EQUAL OPPORTUNITY LEGISLATION
The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act (2010) prohibits discrimination on a number of personal characteristics or 'attributes' – age, parental/carer status, race, religion, physical features, industrial/employment activity, lawful sexual activity, political belief, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The State of Victoria has recognised gender identity as an attribute since 2000. That means it is against the law in Victoria to discriminate against transgender people. There have been many positive outcomes for trans* people due to this, particularly in relation to employment and policing. Religious organisations have an exemption to this, meaning they can discriminate against someone on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Until recently, there were no Federal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Transgender Victoria, along with a range of partners in the GLBTI and allied community, worked hard over many years to fix this gap in Federal law. We now have protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity under the Sex Discrimination Act.
First attempts at including protection on the basis of gender identity (and sexual orientation) in Federal law began in the mid 1990s. A private Members' bill introduced by the late Democrats Senator Sid Spindler aimed to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections into Federal law.
Victorian transgender advocacy pioneer and Democrats member, Julie Peters played an important role in getting transgender issues on the map though her knowledge, tenacity and courage in being an out transgender activist.
Progress stalled following the 1996 election and change of government, with the bill lapsing due to the change of numbers in both houses of parliament. It was only during the 2010 Federal election campaign that all major parties affirmed their in-principle support for protection of people on the basis of gender identity.
2010 - 2013
In 2011 Transgender Victoria forwarded a submission supporting the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity attributes to the Senate Committee conducting public consultations regarding the consolidation of existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation – the Age Discrimination Act 2004, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 - into a single Act. Transgender Victoria also attended roundtable discussions into the actual need for reform that were held in late 2011.
In November 2012, the government released its draft exposure bill as part of the Consolidation process. Then Federal Attorney General Nicola Roxon argued the Bill would merge and simplify the five existing anti-discrimination laws and include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Public hearings followed in January 2013 for those who had made submissions and alongside Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL,) Organisation Intersex Internationale Australia (OIIA) and A Gender Agenda, Transgender Victoria were able to have our views represented.
The findings of the Senate enquiry included a more effective and comprehensive definition of gender identity as advocated by Transgender Victoria and our nationwide partners. The findings also recommended a separate attribute of intersex status.
In March 2013, Federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus announced a delay in the consolidation process of all the acts and instead would amend the existing Sex Discrimination Act to specifically provide protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. The Senate committee recommended that the bill be passed, together with an amendment to remove exemptions for religious organisations in the provision of federally funded aged care services.
On 25 June 2013 after considerable debate, the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 passed both houses of parliament, meaning that for this first time, GLBTI Australians have protections against discrimination.
The new law introduces protections in Commonwealth anti-discrimination law on the new grounds of 'sexual orientation', 'gender identity', 'intersex status' and 'marital or relationship status.' Additionally, the ability for religious organisations to discriminate when providing services in aged care were removed, despite the coalition not supporting protections for vulnerable older people.
Attaining federal anti-discrimination laws is a significant victory for the trans* community, with the passage of the bill into law representing a major long-term achievement with huge benefits for GLBTI people. TGV particularly congratulate our friends experiencing intersex on achieving the first national anti-discrimination law in the world. From August 2013, discrimination claims may be considered by the Australian Human Rights Commission and Federal Court of Australia.
TGV urge all state and territory governments to consider updating their laws by using the new simple, comprehensive and effective federal definition of 'gender identity.'
FURTHER WORK ON THE ISSUE
TGV have been part of the development of guidelines for all employers operating in Victoria on how to comply with the Equal Opportunity Act (2010) in employment. This was released by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 2013 and can be found here.
Below L to R: Warren Talbot General Manager LGBTI Health Alliance, Sally Goldner Transgender Victoria, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Gina Wilson OII Australia, Morgan Carpenter OII Australia