2016: Annus Homophobicus


In November 1992, the Queen of England (and, unfortunately, still the Queen of Australia too) gave a speech in which she described the previous 12 months as her ‘annus horribilis’.


To be fair, it had been a rough year for Ms Windsor, with the separation of her eldest son from his wife, the divorce of her only daughter from her husband, frequent tabloid scandals (hello toe-sucking!) and even a fire in one of her (many) houses[i].


But, as bad as Elizabeth II’s year was back then, it’s frankly got nothing on how depressing, and frustrating, 2016 has been for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.


So, as the year draws to a close, and we look back on the (too few) highs and (far too many) lows, it feels apt to declare the past 12 months to be our very own ‘annus homophobicus’.


It started in January with the launch of a ferocious, and well co-ordinated, attack on the Safe Schools program by the Australian Christian Lobby, The Australian newspaper and extremists in the right-wing of the Liberal-National Government.


And, even after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ‘gutted’ the program in early March, the campaign against what is a vital anti-bullying program designed to help LGBTI students has continued, as unyielding as it is lacking in compassion.


The year ended with the tragic death of 13-year-old Brisbane high school student, Tyrone Unsworth, in late November. Indigenous and gay, Tyrone had suffered relentless bullying because of his sexual orientation, until he ultimately took his own life.


A death that, understandably, shook many members of our community to the core, it was particularly hard for LGBTI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.[ii] It was a tragedy that demonstrated the very need for a program that homophobic bigots had spent the best part of a year trying to dismantle.


In between, 2016 was dominated by Turnbull’s proposed plebiscite on marriage equality – a policy that was completely unnecessary, fundamentally wasteful and, if held, would inevitably be harmful for countless young and vulnerable members of the LGBTI community, including the children of rainbow families.


It took the collective efforts of a variety of LGBTI groups, alongside the work of many individual activists, over several months, to finally defeat the planned plebiscite in early November. But that sustained campaign, against a proposal that had been put forward simply to delay or defeat rather than achieve equality, left a large number of people almost completely drained (myself included).


The past 12 months has also witnessed a rise in homophobic and transphobic hate-speech. It seems that anti-LGBTI rhetoric is both more common, and more ‘acceptable’, in Australia now than at any point over the past 10 to 15 years.


And it certainly does not help that the frequent abuse of LGBTI people coming from inside the Government, by the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen, has gone without any obvious punishment from an allegedly-moderate Prime Minister too scared to stand up to his more-conservative colleagues.


Even worse than hate-speech, 2016 has seen plenty of horrific hate-based actions, both here and around the world.


This includes the almost unspeakable tragedy in Orlando on June 12th, with the mass murder of 49 people, and wounding of 53 others, at Pulse. With the popular gay nightclub holding a Latin night, most of the victims were young and Latinx. Six months later, it remains impossible not to cry when reading or watching tributes[iii] to the casualties of this terror attack.



Tributes to victims outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.


Acts of homophobic and transphobic violence were not limited to the United States, however. In Australia, too, there were countless assaults on LGBTI people.


The one that hit closest to home – both literally[iv] and figuratively – was the young Sydney man who was ‘gay-bashed’ twice in one night[v], the second time by a supposed ‘good Samaritan’ who had initially helped him after the first attack, only to assault the victim himself after learning he was gay.


This was a crime based on homophobia that could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime, including my fiancé Steven and me.




The net effect of these events, alongside other shocking outcomes of the past year (including Brexit and the election of Donald Trump), has been sufficient to undermine the belief that progress is somehow inevitable, that the future will always be better than the past.


But, as LGBTI Australians, we don’t need the fear-fuelled success of a xenophobic campaign against immigrants in the UK, or of a sexist and racist tyrant-in-training in the US, to remind us that political change is not inherently positive.


As many of you would know, the past few years have seen a number of areas where progress on LGBTI policy and law reform hasn’t just stalled, but been actively wound back.


One of the first acts of the Campbell Newman-led Liberal-National Queensland Government in 2012 was to abolish ceremonies as part of the recently-passed civil partnership scheme in that state[vi].


In Victoria, the Baillieu Coalition Government repealed the ‘inherent requirement’ test from that state’s Equal Opportunity Act – which had required religious employers to demonstrate that discrimination against LGBT employees was an essential part of the role – before it had even commenced operation in 2011[vii].


The Tasmanian Liberal Government not only made discrimination by religious schools easier in 2015 (thereby undermining what has been the nation’s best anti-discrimination scheme), it is currently committed to reducing protections against vilification, including those enjoyed by LGBTI Tasmanians.


And we shouldn’t forget the decision by Prime Minister Turnbull to discontinue funding for the Safe Schools program (with Commonwealth money to cease from 2017), an initiative that his predecessor, Tony Abbott, had actually implemented less than three years earlier.


It is clear then, that progress on LGBTI issue is not inevitable. And it is almost enough to challenge the wisdom of one of Martin Luther King, Jr’s many note-worthy quotes, namely that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”


Almost, but not quite.


As painful as the past 12 months have been for many, especially for members of Australia’s LGBTI communities, we nevertheless must see these events in their historical context, and recognise that – at least on a (much) longer time-scale – overall, things are still headed in a positive direction. And that remains the case even if there are twists and turns, even significant bumps, along the way.


But the most important lesson to remember is that, while the arc may ‘bend toward justice’, it only does so because good people come together to take action to make change happen.


Just as US cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously observed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


One of the best examples of this maxim actually comes from one of the major LGBTI victories of 2016 – the long overdue equalisation of the age of consent for male homosexuality in Queensland.


While this was discriminatory legislation that affected many, its repeal was only a priority for a dedicated few[viii], including long-time LGBTI activist John Frame[ix] among others.


Through painstaking, and often thankless, campaigning over years and eventually decades, they chipped away at an unjust law until it was finally amended in September this year, almost 25 years since it was first introduced.


There were other wins this year too. The Palaszczuk Labor Government in Queensland also passed legislation to allow adoption by same-sex couples, while the Weatherill Labor Government in South Australia ended 2016 with a flurry of pro-LGBTI law reform, including relationship recognition, same-sex adoption and trans birth certificate changes[x].


And of course, there was the LGBTI community’s success in defeating the marriage equality plebiscite, a victory that was by no means guaranteed at this point last year[xi].


All of which is to show that, despite the increasingly toxic political environment that we appear to be operating in, and the significant losses cited above, positive change is still possible – if we keep our sights on the country, and world, that we want to create, and work towards it patiently, gradually, relentlessly.




For my part, as I look ahead to 2017, I will be redoubling my efforts to improve Australia’s incomplete, inconsistent and in many cases inadequate system of LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws.


I know others will concentrate their energies on (finally) achieving marriage equality, as well as a myriad of other reforms, from ending the involuntary sterilisation of intersex infants, to further trans birth certificate changes, ending the inhumane detention of LGBTI refugees and reinvigorating the Safe Schools program.


So, let’s end 2016 by reflecting, relaxing and hopefully recuperating, so that when the new year rolls around we are ready to dust ourselves off, fight once more and bend that arc towards a more just country for LGBTI Australians.




I have one final favour to ask. Could you please take 5-15 minutes to complete this short survey about your experiences of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination, over the past 12 months, and previously?


The results of this research will be used to advocate for better protections against discrimination for LGBTI people across Australia, as well as to campaign for the introduction of LGBTI anti-vilification laws where they do not currently exist.





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


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



[i] See The Guardian “How the Royal Family Bounced Back from its Annus Horribilis” 24 May 2012.

[ii] If you have a chance, please read Dameyon Bonson’s excellent op-ed “I am Indigenous. I am Gay. Unlike Tyrone Unsworth, I Survived” in The Guardian Australia, 28 November 2016.

[iii] For example, see Anderson Cooper’s emotional tribute on CNN in the days after the tragedy here.

[iv] The victim lived in our apartment complex, with the second attack happening just 50 meters from our building.

[v] The Daily Telegraph “Gay man bashed twice in Waterloo: I’ve never been so scared in my life, and thought I would die” 23 February 2016.

[vi] Thankfully, these ceremonies were reintroduced by the subsequently (and surprisingly) elected Palaszczuk Government.

[vii] The current Victorian Liberal-National Opposition, led by Matthew Guy, defeated Andrews Labor Government legislation to reinsert this test in November 2016.

[viii] With many focusing on more ‘popular’ issues like marriage equality.

[ix] See samesame.com.au “It’s time to update Queensland’s sex laws” 23 August 2015.

[x] For more on LGBTI successes of the past 12 months, see Lane Sainty’s summary in Buzzfeed “13 Times Australia’s LGBTI Community Had a Win in 2016” 16 December 2016.

[xi] For more, see Pride, Pressure & Perseverance.

The Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is Unacceptable

This time last week, our major focus was, understandably, on ensuring Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party listened to the concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community and agreed to block Malcolm Turnbull’s unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

With that particular mission (almost) accomplished – although the plebiscite’s enabling legislation won’t be ‘dead, buried and cremated’ until it is finally voted down by the Senate in November – it is time to turn our attention to another battle, and that is the issue of religious exceptions.

Last Monday night (10 October 2016), the Government, via Attorney-General George Brandis, released an exposure draft of the legislation it would put before parliament in the event the plebiscite is held, and if that vote was successful.

Since that time, a number of people have expressed their serious concerns about the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, and especially about the broad ‘rights to discriminate’ contained within. Now that I have had the opportunity to examine this Bill in detail, I am afraid I must join their condemnatory chorus.

Nearly everything about this Bill, from its title down, is unacceptable. It is far more focussed on ensuring that religious organisations, and even individuals, can refuse to serve LGBTI people, than it is about ensuring LGBTI couples are treated equally, and above all fairly, under the law. And, for the reasons that I will outline below, I sincerely believe it should be rejected in its current form.


First, let’s start with that title, and specifically the phrase ‘same-sex marriage’, which is also used in the Bill’s long title (“A Bill for an Act to provide for same-sex marriage, and for related purposes”).

For the umpteenth time, and for the benefit of slow learners like Prime Minister Turnbull and Senator Brandis, ensuring that all LGBTI Australians can marry is not ‘same-sex marriage’, but ‘marriage equality’.

The former phrase is narrow and excludes non-binary trans people, as well as many intersex individuals. Only the latter phrase captures all couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Fortunately, the substance of the Bill actually does include all people – the primary clause would amend the homophobic definition of the Marriage Act enacted by John Howard’s Liberal-National Government in 2004 to read “marriage means the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

If that is the case, then why has the Government used the inaccurate phrase ‘same-sex marriage’ in the Bill’s title?

Perhaps it is simply politics, and the ongoing inability of the Coalition’s right-wing to acknowledge that this is, fundamentally, an issue of equality (although not referring to it as marriage equality even after the majority of the population voted for it – which is the precondition for this Bill – would seem to me incredibly petty).

On the other hand, maybe Turnbull and Brandis are right to shy away from describing this legislation as ‘marriage equality’ – because, in the vast majority of its provisions, it is nothing of the sort. Indeed, most of the Bill’s clauses are actually concerned with ensuring couples other than ‘a man and a woman’ are able to be refused service in a wide range of circumstances.

Which means that a far more accurate title for this legislation might be the ‘Marriage Amendment (Allowing any 2 adults to marry, but then allowing them to be denied service if they are LGBTI) Bill’. But, as well as being a mouthful, that might be a little too much ‘truth in advertising’ for this particular Government.


Turning to the more substantive faults of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, and the first concerns the rights of ministers of religion to refuse to conduct LGBTI weddings.

Now, let me begin by saying that I actually agree that ministers of religion should legally have the ability to accept, or reject, any couple who wishes to be married by them through a religious ceremony (even if I personally believe that such discrimination is abhorrent).

Indeed, that ‘right’ is already provided to ministers of religion under section 47 of the Marriage Act 1961: “Ministers of religion not bound to solemnise marriage etc. Nothing in this Part: (a) imposes an obligation on an authorised celebrant, being a minister of religion, to solemnise any marriage…”

Which means that no amendments are required to the Act to allow ministers of religion to refuse to officiate LGBTI weddings (and none have been proposed by previous marriage equality Bills from Labor, the Greens and even last-year’s cross-party Bill from MPs including Liberal Warren Entsch). So why then does the Bill repeal section 47 and replace it with the following:

Ministers of religion may refuse to solemnise marriages

Refusing to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and a woman

(3) A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) any of the following applies:

(i) the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the minister’s religious body or religious organisation;

(ii) the refusal is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion;

(iii) the minister’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage.”

Ministers of religion will still have exactly the same right to refuse to perform any wedding, including newly-recognised LGBTI weddings[i], that they have now. Arguably, it would provide a greater ability for religious organisations to impose their official doctrine on ministers of religion within their faith – although, as we have seen recently, imposing such views is already commonplace.

But the overall power will remain basically the same. So, why introduce these new provisions, spelling out in detail the ability to decline non- ‘man/woman’ marriages, at all?

It is difficult to see any other motivation than plain old homophobia and transphobia.

And that becomes apparent when comparing it against another issue that is also contrary to some religious views – divorce and remarriage[ii]. The Catholic Church in particular espouses an official view against both, and its ministers would therefore reserve the right to decline to officiate second (or third, fourth or even fifth) weddings.

Under both the existing, and the proposed new, sections 47 a minister of religion has the ability to reject couples in these circumstances – without it being spelled out. Just as the wording of the existing section 47 would allow them to reject LGBTI couples, were it to be retained following the introduction of marriage equality, without it necessarily being spelled out.

Which means there is absolutely no valid reason to insert new provisions that single out LGBTI couples (or non- ‘man/woman’ couples) for special, and detrimental, treatment, as part of a redrafted section 47.

Therefore, while the continuing ability of ministers of religion to decline to officiate weddings is not particularly problematic (from a legal point of view anyway), the unnecessary insertion of clauses which specify the right to discriminate against LGBTI couples – but not any other couples – definitely is.

The proposed new section 47 is homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.


Sadly, it only gets worse from here. The second substantive fault of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is the creation of an entirely new ‘right’ to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

Currently, only ministers of religion have an explicit ‘opt-out’ clause. No equivalent provision or power exists for civil celebrants[iii] – which is entirely reasonable, given they are essentially ‘small businesses’, providing a service that the government has authorised them to, and explicitly not acting on behalf of any religion or religious organisation.

However, the Government is proposing, through this Bill, to allow even these ‘secular’ civil celebrants to reject LGBTI couples simply because of who they are (again, this is something that has not been included in most previous Bills, other than that from Senator David Leyonhjelm[iv]). Proposed new section 47A reads:

Marriage celebrants may refuse to solemnise marriages

(1) A marriage celebrant (not being a minister of religion) may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the marriage celebrant’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the marriage celebrant to solemnise the marriage.”

This is, to put it simply, outrageous.

There is absolutely no reason why someone who is engaged in small business should be able to discriminate in such a way, against people who are LGBTI, simply because of their ‘personal beliefs’. It is the equivalent of encouraging them to put up a sign saying ‘no gays (or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people) allowed.’

And exactly how outrageous, and offensive, is revealed by once again comparing it to the situation with divorce and remarriage.

Despite whatever personal beliefs a civil celebrant may hold, and even after the Government’s Bill was passed, they would still not be able to formally decline to officiate someone’s second (or subsequent) wedding. Indeed, it is likely such discrimination would be unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which includes ‘marital or relationship status’ as a protected attribute in section 6[v].

In contrast, if the new section 47A was included in any amendments to the Marriage Act, these same celebrants would be able to reject LGBTI couples on the basis that they were not ‘a man and a woman’[vi], and for no other reason.

In effect, Malcolm Turnbull and his Government are saying that the religious beliefs of civil celebrants can be used to justify discrimination – but only if those religious beliefs are anti-LGBTI (and not, for example, if they are opposed to divorce).

Once again, I am forced to conclude that the proposed new section 47A is homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.


But it’s not just civil celebrants who will be allowed to put up unwelcome, on multiple levels, signs saying ‘no gays (or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people) allowed’. Religious bodies or organisations will also be able to do so as part of proposed new section 47B, which reads:

Religious bodies and organisations may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services

(1) A religious body or a religious organisation may, despite any law (including this Part), refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage, if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the refusal:

(i) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the religious body or religious organisation; or

(ii) is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

If this provision were solely concerned with providing clarity that religious bodies were not obliged to conduct any weddings that they did not condone in their places of worship, like churches, then it may have almost been reasonable.

However, section 47B goes far beyond what would be required to achieve that limited goal. Instead, it provides a wide-ranging ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBTI couples, one that is problematic in at least three key ways:

  • It applies to more than just facilities, but also to the provision of ‘goods and services’, which, given the extent of influence of religious bodies and organisations in Australia, is incredibly broad
  • Sub-section (2)[vii] makes it clear that this right extends to religious bodies or organisations that are engaged in providing commercial services, for profit, and
  • The phrase “for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage” is vague, and left undefined, and could potentially capture a range of facilities, goods or services that are not directly connected to either a wedding ceremony or reception.

This section is also cause for concern in that it establishes a precedent whereby discrimination against LGBTI couples is encouraged. One consequence is that, while the current Bill does not allow florists, wedding cake-bakers, photographers or reception venues to refuse service (unless of course they themselves are run by a religious organisation), their voices demanding such exceptions in future will only get louder.

But again the major problem with this section is that it is singling out LGBTI couples – or anyone who doesn’t fit within the definition of ‘a man and a woman’[viii] – for special, and detrimental, treatment. And literally nobody else.

As with civil celebrants, it is only homophobic and transphobic religious belief that is preferenced here – other sincerely-held religious beliefs, for example, against divorce and remarriage, do not attract any such right. Which means that, yet again, the Liberal-National Government is expressing its support for religious freedom, but only as long as the beliefs concerned are anti-LGBTI.

The only possible conclusion is that proposed new section 47B is homophobic and transphobic, which makes it unacceptable. It must be rejected.


The fourth and final substantive fault in the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is the addition of a note to section 81, which deals with the rights of Defence Force chaplains to refuse to solemnise weddings.

The new note reads: “Example: A chaplain may refuse to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and a woman where the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the chaplain’s church or faith group.”

I am strongly opposed to allowing these chaplains to discriminate against LGBTI couples in this way. Which might be surprising to some, especially given my view, expressed above, that ministers of religion should legally have this right.

Surprising, that is, until you consider that Defence Force chaplains are public servants, paid for out of everyone’s taxes – LGBTI and non-LGBTI, and religious and non-religious, alike[ix]. Indeed, the Defence Jobs Australia website indicates that chaplains are paid over $94,200 following completion of basic training.

The same website also claims that chaplains must “administer spiritual support to all members, regardless of their religion.”

Therefore, allowing discrimination by Defence Force chaplains fails in principle on two counts:

  • As public servants they should not be able to discriminate against members of the public simply because of their personal beliefs (otherwise we are allowing the Australian equivalent of Kim Davis), and
  • In providing spiritual support to Defence Force personnel, they are expected to do so for all people, not just those who are cisgender and/or heterosexual.

Which means that, if Defence Force chaplains are to continue to be authorised to officiate any weddings, then that must include the weddings of LGBTI people.

To do otherwise is, once again, homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.


There follows a few provisions that are actually positive in nature – removing the existing prohibition on the recognition of foreign marriages between two men, or two women[x] – before one final provision that establishes, clearly, that the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is more concerned with promoting homophobia and transphobia than in addressing LGBTI inequality.

That is an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act provision[xi] that currently provides an exception for conduct which is “in direct compliance with” the Marriage Act – because, for example, a civil celebrant is unable to lawfully marry an LGBTI couple.

The introduction of genuine marriage equality should lessen that discrimination, and potentially even obviate the need for such a provision to begin with.

Instead, this amendment expands the exception, by adding conduct that is “authorised by” the Marriage Act, thus ensuring that the exceptions to Australia’s federal LGBTI anti-discrimination framework, which are already too broad[xii], are broadened even further.



Attorney-General George Brandis’ Bill is not aimed at achieving genuine marriage equality, and should perhaps be renamed the Marriage Amendment (Allowing any 2 adults to marry, but then allowing them to be denied service if they are LGBTI) Bill.

It is disappointing, although perhaps not entirely surprising, to observe that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National Government just don’t get it when it comes to marriage equality.

First, they sought to impose an unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite on LGBTI Australians in order for our relationships to simply be recognised as equal under secular law.

Then we discover that their planned ‘reward’ – if the plebiscite is held, and if we are ultimately successful in their $200 million+ national opinion poll – is actually a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation, that spends more time and effort in expanding the rights of religious bodies, and civil celebrants, to discriminate against us than in actually implementing marriage equality.

We all know, far too well, that the equal recognition of our relationships is long overdue in Australian law. Unfortunately, that equality, genuine equality, will not be achieved via passage of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.

At its core, it is homophobic and transphobic, making it unacceptable. I believe that, just as we have campaigned for Parliament to reject the plebiscite, and adopt a better process, we must also demand that they reject this ill-conceived legislation, and replace it with a better Bill.

If you believe that marriage equality should be exactly that – equality – please sign & share this petition to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: Equal Love Should Not Be Treated Unequally.


[i] It would appear that this provision does not explicitly allow ministers of religion to discriminate against trans individuals or couples where the union is between two people who identify as a man and a woman – although the catch-all ‘right to discriminate’ in 47(1) “A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite anything in this part” would nevertheless still apply.

[ii] Please note that I am not expressing support for such beliefs (against divorce and remarriage). I am merely using this example because, given many people sincerely hold such views, their differential treatment under the Bill makes it clear that the legislation is not concerned with protecting religious freedom, but instead aims to legitimise homophobia and transphobia.

[iii] Curiously, both the Attorney-General’s Media Release announcing the Exposure Draft Bill, and sub-section 2 of the proposed new section 47A, imply that civil celebrants do have such a power. This may be based on a very generous interpretation of section 39F of the Marriage Act 1961 which notes that “A person who is registered as a marriage celebrant may solemnise marriages at any place in Australia” – and in particular that the word may is used here rather than must.

However, it is just as easily argued that the fact ministers of religion currently enjoy an explicit ‘right to discriminate’ under section 47, while there is no equivalent section for civil celebrants, means civil celebrants cannot simply reject couples for any reason whatsoever.

More importantly, without an explicit power, it is likely the actions of civil celebrants would be captured by the anti-discrimination protections of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 – currently, with respect to sex and relationship status, and, if marriage equality is passed, with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status (unless a new right to discriminate is inserted).

[iv] For more, please see: Senator Leyonhjelm’s Marriage Equality Bill undermines the principle of LGBTI anti-discrimination. Should we still support it?

[v] With the definition of ‘marital or relationship status’ in section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act explicitly including “(d) divorced”.

[vi] Interestingly, my interpretation of this provision means that, unlike ministers of religion, civil celebrants would not be able to reject trans individuals or couples who identify as a man and a woman, particularly because there is no other stand-alone right to refuse.

[vii] Which reads “Subsection (1) applies to facilities made available, and goods and services provided, whether for payment or not.”

[viii] Interestingly, this section would not allow religious bodies or organisations to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services to weddings involving one or two trans people where the couple identified as a man and a woman, although it is possible religious exceptions contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 would make such discrimination lawful.

[ix] Of course, I would argue that the High Court should find this arrangement – the use of taxpayer funds to hire people to perform an explicitly religious function – to be unconstitutional under section 116, but that is an argument for another day (and probably for a more adventurous High Court too).

[x] Sections 88B(4) and 88EA.

[xi] Subsection 40(2A)

[xii] For more, please see: What’s Wrong With the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984?

Victoria’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016

Update: 14 January 2017


Unfortunately, this necessary and important legislation was voted down by the Victorian Legislative Council on December 6 2016.


As reported by SBS here (‘Gender change voted down in Vic parly’), the Victorian Liberal and National Parties combined with cross-bench conservative MLCs to reject the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016.


In the process, Victorian Coalition MPs have ensured that the process for transgender people to amend their birth certificates remains onerous, and continues to exclude a large number of trans and gender diverse people completely, especially those who identify as non-binary and gender-fluid.


The decision to reject this vital reform was shameful, and will hopefully be remembered by all LGBTI Victorians when they go to the polls next, in November 2018.


Original post:


The Andrews Labor Government, elected in November 2014, has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Victorians in its first two years in office. This includes:

  • Creating the nation’s first Minister for Equality (Martin Foley)
  • Appointing a Gender and Sexuality Commissioner (Rowena Allen) and establishing an LGBTI Taskforce
  • Legalising adoption by same-sex couples
  • Apologising to people unjustly convicted for historical homosexual offences
  • Committing funds to establish a Pride Centre, and
  • Defending the Safe Schools program from Commonwealth Government attacks.

It is currently pursuing two further important items of law reform. The first of these is the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 (the second, the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016, will be the subject of a later post).

As noted by Attorney-General Martin Pakula in the Bill’s second reading speech, “[t]he bill implements the government’s pre-election commitment to remove barriers for trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians to apply for new birth certificates.”

Specifically, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 will:

  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to undergo gender affirmation surgery in order to alter their official records, including birth certificates
  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to be unmarried in order to alter their records (thus ending the policy of ‘forced trans divorce’)
  • Simplify the process for adults to alter their records – with the new system based on a statutory declaration by the individual, supported by a statement from another adult who has known them for more than 12 months
  • Allow children to alter their records for the first time (with the application made by parent(s) or guardian(s), and supported by a statement from a doctor or registered psychologist that the alteration is in the child’s interest), and
  • Allow individuals to nominate a descriptor of their choice – ‘male’, ‘female’ or any other term chosen by the applicant (provided it is not obscene or offensive) – to recognise their trans, gender diverse or non-binary identity.

Writing as a cisgender gay man, these reforms seem very straightforward – allowing trans and gender diverse people to access documentation that reflects their identity, removing inappropriate and unjust barriers (such as the requirement to undergo gender affirmation surgery – something many trans people will never do – and abolishing the horrific practice of forced trans divorce).

The reforms also appear to be widely supported by trans, gender diverse and intersex advocates, with Transgender Victoria’s Chair Brenda Appleton noting that “[t]his is a profoundly important reform for our community, as many of us are currently prevented from changing the most basic form of documentation to reflect our true identity.”[i]

Intersex advocate Gina Wilson also welcomed the changes in the same media release: “[f]or the Victorian Parliament to say ‘we give you here a document that acknowledges the truth of your life’ would be life changing… It is very difficult to explain to someone who has never struggled to fit in the way Intersex people often have to how much joy and relief that would bring.”

Consequently, one would hope such legislation, respecting the autonomy of people to nominate their own gender identity or sex, rather than having one imposed upon them (by the medical profession, and ultimately by the Government), would be uncontroversial.

Alas, those hopes were forlorn. The Bill has been opposed by the ‘unholy’ triumvirate of contemporary Australian politics: the right-wing of the Coalition, the Australian Christian Lobby, and News Corp (in this case, via the Herald Sun).

The Bill has already been debated, and voted on, in the Legislative Assembly, where it only passed by a margin of 45 votes to 35. The debate leading up to this vote saw a number of ill-informed and, frankly, intolerant, contributions by some members of the Liberal and National Parties, perhaps none ‘less-informed’ than that by the Member for Ripon, Louise Staley. Her speech included the following ignorant observations:

“I oppose this bill. This bill goes too far. This government is in thrall to highly contested gender theories. This is the sort of post-modernist mumbo jumbo we have come to expect from the Andrews Labor Government…

“I ask the house to reflect on what we are doing when we allow a man – and the statistics show most transgender people are born male – who has male chromosomes and who naturally has the right to enjoy the privileges we as a society still give to men, such as earning more and dominating business and politics, to choose to be recognised by the state as a woman because he feels like a sex he biologically is not and cannot by definition actually ever experience. I cannot help feel that such men are engaged in a radical form of mansplaining, telling women what really makes one a woman…

“The feminist in me objects strongly to a man changing his birth certificate to female because he feels enough of a woman to identify as one but not enough to take the step of permanently doing so…

“There are also women-only spaces, services, shelters et cetera that explicitly exclude men for feminist or safety reasons. Allowing preoperative transgender people to join these bodies – especially, I may add, to make political points or to pursue activism – will at some point cause great distress to all involved.”

Many of the worst aspects of transphobia – deliberately misgendering trans people, invalidating non-binary identities, creating panic about trans women accessing women’s spaces – are present and accounted for in Ms Staley’s offensive and outrageous speech. If you want to read the full catastrophe, you can find it here (but make sure you don’t eat immediately beforehand).


Transphobic Victorian Liberal MLA Louise Staley

Of course, right-wing Liberal and National Party MPs are not the only ones capable of extreme transphobia. As expected, Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby have lived down to their already-low public reputation by inciting bathroom panic as part of their campaign against the Bill. In a web post titled “Why is This Government Putting Women at Risk?”[ii] (yes, seriously), they wrote:

“Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said radical changes that would allow men identifying as women to enter women’s private spaces such as toilets and change rooms needed wider discussion…

“Mr Shelton said Mr Andrews [sic] new laws would make private space unsafe for women. “Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym or a domestic violence shelter? Why should biological males identifying as women be allowed into women’s public toilets and shower facilities?””

It seems the ACL is intent on importing the worst kind of hate-speech from its international counterparts, and especially from anti-LGBTI groups in the United States, whipping up fear against trans women and vilifying people on the basis of their gender identity[iii].

And of course, where right-wing Liberals and Nationals and the ACL ‘lead’ (into the gutter), News Corp papers usually follow – with the Herald Sun backing the transphobic campaign against what should, on its merits, be uncontentious legislation.

In an appalling article titled “Laws allowing Victorians to choose sex on birth certificate raise safety concerns,”[iv] Rita Panahi wrote:

“New laws allowing Victorians to choose their sex on a birth certificate will compromise the safety of female-only spaces, including single-sex schools  changing rooms, domestic violence shelters and even prisons, according to a women’s rights group…

“The proposed changes, which passed the Lower House earlier this month, could see boys and men identifying as female – but with no intention of undergoing gender reassignment or clinical treatment – being allowed access to areas reserved for girls and women.”

Umm, Rita, that would be because they are girls and women, and therefore have the right to access ‘areas reserved for girls and women’. And, just like Ms Staley and Mr Shelton before you, you should already be aware that deliberating misgendering trans people in this way is extremely offensive.

The Bill that has prompted this backlash is expected to be debated in the Legislative Council in the week beginning Tuesday 11 October. Given that the ALP does not have a majority in the Upper House (even with the addition of Greens and Sex Party MLCs), and the ongoing scare campaign against its provisions, it is now uncertain whether the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 will in fact be passed.

As a result, I have sent the below short email to all Members of the Victorian Legislative Council, calling on them to support the Bill. If you have time between now and October 10th, I encourage you to do the same. You can find the contact list for MLCs here.


Friday 30 September 2016

Dear Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly

Please Support the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016

I am writing to you to urge you to support the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 when it is debated and voted upon in October.

This legislation is important because it will remove the barriers that exist for trans, gender diverse and intersex people in terms of accessing new birth certificates.

Specifically, I understand that the Bill will:

  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to undergo gender affirmation surgery in order to alter their official records, including birth certificates
  • Remove the requirement for trans and gender diverse people to be unmarried in order to alter their records (thus ending the policy of ‘forced trans divorce’)
  • Simplify the process for adults to alter their records – with the new system based on a statutory declaration by the individual, supported by a statement from another adult who has known them for more than 12 months
  • Allow children to alter their records for the first time (with the application made by parent(s) or guardian(s), and supported by a statement from a doctor or registered psychologist that the alteration is in the child’s interest), and
  • Allow individuals to nominate a descriptor of their choice – ‘male’, ‘female’ or any other term chosen by the applicant (provided it is not obscene or offensive) – to recognise their trans, gender diverse or non-binary identity.

These appear to be straightforward reforms that respect the autonomy of people to nominate their own gender identity or sex, rather than having one imposed upon them by clinicians or the Government. I note they are also supported by trans, gender diverse and intersex advocates.

As highlighted by Jo Hirst, these reforms “won’t mean much to most Victorians, but to an estimated 4 per cent of the population it means everything. It’s certainly significant for my little boy, who’s transgender. He recently told me it would mean more to him than food.”[v]

Hirst then further observes that “[t]o have their birth certificate reflect their true identity would empower young transgender people to fully participate in all the educational, social, sporting and job opportunities our society has to offer. Most importantly it would give them a sense of validation that would help them feel whole.”

I therefore call on you to support the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 to better recognise the human rights of trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians, by simplifying the process by which they can ensure official records reflect their gender identity or sex.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact me at the details provided below.


Alastair Lawrie



[i] Media Release, Birth certificate reforms will deliver respect and recognition for trans, gender diverse and intersex Victorians, 12 September 2016.

[ii] Australian Christian Lobby, Why is this Government Putting Women at Risk?, 29 August 2016.

[iii] Noting of course that anti-LGBTI vilification is not prohibited currently under either Victorian or Commonwealth law.

[iv] Herald Sun, Laws allowing Victorians to choose sex on birth certificate raise safety concerns, 27 September 2016.

[v] Sydney Morning Herald, Surgical sterilisation shouldn’t be the cost of correcting a transgender person’s birth certificate, 15 September 2016.

Submission re Tasmania’s Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Update 19 January 2017:

Unfortunately, the Tasmanian Government has pushed ahead with its flawed legislation to allow greater rights to vilify LGBTI people, and especially vilification by religious organisations.

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 – full text here – was passed by the Legislative Assembly on 25 October 2016.

This includes an expansion of the ‘public purpose’ defence for vilification, to cover “a public act done in good faith for… religious purposes” where religious purpose is defined as “includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief.”

Disappointingly, the Legislative Council failed to refer the Bill to an inquiry, although the Government ran out of time for the Bill to be passed in 2016 – the Attorney-General, Vanessa Goodwin, stated that:

“Due to our heavy legislative agenda and given the proximity to the end of the parliamentary year, the Government does not intend to bring the bill on for debate until next year. This will allow further time for community debate and stakeholder feedback to MLCs on this important issue.”

With Tasmanian Parliament resuming on March 7, that means there’s now less than 7 weeks left to convince upper house MPs not to undermine what has been, until now, Australia’s best anti-discrimination scheme.

Original Post:

Department of Justice

Office of Strategic Legislation and Policy

GPO Box 825

Hobart TAS 7001

c/ legislation.development@justice.tas.gov.au

Friday 9 September 2016

To whom it may concern

Submission re Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in relation to the Government’s proposed amendments to Tasmanian anti-vilification laws, which are included in the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’).

I make this submission as an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality, and as someone who takes a keen interest in anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws, both at the Commonwealth level, and in Australia’s states and territories.

My first comment in response to the proposed Bill is to observe that it appears to be a ‘solution’ in search of a problem.

As far as I can ascertain, there seem to be two main motivations for these reforms. The first is to satisfy the demands of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), who have repeatedly requested that state and territory LGBTI anti-vilification laws (where they exist) be suspended, or even abolished, in the lead-up to the potential national plebiscite on marriage equality.

The obvious response to such a demand is that, if their arguments against the equal treatment of LGBTI people under secular law require them to breach anti-vilification laws, perhaps they need better arguments rather than worse laws.

The second motivation appears to be a recent case, involving Mr Julian Porteous, following the distribution of the Don’t Mess with Marriage booklet by the Tasmanian Catholic Church that stated same-sex parents “mess with kids”, and that same-sex partners are not “whole people”. Possibly the most salient point to note is that the complaint was subject to attempted conciliation, which did not result in it being resolved, but then did not even proceed to the Tribunal.

I would argue that these two motivations – to allow the ACL to contravene vilification standards during any forthcoming plebiscite debate, and to respond to a single case that did not even make it to the Tribunal – are not sufficient justification to propose reforms that would ‘water down’ the anti-vilification protections that are currently offered to LGBTI Tasmanians.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what this Bill attempts to do. By replacing the wording of section 55, and expanding the exceptions to the vilification protections offered under sections 17(1) and 19 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (‘the Act’), the Bill would effectively allow greater vilification of people on the grounds of sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, gender identity and intersex (among other grounds).

In doing so, it would wind back hard-fought, and hard-won, protections introduced after the long-running decriminalisation campaign of the 1980s and 1990s. It is very hard to see, 18 years since its original passage, why there is a need to make anti-LGBTI hate speech easier in the contemporary environment.

I have two more-specific concerns about the proposed changes to section 55.

The first is to question why the exception, which would be expanded to include ‘public acts done reasonably and in good faith’ for a ‘religious’ purpose (where ‘religious purpose includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’), should apply with respect to section 19[i], which establishes the more serious offence of ‘inciting hatred’ (whereas sub-section 17(1)[ii] regulates ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’).

It is difficult to comprehend why the Act should be amended to make lawful the incitement of ‘hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’ people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual (noting that section 19 currently does not offer protection to transgender or intersex people) merely because it is done for a ‘religious purpose’.

According to advocate Rodney Croome “Worst of all is the Government’s decision to erode hate speech protections even more than people like Julian Porteous want. He has called for the law against denigrating statements to be watered down, but has said the law against the more severe crime of incitement to hatred [ie section 19] should be kept intact.”[iii]

It seems this particular ‘solution’ isn’t just in search of a problem, it is lacking beneficiaries too (although it is clear who the losers will be from such an amendment: lesbian, gay and bisexual Tasmanians).

My second concern is to question the limits of the proposed exception for vilification for ‘religious purposes’, with respect to both sections 17(1) and 19. In particular, and noting it will be challenging for the Tribunal, or courts more broadly, to determine when a public act for a ‘religious purpose’ is ‘done reasonably and in good faith’ or not, how far will religious individuals or groups be allowed to go in ‘proselytising’ a religious belief that itself incites hatred?

An example of such a belief would be for an extremist christian organisation to promote a ‘literal’ reading of Leviticus 20:13, which has been interpreted as “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them”[iv].

And, before it is suggested that this example is implausible, we should recall that it is only four years since a senior figure within the Salvation Army publicly defended this belief – that gay people should be put to death – live on radio[v].

Given this, how would the proposed amended law deal with a situation where, instead of distributing the booklet Don’t Mess with Marriage, a religious school sent children home with a pamphlet entitled Gay Men Should Die (or perhaps slightly more generously, Gay Men Should Die Unless they are Celibate) conveying the ‘religious belief’ that men who have same-sex sexual intercourse ‘shall surely be put to death’?

It is reasonably clear such a pamphlet would ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’, as well as likely inciting ‘hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule’ of, people on the basis of both sexual orientation and lawful sexual activity, and in doing so contravene both sections 17(1) and 19 of the Act.

But it is also possible the proposed new section 55 would ‘excuse’ these actions because it would be a public act done in ‘good faith for a religious purpose’, as it was ‘conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’, no matter how offensive it is, to young people at a school operated by that organisation[vi].

I would argue that this would be an unacceptable outcome, and hope that the legislative sponsors of these amendments, and indeed anyone pushing for changes to Tasmania’s vilification laws, would agree.

It is particularly concerning that such an undesirable result could be achieved given we have seen above that there doesn’t actually appear to be any justification for the introduction of this Bill.

More generally, as someone from outside the State I would argue that the undermining of Tasmania’s anti-vilification regime, which is currently among the best, if not the best, law in the country, in this way would be a negative precedent for other jurisdictions.

This is especially important given only four states and territories currently have any anti-vilification protections for any sections of the LGBTI community (Tasmania, Queensland, NSW and the ACT). Nor do such laws exist federally. Even where they do exist, such as in NSW, they have significant flaws (for example, only protecting lesbians, gay men and some transgender people from vilification, and not protecting bisexuals or intersex people at all).

In my view, the Tasmanian Government should be concentrating on ensuring its anti-vilification laws are comprehensive (such as by amending section 19 to prohibit the incitement of hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of transgender and intersex people) and effective, instead of making it easier for people to vilify others because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Thank you again for the opportunity to make this submission and for taking it into consideration. Should you require clarification, or additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.


Alastair Lawrie


[i]19. 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 –

  • the race of the person or any member of the group; or
  • any disability of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the religious belief or affiliation or religious activity of the person or any ember of the group.”

[ii]17. Prohibition of certain conduct and sexual harassment

(1) A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules abother person on the basis of an attribute referred to in section 16(e), (a), (b), (c), (d), (ea), (eb) and (k), (f), (fa), (g), (h), (i) or (j) 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.”

NB This covers sexual orientation (16(c)), lawful sexual activity (d), gender identity (ea) and intersex (eb).

[iii] The Mercury, Talking Point: Green light being given to homophobia and any bigot with a bible’, 31 August 2016. http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-green-light-being-given-to-homophobia/news-story/00ffb213c903540b1febfdb94dbef243

[iv] Of course, such a position would overlook the inherent contradictions of adopting a ‘literal’ interpretation of some sections of the bible, while rejecting literal readings of others, a double standard which has been perfectly encapsulated by the now famous ‘Letter to Dr Laura’ (responding to a US radio host’s bible-based description of homosexuality as an ‘abomination’):


[v] Huffington Post, Andrew Craibe, Salvation Army Official, Implies Gays Should be Put to Death in Interview, 26 June 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/andrew-craibe-salvation-army-official-gays-put-to-death_n_1628135.html

Joy 94.9FM presenter Serena Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?

Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.

Ryan: So we should die.

Craibe: You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief.

[vi] The only question is whether the public act was ‘done reasonably’, although I would suggest there is a risk at least some Tribunal members or judges may view the promotion of any religious belief, no matter how offensive, to be reasonable provided that belief was sincerely held.

Lyle Shelton’s ‘Respectful’ Debate


Two months after the federal election, and one week after the first sittings of the new parliament, we are still no clearer on whether there will be a plebiscite on marriage equality this term – the Turnbull Government is committed to pursuing it, the Greens (albeit possibly sans Senator Hanson-Young), Nick Xenophon Team and even Derryn Hinch are committed to blocking it, while Labor is yet to officially declare a position, although appears to be leaning towards opposing.


Perhaps the only thing that is clear is that the majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians are firmly opposed to a plebiscite, and want to see it blocked, even if that may lead to marriage equality being delayed by three years (see Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1).


This position, and the strength with which it is being advocated, seems to have caught many by surprise, especially mainstream media commentators. A large number – not just at News Corp, but at more reputable newspapers too – have expressed confidence that, not only will marriage equality be successful at any plebiscite (which I probably agree with), but also that the debate beforehand will be respectful (which I highly doubt).


They seem perplexed that LGBTI Australians could be fearful that an extended national conversation, notionally about whether our relationships should be treated equally under the law, but in reality about whether LGBTI Australians and our families are worthy of dignity and respect or not, will inexorably lead to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.


There are many ways in which we could explain why we hold this genuine fear. People who responded to my survey have already done so very eloquently (I encourage you to read their answers: see Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 2, In Your Own Words). Buzzfeed[i] has also taken a look back at the issue of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Tasmania in the 1990s as an example of how disrespectful the plebiscite debate may ultimately become.


Another way we can explain these concerns is simply to highlight what those who are opposed to marriage equality are already saying – and then spell out that a plebiscite will ensure their comments will be more frequent, broadcast more widely, and, as the vote approaches, likely become even more extreme.


The most obvious ‘spokesperson’ to consider is Lyle Shelton, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) – which is ostensibly a lobby group to represent issues affecting Christians, but in reality is obsessed with denying LGBTI equality[ii] (despite the fact the majority of Christians favour marriage equality). Which means that, for the remainder of this post, I will focus on quotes which Mr Shelton has already made, and explain how they are deeply offensive to many people, and not just to those who are LGBTI.


But first, a compliment – probably the only one I will make in this article – which is to acknowledge that Lyle Shelton is far more disciplined and deliberate in what he says than his predecessor, Jim Wallace. He seems to speak far less ‘off-the-cuff’ than Mr Wallace did, which means he has avoided some of the more stupid mistakes he made – like this infamous 2011 ANZAC Day tweet:


“Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!” @JimWallaceACL


Or this 2012 comment:


“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – [included] higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide… it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years… The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”[iii]


However, just because Mr Shelton is less impulsive than Mr Wallace was, doesn’t mean that what he says is any less offensive. Indeed, given he appears to carefully construct his public statements, you could argue that he is even more accountable for what he puts into the public domain.


The most obvious example of this – and, in my opinion, the most offensive thing said by anybody in the history of Australia’s marriage equality debate – is Shelton’s continual comparison between same-sex parenting and the Stolen Generations.


This includes a media release issued by the ACL in May 2013, criticising then backbench MP Kevin Rudd for expressing his support for marriage equality. The release, which was even called ‘Rudd’s change on marriage sets up a new stolen generation’, featured this statement “Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said Kevin Rudd’s overnight change of mind on redefining marriage ignored the consequence of robbing children of their biological identity through same-sex surrogacy and other assisted reproductive technologies”, as well as the following quote from Mr Shelton:


“The prime minister who rightly gave an apology to the stolen generation has sadly not thought through the fact that his new position on redefining marriage will create another.”[iv]


More than two years later, which is plenty of time to reconsider his views, he did not back down from this outrageous analogy. In an extended interview with Buzzfeed[v] in April 2015, Shelton said:


“I think the effect on children is the same, yes. You’re removing a child from its parents. The context of that comment was [former prime minister] Kevin Rudd’s backflip [to supporting same-sex marriage]. This was the man who quite rightly apologised to the Stolen Generation. But how can you say on the one hand that it’s wrong to remove children, then create public policy which does the same thing? Those are the dots I was trying to connect… I’m sure it’s very difficult [for same-sex parents to hear this]. I don’t doubt their love for their children at all. I do not bring that into question. But the fact is, every child in a same-sex family structure has been taken from its biological mother or father. Now we have to ask as a society, is that right to do that?”


Most (in)famously, Mr Shelton reiterated his Stolen Generations comparison in February of this year when he appeared on ABC’s QandA[vi]:


Tony Jones: So you can deny it if you like: “The fact is every child in a same sex family structure has been taken from its biological mother or father.” Is that correct? Is that what you said?

Lyle Shelton: Yeah, it is actually, Tony”


And later on the same program:


Tony Jones: … Are you talking about a kind of stolen generation.

Lyle Shelton: Well, we did take Indigenous children and babies from their mothers and give them to loving families but the error that we apologised for was taking them from their biological mother and father. Now, through assisted reproductive technology, we are taking the child from their biological father or their mother and giving them to someone else.”


160906 Lyle Shelton qanda (source new matilda)

Lyle Shelton on QandA, repeating his offensive comparison between LGBTI parenting and the Stolen Generations (source: New Matilda).


Mr Shelton has made the same offensive comparison on (at least) three separate occasions, over the span of three years, and in three different forms (media release, interview and TV appearance). It is clear that, when he says same-sex parenting is like the Stolen Generations, he means it. But what does he mean?


Essentially, he is comparing the mere existence of rainbow families, many of whom thoughtfully and deliberately cause children to be brought into the world to be part of a loving home, while others foster or adopt children who do not have a home of any kind, with a policy that instead saw children stolen from their own loving families, many literally taken direct from their mothers’ arms.


In short, Mr Shelton is saying that allowing LGBTI people to have children is the contemporary equivalent of the worst Australian Government policy of the 20th century[vii], one that was aimed at the genocide of a people. Making such a horrific claim, repeatedly, is the antithesis of ‘respectful’ debate.


Lyle Shelton is deliberately taking aim at rainbow families, and, despite his protestations, I do not believe he cares who is hurt in the process, whether that be the parents or, especially, the children (imagine being told that your parents, who have done nothing but love and care for you, have instead ‘stolen’ you).


But it is not just LGBTI Australians who are offended by this wanton disregard both for historical accuracy and for the welfare of others – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have also called out Mr Shelton for inappropriately co-opting the history of the Stolen Generations for his own base purposes.


In response to his first statement, in May 2013, the CEO of Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (a Stolen Generations service for Indigenous men and their families), Pastor Ray Minniecon made the following comments[viii]:


“As a representative organisation for the Stolen Generations, we are deeply concerned by the comments made by Lyle Shelton on behalf of the Australian Christian Lobby comparing former Prime Minister Rudd’s support for marriage equality with creating another Stolen Generation… The assimilation policy of forced removal of children from their homes and the subsequent abuse of those children is no way comparable to the desire of a loving couple to have a child and have the relationship recognised.


“It is disrespectful to the current Stolen Generations, their history and their families… It is also dehumanising and demonising of gay couples and their desire for marriage and family. We call on Lyle Shelton to apologise to the Stolen Generations and to the gay community for this comparison.”


It is a very poor reflection on Mr Shelton that, far from apologising to Mr Minniecon, people affected by the Stolen Generations and the LGBTI community (as requested), he has instead chosen to repeat the same comparison on multiple occasions. It is worrisome to consider, if he is so willing to disrespect Aboriginal people in this way, the extent to which he is prepared to disrespect LGBTI people and their families should a plebiscite proceed.




Of course, his Stolen Generations comments are not the only examples of Lyle Shelton demonstrating he does not consider himself bound by the ordinary limits of ‘respectful’ debate. We have seen similarly extreme comments made during discussion of the Safe Schools program, which has dominated much of 2016 (and indeed has been going much longer, albeit attracting less publicity).


In fact, Mr Shelton and his colleagues at the Australian Christian Lobby[ix] have made so many offensive comments about Safe Schools it is difficult to select just a few – but I will try nonetheless. For example, in 2015 he described what is an effective anti-bullying program thus:


“Dressed up as an anti-bullying program, it encourages children to cross-dress at school and demands the school accept this. Children are presented with information that downplays the danger of sexually transmitted diseases and introduced to concepts every thinking parent hopes they won’t Google.”[x]


More recently, he has written[xi] of his concerns about ‘an avalanche of homosexual and transgender material’ flooding schools as a result of marriage equality and Safe Schools:


“But one of the big consequences of any possible change in the definition of marriage – homosexual sex education in schools – is already proving a major distraction from the government’s election agenda. Hardly a week goes by without revelations of a new program designed to teach children that their gender is fluid or that they might be same-sex attracted.


“It seems that children are never too young to be inducted into the bright new world of rainbow sexual concepts. An avalanche of homosexual and transgender material is flooding into the curriculum from high school to pre-school – all without parent’s knowledge.”


The logical conclusion one can draw from these statements, and especially the reference to ‘homosexual sex education’, is that Mr Shelton would prefer school children – of any age – not learn anything about sexual and gender diversity.


This is despite the fact that decades of research (and the life experience of far too many LGBTI Australians, myself included) shows that imposing a ‘silence’ about sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status harms LGBTI young people, adversely affecting their mental health, and leaving them ill-equipped to take control of their sexual and physical health.


Presumably, Shelton would like to see non-cisgender, non-heterosexual youth go back to being ‘invisible’, like the good old days, before we started making such a nuisance of ourselves, demanding things like the right to appropriate, inclusive and comprehensive health education.


But what could be motivating this ill-informed and, frankly, dangerous, opinion? It is only when you consider Mr Shelton’s broader views on sexuality, and gender identity, that a clearer picture emerges. From the April 2015 Buzzfeed interview referred to previously:


“I’m not saying that gay feelings are not very, very powerful. They obviously are. But I don’t believe they’re innate. And the fact many people have periods of their life where they feel attracted one way sexually and then another way. And the fact that you have “LGBT…I…” the whole range [of letters in LGBTIQ], the whole gamut. I don’t think that it’s something that you could say is innate. And certainly there’s been no scientific evidence to that effect.


“We all have strong and powerful desires. All of us. I think if you accept that argument, [that sexuality is innate] then yes, the debate would essentially be over. But I don’t think that’s right at all. And the fact that it is so fluid for so many people, then that isn’t the basis on which to make public policy which affects children.”


Based on this view – that sexual orientation and gender identity is not innate – it seems Lyle Shelton would prefer that children and young people be ‘protected’ from receiving any information about diverse sexualities and genders, for fear that more of them might come to the (perfectly reasonable) conclusion that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is entirely natural.


It appears that, in Shelton’s warped worldview, if we don’t expose children to this type of information, maybe some of them can avoid becoming one of them[xii]. Which, to put it lightly, is complete and utter bollocks – all it achieves is to increase the isolation already felt by many young LGBTI people, leading to greater risks of depression, self-harm and tragically suicide, the exact things that the Safe Schools program is designed to address.




An emerging target in Lyle Shelton’s sights, both in the context of Safe Schools and more generally, has been transgender people (like any bully, it seems he will try to intimidate what might be considered a politically weaker and therefore more vulnerable section of the LGBTI community, rather than take on the more established, and comparatively powerful, gay or lesbian communities).


As with the comments above, this includes a February 2016 opinion piece suggesting that trans and gender diverse children should be ‘protected’ from accessing information and services to support their gender identity:


“…[T]here is no scientific evidence that anyone is “born gay” or that little boys and girls have been born in the wrong body and that surgery, hormones, tucking or binding are the solution. Yet Safe Schools teaches gender theory as fact – even to primary school children.


“What Safe Schools doesn’t say is that most gender dysphoria subsides before puberty. It is likely the program could be doing more harm than good, particularly if kids later regret their sex change, as many transgender people do.”[xiii]


Again, it seems Mr Shelton would prefer that children and young people not receive appropriate, inclusive and comprehensive health education in the hope that some might be ‘spared’ from becoming trans (which, at least from his perspective, appears to be an outcome best avoided).


Added to this policy of ‘invisibilisation’, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby has also imported the tactics of his North American extreme-right/religious fundamentalist counterparts, deliberately and repeatedly misgendering trans people, as well as raising the spectre of ‘bathroom panic’. From the same opinion piece:


“Women and girls should feel safe in their toilets and change rooms from male-to-female transgender people who have not undergone a sex change…”


And in a longer, more recent article:


These resources tell schools to allow boys identifying as girls to use the girls’ toilets and provide schools with step by step guides on “Supporting a Student to Affirm or Transition Gender Identity at School”. Imagine an 18-year-old man identifying as a girl using the same toilets, showers and change rooms as your 13-year-old daughter. This scenario is now envisaged via a Turnbull Government-funded website. Special facilities for transgender students are okay, the Safe Schools hub says, but they should never stop a student from using the toilet facility of their ”gender identity” as this would be demeaning”.[xiv]


Both of Shelton’s assertions here – first, that trans people are not trans unless they have ‘undergone a sex change’ (here’s a simple rule Lyle: if someone identifies and lives as a woman, or a man, or neither, then it is not up to you, or me for that matter, to decide that they are not), and second, that male-to-female transgender people are potential predators from whom cisgender women need to be protected – are disrespectful and, particularly in relation to the latter, downright disgusting.


But, instead of shying away from making this type of outrageous statement, Mr Shelton has decided to double down. In a media release just last week, responding to the Victorian Government’s long overdue moves to reform access to birth certificates, the ACL said the following “Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said radical changes that would allow men identifying as women to enter women’s private spaces such as toilets and change rooms needed wider public discussion”.


It went on to note “Mr Shelton said Mr Andrews [sic] new laws would make many private spaces unsafe for women” and then included the following quote:


“Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym or a domestic violence shelter?


“Why should biological males identifying as women be allowed into women’s public toilets and shower facilities?”


The obvious answer is that, if they are a trans woman then they are not a man – and Shelton’s refusal to acknowledge this, and deliberate choice to continually misgender them, is the opposite of ‘respectful’ debate. And his repeated inference that trans women are a threat to cisgender women is nothing less than the worst kind of scare-mongering.


There is another type of mis-representation that Mr Shelton has engaged in with respect to trans people, and that is potentially implying (or, at the very least, encouraging people to draw the conclusion that) gender affirmation procedures lead to an increase in suicides.


He has referred to this issue on multiple occasions – including on the ABC’s QandA program earlier this year:


“Studies that have been done of transgendered people who have had sex reassignment surgery, people who have been followed for 20 or so years have found that after 10 years from the surgery, that their suicide mortality rate was actually 20 times higher than the non-transgendered population. So I’m very concerned that here we are encouraging young people to do things to their bodies… like chest binding for young girls… [and] penis tucking… Now this is taking kids on a trajectory that may well cause them to want to take radical action, such as gender reassignment surgery.”[xv]


He also repeated it in May:


“Never mind that 10 years after a sex change operation, a person is 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the non-transgendered population.”[xvi]


Fortunately, The Conversation’s Fact Check examined these claims after Mr Shelton’s appearance on QandA. They found that, rather than multiple studies, he was referring to a single study, from Sweden. Further, while


“Shelton was correct to say that research shows that transgendered people who have had sex reassignment surgery had a suicide mortality rate later in life that was roughly 20 times higher than the non-transgendered population… it is also possible some viewers may have been left with the impression that the study showed sex reassignment surgery causes a higher risk of suicide later in life. That is not what the Swedish study showed. In fact, the researchers wrote that things might have been even worse without sex reassignment.”[xvii] [emphasis added]


One of the authors of the study, Mikael Landen, went further in refuting Shelton’s use of the study:


As Mr Shelton phrases it, it may sound as if sex reassignment increased suicide risk 20 times. That is not the case. The risk of suicide was increased 19 times compared to the general population, but that is because gender dysphoria is a distressing condition in itself. Our study does not inform us whether sex reassignment decreases (which is likely) or increases (which is unlikely) that risk… [emphasis added]


“We have known for a long time that [gender dysphoria] is associated with other psychiatric disorders (such as depression) and increased rate of suicide attempts. Sex reassignment is the preferred treatment and outcome studies suggest that gender dysphoria (the main symptom) decreases.”


All of which is to suggest that Lyle Shelton has publicly mis-used the outcomes of a study of trans people to suit his own intolerant agenda – implying (or allowing people to infer) that gender affirmation procedures increase the risk of suicide among trans people, when it is likely they instead decrease it. And, despite being publicly corrected by one of the authors of the study in early March, he made the same discredited inference again in May as part of an argument to ensure trans and gender diverse children are denied access to an inclusive and supportive school environment.


That’s not just disrespectful, it’s totally disingenuous too.




At the start of this post, we saw that Lyle Shelton was unafraid to employ, time and time again, completely inappropriate comparisons with the worst domestic policy of the 20th Century (the Stolen Generations) as a rhetorical weapon against rainbow families, marriage equality and LGBTI rights in general.


Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising to observe he has also felt no shame in linking marriage equality, and the Safe Schools program, with some of (if not) the worst international atrocities of the 20th Century, by comparing the increasing recognition of fundamental LGBTI equality with the rise of Nazism:


“That Labor leader Bill Shorten can promise during an election to fund the so-called ‘Safe Schools’ program which teaches children as young as four that ‘only you can know if you are a boy or a girl – no one can tell you’ and there be so little push back is a failure of those of us who know better.


“Changing the definition of marriage to entrench motherless and fatherlessness in public policy and teaching our kids their gender is fluid should be opposed. The cowardice and weakness of Australia’s ‘gatekeepers’ is causing unthinkable things to happen, just as unthinkable things happened in Germany in the 1930s.[xviii] [emphasis added]


Yes, he actually went there, he ‘Godwinned’. In Shelton’s view marriage equality and Safe Schools are ‘unthinkable things’, in the same way that ‘unthinkable things’ were done by the Nazis.


This is obviously completely disrespectful, and offensive, to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. And, just as his Stolen Generations claims were offensive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, his Nazi analogy is also hurtful to the people affected by the Holocaust, and their relatives and descendants, including (but not limited to) Jewish people, Polish people, Romani people and disabled people.


Oh, and in case Lyle Shelton genuinely has no understanding of what happened in Germany during the 1930s and first half of the 1940s (and, based on the above comments, that seems a distinct possibility), that included thousands of homosexual men and women who were prosecuted, persecuted and executed in the Holocaust.


Anyone who is able to, without shame, draw comparisons with laws and policies designed to increase LGBTI equality and acceptance today, with a regime that murdered thousands of LGBTI people 70 years ago, is, in my view, unable to participate in ‘respectful’ debate about these issues[xix].




I mentioned earlier that, for the most part, Lyle Shelton has been careful in his public statements, largely avoiding ‘off-the-cuff’ mistakes (which were far more common under his predecessor Jim Wallace). There is, however, one instance I can think of where the current Managing Director of the ACL let his guard down and revealed exactly what he thinks about marriage equality (and, in doing so, about LGBTI people more generally).


That occasion was his Sky News appearance debating Jason Tuazon McCheyne of the Australian Equality Party earlier this year. When challenged by Tuazon McCheyne to explain how recognition of his relationship could possibly affect that of Mr Shelton, Shelton responded with this:


“Well if the definition of marriage is changed it’s not assumed that millions of people like myself who are married, it’s assumed that I’m married to a woman. That affects me straight away, if people no longer assume that I’m married to a woman then I’ll have to explain myself.”


When “[h]ost Patricia Karvelas asked Mr Shelton if he was worried that people might think he was gay, Mr Shelton said they may or may not, but the terms of his marriage would have changed, alongside those of every other married Australian.”[xx]


More than six months later, and this remains an extraordinary, and extraordinarily stupid, answer. His only response about how marriage equality would affect his own marriage is that he might have to declare that his spouse is a woman? That he could be forced to say ‘she’ or ‘her’ at some point during a conversation in order to differentiate his marriage from marriages between two people of the same-sex? That’s it?


How utterly, utterly petty (some might say pathetic). To argue for the denial of equal rights under secular law because he can’t be bothered to use a pronoun. In doing so, he severely undermined any argument he might make against marriage equality in the future.


Of course, the real question here is why it should even matter – unless there is something wrong with a partner being of the same-sex, there is no inherent requirement for him to clarify gender-neutral comments someone might make about his spouse [as an aside, if Shelton had empathy this would have been an opportunity to understand that the mis-gendering of partners is something many LGBTI people already experience, frequently – with people making heteronormative assumptions about our relationships – but clearly it doesn’t appear to have occurred to him].


The implication we are therefore left with is that he would be forced to declare his spouse was a woman primarily to differentiate himself from us, as if being LGBT or I, or simply being perceived as LGBTI, were something to be avoided.


All-in-all, to use this as an argument – “if people no longer assume that I’m married to a woman then I’ll have to explain myself” – to reject our claims for equal treatment under the law is at best, dismissive, and yes, I would argue, disrespectful.




From everything we have seen, it is apparent Mr Shelton shows no hesitation in making remarks that are disrespectful to Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, especially in the context of marriage equality and Safe Schools.


At the same time, exceedingly hypocritically, he has repeatedly called for the debate around these issues to be ‘respectful’. Sometimes this call for respect is made in the very next breath after making an offensive comment about us or our rights. Take the ACL media release, already mentioned above, responding to Victoria’s proposed new birth certificate laws, which said:


“Mr Shelton said Mr Andrews [sic] new laws would make many private spaces unsafe for women.


“Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym or a domestic violence shelter?


“Why should biological males identifying as women be allowed into women’s public toilets and shower facilities?


“It is time to re-think the rainbow political agenda and the marriage plebiscite is the ideal time to have a respectful debate about the consequences of redefining marriage.”


That is exactly how the release was written, word-for-word. In the first three sentences, Shelton deliberately misgenders transgender people, suggests trans women are a threat to cisgender women, and imports the abhorrent fear-mongering ‘bathroom panic’ campaign from his North American extremist counterparts. And then, seemingly without any self-awareness whatsoever, he calls for ‘respectful’ debate in the fourth sentence.


Well, I call bullshit.


It is not ‘respectful’ debate to compare the mere existence of rainbow families with the attempted genocide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


It is not ‘respectful’ debate to continue to use this offensive analogy even after being called upon to cease and desist, and apologise (to Aboriginal people, and to the gay community), by a Stolen Generations service for Indigenous men and their families.


It is not ‘respectful’ debate to try to ‘invisibilise’ LGBTI children and young people, by denying them their right to appropriate, inclusive and comprehensive health education.


It is not ‘respectful’ debate to deliberately misgender trans people, to imply that trans women are a threat to cisgender women, to incite ‘bathroom panic’ and to misuse a study to imply gender affirmation procedures increase the risk of suicide when it showed no such thing (and to continue to do so even after being directly contradicted by the author of the study).


And it is not ‘respectful’ debate to argue for LGBTI people to be denied equal treatment under secular law because he might have to say ‘she’ or ‘her’ when referring to his spouse.


Of course, given all of this it is highly unlikely Mr Shelton is ever going to ‘change his ways’, and stop denigrating LGBTI people and our families. And this post is not aimed at achieving the impossible.


But it is designed to show to those media commentators who are seemingly unaware why so many LGBTI Australians are sincerely and genuinely concerned about the prospects of a plebiscite on marriage equality.


Because, if a plebiscite goes ahead, Shelton (and Francis, and van Gend, and the Marriage Alliance, and countless other homophobes and transphobes) will be given a megaphone to make similar outrageous, offensive and disrespectful comments, every day, for three-to-six months, with the media feeling compelled to report on each and every one, and with these comments likely becoming more and more extreme as the vote approaches.


Lyle Shelton et al have already shown, quite comprehensively, that a ‘respectful’ debate is beyond them. In that context, maybe those commentators will finally understand exactly why the majority of LGBTI Australians have thought long and hard about a plebiscite on marriage equality and come to the conclusion ‘thanks, but no thanks Malcolm’.





[i] Buzzfeed Australia, This is What a Non-Respectful LGBT Rights Debate Looks Like, 1 September 2016.  https://www.buzzfeed.com/lanesainty/heres-what-happened-in-australias-ugliest-lgbt-debate?utm_term=.cp0oo5z8KQ#.uhV33QojNg

[ii] Brisbane Times, Christian Lobby analysis reveals strong gay focus, 9 June 2012. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/christian-lobby-analysis-reveals-strong-gay-focus-20120608-2017g.html

[iii] Huffington Post, Jim Wallace, Australian Christian Lobby Head, Claims Smoking is Healthier than Gay Marriage, 5 September 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/jim-wallace-australian-christian-lobby-smoking-gay-marriage_n_1858227.html

[iv] Sydney Morning Herald, Senator Wong condemns Christian Lobby’s stolen generations comment, 21 May 2013. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/senator-wong-condemns-christian-lobbys-stolen-generations-comment-20130521-2jyn3.html

[v] Buzzfeed Australia, Meet the man determined to prevent marriage equality in Australia, 24 April 2015. https://www.buzzfeed.com/robstott/meet-australias-biggest-marriage-equality-roadblock?utm_term=.qba11XBknA#.nfmpp9yNYO

[vi] ABC QandA, Transcript, 29 February 2016. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4402548.htm

[vii] The 21st century equivalent would likely be the indefinite imprisonment of people seeking asylum on Nauru and Manus Island, by successive Governments.

[viii] Gay News Network, ‘Dehumanising’: Christian Lobby must apologise for Stolen Generation comments, 21 May 2013. http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/news/dehumanising-christian-lobby-must-apologise-for-stolen-generation-comments-11050.html

[ix] To some extent, Shelton could even be considered the ‘moderate’ ACL voice with respect to the Safe Schools program, while Wendy Francis has taken more of the ‘attack dog’ approach.

For example, more than 12 months ago, Ms Francis was quoted on news.com.au saying the following:

“Our society is already over-sexualised without extreme sexual material and gender theory being promoted in schools… Children have the right to their innocence. The political ideology carried by this program denies children this right… Girls’ toilets should always be a safe place for them and should be off limits to a boy who might be transitioning into a girl. No-one should be bullied at school, including children grappling with same-sex attraction or gender confusion. But promoting radical sexual and gender theories to children without parental consent is not the role of the federal or state governments.” News.com.au, Christian Lobby groups claim radical sexual experimentation is being promoted in schools, 25 July 2015. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/school-life/christian-lobby-groups-claim-radical-sexual-experimentation-is-being-promoted-in-schools/news-story/39c64a960b2d112875848c4f337de433

And early in 2016, The Australian reported on the issue in this way:

“Australian Christian Lobby spokeswoman Wendy Francis said the Safe Schools material pressured kids into accepting LGBTI concepts and ‘confuses them about their own identity.’

“She said forcing students to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship was a ‘form of cultural bullying’. [emphasis added]

“Ms Francis said the material was not age-appropriate, as 11-year-old children were too young to be taught about sexual orientation and transgender issues. ‘A lot of children are still pretty innocent about this stuff – these are adult concepts’.

The Australian, Activists push taxpayer-funded gay manual in schools, 10 February 2016. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/activists-push-taxpayerfunded-gay-manual-in-schools/news-story/4de614a88e38ab7b16601f07417c6219

All of the usual ACL tropes are present and accounted for, including that trans women and girls are a threat to cisgender women, and that children and young people are ‘innocent’ and need to be protected from radical concepts like that being LGBT or I is perfectly normal.

Probably the only unique argument Francis presents is that an LGBTI anti-bullying program that encourages all students to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship is a ‘form of cultural bullying’ – perhaps not realising that she is making an excellent argument for Safe Schools (to overcome the heteronormative pressure that young same-sex attracted people feel from literally everywhere – families, friends, schools, pop culture, the media – to imagine what it is like to be in a mixed-sex relationship).

[x] Mamamia, Teaching tolerance in schools is deeply dangerous, apparently, 5 November 2015. http://www.mamamia.com.au/safe-schools-program/

[xi] Online Opinion, Children are never too young to learn about rainbow sex, 9 May 2016 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18217

[xii] Shelton is not alone in making this type of argument. Mr David van Gend, from the Australian Marriage Forum, recently provided a submission to the Queensland Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, legislation that will, if passed, finally equalize the age of consent for anal intercourse in that state. He was the only person to argue against equalization, claiming that:

“Schoolboys are vulnerable and often sexually confused. Multiple lines of research confirm that around two thirds of schoolboys aged 16 who identify as homosexual will no longer identify as homosexual within a few years. Their sexual identity is immature; the situation is fluid.

“Permitting older, established homosexual men access to schoolboys who are in a stage of uncertainty and sexual fluidity is likely to have the effect of establishing those schoolboys in a homosexual identity and subculture which they might otherwise have avoided.” Submission 10: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LACSC/2016/21-HealthOLAB16/submissions/010.pdf

Of course, Mr van Gend here is going one step further, by invoking the completely unfounded ‘male homosexual as paedophile’ stereotype, but it still fits within the overall philosophy, which I believe is shared by Lyle Shelton, that young same-sex attracted and gender diverse people must be shielded from information that tells them they are okay, presumably in the hope that they might ultimately ‘grow out of it’.

[xiii] Herald Sun, Safe Schools transgender awareness program could do more harm than good, 8 February 2016. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/safe-schools-transgender-awareness-program-could-do-more-harm-to-kids-than-good/news-story/93f16a43ddb61881fd613c47fbf542db

[xiv] Online Opinion, Children are never too young to learn about rainbow sex, 9 May 2016 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18217

[xv] ABC QandA, Transcript, 29 February 2016. http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4402548.htm

[xvi] Online Opinion, Children are never too young to learn about rainbow sex, 9 May 2016 http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=18217

[xvii] The Conversation, FactCheck Q&A: Was Lyle Shelton right about transgender people and a higher suicide risk after surgery?, 4 March 2016. https://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-was-lyle-shelton-right-about-transgender-people-and-a-higher-suicide-risk-after-surgery-55573

[xviii] Pedestrian TV, Australian Christian Lobby compares Safe Schools to rise of Nazi Germany, 31 May 2016. https://www.pedestrian.tv/news/arts-and-culture/australian-christian-lobby-compares-safe-schools-t/2114fa3a-c2e8-4f04-be10-582088364131.htm

[xix] In Lyle’s ‘defence’, he is not the only anti-marriage equality campaigner to draw an analogy between LGBTI people campaigning for equal treatment under secular law and totalitarian regimes – as this infamous tweet by the Marriage Alliance makes clear (which also overlooks the fact it is young LGBTI people who are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, but that is an argument for another day):

160906 Marriage Alliance Noose Image

[xx] OutinPerth, Lyle Shelton admits he’s worried people will think he’s gay, 15 February 2016. http://www.outinperth.com/acls-lyle-shelton-admits-hes-worried-people-will-think-hes-gay/

To Plebiscite or not to Plebiscite?

To plebiscite or not to plebiscite? That is the question confronting us right now.


Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National Government won re-election on Saturday July 2, albeit by the narrowest of margins in the House of Representatives. According to their election policy, they will introduce legislation in the second half of 2016 to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, either in November this year or (more likely in my opinion) in March 2017.


Nevertheless, the picture in the Senate remains less clear, where, with counting continuing, there is a possibility the ALP, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team will collectively hold 38 Senators. All three parties formally support marriage equality and, based on those numbers, would be in a position to block the legislation required to hold the plebiscite.


The question is whether we – the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community – want them to block the plebiscite or not.


For regular readers of this blog, that question might seem somewhat unexpected. Since it was first announced by then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in August 2015, I have consistently, and often vociferously, opposed the plebiscite on marriage equality, including by:



As someone who has been engaged for more than six years, but who doesn’t want Steve and my right to marry to come at the expense of potential harm to young and vulnerable LGBTIQ people, my personal view would be that we should continue to oppose the plebiscite.


But this issue, whether to block the plebiscite or not, is much bigger than any one individual, or couple – it will affect nearly all members of the LGBTIQ community in some way.


From older couples for whom time may be running out, to younger people who have grown sick and tired of waiting for our politicians to catch up to public opinion, there may be valid arguments to ‘accept’ the plebiscite – if that is indeed the only option now on the table.


On the other hand, many rainbow families legitimately fear the damage that the anticipated homophobic and transphobic campaign by opponents of marriage equality may cause to them and their families. Meanwhile, other members of the LGBTIQ community for whom marriage equality is not a high priority may experience the harms of a plebiscite without enjoying any of the benefits.


For all of these reasons and more, I have decided to conduct a survey of the LGBTIQ community’s opinions about the plebiscite, and what we, as a community, should do next. It will be open from today (Sunday 17 July) for two weeks, closing on Sunday 31 July, and I would really appreciate it if you could take five minutes of your time to express your view:


This survey is now closed. 


As you will see in the survey, as well as asking for some optional demographic information (which will help to identify whether there are different opinions within the community on the basis of whether people are LGBTI and/or Q, their relationship status, age and whether or not they have children), the primary question (indeed the only mandatory question) asks participants to choose between the following three options:


  1. To block the plebiscite, if possible


The ‘if possible’ is added here because the Senate numbers might change in late counting, meaning the plebiscite may proceed regardless of the community’s views. However, assuming Labor, the Greens and Xenophon together reach 38 seats, this option would involve asking these parties to demonstrate their stated support for marriage equality by blocking the plebiscite and instead continuing to push for a parliamentary vote as quickly as possible.


The obvious benefit of this option is it would avoid holding a public vote costing at least $160 million, and almost inevitably preceded by a bitter and nasty campaign against LGBTIQ Australians by the Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Marriage Forum, Marriage Alliance and others.


Nevertheless, there is also a real chance that, once the plebiscite is blocked, Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues refuse to hold any parliamentary vote, meaning the equal recognition of our relationships is delayed until at least 2019 (or beyond). Blocking the plebiscite would also be open to mischaracterisation by our opponents (who could claim we are ‘afraid of democracy’ rather than being genuinely concerned about their hate-mongering).


  1. To accept the plebiscite, and fight to win


This option doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing that a plebiscite on this issue is desirable. Nevertheless, it would involve pragmatically acknowledging that, following the re-election of the Liberal-National Government, a plebiscite might be the best chance of achieving marriage equality during this term of Parliament.


As discussed earlier, there are risks in this approach. I’m not sure anybody believes Malcolm Turnbull’s naïve statements that the plebiscite debate will be ‘respectful’. As a result, it is highly likely young and vulnerable LGBTIQ people will experience real harm. And, even if we ‘win’ the plebiscite, there is still no guarantee Coalition MPs will actually pass marriage equality (or do so promptly, noting it took seven years for the national anthem plebiscite to be implemented).


But, we also need to consider the fact that there are many couples for whom waiting until 2019 (or beyond) is simply not feasible – a plebiscite might be their only option to legally wed in their own country before one or both passes away. It is, undeniably, a ‘big call’ to block what could be the only way that people who grew up in a different time, and a much less accepting country, might finally be allowed to marry.


  1. To wait to see the details of the plebiscite


Despite being announced as Liberal-National Party policy more than 11 months ago – and forming part of Turnbull’s re-election platform – there is still a lack of clarity around several key aspects of the proposed marriage equality plebiscite.


151222 Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, but – even after July 2 – still can’t tell us key details.


For example, it is uncertain what the exact question will be, and it may be more, or less, acceptable depending on the language used (such as whether it refers to same-sex marriage, or marriage between any two adults, or whether it even includes a reference to ‘traditional marriage’?).


The recent election campaign also revealed that there remains internal Coalition disagreement on the measure of ‘success’ – whether a simple majority will be sufficient, or whether it will also be required to be passed by a majority of voters in a majority of electorates (which will obviously be more difficult to achieve).


Finally, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General Senator George Brandis have both so far refused to answer questions about the breadth of religious exceptions that may be included in any subsequent Bill to amend the Marriage Act – whether they will only apply to ministers of religion, whether they will also allow civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTIQ couples, or whether they will attempt to include new ‘special rights’ to discriminate for wedding-related small businesses (eg florists, bakers and photographers etc).


For these reasons, some people might be willing to accept some plebiscites (asking a straightforward question, only requiring a simple majority, and not expanding religious exceptions) but not others, and these people may wish to see the details of any plebiscite before deciding whether it should be blocked or not.




To choose your preferred option, out of the three presented above, please complete the survey here before Sunday 31 July:


This survey is now closed.


I will publish the results of the survey on Sunday 7 August (prior to the return of Commonwealth Parliament). They will inform the advocacy that I undertake on this issue from that point forward. If a clear majority of respondents favour blocking the plebiscite then I will continue to strongly campaign against it.


On the other hand, and despite any personal misgivings, if the majority of the LGBTIQ community believes this is something that, while not desirable, is ‘the pragmatic choice’, then I will turn my energies and efforts toward helping the ‘Yes’ case to succeed. [Of course, if the community is almost evenly divided on this question, then that decision becomes much more complicated].


Finally, I expect some opponents of marriage equality may query whether, by conducting my own survey of LGBTIQ community opinion about this topic, I am in effect endorsing the Turnbull Government’s proposal to hold its own national opinion poll. Pre-empting this criticism, I would note the following:


  • This survey will not cost more than $160 million to hold (or the equivalent of charging every Australian voter $10 to take part)


  • There is no easily-identifiable alternative to conducting this survey (unlike the plebiscite, which could be avoided by Parliament simply doing its job and voting on – and hopefully passing – legislation, potentially within a matter of weeks)


  • Conducting this survey will not lead to community division, and will not cause substantial harm to young and vulnerable LGBTIQ people, and


  • This survey poses a question of process – asking LGBTIQ people, who are the group with the most to win (marriage equality) and lose (through the expected homophobic and transphobic campaign by our opponents) from a plebiscite, for their preferred way to achieve equal relationship recognition. It is not asking all Australians – many of whom will not be significantly affected by marriage equality either way, and none of whom will experience any adverse impacts due to its passage – whether the relationships of LGBTIQ people are valid or otherwise.


This survey is now closed.





You’re wrong Malcolm Turnbull, homophobia is legally acceptable in Australia

It is now one week since the tragic events in Orlando, where 49 people were murdered in a gay nightclub, simply because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (or were there as their family or friends).


I haven’t written specifically about those events for a few reasons. First, because I guess I’m still somewhat in shock about it and, like others, it will take some time to process the sheer scale of horrific, homophobic violence involved.


Second, because I haven’t wanted to talk about Orlando in the context of other public debates and risk them being unduly conflated (although, for the record, I do think it is a warning, albeit an extreme one, of the risks of a plebiscite generating hatred and vitriol towards Australia’s LGBTI community).


Third, and perhaps most importantly, I haven’t written anything because what has been written, and said, by others has been so eloquent, and so passionate, that I haven’t really felt the need to add anything. In fact, the outpouring of words and actions (including the vigils for Orlando held in many parts of the world, including here in Sydney) by LGBTI people and our allies over the past seven days has been a beautiful, and in many ways reassuring, thing to behold.


Countless others have already said the things that needed to be said, far better than I could ever say them:


Focusing on the names of the people killed, rather than that of the killer (such as CNN reporter Anderson Cooper’s touching report about the victims).


Challenging any erasure of the fact this was explicitly a homophobic and transphobic hate-crime, including:


Reminding us that this was an attack on a minority within a minority – Latinx members of the LGBT community.


Rejecting any moves to respond to homophobia with Islamophobia, as well as respecting and actively being inclusive of another minority within a minority – LGBTI Muslims.


Last, but certainly not least, seeing the individual act of homophobic and transphobic violence in the broader frame of homophobia and transphobia across the United States – and sadly, Australia – which is perhaps summed up best by this widely-shared social media image:


You werent the gunman




In this context, as someone who primarily writes about LGBTI law and public policy, I didn’t have much further to offer – that is, until Australia’s right-wing media, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, made it a policy, and political, issue.


During the week, The Australian newspaper decided to turn their focus on hate-speech by some Islamic preachers. Specifically, they campaigned for the visa of Farrokh Sekaleshfar to be revoked on the basis of a speech in 2013 where he supported the imposition of the death penalty for homosexuality in some circumstances:


“Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence. We have to have that compassion for people. With homosexuals, it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.” [Mr Sekaleshfar ultimately chose to leave the country before he was forced out].


They then swung their attention towards the guests hosted by Turnbull at an Iftar dinner in Sydney, including the President of the Australian National Imams Council, Mr Shady Alsuleiman, again bringing up comments from 2013 where he reportedly said the following:


“What’s the most common disease these days? HIV, AIDS, that’s so common and there’s no cure to it. And when did it exist? Just decades ago, and more diseases are coming… [It’s] homosexuality that’s spreading all these diseases.”


Leaving aside the clear anti-Muslim bias of this newspaper – given it champions the voices of Christian advocates who condemn homosexuality rather than attacking them (hypocrisy that is perfectly skewered by the First Dog on the Moon in this cartoon, and especially the line “Christian homophobes against Islamic homophobia”) – there is a legitimate question about where the limits of ‘acceptable’ speech should be drawn, irrespective of the religion of the person saying them (Muslim, Christian, other or none).


The fact Mr Alsuleiman was a ‘dinner guest’ of the Prime Minister means it is entirely justifiable that he was asked for his view on those comments, and this was Mr Turnbull’s response:


“Homophobia is to be condemned everywhere, number one. We are a broad, diverse country and we must respect the right of gay Australians, we respect the right of the LGBTI community and the right for them to lead their lives and gather in peace and harmony. The massacre in Orlando, that shocking assault on the people in the gay nightclub is a shocking reminder, frankly, of how much hate and intolerance there is in the world, and how important it is for us to stand up for mutual respect that I spoke about earlier. That is the very foundation of our society. So I condemn, I deplore homophobia wherever it is to be found. It is not acceptable from a legal point of view in Australia, as you know, and I just – I’m sure that – well I know that [Mr Alsuleiman] has been encouraged to reflect very deeply on his remarks which were of some years ago, and it’s up to him how he restates or reconsiders his position.”


There are, of course, some fine sentiments expressed here, as well as some less-than-stellar interventions (as a public scolding, being “encouraged to reflect deeply on his remarks” is akin to Paul Keating’s description of John Hewson: “it was like being flogged with warm lettuce”).


But the thing that has stuck with me and, to be completely honest, has thoroughly pissed me off, is that the Prime Minister is fundamentally wrong. Specifically, his comment that “I deplore homophobia wherever it is to be found. It is not acceptable from a legal point of view in Australia, as you know…” IS. SIMPLY. NOT. TRUE.


Sorry, Malcolm, but you are very, very wrong: homophobia is indeed acceptable under Australian law, and in some places it is actively encouraged.


Here, I want to discuss briefly two such examples (although I’m sure readers of this blog could come up with several others):


First, as I have written previously[i], while the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits vilification on the basis of race, there are currently no prohibitions against the vilification of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people under Commonwealth law. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada.


Which means that, while the Government could take action against Mr Sekaleshfar on the basis of his visa, they legally could not do anything against Mr Alsuleiman – because he would not have breached any Commonwealth laws.


Even at state and territory level, only four jurisdictions have legislated against LGBTI vilification (NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT), and in many cases those laws are incomplete or out of date too (for example, only offering protection to some members of the LGBTI community and not others[ii]).


So, while Mr Turnbull might like to say that homophobia “is not acceptable from a legal point of view in Australia, as you know”, that’s definitely not true – especially under Commonwealth law. And, based on the past term of the Abbott-Turnbull Coalition Government, with its initial attempt to wind back racial vilification, it’s a situation doesn’t look like changing any time soon either.


Second, while the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 introduced LGBTI anti-discrimination protections in Commonwealth law for the first time, it also contained provisions that, at the same time, severely curtailed those protections[iii].


For example, the general religious exceptions under section 37, and the specific exceptions provided to religious schools under section 38, mean there is no obligation on religious bodies to treat LGBT people fairly, or with even a minimum of respect. Indeed, religious schools are free to fire, and refuse to hire, LGBT teachers, as well as expel or refuse to enrol LGBT students.


The vast majority of state and territory anti-discrimination schemes[iv] include similar exceptions, with NSW’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 featuring the broadest (a school doesn’t even need to be religious, just ‘private’, in NSW to enjoy the privilege to discriminate against LGBT teachers and students).


All of which means that, were Mr Alsuleiman, or even Mr Sekaleshfar, to make similar comments, not on YouTube but instead in the classrooms or mosques (or churches) of a religious school, I cannot see the Commonwealth Government being able to do anything much about it under the law as it stands.


One aspect of this situation that sticks in the craw of many people is that all taxpayers, including LGBTI taxpayers, are effectively paying for this discrimination against LGBTI young people – because those same schools, which do not have to abide by the community standards against homophobia and transphobia that Mr Turnbull tried to articulate on Friday, still put their hands out for Commonwealth (and state and territory) funding.


But we should never forget that it is the LGBTI young people themselves, stuck in schools their parents have chosen, and potentially exposed to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia from their principals and teachers, effectively condoned by governments of all levels, are the ones who ‘pay’ the highest price.


There are, of course, other aspects of Malcolm Turnbull’s comments that are offensive, not the least of which is the fact he chose to speak out against the homophobia of an Islamic preacher, because he invited him to dinner, but has so far steadfastly refused to condemn the homophobia from MPs and Senators who form part of his Government, even, for example, when they compare a program against the bullying of LGBTI young people to ‘sexual grooming’.


Here too though, rather than trying to explain this double-standard, I will quote another person who neatly summed up the glaring disparity via twitter:


Lane Sainty (@lanesainty 17 June 2016):


“I have So Many Complicated Thoughts about the two Islamic leaders criticised in the Australian press for their anti-gay comments.


I’ve seen people slamming comparisons Australian Christians – saying it’s not the same to oppose Safe Schools and to want gay people to die.


Given the suicide rates of trans kids, there’s actually an argument to be made there. But even if you accept the distinction, it’s still…


…not being an apologist for Muslim anti-LGBTI views to point out the hypocrisy of how we address queerphobia depending on religion.


Turnbull’s failure to condemn comments linking paedophilia and Safe Schools was deeply hurtful to LGBTI people. I cannot overstate this.


Yet look at his speed to denounce the sheik. Why condemn someone he shared a meal with, but not the anti-LGBTI folk on his own backbench?


Here’s the political message this sends: Islamic queerphobia = unacceptable, but Christian queerphobia = acceptable.


Actually, none of is acceptable. As long as you’re not actively calling for gays to die, you’re fine? No. That’s not how it works.


Anyway, many Muslims have written about combating homophobia within their community since Orlando. Read their words.


Just don’t forget that queerphobia doesn’t start with calling for actual violence against LGBTI people. It finishes there, if anything.”


Lane then followed that with an excellent article on Buzzfeed, with the rather self-explanatory title “7 Other Times People were Homophobic and the PM didn’t Condemn it”.


So, if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull genuinely “deplore[s] homophobia wherever it is to be found”, then there are some serious examples of it very close to his political home – will George Christensen, Cory Bernardi and others be similarly told to ‘reconsider their positions’?


And, if he wants to make sure homophobia “is not acceptable from a legal point of view in Australia”, then I know two places where he can start: introducing LGBTI anti-vilification protections in Commonwealth law, and removing religious exceptions from the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. If he doesn’t, then all his ‘condemnations’ of homophobia will start to sound a little hollow to me.



[i] Don’t limit racial vilification protections, introduce vilification protections for LGBTI Australians instead.

[ii] In NSW, while homosexual and transgender vilification is outlawed, bisexual and intersex vilification is lawful: see What’s wrong with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

[iii] See What’s wrong with the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984?

[iv] With the exception of Tasmania and, to a lesser extent, Queensland.