To people like me, Scott Morrison promising to “sort out” a gender-inclusive bathroom represents both a frightening winding back of my basic rights and a rather obvious pattern.
Fresh from refusing to take responsibility for Australia’s contribution to global warming and hanging out by himself at the G7, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has returned his focus to an issue close to his heart – the private lives of transgender people.
In an interview with 2GB, Mr Morrison was asked about a small sign that had been placed by public servants, indicating that people were free to use the bathroom that correlated with their gender identity. A relatively harmless message, that caught the Prime Minister’s imagination.
Scott Morrison has slammed bathroom signs telling Prime Minister and Cabinet staff to use the toilet which best suits their gender identity https://t.co/7Mz3xKwrK1
— The Australian (@australian) August 29, 2019
Morrison called the sign – which referred to a transgender policy common in most decent workplaces – political correctness gone mad. He promised to “sort it out.” And in doing so, he brought transgender safety, inclusion and freedoms once more into the news.
I think it’s important to examine the implications of the Prime Minister’s commentary. It’s important because of the status that he holds, the influence he wields and the casual banality of his delivery.
The inclusion that Morrison is referring to is actually just a base-line level of safety for gender diverse people. It is no more than a tiny sign that says we are safe to pee and play candy crush in peace. It’s not an enshrining of protections, it’s not a strictly enforced policy, and it aligns with Australia’s existing laws around not discriminating against trans people. It’s bathroom access. Nothing more.
The Prime Minister still thinks that’s “over the top”.
If that commentary was just his opinion, that would be bad enough. It would be frightening enough. Unfortunately, it’s more than that. When he says he will “sort it out” he is saying that the Prime Minister of this country will personally intervene to roll back a workplace transgender inclusion initiative. He will personally intervene to make transgender and gender diverse people feel less safe in his department.
That represents a pro-active intention to block or create obstacles for trans rights.
Which begs the question. Can you imagine what he thinks about the rest of our rights? Can you imagine what he thinks about other provisions for our safety and inclusion and acceptance? Can you imagine what he thinks about our access to health-care, our pronouns or how we’re treated in the workplace? And perhaps most importantly, if this is his course of action on a smaller scale, what would his policy preference be on a national level?
It is a pattern, because the Prime Minister always allows himself to be baited on transgender rights. He is asked again and again for his input on trans issues, and he keeps answering in a way that shows a striking degree of bias. His answers are always negative.
There is no comfort in any answer to these questions. They’re questions we shouldn’t have to ask. They’re questions that only arise when a public figure with considerable power continues to demonstrate an ongoing pattern of – let’s call it what it is – transphobia.
It is a pattern, because the Prime Minister always allows himself to be baited on transgender rights. He is asked again and again for his input on trans issues, and he keeps answering in a way that shows a striking degree of bias. His answers are always negative. He thinks gender should be unchangeable and impossible to remove from birth certificates and has demanded on Twitter that his political opponents commit to that stance with him. He thinks Cricket Australia’s policy of trans inclusion in professional sports is “mystifying” and “heavy-handed.”
He thinks that school programs intended to educate and support trans youth need to be shut down.
Regardless of anything else, regardless of policy, the Prime Minister is normalising a negative and hostile reaction to trans people. He is normalising the concept of rolling back our rights. And he is ab-normalising and ridiculing our access to basic human rights, including safe bathrooms.
These are major red flags.
We can’t extrapolate Liberal Party policy from them with a degree of certainty, but we can say that they point to his personal preferences for how transgender people deserve to be treated. And we can say that those personal preferences will influence his decision making.
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My prediction is this. I think that there is a strong chance that Morrison will continue to make this a culture war issue that he can build-up for the next few years, use as an election issue and wield to maintain control of his conservative supporters within the Liberal Party. I think there is a strong chance he will stoke the “satanic panic” of the Safe Schools backlash. And I think that he will make life a good deal harder and more painful for myself and my community.
The hardest part about living as a transgender woman is the constant, chronic feeling of being threatened and being under stress and pressure. That feeling comes from negative media coverage that I know will stoke transphobic reactions to me in my daily life. And it also comes from knowing that conservative politicians such as Scott Morrison feel comfortable being open about their own transphobia, while my basic rights are dependent on their actions.
Several people have pointed out that Mr Morrison – presumably – has a gender-neutral bathroom in his own house. I wouldn’t know the first thing about Mr Morrison’s bathrooms; after all, where and how he uses the toilet is of absolutely no interest to me.
Unfortunately, my own bathroom habits remain at the top of his mind.