The Tasmanian parliament is poised to pass the best laws for transgender and gender-diverse people; not only in the nation, but on the planet.
Both houses have agreed to the reform, with the only remaining step being lower house assent to upper house amendments. Unless the Hodgman government plans to stymie the clear wishes of majorities in both houses of parliament, these laws will become fact in the very near future.
When the laws come into effect, they will allow a trans or gender diverse person to self-determine their gender identity and have this identity officially recognised on their birth certificate.
They will allow us the choice to take gender off our birth certificate altogether, or allow parents to do this in the case of newborns. They will give parents of intersex infants much longer to decide how they register their child’s birth sex, so they can access expert advice and support. They will protect us from hate speech and offensive language on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, intersex status and sex characteristics.
The contrast with the laws Tasmania used to have couldn’t be starker.
Many people are aware Tasmania was the last state to decriminalise same-sex relationships in 1997. Far fewer realise Tasmania, alone among the states, criminalised cross-dressing until 2000.
That law was used to justify discrimination and violence against trans people.
The requirement trans people have surgery before their birth certificates could be amended (which this bill will repeal) was the most invasive and onerous in the nation.
Tasmania really has gone from worst to best on transgender human rights.
Let me give you three reasons why I think such a profound transformation has occurred.
High-profile, long-term campaigning
Beginning in the late 1980s, the long campaigns against Tasmania’s old laws targeting gay and trans people have given LGBTI Tasmanians the unique opportunity to raise awareness about the problems we face.
More recently, Tasmania was the first state to adopt a civil partnership scheme, the first to see the introduction of same-sex marriage laws, and the first to introduce legislation repealing the requirement for transgender partners to divorce before their gender could be officially recognised. All these reforms prompted significant debate.
The impact of this long-term and high-profile campaigning was obvious in the postal survey, when Tasmania returned a yes vote above the national average.
In short, we invested great effort over a long period to achieve law reform, and the dividend has been reform of the highest standard.
What makes the Tasmanian achievement all the more remarkable is that the Tasmanian government opposes most of the changes that have occurred.
In 2018, like every other state government, it introduced legislation removing the legal requirement forcing transgender partners to divorce before they can have their gender recognised on their birth certificate. This reform was necessary following the same-sex marriage amendments in 2017.
But we wanted reform to go further. We couldn’t see the point of removing one restriction on trans people and not other, far harsher restrictions. We built a strong community movement based around new advocacy groups, Transforming Tasmania, and Tasmanian Families for Trans Kids. We built support, both in the community sector and in parliament, for amending the limited government bill with the reforms we sought. We worked with Labor, the Greens, Liberal Speaker Sue Hickey and upper house independents in a combined effort to amend and pass a comprehensive bill.
The government responded truculently, condemning the legislation as badly drafted, predicting a raft of “unintended consequences” and demanding an inquiry (despite the anti-discrimination commissioner having already conducted one).
But we stuck to our strategy, refused to be intimidated and saw the reform through. If anything, the high-handed opposition and obstructionism of the government worked in our favour.
The lessons are clear: be bold, aim high, take risks, push against closed doors – not open ones – never resign yourself to whatever the powers-that-be are willing to give you, and never listen to those who say “it can’t happen”.
The most important element of all was the personal – the stories of transgender and gender diverse people and our families.
It’s almost a cliche, but it’s true: the best way to change hearts and minds is to be honest with cisgender and heterosexual people about what the lives of LGBTI people are like, and to encourage them to walk in our shoes. Some of the most compelling stories of all were from mothers and fathers with teenage trans children. When historians come to write the history of LGBTI law reform in Tasmania, they will conclude the quietest voices spoke the loudest.
Tasmania’s reformed laws will improve lives, but there is still a long way to go for trans people. The Tasmanian debate revealed how deeply prejudice still runs. Although the recent reforms are about getting unnecessary government regulations out of the lives of transgender people, some Liberals jettisoned this foundational liberal principle and resorted to fear-mongering. Although the reforms are about providing people with greater choice, autonomy and bodily integrity, a small number of people threw out fundamental feminist principles and went straight to scare campaigns.
I’m still hopeful we can address continued prejudice. The new laws give this prejudice one less place to hide.
The less repressive atmosphere will give us greater opportunity to tell our personal stories.
Martine Delaney is a long-time Tasmanian transgender advocate.