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WHO KILLED GENDER LAW REFORM IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA? DISCREDITED NONSENSE AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Andrea Thompson on the steps of Parliamant House - Photo by V Graphic design by @miles.menagerie
Andrea Thompson on the steps of Parliamant House - Photo by V Graphic design by @miles.menagerie

Recently I attended protest rallies organised by Queer Liberation Boorloo aimed at prompting the State Government to live up to its commitment to overhaul WA’s anti-discrimination laws. The State Attorney General, John Quigley first made this commitment on 16 August 2022. Quigley made a further statement on 21 December 2022, committing to repeal the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 and abolish the Gender Reassignment Board.

On 13 June this year, Quigley stated in Parliament that legislation to repeal and replace the Gender Reassignment Act is “expected to be introduced to Parliament later this year.” However, on 10 October 2023, the Hon Matthew Swinburne, speaking on Quigley’s behalf only said, in relation to reform of the Gender Reassignment Act that, “these complex reforms are under development,” and did not confirm the timeline for introduction of legislation into Parliament.

Clearly the Cook government is backing away from its program of anti-discrimination reforms, including protections for LGBTQIA+ people and the right to self-determination for trans and gender diverse people. As a consequence, I decided to join the recent protests organised by Queer Liberation Boorloo.

These were interesting gatherings. The absence of representatives from self-appointed advocacy groups piqued my interest. I wondered why they would not be standing in solidarity with us. As a trans woman, I naively expected at least one representative from TransFolk of WA to attend the rallies. I also took the opportunity to speak about my own experiences at the rally held on 7 November on the steps of Parliament House, which was reported by Out In Perth.

The Gender Reassignment Act has been used in the past by the Gender Reassignment Board to attempt to inflict state-endorsed surgical mutilation on trans people.

On this surface of it, the government’s plan to repeal the Gender Reassignment Act and abolish the Gender Reassignment Board looks like a good thing for trans and gender diverse people. The Gender Reassignment Act has been used in the past by the Gender Reassignment Board to attempt to inflict state-endorsed surgical mutilation on trans people. The Gender Reassignment Board’s processes do not have trans and gender diverse people as their central focus, and the evidence they require applicants to collect and submit is onerous, costly and unnecessary. It also sets the bar too high for many neurodiverse people and those who have difficulty reading and writing English for any reason.

In that context, the State Labor government’s commitment to repeal the Gender Reassignment Act and replace it with a process that no longer requires applicants to “demonstrate that they have undertaken surgical or medical intervention” sounds like a great leap forward. Until you begin to process what little detail the government has released to the public.

Quigley’s media release states that, “to update sex or gender information on a birth certificate, applicants will…. be able to provide a certificate from their medical practitioner or psychologist confirming they have received clinical treatment in relation to their sex or gender identity.”

This reads very much like applicants will still have to confirm that they have undergone some sort of intervention, what else could be meant by the term “clinical treatment”? If so, the only real difference in the process the government has proposed is that, instead of the Gender Reassignment Board, applications will be processed by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

This is problematic for two key reasons.

First, there is an enduring assumption that to be able to have their gender legally recognised an individual must undergo some sort of medical and/or psychological intervention. I’m not sure how many cisgender people have ever had to apply to the government to have their gender legally recognised, much less had to undergo any sort of intervention before being able to apply, but I’d be fairly certain the number is close to zero.

Second, the process is still overseen by a government bureaucracy. See above re cisgender people and their lack of need to subject themselves to the will of any bureaucracy to be confirmed as their true selves.

The government is trying to sell their proposed reforms as supporting self-determination for trans and gender diverse people. This is far from the case. We are still being forced down the path of medical and/or psychological interventions, negating choice on the part of trans and gender diverse people in exchange for the reward of legal recognition of gender.

This is inherently wrong and destructive. The proposed new process will see trans and gender diverse people continue to be subject to the whims and fancies of medical practitioners, bureaucrats and politicians. It also will continue to exclude many people for whom form-filling and box ticking is an unnecessary burden.

The government’s current view is based on discredited nonsense that is more about exercising power over people’s lives than anything close to self-determination.

A person’s gender is completely unrelated to any surgeries they may have had, or any hormonal therapy they may be undertaking. Such treatments are valid when chosen by individuals as part of their transition journey, but trans and gender diverse people do not need medical or psychological intervention before they can claim their true identities. Why, then, does the state government still have a fetish for forcing trans and gender diverse people to undergo medical and/or psychological intervention in exchange for having their gender legally recognised? This is simply a continuation of the cisgender view of the world that, until recently, classified gender dysphoria as a mental illness and held that trans and gender diverse people somehow needed to be saved from…something. The government’s current view is based on discredited nonsense that is more about exercising power over people’s lives than anything close to self-determination.

Such proposals on the part of governments do not arise in a vacuum. The measly few words Quigley has so far managed to say about repealing the Gender Reassignment Act and abolition of the Gender Reassignment Board reflect a process of consultation that would have included ‘experts’ such as medical practitioners and advocacy groups. One such advocacy group is TransFolk of WA.

I am not a member of TransFolk of WA and I have no insight into the history of their input into the consultation that informed Quigley’s 2022 media statements. This is not for want of trying, however.

On 5 October 2023, Out In Perth reported that Premier Roger Cook had met with national and WA LGBTIQ+ groups, including a representative from TransFolk of WA who was reported as saying, “TransFolk of WA is pleased to have met with Premier Cook today. We’ve been working on gender recognition law reform as a priority since 2018, and it was important to share the challenges our community currently faces.”

The Out In Perth article was a lovely piece about how excited members of the invited LGBTQIA+ advocacy groups were to have the ear of the Premier. It reported nothing specific about progress with the government’s program of law reform. Evidently the meeting was a PR opportunity that gave the Premier and the government the opportunity to look interested in creating equity for LGBTQIA+ people while continuing to sit on their hands. The photo of Roger Cook surrounded by smiling people holding rainbow flags was classic propaganda.

On 7 October, TransFolk of WA reposted the Out In Perth article on their Facebook page. On seeing the post, I commented asking, ‘What was the outcome of this meeting, TransFolk of WA, and what input did you provide? When will this government grant trans and gender diverse people the right to self-determination?’

The sequence of events from that point on was rather curious.

TransFolk of WA commented that their representative at the meeting with Roger Cook would be able to provide me with responses to my questions. I waited, but received no reply and began to wonder why this organisation would be so shy about sharing information detailing what they said at the meeting and what the outcome was. I gave them a nudge on the Facebook post, but still no reply. At some point TransFolk of WA deleted their replies to my comments on their Facebook post.

Eventually, after some email correspondence, including questions from me about the sources of TransFolk of WA’s funding, I received an email from the Chairperson of TransFolk of WA, Thomas Drake-Brockman. In their email, Drake-Brockman stated, ‘we are not a well funded organisation, so I’ll hope you’ll appreciate I don’t have staff to compile reports and details in response to queries,’ indicating that they did not intend to provide the financial information I had requested, which was simply what amount and proportion of TransFolk of WA’s funding comes from the State government.

In response to a subsequent question about why TransFolk of WA deleted its replies to my comments on their Facebook page, Drake-Brockman stated, ‘The comment was removed to ensure the privacy of a member of our community. The safety of our community is our priority above all others. We appreciate your respect for this sensitive matter.’

I am fully supportive of respecting people’s privacy and supporting their safety, but the person initially nominated by TransFolk of WA to provide detail on the input they provided at the meeting with Roger Cook seems very comfortable with being quoted and tagged in other contexts and articles, so it’s more than a bit puzzling as to why their privacy is at stake in this context.

I still wonder why TransFolk of WA have chosen to be so economical with comments about their input at the meeting with Premier Cook. Given the organisation’s stated value of acting with transparency, this seems counter to TransFolk of WA’s operating principles.

Perhaps there are some answers to this in the fact that TransFolk of WA receives 70 percent of its funding from state government bureaucracies? Perhaps it is related to the fact that TransFolk of WA was the beneficiary of a fundraiser held by the Rainbow Labor WA branch of the Australian Labor Party (ALP)?

When asked about funds raised on behalf of TransFolk of WA by the Rainbow Labor WA branch of the ALP, Drake-Brockman stated that, ‘we (TransFolk of WA) are not aware of any funding raised by Rainbow Labor on TransFolk’s behalf.’ However, information about the fundraiser was posted to TransFolk of WA’s Instagram account on 17 October 2022.

What is at issue is the lack of disclosure of these possible conflicts of interest…

There appears to be a link between TransFolk of WA and the ALP. In addition, TransFolk of WA are reliant on state government funding for their operations. Neither of these things are in any way wrong or unusual. What is at issue is the lack of disclosure of these possible conflicts of interest, particularly when TransFolk of WA appear to be unwilling or unable to provide details of their input into consultation with the State government on reform of the Gender Reassignment Act. This goes against the organisation’s value of transparency and suggests a lack of willingness to bite that hand that so clearly feeds TransFolk of WA.

As a private citizen who just happens to be a transgender woman, I have no expectation that governments will ask me personally about reform of laws that affect my life. Further I have no expectation that advocacy groups like TransFolk of WA will consult me personally on their advocacy to government. I do, however, have a reasonable expectation that, when I ask questions so that I can be informed about such law reform, organisations like TransFolk of WA, which are purportedly speaking on my behalf, will provide answers. Lack of transparency always raises more questions and, in this instance, TransFolk of WA’s choices raise legitimate doubts about their advocacy.

The State government’s current proposal to replace the processes under the Gender Reassignment Act with equally retrograde processes that still require trans and gender diverse people to undergo medical and/or psychological intervention does not constitute progress. It will lead to more of the same, just under a different guise. This being the case, I implore TransFolk of WA to represent me and other trans and gender diverse people more capably and transparently, and make a clear statement that the government does not have your support for its reforms as they currently stand.

Also, it’s about time the government got on with the job. Repeal the Gender Reassignment Act now and, here’s an idea, replace it with nothing. It’s time the government afforded trans and gender diverse people full equity with cisgender people and TransFolk of WA should be advocating for nothing less.

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