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LGBTQ is really QTBGL
Because lesbians always come last
For the past week, I’ve been fixating on a quote from a human rights activist.
The quote appeared in a story in The Age, and it belongs to Anna Brown, chief executive of Equality Australia, a national organisation campaigning for the rights of “LGBTQI+ people.” Brown was responding to news that a lesbian group has applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission for a temporary exemption from anti-discrimination laws so they can hold events exclusively for same-sex attracted biological women. In other words, for lesbians. For the “old-fashioned” sort of lesbian, as Ricky Gervais puts it, the kind with a womb. As opposed to the newfangled version of lesbian with “beard and a cock.”
The newly-formed Lesbian Action Group wants to hold a Lesbians Born Female event on October 15 at the publicly-funded Victorian Pride Centre, an architecturally-striking $50 million LGBTIQ+ community hub at Melbourne’s beachside suburb of St Kilda.
Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act (1984) gives the Commission the power to grant temporary five-year exemptions, and the body has devised its own broad criteria for doing so. The Commission might allow, say, a domestic violence service or gay club to discriminate on the basis of sex because this helps, rather than hinders, the overall objective of stamping out sexual inequality.
In this instance, the group argues that lesbian events have been driven underground because of a “repressive” environment in which women fear the consequences of being labelled trans-exclusionary.
“This current situation is very similar to the discrimination lesbians faced in the 1950s and 1960s when they could be sacked from their jobs, refused accommodation and given shock treatment and therefore, only met in private to protect themselves,” the application to the Commission says.
“Nowadays, lesbians who publicly speak out about lesbian rights are also sacked from their jobs, ridiculed and threatened with all kinds of abuse ..”
So how did Brown of “Equality Australia,” an organisation whose remit includes lesbians, respond to this request, in 2023, to hold an un-closeted lesbian event?
It is a “sad stunt,” she told The Age, one that “seeks to sow division in our community, which is built on the principles of diversity and inclusion.
“It is unfortunate to see some people in our community resort to the blunt force politics of exclusion. The lesbians I know and the parties that I attend include all women and their friends, including trans women and non-binary people.”
“A sad stunt.” Admittedly, “sad stunt” barely registers as an insult in the trans wars, in which every day the combatants trade accusations of “paedophilia,” “genocide” and other lurid crimes against humanity.
Yet, this tepid remark gnaws at me.
It’s so smug, so openly contemptuous of fellow members of Brown’s “community.”
And it’s such a breathtaking display of hypocrisy.
My criticism of Brown is not as personal as it may sound; that I keep expecting better of her is arguably a compliment. She’s a lawyer and long-time human rights campaigner. She used to advise the reformist former Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls, widely regarded as a hero in feminist circles. She was active in the campaign for a “yes” vote in the same-sex marriage plebiscite in 2017.
As many leaders of the push for marriage equality found, success heralded an existential crisis. What to do now? They could have chosen to consolidate their gains, mop up any lingering discrimination against sexual minorities and otherwise devote themselves to eliminating the deadly homophobia that prevails across large chunks of the planet. Instead, in what’s surely one of the most stunning policy pivots of the 21st century, Equality Australia and like-minded organisations declared trans the next civil rights struggle and went about quietly persuading governments to redefine the human species to far-reaching consequences — such as males being legally entitled to declare themselves lesbians.
Still: could Brown not have mustered a pinch of empathy, or at least of concern, for these women who say they’re experiencing a climate of repression and homophobia reminiscent of the 1950s? Does that not shock and trouble her, a dedicated progressive, a human rights lawyer?
One of the petitioning lesbians is Carole Ann; at 74, she’s three decades Brown’s senior. Ann was in her early 30s, a marriage behind her, when she fell in love with another woman.
“I finally made sense of my world,” she tells me.
But she had to keep her world hidden when, in the 1980s, she started working as a high school teacher because “there was an unspoken code that you didn’t come out there.”
She helped run the Women’s Studies Resource Centre, a feminist library in the education sector: the “unspoken code” applied there too — comrades feared the presence of an “out” lesbian would undermine the legitimacy of the women’s movement in mainstream society.
This was also an era when lesbians had their orientation used against them in child custody battles.
So would it have killed Brown to show just a little respect towards lesbian elders such as Ann, even if she wishes they’d get over themselves and embrace “inclusion”? These elders, whose decades-long struggle for dignity and acceptance paved the way for gay marriage and the Pride Centre and the cavalcade of government-funded LGBTIQ+ festivals .
Brown describes these lesbians as “divisive,” whereas the alphabet soup “community” is devoted to “inclusion and diversity.” This is a “war is peace” turn to make Orwell blush. For while lesbians hold prime position in the LGBTIQAA++ acronym, in the hierarchy that governs “the community” they always come last, persistently devalued, humiliated and disenfranchised.
A fact that, naturally, has nothing to do with lesbians being the community’s only exclusively female group.
Nope. That’s just a bizarre coincidence.
Indeed, the only expressions of “inclusivity” and “diversity” in The Age report came from lesbians, including Ann:
“We are not asking for anyone to be denied who they are,” she said. “It is for us to also be recognised for who we are and have a bit of space for that and acknowledgement that our lived experience is different.”
To which, the inclusive and diverse and loving “community” responded with graffiti vandalism of their multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded Victorian Pride Centre. This picture of a defaced wall with the words “NO TERFS AT VPC” (“TERF” being the slur that stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist) was posted on Twitter in the aftermath of The Age story:
And it seems that even inside the Pride Centre, some groups are more equal than others. The Centre officially knocked back the lesbian group’s application to hold the Lesbians Born Female event, claiming it would breach their “values” of — oh go on, you can finish the sentence.
And yet in June the Centre hosted a three-night trans cabaret called “T4T”, whose advertising flyer read: “It’s the coolest show in the country, and you can’t come (unless you’re trans.)”
“After years of being kept off mainstream lineups, this is a show by us, for us. Trans performers of all stripes – drag, burlesque, comedy, music and more – putting on a night of pure unbridled expression. No hand-holding for straights, no spoon-feeding for the cis (non trans.)”
The Centre did not respond to my question about this apparent discrepancy. Had it responded, it might have pointed to the disclaimer at the bottom of the “T4T” flyer, stating: “(Cis people are allowed, but not encouraged).” This may be enough to dispel an accusation that non-trans people weren’t allowed to attend, but it’s hardly a gesture of love, diversity and inclusion.
We might also consider the example of Melbourne’s Peel Hotel, a gay male venue. In 2005 Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal made an order allowing the Peel to refuse or restrict entry to women or straight men if their presence would affect “the safety or comfort” of the homosexual male patrons or “the nature of that venue as a venue primarily for homosexual male patrons.” In other words: if you flood a gay club with women and straight men, the club is no longer gay.
The tribunal remarked that had the Peel applied for the right to screen prospective patrons by interrogating their sexuality, the request would have been denied as “a very serious interference” with the right to privacy.
This observation was cited in a 2021 decision by Tasmanian anti-discrimination commissioner Sarah Bolt in which she rejected an application from Jessica Hoyle, a lesbian and member of advocacy group the LGB Alliance, to ban “biological men” from “drag king” events. According to Bolt, Hoyle’s proposed exemption would go “further” than asking about sexual orientation; it would require people to divulge “intimate information” about their body. So asking about a person’s sex is deemed more intrusive than asking who they have sex with.
I should mention that in recent years Melbourne’s gay male scene has also come under pressure from gender identity ideology. The city’s “sex on premises” gay saunas were forced into a grovelling apology, and lengthy consultation with trans groups and human rights officials, after they distributed an allegedly “transphobic” survey of patrons, which had been sparked by a complaint from a biological female who identifies as a gay man. The individual had rocked up to one of the saunas and felt unwelcome.
This is a lot to take in, I know. Maybe we can return to the existential challenge confronting Melbourne’s gay saunas another time.
As for Hoyle, the lesbian in Tasmania, she appealed the commissioner’s decision; in November, Tasmania’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal again rejected her application for female-only lesbian events.
“While the applicants may not wish to comply with the (Anti-Discrimination) Act,” said tribunal member Kate Cuthbertson in her ruling, “and find aspects of its application to transgender and transsexual women irksome particularly in the context of the event they would like to hold, that is not a sufficient justification (for an exemption.)”
Cuthberston conceded the lesbians might find the presence of transgender and transsexual women at their events “irksome.” When I first read this decision, I found myself ruminating over the word “irksome.” Her use of the word “irksome” was, frankly, irksome. The Victorian tribunal had decided that flinging open the doors of a gay bar to women and straight men could threaten the comfort and safety of gay men. Yet flinging open the doors of a lesbian gathering to people with penises would be merely “irksome” for lesbians.
Would Cuthberston have used the word “irksome” had the discussion involved admitting into lesbian spaces people with penises who are straight and not trans? Or would she have used a stronger word that conveys a sense of intrusion or even of menace? Does Cuthberston, whether consciously or otherwise, embrace the dominant belief that a male who identifies as a woman should be regarded as literally a woman, or, by some metaphysical logic, is literally a woman, which means their presence at a lesbian event cannot possibly be compared to that of a regular bloke?
Or maybe this philosophical conundrum is not really about men, but about women. Perhaps, deep in the human psyche, womanhood is synonymous with boundaries that are malleable, unstable and penetrable.
The struggle for female-only lesbian spaces is long and fraught, not least because lesbians have themselves been divided over trans inclusion. For about 20 years Australia was home to a thriving lesbian scene, starting with the Radicalesbians Conference in Sorrento in 1973, which by the late 1980s had blossomed into the annual live-in National Lesbians Festivals and Conferences. As the lesbian group recounts in their application to the Commission, in January 1990 Melbourne’s 10-day Lesbian Festival and Conference drew 2000 women from around the country and abroad, kicking off with a concert at Myer Music Bowl. (A 10 per cent levy on registration fees went to the indigenous community as a gesture towards “paying the rent.”)
But beneath the surface, a fault-line was forming. In the late 1980s, a plan to establish a Lesbian Centre in Sydney fell apart because the women could not agree on whether to include trans women (biological males); money was returned to donors, and the building sold. In 2000, a trans woman asked to join the Women’s Circus, a project that had been set up to support victims of sexual violence.
As similar challenges mounted, in 2003 the lesbian community sought and won an exemption from Victorian anti-discrimination laws to restrict an upcoming lesbian festival to the female born. The exemption was ultimately revoked after a further legal challenge from a trans woman. From then on, the community decided to hold only private events. Even so, in 2006 a surgically-transitioned trans women sued for discrimination after she was knocked back from an Adelaide Hills event organised by group Sappho’s Party. (The tribunal held the event was indeed private and dismissed the complaint.)
But these are ancient skirmishes from Before Times. During the past decade gender identity ideology — a system of belief that people should count as “male or “female” depending on how they feel — colonised our laws and institutions. And that’s when things went seriously crazy.
Brown, from Equality Australia, laments that the petitioning lesbians are resorting “to the blunt force politics of exclusion.” The way I see it, it’s overwhelmingly lesbians at the receiving end of exclusionary politics, and of blunt force.
At a trans rights rally in Glasgow in January, attended by MPs from Scotland’s ruling party, a placard read, “decapitate TERFs.” In July, Sarah Jane Baker, a trans woman (biological male) and violent ex-con who served 30 years for kidnapping and attempted murder, took to the stage at a London Trans+ Pride march and exhorted the crowd, “if you see a TERF, punch them in the fucking face.” A London court this week cleared Baker of inciting violence.
A 70-something “TERF” was actually punched in the face and head at Auckland’s “Let Women Speak” rally in March.
In no way am I suggesting trans women are inherently violent; the real story here is not the odd psychopathic individual but the failure of LGBTQ leaders, the leaders of this movement that preaches love and “inclusion,” to condemn the unbridled misogyny within their ranks. The organisers of the Pride rally said that while they didn’t condone violence, Baker had a right to free expression because “she holds a lot of anger” — the old, “look what you made me do” defence.
And if the LGBTQ+ movement’s leaders issued a full-throated condemnation of the mob violence at the Auckland rally, I missed it. And if by chance I’ve missed reports of ageing lesbians bashing trans women or calling for their be-heading, I’ll dutifully publish the details.
When in March prominent lesbians Julie Bindel and Kathleen Stock launched in central London The Lesbian Project, an initiative to support lesbians, and especially younger lesbians, more than 100 trans rights counter protestors turned up for what they described as a “joyful” rally, accusing the pair of “sowing hate and division.”
I’ve thought about this episode often, trying to figure out what on earth these protestors were so joyfully angry about. That if the Lesbian Project takes off then folks “assigned male at birth,” in the trans parlance, won’t be getting any? Is that it?
Let’s concede that some “assigned” males struggle to take the hint.
Five years ago, Jenny Watson began hosting lesbian speed dating nights at a Bloomsbury pub. When trans women (biological males) started showing up, Watson let it go, not wanting to add to their daily struggles. Then, after one of the women accused a trans woman of rubbing up against her in the toilets, Watson announced she was restricting the event to females. This unleashed the usual torrent of outrage about “hate” and “transphobia,” the pub buckled under pressure from transactivists, the speed dating night got cancelled. In the ensuing publicity, Watson revealed that last year a trans woman had come to the pub dressed in a purple latex outfit sporting an erection.
No blunt force there, at least.
On Friday, in a rare happy ending, the Bloomsbury pub operator allowed the speed dating nights to resume.
But most dating happens online anyway. And the lesbian dating app, HER, launched in 2015, boasts a massive 1.5 million users in 55 countries. Around three years ago, according to a report in Reduxx, the app subtly re-branded, tilting towards the “queer” community and consciously welcoming trans women in the name of inclusion. For the old-fashioned vanilla lesbians this was, let’s say, irksome, given there was no technical way to filter the pool of candidates according to sex. So they began signalling their preference for biological females in their bios. Maybe you have an inkling of what happened next?
The women’s accounts were suspended for what the app’s customer service described as “transphobia.” The app introduced “improved TERF controls” to help males report females for being lesbian. Then in April, on Lesbian Visibility Day, HER’s founder, Robyn Exton, declared in a blogpost the time had come to reclaim the term “lesbian” from “the clutches of TERFs and bigots.”
“There’s no such thing as a ‘real lesbian,’” declaimed the founder of a lesbian dating app on Lesbian Visibility Day.
What good is the right to marry when you’re blocked from finding Mrs Right? The unbearable truth is that lesbians won the right to marry but effectively lost the right to be lesbian.
When two years ago a handful of anonymous lesbians told the BBC of being pressured and coerced into accepting trans women as partners — into sucking “lady dick” — the UK organisation Stonewall, once at the forefront of gay rights but now chief disseminator of gender identity ideology, infamously compared them to “racists.”
Stonewall’s ideological equivalent in Australia, the AIDS Council of New South Wales, since re-badged as “ACON” an organisation that collects millions in government funding, last year appointed a trans woman, comedian Rosie Piper, to promote Lesbian Day of Visibility. Piper jokingly refers to herself as a “blokey lesbian.” And while I have nothing against her, wish her every happiness in her intimate relationships and am not particularly bothered about how individuals choose to define themselves, ACON’s choice of a biological male as lesbian ambassador seems pointed, like an upturned finger.
Notwithstanding everything you’ve just read, Anna Brown, of the ironically-named Equality Australia, is right about the lesbian group’s application to hold a female-only event at the Victorian Pride Centre. It is indeed “sad” because sadly I doubt the Australian Human Rights Commission will approve the request. My pessimism has to do with the federal Sex Discrimination Act, from which the Gillard government in 2013 removed the words “man” and “woman” and added as a protected characteristic the nebulous concept of “gender identity”.
I’ll have more to say about the law and the Commission in a coming newsletter. In the meantime I cannot not mention the recent viral clip of former prime minister Julia Gillard at Q&A in Adelaide delivering an impromptu lecture of almost four minutes after an audience member lobbed the (inevitable) “what is a woman?” question.
Source: WRN Australia
I cannot not mention the episode because as someone who retains affection for Australia’s first female prime minister, it was a depressing spectacle.
Gillard acknowledges that trans women raise “issues that need to be thought through” in prisons and elite sports. But, mostly, she executes the now all-too-familiar passive-aggressive deflection, casting doubt on the good faith of the questioner. Gillard believes the “what is a woman?" question has become a “gotcha parlour game.”
Some people — she uses the unfashionable term “transsexual”— “genuinely believe that they are trapped in the wrong body and they want to be recognised as the gender their mind and soul have always told them that they are,” she sermonised. We need to show such people “love, inclusion and respect.”
But no amount of guilt-tripping can blur what’s really at stake here; the culpability of leaders such as Gillard in bringing about the post-truth dystopia we inhabit. These leaders must find the courage to admit to their mistakes and help us forge a path back to sanity and harmony.
Because the real reason why Brown cannot show even a tiny bit of respect for her fellow lesbians and their humble wish to celebrate their lesbianism, even if just once a year, at that temple of love and inclusion, Victoria’s multi-million dollar Pride Centre, the reason she can’t display even a hint of graciousness is because she knows that if she opens the door to rational scrutiny of the arguments on both sides, the lesbians will prevail, and her side, the LGBTIQ+ movement, will lose.
Because a crushing majority of people will never acquiesce to the notion that the person in purple latex with a hard-on is a lesbian.