Protect Trans Kids, Kill Latham’s Bills: An Interview With CARR’s April Holcombe

by Paul Gregoire

Leader of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party in NSW Mark Latham seems to have issues with sexuality. And the 59-year-old cis-gendered heterosexual male member of the NSW Legislative Council seems to have a particular hang up about transgender and gender diverse children.

The former leader of federal Labor is so concerned about these kids that have quite a hard time coming to terms with their gender identity that he wants to have it completely erased from the schooling system.

Indeed, this issue Latham’s having with children’s gender is so urgent that he’s found it necessary to introduce the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 into parliament mid-pandemic.

This is a bill that would completely ban any mention of gender fluidity in the halls of learning.

Perhaps one of the most discriminatory and paranoid pieces of legislation to have graced the chambers of NSW parliament, Latham’s bill would implement a regime that would see teachers and counsellors lose their jobs if they even considered questions a trans kid had about their identity.

Transphobia 101

“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 felt justified to say during his second reading speech on the bill.

Then again, Latham’s May 2019 maiden speech in parliament saw him lament the transformation of schools “from places of skill and academic attainment into gender fluidity factories”, as well as make assertions about the risk to young people’s mental health “pushing gender fluidity” is having.

However, it’s quite thuggish behaviour to target already marginalised children and deny them any assistance at school. It’s this sort of attitude that impacts trans kids’ mental health to the point that they’re nearly eleven times more likely to attempt suicide than the rest of the population.

Meanwhile, Latham’s also introduced a religious freedoms bill into parliament. It seems that despite being an atheist himself, the One Nation MLC wants to get in on the bigotry-enhancing campaign PM Scott Morrison is leading, as Latham is concerned Christians and heterosexuals are under attack.

Stand up, fight back

Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) is organising the Protect Trans Kids, Kill Latham’s Bills rally at Sydney’s Taylor Square on 10 October. As soon as the seasoned LGBTIQ rights group posted the notice of the rally online, there was a deluge of support.

CARR spokesperson April Holcombe maintains that Latham’s legislation and the rhetoric he’s using in this ongoing attack against trans and gender diverse kids is so severe that it warrants a sustained campaign to curb any impact it could have in empowering these opinions in the public arena.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to April Holcombe about the dangers of requiring counsellors to deny trans kids their identities, how it’s important for the public to get out there and rally against Latham, and why this middle-aged man is crusading against vulnerable children.

Firstly, Mark Latham introduced his Parental Rights Bill in early August. It seeks to prevent any mention of trans or gender diverse people at schools, via the threat of dismissal for staff members that breach the prohibition.

Overall, April, what are your thoughts on the implications of this bill and what it seeks to achieve?

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, even though this goes a lot further than that.

What this could mean is that everyone who works at a school from the teachers to the counsellors to the parents who volunteer in the canteen are under a despotic silence about anything to do with trans rights.

The way the bill is written means it bans discussion of gender fluidity, which it defines as any ideas that say that gender is a social construction, and that people can be a gender different to the one they’re born.

That has very broad ramifications, and not just for transgender kids, although they would obviously be the key ones in the firing line.

For example, what if a teacher wanted to confront sexism in the class, and say that women’s subordinate position in society is a disgrace, and it’s not something that’s just part of our genetic makeup, would that constitute a gender fluidity teaching that could get this teacher sacked?

Obviously, when we look at the students themselves, that’s where we’re going to see the most damage.

There’s already a totally inadequate system of education in schools for people who are struggling with their sense of self or their sense of sexuality.

This would send a signal that “you’re a freak, like the outside society tells you and you’re not wanted, because no one supports you”.

This is when we actually know that in our society today, there are many, many people who want to support transgender kids.

This is an extreme attack. And it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

One of the legislation’s key points is that counsellors would be prevented from mentioning gender fluidity or transgender people, even in the case where a trans child might broach the topic with them.

What are the implications of this sort of scenario?

It just speaks to the absolute cruelty with which Mark Latham has written this bill, that he would go out of his way to specify that counsellors can’t help a trans child through their journey.

Counsellors are often one of the few places that a young person dealing with questions about their gender identity can go. It’s a confidential place to talk about this.

If a child has a family that’s not accepting, they can’t talk about it to them. If they have teachers that aren’t accepting, they can’t talk about it to them. And if they go to a religious school, and they’re worried about the fact that the school can expel them, then they can’t talk about it there.

The fact that he’s specified these people – that he knows are doing a lot of good out there helping trans people – is just a real mark of disgrace against him.

The legislation is framed as a bill designed to uphold and protect the rights of parents. What are your thoughts on Latham’s claim that this bill is about providing protection and upholding rights?

It’s absolute garbage. There are a number of ways to refute those claims. The most important one is that children are not the private property of their parents. Children are human beings who have rights themselves.

Clearly, one of those rights is to have a safe and accepting learning environment for them to grow in.

I don’t think that parents who object to that should actually have the right to deprive their child of those things.

This also prevents the many other families out there who want to support their child and want their schools to openly support their children.

It prevents these families from having any say or influence in a progressive direction against the kind of bullying that children can face in schools.

On the other hand, it’s a bill designed to give people with conservative views power to restrict what’s able to be discussed at school.

So, aspects of the bill allow P&C councils to influence the school and dictate the values that they want at schools.

But because the bill bans discussion of gender fluidity, the only parents who can have an influence on the kind of content in schools are conservative ones, who are actually making the lives of their children very difficult when they’re coming to terms with this.

The rights of parents shouldn’t trump the rights of children to a safe and accepting education. And this bill only empowers conservative parents to have a regressive impact upon the content of education.

In presenting the bill, Latham has suggested the education system has been colonised by social engineers. He also referred to schools as “gender fluidity factories” in his maiden speech in state parliament.

These sorts of ideas have been bandied about by conservative elements for a number of years now. In your understanding, what’s behind these assertions?

This language began with the more mainstream right, like the prime minister calling teachers “gender whispers”, and The Australian launching hysterical news campaigns against the Safe School program.

Now it’s being adopted in more extreme ways. This whole idea that children’s minds are being infected and their bodies invaded is an insane form of rhetoric. And that’s why we’re fighting the rhetoric as well – not just the bill.

It’s basically a backlash against some of the positive gains on questions of culture and politics that movements in the 60s and 70s – going all the way up until today – have had on the type of things that students are allowed to learn about.

Like being able to reflect on and criticise the White Australia assumptions in the history curriculum. That people agitate for more discussion about the struggle and culture of Aboriginal people.

That there’s more discussion in English classes on perspectives of women, colonised people and sexual and gender minorities. These viewpoints are now allowed to be discussed in class.

There’s already a lot of social engineering going on in schools, which is about trying to make children compliant, fit them into a box, make them accept discipline, and try to make them accept a whitewashed and glorified version of Australian history.

It’s not that they’re against social engineering. It’s that they’re for their own type of social engineering to fit kids into their own box.

But opening the discussion up to children to think about different ideas and to be aware of how they feel is okay.

It’s not social engineering. It’s the opposite. It’s letting children flourish and be themselves. It’s about opposing the restrictions that our education system so often imposes.

Latham used to be the leader of federal Labor, but now he’s the head of One Nation in this state, and along with this assault on trans children, he’s also championing Morrison’s religious freedoms crusade in NSW.

What are your thoughts on what Latham is trying to achieve?

This is another big problem. Some people have argued that this bill won’t pass, so why are we talking about it, because we’re just giving Latham airtime.

I disagree with that position, because the rhetoric is really extreme, so it needs to be confronted. And we need to send a message out there to trans kids – that they’re supported.

The other reason is that part of the effect of this bill is that it’s so extreme that the religious freedoms bill then seems more reasonable and not so extreme.

That could be the way that the Liberals try to push forward their religious freedoms bills. They can say that they didn’t support Latham’s bill, but then present their own as an important compromise between his perspective and the Left.

Latham is trying to build on Morrison’s culture war around religious freedoms. But, at the same time, the Liberals could frame their bill as a more moderate compromise.

But we can’t accept any of these bills, because all of them are about reeling back the protections against discrimination, and the sort of accepting environment that has been somewhat established in places like schools.

They’re working off each other. And it’s important to keep in mind that the federal legislation is still there, and we need to oppose that as well.

Community Action for Rainbow Rights is hosting the Protect Trans Kids, Kill Latham’s Bills rally on 10 October in Taylor Square. What’s going to happen on the day? What can people expect?

It’s about time we had a protest around this issue, and the way Latham has been talking about this, because he’s had a couple of these types of bills in NSW parliament for a few months now.

We can expect a protest in the tradition of Community Action for Rainbow Rights, which have always been about empowering people, especially young people, but not only young people.

They’re about not just yelling at the television, or bemoaning the situation over social media, but getting out there and seeing just how many other people there are.

It’s going to be a vibrant protest at Taylor Square, which is a significant and symbolic location for the LGBTIQ struggle.

We’ve ordered hundreds of rainbow masks, because we want this to be a COVID safe demonstration. So, people can wear their rainbow masks.

The fact that we’ve seen 82,000 people sign a Change.org petition against Latham’s Bill is a great sign of the type of numbers we could see.

Hopefully, we have some of the young trans people along, who are in the firing line of this bill, and they can feel empowered and accepted. It’s something they sorely need.

So, everyone who is a supporter should come along and have a great day.

And lastly, April, as the rally name suggests opposition to this bill is all about protecting transgender children.

In your opinion, why is a 59-year-old white heterosexual cis-gendered male serving as an MP having a go at very vulnerable and marginalised children?

It’s a good question. I don’t want to try and delve into Mark Latham’s psyche because that appears to be a very scary place to go.

But, on a political level, he’s picking what he thinks is the easiest target to wage a right-wing culture war against, which is very familiar for people like Latham.

It’s notable that with the great advances in people’s ideas and acceptance of homosexuality that the Right has had to shut up quite a bit about it. And even against transgender adults, the same has occurred because we’ve had a bit of progress.

What they think might hit the mark within the broader public is that children are being preyed upon and are vulnerable to the ideas of the “cultural Marxist” left, or whatever sort of claptrap they go on about.

Simultaneously, they’re attacking children because they can’t stick up for themselves, and because children can be this symbol of the malign influence of the Left.

But the Left has always stood up to make everyone’s lives better, including the rights of children.

The fact that young people are on our side with this question just demonstrates that if you actually ask children and young people what they think, they think that there should be a world where people are free to be themselves, and they’re crying out to learn more about this at school.

So, the only other people that would be on Mark Latham’s side are other sad old 59-year-olds. And we just have to let them know that they’re in the minority, and they have to stay there.

The Protect Trans Kids, Kill Latham’s Bills rally is meeting at 1 pm on 10 September at Sydney’s Taylor Square

Please sign the Prevent the Passing of the Education Legislation Amendment Bill in NSW petition

Image credit: CARR member Gene Brownlie

Author

Paul Gregoire

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.

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