It seems Mark Latham has been standing too close to the solvents yet again. This time the NSW One Nation MLC has introduced a bill that would erase trans children from the education system. And while it has next to no chance of getting up, it’s a harmful and unnecessary attention-seeking attack.
The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is a paranoid piece of legislation that seeks “to prohibit the teaching of the ideology of gender fluidity to children in schools” meaning teachers and counsellors would be banned from mentioning transgender and gender diverse people.
“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,” Latham actually said during his second reading speech on the bill.
The 59-year-old white heterosexual cis-gendered male thinks children struggling with questions regarding their gender should be met with a blank expression from any school counsellor they might approach, or if that staff member responds to their questions with honesty, they should be sacked.
During his transphobic ravings, Latham has recognised that trans people do make up a small portion of the population, which, in this context, means he’s recommending that some very vulnerable children have their identities denied regardless of the damaging and well known consequences.
The straight man’s burden
“Latham’s Parental Rights Bill is a PR stunt to fan the flames of transphobia and tap into the moral outrage around the ‘safety of children’,” Pride in Protest member Bridget Harilaou told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
“Latham does not care about children, their education or their mental health, he is simply attempting to attack trans people in the media, since this bill has absolutely no chance of passing,” they continued.
Latham has been using the persecution of transgender people, and in particular trans children, since he commenced his politicking in this state as leader of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
In his maiden speech in parliament, Latham claimed schools were becoming “gender fluidity factories”.
And while the politician’s bigoted rhetoric may score him the attention he so desperately pines, the former leader of federal Labor is propagating prejudicial opinions that have serious consequences in terms of the health and wellbeing of young transgender people.
The National LGBTI Health Alliance 2020 Snapshot of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Statistics for LGBTIQ People outlines that transgender people in this country are eleven times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
Thirty five percent of transgender people 18 years or over have attempted suicide. 43.5 percent of transgender and gender diverse youths aged 18 to 19 have a major depressive syndrome, whilst of those aged between 14 to 25, 72.5 percent have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Law-making from the bunker
“My bill outlaws gender fluidity teaching, course development and teacher training and ends the accreditation, and thus the employment, of any individual breaking that law,” the NSW One Nation leader told those gathered in the chamber on 5 August.
Latham then draws attention to the term “matters of parental primacy” that his bill would insert into the Education Act 1990 (NSW). This is defined as “moral and ethical standards, political and social values, and matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality”.
And this is the crux of Latham’s bill, it’s seeking to uphold the rights of parents, which are evidently being undermined by an education system that is “sneering at the role of parents in raising children”. However, this hardly seems to be the case out there in the real world.
“Parents need support from a range of professionals in all contexts with their children,” Harilaou explained. “They don’t always have the resources, education or capacity to guide their children in every area of life.”
They emphasised that working class parents with a number of jobs, or migrant parents whose first language is not English, or parents who simply can’t access certain information, would particularly need support for their trans and gender diverse kids.
“This is not only an attack on trans kids who need support and guidance about finding out who they are, it’s also an attack on all children’s education, which they might otherwise not have access to,” Harilaou maintained.
The persecuted majority
This legislative attack on the trans and gender diverse community isn’t the only piece of legislation that Latham has tabled over recent weeks that has placed him in league with his former political foe Scott Morrison and the other religious freedom campaigning members of the Liberal Party.
The NSW One Nation leader introduced his Religious Freedoms and Equality Bill to parliament in May. It seeks to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), so at to prevent discrimination “against people of faith, especially Christians”.
Indeed, as he delivered the bill, Latham made the point that Christians and heterosexuals are somehow under attack in the workplace.
“Latham’s amendments seek to protect those who use religion to hurt others,” said NSW Greens MLC Abigail Boyd. “If he was being honest about the intent of his bill, he would have called it the Pro-Discrimination (Religious Bigotry) Bill.”
“There is no urgency around the measures Latham is suggesting,” Boyd made clear. “No-one’s life is at stake because they are currently unable to use their religious views as a defence to discriminate against already marginalised and vulnerable people.”
See you next Thursday
For any parents out there who share Latham’s sentiment, it must certainly be a real minefield for them as their children attend “gender fluidity factories”.
But the majority of NSW parents are very thankful that there are trained teachers and counsellors out there educating their kids.
And rather than kicking up a stink about a marginalised group in our society being accepted for who they are in the corridors of learning, one might hope that the education system of today has progressed far enough over the last fifty years so as not to produce more bigots of the Latham ilk.
“Latham is going after ‘family values’ and the moral panic around children’s safety in the way many conservative politicians do, for publicity and media attention,” said Harilaou.
“He is not serious about passing this bill,” they concluded. “Releasing it is just his way of getting attention.”
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.