By BRANDON BEAR
In a huge blow to the anti-trans onslaught of NSW One Nation MLC Mark Latham, the state government yesterday ruled out support for legislation put forward by Latham which was designed to prohibit teaching about gender fluidity in schools.
The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 – known colloquially as the Trans Erasure Bill – had significant implications for trans students in school, essentially forcing them to keep their gender identity hidden from teachers and counsellors, even in confidence.
It also required some students to undergo a full medical affirmation of their gender in order to be able to use bathrooms or participate in sports teams that align with their gender.
In a response to the bill, delivered yesterday by NSW Minister for Education and Early Learning, Sarah Mitchell MLC, the government rejected the premise of the legislation, noting that “the bill may lead to targeted discrimination against a marginalised community which already experiences poorer mental health and wellbeing outcomes”.
Mitchell’s response also called out the bill for impracticality, noting that much of what Latham requested was either impossible, or part of an existing and ongoing program of improvement in the Department of Education.
The response came as a relief for many LGBTQI advocates, including community organisations, parents’ groups and the NSW Teachers Federation, who have been tirelessly campaigning against a legislative agenda at a state and federal level that has seen a sharp focus on the rights of trans and gender diverse members of the community.
In a statement published by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, convenor Jack Whitney called out Latham and the bill.
“Mark Latham and One Nation don’t represent the NSW community. One Nation sought to divide our state. But we said no. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve here … but the fight doesn’t end here.”
In a media statement, Ghassan Kassisieh, legal director for Equality Australia, said: “The LGBTIQ+ community in New South Wales will breathe a little easier … as the NSW Government has stood up to One Nation’s bullying of trans and gender diverse kids, affirming their right to connect, succeed and thrive at school.”
During the review and consultation period for the bill, only one trans person was invited to give evidence at committee hearings: Teddy Cook, a well-known community advocate, researcher and acting director of Community Health and Wellbeing at ACON.
Speaking about the bill, Cook remarked: “Trans kids already experience extremely concerning negative mental health impacts, as we see in research findings all over the world. One Nation’s bill would only have made schools less safe for trans students, and placed lives at risk.”
He was delighted to see the legislation rejected. “It’s fantastic to see the NSW Government stand by trans kids and their families, who already face so many barriers, and experience disproportionate levels of bullying and harassment,” he said.
The bill faced initial opposition when brought forward by the parliamentary committee that recommended it, which was chaired by Latham. Two members of the committee opposed the findings and recommendations, the Greens’ David Shoebridge and Labor’s Anthony D’Adam.
In a statement on D’Adams’ Facebook page, he called out the bill as part of a “sustained attack in recent years from the forces of the extreme right”. He said the rejection of not just the bill – but all the recommendations of the Latham chaired committee – “marks a rejection of the politics of hate, bigotry and division”.
Section 28 fears
So extreme was the bill that it attracted international attention and comparisons overseas to Britain’s infamous Section 28.
Previously, in an opinion piece for The Sentinel, internationally renowned LGBTQI activist Peter Tatchell highlighted the need for ongoing advocacy on the bill, noting the parallels between the legislation and Section 28, which effectively banned discussion of homosexuality and other minority sex and gender issues in UK schools from 1988 to 2003.
Tatchell implored politicians to “unite around the same consensus and reject any legislation, including from Mark Latham, that leaves LGBT+ pupils unsupported and gives a green light to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying”.
The rejection of the ‘Trans Erasure Bill’ comes little more than a month after the federal government shelved its controversial Religious Discrimination Bill, after struggling to find support for the legislation from LGBTQI communities, religious groups or the general population.
Brandon Bear is the queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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