Our functioning as a mature society is built on being able to debate important issues. For millennia, issues have emerged that require careful consideration and debate to reach a fair and balanced position.
A controversial and sensitive society-shaping issue currently being grappled with worldwide is the relationship between sex, gender and gender identity. Discussion on this issue is inevitable given the conflict between inclusion and women’s safety, fairness, and rights more broadly, including the right to female-only sports, spaces and opportunities.
Across the globe, tension around this issue has risen to the point where the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Ms Reem Alsalem, recently issued a statement warning against violence, threats and intimidation towards and censorship of women expressing their opinions and differing views. Sadly, we have seen the threats and intimidation condemned by Ms Alsalem occur here in Tasmania.
Tasmania is in the thick of this tangled web and heated debate. Tasmania’s legislation now allows an individual to change their legal gender simply by stating that they are the gender of their choosing. Further, lawmakers also replaced ‘sex’ in anti-discrimination legislation with ‘gender identity’. In most areas of life these changes are immaterial. In some specific areas however, a person’s sex is fundamental.
Back in March, several local women spoke at a Let Women Speak women’s rights event held in Hobart. Among the speakers was an older woman with a disability who spoke about growing up as a lesbian and her advocacy for gay rights. Another spoke of her concerns with males being sent to women’s prisons, sharing firsthand experience. Another passionately highlighted the need for female-only shelters and shared her concerns for children being prescribed powerful medications and undergoing irreversible surgery under the guise of curing gender related distress. The personal experience of rape and abuse and a desperate plea to repeal Tasmania’s self-identification law was another brave woman’s message.
I also attended and shared my view that it is dangerous and unfair for women to be forced to compete in sport against biological males, and that it is insane to have a law that allows a man to declare he is a woman and moments later be showering with girls. I also spoke about name-calling, threats and intimidation being directed at women who dare raise the issue, question, or hold different views. As I spoke about these attacks, this is exactly what attendees and I experienced.
Unfortunately, the Let Women Speak event was not allowed to proceed in peace. Hundreds of protesters organised by Equality Tasmania descended on the event, with a large and aggressive mob circling and trapping attendees as they hurled abuse, screamed deafening chants, taunted, spat on and physically and verbally intimidated the far smaller group of mostly women.
Disturbingly, this behaviour was encouraged by people in positions of power. Over the course of the event, political leaders – mainly of the green variety – fuelled the angry mob, and multiple self-righteous elected representatives took to social media to brand myself and other local women ‘nazis’ and other derogatory slurs for daring to speak. Off the protest field, intimidation and bullying has also made its way into the Chamber of the Hobart City Council, where I was ridiculed and name-called for raising the issue of women’s safety and dignity when using public changerooms, showers and toilets.
In her statement, Ms Alsalem asserts that smearing people who express their views as ‘nazis’ is a tactic to elicit fear, shame and silencing. Ms Alsalem also expresses concern with hate speech legislation being interpreted in a way that inhibits people from discussing issues of importance, including those related to sex and gender identity. Given I am currently being investigated by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner for potentially ‘inciting hatred’ for stating that transwomen are transwomen and remain biological men, I strongly agree and view this as an absurd overreach and an alarming threat to our right to freedom of opinion, belief, and expression.
In debating this issue and future controversial issues that will undoubtedly follow, we must accept that diversity is about differences and that being inclusive is about accepting all those differences, not only those we agree with. To be truly welcoming and inclusive, we must accept and respect diversity in thought, opinion, belief and expression and respond to these valuable differences with respect and maturity. Violence, threats, intimidation, bullying, name-calling and ridicule towards people whose views differ to our own is not an option and certainly not welcoming or inclusive.