Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Month: September, 2019

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 24 September 2019

Despite the success of Wagga’s first Mardi Gras the situation for trans people in Australia is worrying

2019 saw Wagga’s first LGBTIQ Mardi Gras and its very existence, let alone its success, was due entirely to the efforts of Holly Conroy, a brave and inspiring trans woman. Holly featured in SBS’s recent ‘Untold Story’ episode and the Daily Advertiser’s extensive coverage of what was truly a milestone of acceptance in what has traditionally been seen as a hetero-binary society.

Yet at the same time we have seen a barrage of negative stories about trans people, ranging from safe schools arguments to debates about gender free toilets and what sex should be listed on birth certificates. To say that these narratives are both damaging and dangerous is more than an understatement. There is a staggering amount of disinformation about trans people loudly parroted around by those who should know better.

This dichotomy got me thinking, and my musings were greatly helped by last week’s release of the 2018 Australian Trans and Gender Diverse Sexual Health Survey. It was an online survey hosted by the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales and conducted in collaboration with community advocates, clinicians and researchers from around Australia (courtesy of the Guardian Australia).

The survey asked 1,613 trans and gender-diverse people what they thought.

As the private lives of trans people are dragged into public debate, it’s time for facts, and so it feels good to have more data than previously available while fighting damaging untruths at work, in courtrooms and parliaments around Australia

A key statistic arising from this survey is that even though most participants reported realising in their mid-teens that their gender was different from what had been presumed for them at birth, it took an average of eight years for them to tell anyone else about that experience. That means that most trans and gender-diverse people may be negotiating the confusion that often comes with a lack of disclosure for upwards of a decade. Trans and gender-diverse people deserve to feel seen, supported and able to exist on their own terms and in a form that affirms them, without fear of violence or judgment. Hopefully the findings of this research will contribute to that work and help to break down barriers.

The survey also included a brief and optional section asking about sexual violence. It was found that 53% of participants had experienced sexual violence or coercion, compared with 13% of the general Australian population, with over 60% of them having experienced it more than once. These findings are corroborated by similar findings from North America and Europe, and corroborates the largely unaddressed issue of sexual violence being perpetrated against transgender people around the world.

The research also found that a majority of participants who’d accessed medical gender affirmation processes were satisfied or very satisfied with the results, with a minority reporting being unsatisfied or very unsatisfied, and with a number of participants reporting they had been able to alter their hormonal regimens as they required, often to positive effect.

This research has illuminated the issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the sexual health and wellbeing of trans and gender-diverse people across Australia. It is to be hoped that the survey findings will increase clinical, academic and public literacy about trans and gender-diverse lives, but also increase awareness within the community.

There couldn’t be a more important time for this research to be published. The political and media storm of transphobia and misinformation has swept the world in recent years. The private lives of trans and gender-diverse people have been interrogated, dragged into public debate and positioned as shameful and perverse.

Of course, these ideas could not be further from the truth, so it is good to have more data than ever in place while fighting these narratives at home and at work, in doctors’ offices and courtrooms, and in parliaments around the country.

The report is a call for policymakers, health promoters and service providers to take note of these findings, and to take action. An education campaign to correct all the misinformation about trans people would be a good place to start.

My Daily Advertiser column for 10 September 2019

Religious discrimination bill a ‘Trojan Horse for hate’.

Attorney General Christian Porter is now undertaking consultations on his new religious discrimination bill, after releasing a draft that outlined the provisions he says are designed “to protect people of faith” from “unfair” treatment.

Superficially perhaps fair enough, but there would have been a lot less concern if he had undertaken consultation before drafting the bill, for it has unleashed a storm of quite legitimate concern.

Religious groups though have been broadly if not unanimously supportive of the legislation.

Michael Kellahan of Christian legal thinktank Freedom for Faith said “It shouldn’t be contentious that we agree that there is such a thing as a need for protection of religious freedom.”

He also pointed out the possibility of discrimination being experienced by people of the Jewish and Muslim communities. Given the increasing outbreaks of Islamophobia and antisemitism that’s an important point.

The draft includes explicit protections for people to express their religious beliefs in a private capacity unless an employer can prove it is a “reasonable” limitation, in a move aimed at addressing the circumstances that saw high-profile rugby player Israel Folau sacked earlier this year.

The draft bill includes clauses relating to indirect discrimination, which is where “an apparently neutral condition has the effect of disadvantaging people of a particular religious belief or who engage in a particular religious activity”.

Porter said this would provide an “extra protection” for an employee faced with the same circumstances as Folau’s.

Protected religious activity is not defined in the bill but the explanatory note states that “expression of a religious belief” may be included.

Porter claimed the bill was “not intended to displace state law”, responding to concerns from LGBTIQ advocates warning It could undermine state protections against vilification.

Despite these assurances the bill explicitly overrides Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits statements which “offend, insult or humiliate” based on protected grounds including gender, race, age, sexual orientation, disability and relationship status.

Provided a person is expressing a genuinely held religious belief in good faith, that Tasmanian provision will not apply, thus breaching Porter’s commitment, apparently  in a bid to pacify Coalition conservatives who demanded the law prevent a repeat of a case in which the Catholic archbishop of Hobart was sued over anti same-sex marriage leaflets.

Not surprisingly then LBTQI advocates, for example, have justifiably condemned the government’s proposed bill, saying the “radical” new laws would give people of religion superior rights that would allow them to discriminate.

The Greens have also criticised the government’s proposed bill, warning that it could be a “Trojan horse for hate”.

“The far-right of Morrison’s party are still trying to get their way, chipping away at the rights of LGBTIQ+ people and other minorities,” Greens senator Janet Rice said. “Any bill that comes to the parliament must ensure all Australians are treated equally”.

Equality Tasmania spokesman Rodney Croome said that Canberra was “directly interfering to weaken a Tasmanian human rights law that protects vulnerable people”.

“We call on Mr Porter to stick to the promise he made not to interfere with state law, and remove this section.”

However, religious beliefs will not be protected if their expression is malicious, would harass, vilify or incite hatred against a group or advocate for the commission of a serious criminal offence.

Crikey.com’s headline, aptly worded as “Flaw and order: the religious freedom bill is a godawful mess” pointed to an even broader concern about the bill, which is that it “draws the state further into the surveillance and shaping of everyday life, which ordinarily would terrify small-government conservatives. Not so this time, apparently”, as Guy Rundle noted.

We are definitely living in strange times when a party formed on a liberal world view becomes the agent of an overbearing state that is hell bent on interfering with individual conduct.

Of course, what we need much more than this unholy mess is something we are desperately in need of: an honest to goodness bill of rights, with a genuine free speech clause, something most Australians might not be aware we lack.

Of course, at this stage Mr Porter’s is only a draft bill, so we will wait to see if Liberal MPs can live up to the name of their party and vote against it.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for this week

The fate of Medevac hangs in the balance

The Coalition government’s border cruelty has been exposed during a Senate inquiry  currently taking place (Medevac laws examined, DA, 28 August), and this time around its fate rests in the hands of one lone crossbencher.

The Medevac system, introduced by crossbenchers, the Greens and Labor last year, showed Australians that our offshore detention regime did not have to be quite as terrible to its fellow human beings as we had been led to believe. That of course was when Mr Morrison’s government was a minority one.

The new system overhauled the transfer processes for dangerously ill people on Nauru and Manus Island, giving clinicians much more of a say as to whether they should be brought to Australia for treatment.

Now that Morrison governs in majority, the prime minister wants to repeal the bill that passed the parliament against the government’s wishes. The government also wants to use the process of repealing Medevac as an opportunity to extend its powers to return people offshore once their medical issues have been resolved. The proposal to enhance the return powers has so far largely gone un-noticed during the debate.

Having said that, let me state before examining the situation further, that I do not in any way support our offshore detention regime. Seeking asylum is legal, whether arriving by boat or plane, asylum seekers should have their claims assessed onshore while living in the community, and as soon as they are found to be genuine refugees, they should be granted permanent residency status whilst applying for citizenship.

Now, to the current Senate inquiry. Shaun Hanns, a former public servant who worked until recently in the refugee assessment program at Home Affairs, has written a submission to the inquiry. Prior to this he wrote a 10-page paper to all federal MPs, urging them to interrogate the claim holding up Australia’s border protection regime, i.e. that it was a powerful deterrence.

More recently, he’s written a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Medevac repeal.

Hanns has told the Senate inquiry that parliamentarians should keep the crossbench-initiated medevac procedures as “the first step in an attempt to reform the system so that it is not only effective, but as humane as possible, whilst maintaining that effectiveness” (courtesy of the Guardian Australia).

Hanns said the lived experience of the medevac regime gives policymakers in Canberra important information they should not ignore.

Retaining Medevac should not be interpreted as normalising the offshore detention system but as Hanns argued, medevac is working effectively to demonstrate that Australia’s overall deterrence regime “need not rely on a logic of cruelty in order to be effective”. The experience of the past six months showed “there is significantly more leeway to change the system without undermining border protection than previously assumed”.

Not surprisingly, the Department of Home Affairs isn’t showing much inclination to listen to the suggestion from one of its former operatives. It remains resolutely of the view that when it comes to determining policy, it is their way, or the highway.

This is despite the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ conclusion that “prolonged or indefinite detention itself is known to contribute to adverse mental health outcomes”.

Which is a reminder that our government, and previous ones too, use (and have used) cruelty deliberately, as a matter of policy, to assert our sovereignty, and dissuade asylum seekers from coming to Australia by boat.

No doubt our governments get away with it because we don’t tend to think about our offshore detention regime very much. Firstly, because it all happens out of our sight, and secondly because of a self-protective mechanism: if we remember that institutional cruelty is deployed on our behalf, it triggers moral discomfort, though unfortunately not as far as the ballot-box.

So by the time the Medevac inquiry is over and it makes its way to a Senate vote, keep in mind that this time around the fate of the medevac regime rests with one parliamentarian, the Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie. Ms Lambie has told the government she wants the Senate inquiry to play out before she makes a decision. Nobody really knows which way Lambie will jump, but she’s the make-or-break player.