The New South Wales government has confirmed it will not support One Nation MP Mark Latham’s controversial bill to ban discussion of gender diversity in classrooms, saying it could cause “targeted discrimination” against trans students.
First put forward in 2020, Latham’s “Parental Rights” bill sought to prohibit teachers from discussing “the ideology of gender fluidity to children in schools” and prevent schools from supporting transgender students without parental consent.
In September, a parliamentary inquiry into the bill that was chaired by Latham recommended more far-reaching prohibitions be included in departmental policies on trans students in schools.
The changes would have prohibited students from confidentially coming out as trans to their teachers, banned trans students from playing school sports aligning with their gender from high school, required trans students to undergo a full medical transition to use toilets aligning with their gender, and required parental consent before any discussion of matters concerning gender or sexuality.
Despite support from some religious groups, advocates slammed the committee’s recommendations as a “direct attack on the safety of trans and gender diverse young people in schools” as well as potentially “unlawful”.
The committee’s recommendations were opposed by the Greens MP David Shoebridge and Labor’s Anthony D’Adam, but endorsed by some other MPs including the government MP Scott Farlow and Labor’s Courtney Houssos.
The NSW education minister, Sarah Mitchell, released the government’s response to the bill on Wednesday evening, shooting down any prospect of the government’s support for its recommendations.
In her response to the inquiry into the bill, Mitchell said the government would not support its recommendations in part because it “may lead to targeted discrimination against a marginalised community which already experiences poorer mental health and wellbeing outcomes”.
“Seventy-two per cent of gender diverse young people have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder,” she wrote in her response.
“Forty-eight per cent of gender diverse young people have attempted suicide in their lifetime. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) young people are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
“Every child has the right to receive an education of the highest quality, and the NSW government supports the right of every student and teacher to be themselves at school and to fulfil their potential.
“NSW schools have legal obligations to protect and support students, including those who are same-sex attracted or transgender.”
Mitchell also wrote that parts of the bill were “operationally impossible”, and could “impact schools’ legal obligations to protect and support all students”.
The government’s response to the bill also shot down individual recommendations on changes to departmental policy, including bans on school counsellors discussing “gender fluidity and transition without prior reference to parents”.
“Placing restrictions on school counsellors in this manner is complex and would be in conflict with the obligations of counsellors arising from the requirements of their professional organisations and legal requirements,” the response stated.
On the proposal to ban students playing sport outside of their biological gender from Year 7, the government’s response stated that it was up to schools to “manage these issues on a case by case basis”.
And on banning students using bathrooms aligning with their gender without a full medical transition Mitchell wrote: “Decisions about suitable toilet arrangements and accommodation for all students are made based on what is reasonably required to protect students from foreseeable risk of harm”.
The decision to reject the bill was welcomed both by advocates and the NSW education union.
Shoebridge called the government’s rejection of the bill a “testament to the many brave witnesses and experts who stood up against this hateful proposal”.
“While the outcome is a huge relief we must not ignore the damage done by the debate and the fear generated by the prospect of these laws being passed,” he said.
“We need politics to be better than this and to unambiguously support the rights and safety of the LGBTIQ community at all times.”
In a statement, Ghassan Kassisieh, the legal director of Equality Australia, said “the LGBTIQ+ community in NSW will breathe a little easier today”.
“The NSW government has stood up to One Nation’s bullying of trans and gender diverse kids, affirming their right to connect, succeed and thrive at school,” he said.
“The government’s response not only rejects One Nation’s Bill in full, but also rejects these recommendations, concluding that they would contradict existing legal obligations and policies, impinge on the rights of students, and states that existing policies deal sufficiently with relevant issues on a case-by-case basis.”
The NSW Teachers Federation president, Angelo Gavrielatos, also welcomed the decision to reject the bill, saying it would have “pit parents against schools and teachers, and fail to put students first”.
“The education that parents expect from the school system is one that prepares young people to be active citizens of the world,” he said.
“We’re pleased the government has rejected One Nation’s bill which sought to stop teachers from exploring contemporary topics and for students to be able to critically analyse and evaluate information available to them in order to develop an informed opinion on a topic.”