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AUSTRALIA: Sydney women-only ocean pool under fire over transgender policy

Social media users criticise the exclusion of some trans women at McIver’s Ladies Baths, forcing a change of policy wording.


By Helen Sullivan


The Guardian (12.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/38CGwMy – A women-only ocean pool in Sydney’s eastern suburbs has come under fire over a policy that excluded transgender women who had not had surgical intervention.


The McIver’s Ladies Baths’ policy on transgender women, published on the FAQ section of its website, has been changed twice since attention was drawn to it on Monday afternoon.


Under the question “Are transgender women allowed?” the website’s response on Monday read: “Only transgender women who’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery are allowed entry. Please contact us for further information if required.”


After social media users questioned the policy and called for swimmers to contact Randwick council, the Randwick & Coogee Ladies Swimming Association changed the website to read: “McIver’s Ladies Baths has an exemption under the Anti-Discrimination Act awarded in 1995.


“Only women and children (boys up to 13 years of age) are permitted entry. If you wish to make any further inquiries please contact the Randwick city council.”


The 1995 exemption, which allows the baths to be a women-only space, was made “indefinite” in 2018.


On Monday afternoon a post on the McIver’s Facebook page quoted the 1995 exemption and called for people to direct “any information regarding transgender people needs” to Randwick council.


Below the post was a fierce debate of more than 3,000 comments from a mix of people who support allowing transgender women into the baths and those who do not. The Facebook post has since been taken down.


This is not the first time that women-only swimming spots have faced backlash over allowing or not allowing trans women to use their spaces. In 2019, London’s Hampstead Heath ladies’ pond formalised the rights of transgender women to use the pool after intense debate and protests by a radical feminist group.


On Tuesday morning, after staff at Randwick council requested that the website wording be changed again, the McIver’s FAQ response was modified to say: “Yes. Transgender women are welcome to the McIver’s Ladies Baths, our definition for transgender is as per the NSW Discrimination Act.”


A spokesperson for Randwick council confirmed in an email to Guardian Australia that the council had requested the change “to reflect [the baths’] actual policy position more accurately.”


A statement from the council on Tuesday afternoon said: “Randwick council is an inclusive organisation that values diversity in our community, and have always supported the inclusion of transgender women at McIver’s Ladies Baths.” The statement reiterated that the R&CLSA, which sub-leases the baths from the council, “are ultimately responsible for management and entry to the baths”.


“It is our understanding the association has always had a policy of inclusion and we have been in contact with the management of the baths to ask them to more accurately communicate this inclusive position on the issue on their website,” the statement said.


While the NSW anti-discrimination law defines trans women as all trans people who live or seek to live as women, the law recognises only some transgender people as legally being the gender they identify with, according to Newcastle University. There is a different definition under the law for “recognised” transgender people, who are required to have had “sex affirmation surgery”. The Australian Human Rights Commission has criticised this system, and recommended that individuals be allowed to decide their own gender identities without needing surgery.


It is unclear from the latest FAQ response on the McIver’s website whether the definition of trans women “as per the NSW discrimination act” refers to the specific definition of “recognised” trans women, or whether it refers to all trans women. In other words, all trans people who live or seek to live as women.


If it refers to “recognised” trans women, the current FAQ response would have the same meaning as the first response, allowing “only transgender women who’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery” to enter the baths.


Liam Elphick, a discrimination expert and associate lecturer in Monash University’s law faculty, said that if the latest policy was referring to the latter definition, it offered “strong protection for trans women who identify as trans women,” who should, under the law, need to demonstrate only that they live or intend to live as a woman – rather than needing to provide documentation – but that it was “far less strong” for those with non-binary gender identities.


“We have discrimination laws all throughout the country,” he said, “and organisations should act not just in accordance with those laws, but as best as possible in the spirit of those laws. And those laws require that we do not discriminate in the provision of goods and services against transgender people.”


Equality Australia’s CEO, Anna Brown, told the Guardian: “All Australians should be treated equally and allowed to live with dignity as who they are. No woman, whether trans or not, should be forced to reveal any part of her body as a condition for accessing public facilities.” She said the NSW law was out of date, and “should be updated to remove confusion and bring it into line with more contemporary anti-discrimination acts in other states and federally”.


She also noted that the stigma faced by trans women often leads them to exclude themselves from health and fitness activities.


It is unclear how the policy will be enforced. Entry to the baths is permitted by a group of volunteers at busy times, and at other times swimmers throw a $2.50 payment into a box before entering.


The Randwick & Coogee Ladies Swimming Association could not be reached for comment.

Photo: McIver’s Ladies Baths at South Coogee. The pool’s policy on transgender women, published on the FAQ section of its website, has been changed since attention was drawn to it. Credit: Carly Earl/The Guardian.

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TANZANIA: Australian women’s rights activist faces charges

Supporters says charges against Zara Kay, who has had her passport confiscated, are ‘politically motivated’.


By Daniel Hurst


The Guardian (03.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/393rFK8 – An Australian ex-Muslim women’s rights activist faces “politically motivated” charges in Tanzania, including for a tweet allegedly critical of the country’s president, according to her supporters.


The Australian government is providing consular assistance to Zara Kay, 28, the founder of Faithless Hijabi, a group set up two years ago to support women who are ostracised or face violence if they leave or question Islam.


Kay tweeted on 28 December she was “going into the police station because someone reported me in for blasphemy” and a few days later told her supporters she was out on bail but “still quite traumatised from everything”.


“Please don’t stop fighting for me,” she wrote. “They can try shaking me, but they won’t break me.”


The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Sunday it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Tanzania”. But a spokesperson said Dfat would not provide further comment “owing to our privacy obligations”.


The case was first reported by the ABC on Sunday.


The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims issued a statement saying Kay had been held in police custody for 32 hours from 28 December “without an initial clear indication of charges” and had her passport confiscated.


It said she would be required to return the police station in Dar es Salaam, the administrative capital, on Tuesday.


According to the statement, the charges relate to three issues, including “a social media post deemed to be critical of the president of Tanzania” over the handling of Covid-19 in the east African country.


The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims said Kay was also accused of not returning her Tanzanian passport after gaining Australian citizenship, but added that “she never returned her Tanzanian passport as she misplaced and never used it after gaining Australian citizenship”.


The coalition said the final issue was the use of a mobile sim card registered in a family member’s name rather than her own name, under legislation that the group said “has been used to persecute other high-profile cases”.


“We believe these charges are politically motivated,” the coalition said.


“The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims reiterates its call on the Tanzanian government to immediately drop all the charges against Zara Kay and allow her to leave the country … We also call on the Australian authorities to intervene and get Zara home to safety.”


Kay, who was raised a Shia Muslim in Tanzania, told the Australian newspaper in 2019 that she had been forced to wear the hijab from the age of eight but took it off when she moved to Australia to study in her late teens.


She has renounced Islam and campaigns to help people who struggle when they similarly leave the faith. Kay has held speaking events in Australia on the topic: “Losing your religion can be hard, and for some, it can be fatal”.


Christians comprise about 61% of Tanzania’s population of 59 million people, while Muslims represent about 35%, according to past estimates, and it does not have blasphemy laws. The Australian newspaper reports that Kay faces sedition charges.


It is understood the types of assistance provided by Australian consular staff can include visiting prisons to monitor welfare, checking with local authorities about the Australian’s wellbeing, and providing contact details for local lawyers.


But consular staff typically notify Australians in trouble overseas that they cannot provide direct legal advice, intervene in legal cases or get Australians out of prison.

Photo: Dfat is giving consular assistance to Zara Kay, an Australian women’s rights activist in Tanzania. Her supporters say she is facing three charges, including one relating to a social media post allegedly critical of the president. Credit: CEMB.

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Homophobia drastically reduced at Australian clubs taking part in pride games

Researchers say a study’s findings are ‘unusual’ as most prejudice reduction initiatives fail or have little impact.


By Mike Hytner


The Guardian (26.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/3bilsKO – The use of homophobic language is drastically reduced at sporting clubs which engage in pride games, new research has revealed, proving diversity-themed events can have a positive impact.


The research, led by Australia’s Monash University, is the first academic study to investigate if such themed games or rounds, which aim to address a range of social issues including homophobia, racism and respect for women, can help stop discriminatory behaviours in male sport.


The study focused on the Australian Ice Hockey League and found players in teams that hold pride games use nearly 40% less homophobic language than those in teams that have not held games. A subsequent, larger study that included community cricket, netball, Australian rules football, field hockey, and roller derby reported nearly identical results.


“These findings are very unusual,” Erik Denison, the lead author of the study, said. “Most prejudice reduction interventions fail or have little impact on attitudes and very few have been shown to change behaviours.”


Slurs such as “fag” were found to be far less prevalent in the two semi-professional AIHL teams involved in pride initiatives than in the other six, after players self-reported for a period of two weeks.


“Holding pride games does not stop discriminatory behaviours but the games seem to mitigate the frequency of homophobic and sexist language used by players on teams that host the events,” Denison said.


“We believe combining pride games with better communication about why language is harmful to LGBT people is key to stopping this behaviour.” But Denison admitted the researchers were not sure why these games had not helped to change the behaviour of others exposed to the games, such as the visiting team.


Diversity-themed games have become commonplace across a range of sports throughout the world since the NHL’s Florida Panthers pioneered the idea in 2013. Pride initiatives are now seen regularly in leagues across the globe, from the NBA and NFL in the US, to the AFL in Australia and the Premier League in the UK.


But a lack of research into – and conclusive evidence of – the effectiveness of such initiatives remains a barrier for some sports administrators, who may legitimately want to do the right thing but do not want to be accused of “virtue signalling” or being “politically correct”.


The research, which was supported by the Australian government, Salesforce, You Can Play and Amnesty International, aimed to address that need for evidence and prove for the first time that diversity campaigns actually help to drive change to discriminatory behaviour and make sports more welcoming for LGBTI people.


Melbourne Mustangs ice hockey player Maxime Langelier-Parent, who took part in the study, said the use of homophobic language in his sport starts early, becomes habitual and is then passed on to the next generation of players.


“It is a vicious cycle,” Langelier-Parent said. “In hockey culture and other male sports there is also a strong pressure on players to conform to the team and those who don’t conform or deviate are often excluded. I think this is why it’s so hard to make these environments inclusive for LGBT people because being different isn’t seen to be positive.


“[Pride games] give us an opportunity to talk about the need to be inclusive and challenge the stereotypes around being a man.”


Another ice hockey player, Kade Matthews of the Southern Lights, said: “Most LGBT hockey players either ignore or just accept the language they hear being used, but it can cut deep and definitely sends the message that people don’t like gay people.


“As more people are willing to speak up against the language and how it affects them, there will be pressure to change the culture as a whole, resulting in better health outcomes for all players, including juniors.”


Previous research has found most discriminatory language in sport typically is not meant with malice or ill intent, but Denison underlined the importance of understanding exactly how a diversity-themed game can drive change to this kind of behaviour.


“For pride games, our working theory is that communications around the game, getting players to wear a special uniform, putting rainbows up everywhere in a stadium, making announcements, meeting LGBTQ+ athletes creates a ‘window of cognitive opportunity’ to short-circuit this normally thoughtless language,” he said.


“One of our study participants described this very clearly. In an interview, he told us he used a homophobic slur during a pride game and said it was like swearing in front of his grandmother. Being part of the pride game made him notice the language he was using without any thought. He said he tried hard to stop using this language after the game.”

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AUSTRALIA: Senate calls on government to expedite asylum claim of two gay Saudi journalists in ‘arbitrary’ detention

Multiple global news organisations call for release of men, who fled their country only to become embroiled in Australia’s detention system.


By Helen Davidson


The Guardian (04.12.2019) – https://bit.ly/2E6c8dc – The Senate has passed a motion calling on the government to recognise the increased risk it has placed on two gay Saudi journalists by keeping them in detention after they claimed asylum last month.


Guardian Australia can reveal that multiple news organisations around the world have called for the release of the men, warning the Australian government they are watching the case closely.


The motion, brought by Greens senator Janet Rice, also urged the government to expedite the refugee assessment process for the couple and assure their safety in the interim.


Labor, Centre Alliance and independent senator Jacqui Lambie all pledged their support for the motion, which passed on Wednesday afternoon.


Last month Guardian Australia revealed the two men were detained at an Australian airport after passing through immigration on valid tourist visas. They have remained in detention or under guard in hospital ever since, and have alleged threats of violence against them as well as fear they could be targeted by Saudi representatives.


Sultan* is a former ministry of media employee and a fixer who had worked with multiple international media organisations, and Nassar* is a cameraman.


They fled their home country after Sultan was interrogated by Saudi authorities, who ordered him to stop working with foreign media and made veiled threats to out his and his partner’s relationship.


Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and punishable by death.


Sultan told Guardian Australia last month their arrest and “arbitrary” detention in Australia was comparable to threats back home.


“We’ve been threatened with it in Saudi but it never actually happened until we came here,” he said.


Rice welcomed the Senate’s move.


“When these journalists liken their treatment in Saudi to the violence they have experienced here in Australia, it should be a wake-up call,” she told Guardian Australia.


“The government should act swiftly to reflect the view of the Senate on this matter and uphold the values of fairness and diversity that our country says we stand for.”


“This motion is an important step to increased public awareness of how dangerous Australian immigration detention centres are,” said the men’s lawyer, Alison Battisson.


“I am aware of serious assaults, requiring hospitalisation, taking place on a weekly basis … When assaults do occur, it appears very difficult for the Australian federal police to access detention to investigate.”


Several international media organisations have also written to Australia’s immigration minister, David Coleman, in support of the men.


“This is unjust treatment of two journalists who travelled to Australia seeking protection from the persecution they faced as gay men in Saudi Arabia,” wrote one letter from Mark MacKinnon, of Canada’s Globe and Mail.


“I hope you can intervene to ensure they are released from detention – they have valid visas to visit Australia – so that they can pursue their asylum claim,” he said.”


“Please trust that I and my colleagues around the world who know and have worked with [Sultan] will be watching the outcome of this process with very keen interest.”


Other letters from some of the world’s most prestigious newsrooms, including the BBC and ITN, urged Coleman to grant the pair asylum, saying the pair would “fit in very well in Australia”.


Michael Garrod, the founder of freelancer database, World Fixer, said Sultan was driven to help foreign media “in the spirit of progress, driven and inspired by the initiatives of the Crown Prince”, and said if the couple was returned to Saudi Arabia they faced persecution because of both their sexuality and their profession.


“I sincerely hope that your department recognises their considerable contribution to our global understanding of their country and stands by Australia’s promise to support LGBT rights globally,” he said.


Peter Greste, journalist and spokesman for the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said: “If Australia wants to be seen as a campaigner of press freedom around the world, and wants to be respected and taken seriously, the government will act swiftly, and with understanding and compassion, in relation to these two journalists.”

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AUSTRALIA: High Court rules female genital mutilation illegal in all forms

Three people charged with female genital mutilation offences against two primary school-aged sisters could face further punishment after the High Court ruled the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal erred in quashing their convictions.

 Warning: This story contains graphic details that may confront some readers.


By Elizabeth Byrne

ABC News (16.10.2019) – https://ab.co/2VMHfCF – In 2015, the girls’ mother and a former nurse Kubra Magennis were found guilty of two counts each of breaching the ban on female genital mutilation in NSW.


Dawoodi Bohra community leader Shabbir Mohammedbhai Vaziri was convicted of being an accessory.


All were sentenced to 15 months in jail but, while the women were allowed to spend the sentence out of custody, Mr Vaziri was jailed.


It was Australia’s first female genital mutilation prosecution.


But the charges were quashed by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal last year, after the trio argued the ceremony was only ritualistic and new evidence showed there was no visible physical damage to either girl.


Today, in a divided ruling, the High Court found the law did cover the circumstances in the case and that it was meant to criminalise the practice in its various forms.

 ‘Skin only sniffs the steel’ in ceremony


The religious ceremony of Khatna is said to involve a girl’s clitoris being nicked or cut in the presence of elders.


The girls were believed to be aged six or seven when the ceremony was carried out at their homes, one in Wollongong and the other in Sydney, between 2009 and 2012.


At the original trial the eldest child had given evidence describing Khatna, saying “they give a little cut … in your private part” using a tool similar to a pair of scissors.


However, Ms Magennis said the ceremony had used forceps, not a blade, and the “symbolic” form of Khatna involved a “ceremony of touching the edge of the genital area … allowing the skin to sniff the steel”.


After the trio were convicted, a medical examination showed the tip of the clitoral head was visible in both girls, allowing them to argue successfully that the genitals were not mutilated.


The convictions were set aside but prosecutors sought an appeal to Australia’s top court, arguing the actions of the three had still breached the NSW law.


Today the majority of the High Court bench found in the NSW prosecution’s favour, deeming the trio’s actions illegal.


Retrial may cause girls psychological harm: Chief Justice


The case has been referred back to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal for further consideration about whether the jury’s verdict was unreasonable.


In a joint judgement with Justice Patrick Keane, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said normally a new trial would be ordered, but in this case that may not be appropriate.


“[The victims] C1 and C2 were children when they were interviewed by police and when they gave evidence at a trial which took place in 2015,” she said.


“The trial judge, in considering whether C1 and C2 were compellable to give evidence against their mother, accepted that there was a likelihood that psychological harm might be caused to them.


“There could be little doubt that a second trial would compound that distress.”


Justices Virginia Bell and Stephen Gageler differed from the rest of the court taking a narrower view of the offence and argued that the Court of Criminal Appeal made the correct decision.


“The Court of Appeal was right to hold that superficial tissue damage, which leaves not physical scarring and which on medical examination is not shown to have caused any damage to the skin or nerve tissue, is not in law capable of amounting to mutilation,” they said.


The case has been listed for a call over in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal next week.

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