Few countries can be taking gender inclusiveness more seriously than Australia.
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Gender bending: let me count the ways

Few countries can be taking gender inclusiveness more seriously than Australia.
Babette Francis | 22 March 2011
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In the beginning there was male and female. Soon there was homosexuality. Later there were lesbians, and much later gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers. But anyone who thinks LGBTQ is the full count of contemporary sexualities is sadly out of date. For example, the transgendered have for some time been divided into those who are awaiting treatment, those have had hormone treatment, those who have had hormones and surgery, and those who have had hormones and surgery but are not happy and want it all reversed.

Enter the Australian Human Rights Commission with some exciting new developments. In an extraordinary document entitled Protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity, the AHRC has come up with a further list of “genders” which they require us to recognize, and on whose behalf they want our federal government to pass anti-discrimination legislation. To date (by the time you read this, the AHRC's family of sexualities may have increased and multiplied) these are: transgender, trans, transsexual, intersex, androgynous, agender, cross dresser, drag king, drag queen, genderfluid, genderqueer, intergender, neutrois, pansexual, pan-gendered, third gender, third sex, sistergirl and brotherboy. (No, I don't know what “neutrois” means).

So if we add these genders to the LGBTQ list we get 23 in all, not to mention the divisions within the transgendered group. For PR purposes, however, the “gendered" community now identifies itself as LGBTQI (the "I" stands for "intersex".) Rather than abbreviating I think they should add all the other letters of the alphabet, then we would all feel protected and not discriminated against. Being Indian by birth and having married an Australian of Anglo-Celtic origin, I am all for diversity, but I am not going to commit to "neutrois" until someone tells me what it means.

Once the government passes proposed legislation, presumably businesses will be required to provide designated toilets for each gender, and Equal Opportunity Gender Identity (EOGI) units will ensure compliance with federal legislation.

In October last year the Australian Human Rights Commission held public consultations in Sydney and Melbourne during which interested citizens were given the opportunity to express their views on the gender discussion paper. In her introductory remarks at the consultation in Melbourne which I attended, the Hon. Catherine Branson QC, chairman of the AHRC, said that the commission was relying for its approach to gender discrimination on the Yogyakarta Principles. (No, Yogyakarta is not another gender identity, it is a city in Indonesia where a group of human rights activists met.) Branson said that while the Yogyakarta Principles were not in themselves binding, they are an "interpretation of international binding agreements to which Australia is committed."

I pointed out that not only had the Yogyakarta Principles not been accepted by the UN, they had been rejected every time "sexual orientation" was debated at the Commission on the Status of Women meetings I attended in New York. Possibly Branson had not expected that anyone at the consultation would have actually attended UN meetings in New York -- she seemed a trifle deflated after my comment -- but she will cheer up with the news from Canada where Bill C-389 protecting Gender Identity and Gender Expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act is being fast-tracked through the House of Commons.

There was the usual debate about the meaning of “gender” at this year's Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York in March, from which I have just returned. The term is used liberally in every CSW document, past and present, but during the latest CSW session the Holy See (Vatican) -- which often speaks for other nations (mainly from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean) in presenting a more traditional view of morals -- insisted it be defined. As a result, many paragraphs in the "Agreed Conclusions" document were modified either by adding "men and women" or ensuring that the context in which the term "gender" was used in the paragraph would not easily lend itself to be understood as anything other than male and female.

The fact is that in international law the only binding definition of gender is contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which states: "…the term 'gender' refers to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. The term 'gender' does not indicate any meaning different from the aforementioned definition.”

During negotiations, the European Union and its supporters simultaneously claimed that gender is a fluid social construct but also tried to reassure old-fashioned countries that “we know what the definition is.” One delegate rebuffed the EU explanation retorting, “If it’s really not a problem, then why can’t we plainly state what it means [i.e. male and female]?"

Debates about gender are perennial at the UN even though the women of the world have more urgent needs -- such as a clean water supply, good roads, electricity, and maternal health care. This year's debate gave me a feeling of deja vu as I recalled an incident at a CSW meeting in New York some years ago. The delegate from Nicaragua refused to accept any definition of "gender" other than male and female. The Swedish government threatened Nicaragua with the withdrawal of aid unless Nicaragua sent home its recalcitrant delegate. Nicaragua is a poor country, dependent on foreign aid, so the hapless delegate was ordered home and a new delegate was sent to New York. When the debate on "gender" resumed, the new Nicaraguan delegate innocently said: "But in my country, gender is male and female.....", so Sweden was back to square one. This is but one example of the way wealthy countries bully third world nations into accepting their sexual fetishes.

When the Australian Labour Party won the federal government benches in 2007, it established policies for monitoring prices (and the movement of whales and Japanese whaling ships in the southern ocean). The government did not have much success with these policies; prices rise in response to market forces regardless of who is watching. But, not learning from the futility of Fuel Watch, Grocery Watch and Whale Watch, Julia Gillard's government is now proposing a "Gender Watch". Medium and large businesses will be subject to spot checks on the numbers of women they employ with penalties for non-compliance. Not to be outdone, Joe Hockey, Opposition Treasury spokesman, kicked an own goal by announcing that if corporates did not increase the number of women board members, quotas may have to be imposed. He stated that Australia ranked second-last among OECD countries on the numbers of females in senior executive positions. (This may be why Australia has survived the global financial crisis much better than any of the other OECD countries… Okay, I'm joking.)

However, quotas and separate toilets are not enough for true equality. Australian activist, Katrina Fox, who in 2008 co-edited a book Trans People in Love, wrote an emotive piece for the Australian Broadcasting Commission recently entitled Marriage needs redefining. In it she clarifies how all the gender boundaries surrounding marriage must be removed. “A more inclusive option,” she begins, “is to allow individuals to get married whatever their sex or gender, including those who identify as having no sex or gender or whose sex may be indeterminate.”

"Indeterminate"? Can't everybody fit into one of the 23 genders the AHRC has listed so far? But, happily, Fox does have some boundaries. Further into the article she writes: "I'm not suggesting we go as far to sanction people marrying inanimate objects, like the German woman who married the Berlin Wall and was utterly devastated when her ‘husband’ was destroyed in 1989...."

I never realized that someone actually loved the Berlin Wall and that when President Reagan said "Tear down that Wall, Mr. Gorbachev," he was  trying to wreck a marriage.

Babette Francis is the National and Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., a pro-life, pro-family NGO which has special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | Australia, gender, human rights
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