Australia’s Human Rights Commission has released a preliminary decision prohibiting lesbians from holding events for females due to the exclusion of men who identify as “women.” The Commission’s decision comes after a lesbian rights group applied for an exemption under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
The application to the Commission was submitted by long-time Australian women’s rights activist Jean Taylor on behalf of herself and the members of the Lesbian Action Group, a collective established to address discrimination experienced by lesbians.
[T] he Lesbian Action Group attempted to organize a female-only lesbian event at the Victorian Pride Centre this past August. The event was meant to celebrate International Lesbian Day on October 15, 2023, but the Pride Centre declined the booking, claiming that it was exclusionary and conflicted with the organization’s aim of supporting “equality, diversity and inclusion.”
The Commission received a total of 236 submissions on the application from individuals and groups by the closing date of September 1, 2023. Of those submissions, 123 individuals and 15 organizations were in favor of the exemption while 82 individuals and 14 organizations were opposed.
One of the applications opposed to the exemption came from Equal Opportunity Tasmania and referred to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner ruling late last year that women-only events are discriminatory towards men who claim they are women.
Like the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s preliminary view is that it will not grant the temporary 5-year exemption sought by the Lesbian Action Group to host its International Lesbian Day Event or to hold subsequent female-only lesbian events.
While the Commission recognized that “lesbians in Australia have faced structural and entrenched discrimination” and that “it may be important and beneficial for lesbians to gather together as a community,” it nevertheless was not persuaded that it is appropriate or reasonable to “make distinctions between women based on their cisgender or transgender experience.”
Australian women’s rights activist Janet Inglis took to X (formerly Twitter) to express her disappointment with the decision.
“The gender amendments to the SDA [Sex Discrimination Act] must be repealed. Our HRC has proven itself unfit for purpose and must be disbanded if it can no longer distinguish between men and women because of shonky legislation,” she explained. “A true HRC would be working to repeal those amendments and restore the rights of lesbians to be recognised in their own right.”
On X, Inglis also called on others to consider making a submission to respond to the Commission’s preliminary view before the October 3, 2023 deadline.
[Ed: no decision has yet been made, the Commission has only issued a ‘preliminary view’.]