

Ah, in other words, the plague itself is a vehicle, is an instrument, to accelerate the messianic process by removing these major problems. What are they? You see. So therefore what we see is the following.

The first major problem is that man has corrupted his nature. There is a tremendous amount of, ah, what’s called immorality in the world today. It’s widespread. There’s, in Hebrew it’s called “prichus”. We want, we could say it’s also in the form of homosexuality, and gays and so on and so forth, where all of a sudden the gender differentiation is, is tremendously blurred. So that is an incredible corruption of man’s nature.’

There are, obviously, strong echoes of the homophobic vilification endured by the gay and HIV-positive community as part of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And we learnt from that experience that more bigots will emerge in the months ahead claiming that coronavirus is ‘divine punishment’ of the LGBT community for having the temerity to exist.

These three risks – anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, and service delivery, and anti-LGBT vilification – demonstrate the importance of robust anti-discrimination and vilification protections. Unfortunately, they also reveal serious weaknesses in Australia’s existing anti-discrimination and vilification framework, in at least four ways:

  1. Onus on complainants

Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are primarily complaint-based, which means responsibility falls on the victims of discrimination to pursue justice against their discriminator(s).

This is a problem at the best of times. That includes because of the usual significant power imbalances involved: between employee and employer; member and group; individual accessing services and service delivery organisation; customer and business; and more.

The burden of making a discrimination complaint should also not be underestimated, including the cost in both time and resources (such as obtaining legal advice, which can be costly), as well as the impact on mental health through stress. It is no surprise that many people who experience discrimination ultimately choose not to lodge a complaint.

And of course the coronavirus crisis means now is far from the best of times. Power imbalances are exacerbated, financial and other stresses already heightened. Even where LGBT Australians experience unequivocal discrimination, the problems of a complaint-based system mean they may not exercise their legal rights but instead focus on more immediate concerns (like where they are going to live, and how they will pay for food, electricity and other essentials).

Now more than ever our anti-discrimination laws should be improved by making it easier for organisations, such as trade unions, to make representative complaints on behalf of vulnerable individuals, as well as strengthening the powers of bodies like the Australian Human Rights Commission and its state and territory equivalents to investigate instances of discrimination even in the absence of individual complainants.

  1. Difficult to prove

Even where a victim of discrimination does choose to lodge a formal complaint, it can sometimes be difficult to prove, at least to the required legal standard.

This will not come as a surprise to most LGBT Australians – or indeed to members of other minority groups in the community. Almost all of us will have experienced multiple instances of mistreatment, where you know without a doubt that your sexual orientation, or gender identity, or sex, or race, or disability, or combination of these, is the motivation – while also knowing it would difficult to establish without an explicit admission by the perpetrator.

The coronavirus crisis, and the associated economic crisis, will only worsen this problem, with employers able to say they abandoned usual procedures because of the scale and speed of the challenge they were facing (and the potential they are given the benefit of the doubt in many circumstances, too). This doesn’t mean there was no discrimination – but it could make already high barriers even harder to overcome for the victims.

  1. Religious exceptions

Regular readers of this blog would be well aware of this major flaw in Australians LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Specifically, under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and the anti-discrimination laws of most state and territories (other than Tasmania’s best practice Anti-Discrimination Act 1998), it is entirely lawful for religious organisations to discriminate against employees, and people accessing services, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[ii]

This means that it is legal for a faith-based homeless service in Sydney to deny shelter to someone because they are lesbian, or for a religious-run welfare service in Melbourne to reject a client because they are trans. It also means these organisations can refuse to hire, or even fire, employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – which is especially concerning when these bodies may be given more public funding to address the challenges of the next 12 to 18 months, making them one of the few places actually hiring.

In order for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians to enjoy the same employment opportunities, and receive the same level of support, as everyone else, religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws must be repealed.

  1. Gaps in vilification protections

The fourth serious weakness in our current legislative framework is the fact that only a minority of jurisdictions protect LGBT people against vilification. The biggest gap is obviously at Commonwealth level, where there remains no sexual orientation or gender identity equivalent of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

But there is also no anti-LGBT vilification coverage in Victoria[iii] (meaning the earlier comments on a Melbourne Jewish radio station were likely lawful), or in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory.

Even where vilification protections exist, their coverage is sometimes incomplete. For example, civil prohibitions on vilification in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 only protect lesbians and gay men, and binary transgender people.[iv] Bisexuals, non-binary and intersex people need not apply (or complain).

**********

These four problems, with Australia’s LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws, are obviously major. But they do not mean all such legal claims will be unsuccessful – merely that people should be aware of the potential pitfalls along the complaints journey that awaits them.

I should also be clear that this isn’t legal advice, either – after all, I am not currently a practising lawyer. However, if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex and do experience discrimination or vilification, and are considering your options, there are places where you can seek advice. These include:

The Inner-City Legal Centre in Sydney

The LGBTIQ Legal Service in Melbourne

The LGBTI Legal Service in Brisbane

The HIV/AIDS Legal Centre in Sydney

Or you could contact the local Community Legal Centre in your area. A searchable map is located on the Community Legal Centres Australia website.

Alternatively, you could try the Legal Aid services in your respective state or territory.

The above organisations may assist you in determining whether you wish to make a complaint – and where. They may also be able to provide you with legal representation if you do complain.

Nevertheless, it is not compulsory to obtain advice, or be represented, in order to make an anti-discrimination, or anti-vilification, claim. You could instead decide to go directly to the relevant human rights body. These include:

The Australian Human Rights Commission for discrimination complaints, including employment discrimination [remembering that there are no LGBTI vilification protections under Commonwealth law]

The Fair Work Commission if the complaint relates to employment discrimination only [noting that only lesbian, gay and bisexual people can apply – because the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) does not cover gender identity or intersex status/sex characteristics][v]

Anti-Discrimination NSW

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

The Queensland Human Rights Commission

The WA Equal Opportunity Commission

The SA Equal Opportunity Commission

Equal Opportunity Tasmania

The ACT Human Rights Commission

The NT Anti-Discrimination Commission

A lot has been written in recent months about the coronavirus ‘not discriminating’. That SARS-CoV-2 is the ‘great leveller’. That in response to COVID-19 we are now all supposedly playing on the same team (namely ‘Team Australia’).

Of course, that simplistic slogan simply isn’t true. Just like life before the ‘rona, the rich will have fewer adverse outcomes than the poor. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to experience extremely high rates of disadvantage.

Racial minorities, especially Chinese-Australians and other people from Asian backgrounds, will endure even greater levels of racism than before the pandemic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is fond of telling Australians to ‘get out from under the doona’. He needs to also pay attention to the increased racist abuse which has sadly – but entirely predictably – emerged from under the covers.

As we have seen, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians, as another vulnerable group, are at risk, too – of increased discrimination in employment, in service delivery, and through vilification.

If that happens to you, there may be legal remedies available, including under Commonwealth, state and territory discrimination laws, or the Fair Work Act. As discussed earlier, there may also be good reasons why you ultimately choose not to make a complaint under any of these processes.

But one reason homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bigots shouldn’t be allowed to get away with anti-LGBT discrimination or vilification is that you simply weren’t aware of the options available.

Christian Porter

Commonwealth Attorney-General should spend more time fixing problems with our existing anti-discrimination laws, and less time trying to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill that would only exacerbate them.

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Footnotes:

[i] Acknowledging of course that traditionally, and unfortunately still today, the most likely targets of discrimination on the basis marital or relationship status, or family responsibilities, are women.

[ii] For more on this subject, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

[iii] Although there is currently a Victoria Parliament inquiry considering expansion of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. See my submission to that inquiry here.

[iv] Although the criminal offence of publicly threatening or inciting violence, added to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) in 2018, does cover all of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. For more on the problems of LGBTI anti-discrimination law in NSW, see What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

[v] For more, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.