“We hear a lot of talk in the political debate about colonisation, but the worst colonising practice in our society are attempts by social engineers, many of them in the education system, to take over the role of parents,” One Nation MLC Mark Latham told the New South Wales parliament on August 5.
In one foul breath, the state leader of Pauline Hanson’s party belittled the plight of First Nations peoples, before insisting that unknown powers are manipulating teachers and counsellors to promote the so-called sinister aim of understanding gender in its diversity.
Latham makes this claim in the second reading speech on his Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020.
This highly paranoid piece of legislation seeks to ban school staff from helping students navigate gender fluidity, by threatening them with the sack.
Latham essentially wants to stop transgender and gender diverse children from understanding their identity.
While this bill is unlikely to succeed, justice activists say it is necessary to speak out about it because it represents a vicious attack on a small group of vulnerable kids. It also provides cover for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s religious freedom crusade, making it appear less extreme.
“If this bill were to pass, it would be the single greatest blow to civil rights for LGBTIQ people at least since the specific ban on marriage equality,” warned Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) spokesperson April Holcombe.
“Some people have argued that as this bill won’t pass, why give Latham the airtime”, she said.
“Because the rhetoric is really extreme, so it needs to be confronted … We need to send a message out there to trans kids that they’re supported.”
CARR organised the Protect Trans Kids, Kill Latham’s Bill rally at Taylor Square on October 10.
Holcombe made it clear that the prohibition on any mention of gender fluidity in schools would be damaging to trans and gender diverse children, or teens struggling with their sense of self or sexuality.
The trans activist also underscored that “the rights of parents shouldn’t trump the rights of children to a safe and accepting education” and that “this bill only empowers conservative parents to have a regressive impact upon the content of education”.
What the bill seeks to do
The bill seeks to alter the Education Act 1990 in a number of ways. It includes two new definitions: “gender fluidity” — that there is a difference between human biology and human gender, with the latter being a "social construct" or, as Latham puts it, a "post-modern cancer"; and “matters of parental primacy” — by which Latham means “matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality” which, he insists, only parents are responsible for. It also rolls out multiple prohibitions related to "teaching" about gender fluidity, which includes any instruction, counseling or advice on the matter.
The ban does not only apply to teachers, but extends to school executives, counsellors, staff, contractors, advisors, consultants and volunteers.
The bill also seeks to amend the Teacher Accreditation Act 2004, so that courses recognise “matters of parental primacy” as the sole responsibility of parents; that curriculum does not include “gender fluidity” content; and that accreditation can be revoked from those who breach these stipulations.
Attacks on educators
Coupled with Latham’s own religious freedoms bill, this anti-trans bill reads like an assault on the education system as well as an ideological attack on LGBTIQ rights in line with Morrison’s religious discrimination bill.
The dual attack recalls Latham’s maiden speech in the NSW parliament in which he said: “We shouldn’t be changing the purpose of our education system: transforming schools from places of skill and academic attainment into gender fluidity factories.”
However, the NSW Teachers Federation sees it very differently. NSW Teachers Federation officer attached to LGBTIQ matters Mel Smith said teachers strive to create “environments where young people can develop and test their knowledge” and that the bill threatens to undermine this by pitting parents against the school system, which ultimately affects students’ wellbeing.
The teachers' union is supporting the campaign against the discriminatory bill.
“Unfortunately, research has shown that LGBITQ students are at higher risk from lack of connection with their school environment, which leads to lower outcomes and therefore students not reaching their potential,” Smith told Green Left.
Further, Smith said, schools “have an obligation to ensure that students are educated in an environment that’s safe and free from violence, harassment and bullying”. Teaching acceptance and appreciation of diversity and difference is a prime way of achieving that, she said.
According to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, about 1.2% of school students identify as transgender. While gender variance and gender non-conformity was recorded in Sumerian texts from 4500 years ago, trans people continue to be shunned, bullied and subjected to high levels of violence.
It’s this sort of marginalisation that leads transgender people to be almost 11 times more likely to attempt to take their own lives, according to the National LGBTI Health Alliance.
Holcombe maintains that school counsellors “are often one of the few places that a young person dealing with questions about their gender identity can go”.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights LGBT committee co-chair Georgia Burke said Latham’s legislation “purports to remedy an alleged issue in NSW that teachers in schools ‘teach gender fluidity’.” But, she said, no such issue exists, and there’s no data to support his claim.
Rather than follow some hidden agenda, teachers are obliged by law to “honour the identities of children as they identify”, which then creates space for diversity, Burke said.
“This is a dangerous bill, driven by fear and drafted with contempt for evidence-based best practice with respect to pedagogy and children’s psychological development,” Burke concluded.
[A Protect Trans Kids, Kill Latham’s Bills rally is being organised on September 10 at 1pm at Taylor Square in Sydney. Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist who writes for Sydney Criminal Lawyers.]