A new ruling in Tasmania decrees that lesbians will be breaking the law if they host single-sex spaces. Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Sarah Bolt banned LGB Alliance Australia from hosting lesbian events that exclude transwomen, on the grounds that such gatherings carry a “significant risk” of breaching existing equalities legislation.
Jessica Hoyle, a lesbian and member of LGB Alliance Australia, made an application on behalf of the organization. She was seeking legal permission to make their lesbian events single-sex:
“I want to hold events for the lesbian community, based on our same-sex attractions,” said Hoyle. “I want to exclude people with penises, because being a lesbian is about same-sex attraction. It’s not about same-gendered attraction.”
Transforming Tasmania, a group campaigning for the “legal recognition of gender identity, argued against lesbians’ right to single-sex spaces. Spokesperson Charlie Burton claims that “ultimately it’s denying the reality of the existence of transwomen, in fact all trans people.”
But on the question of mixed-sex spaces, Hoyle is clear: “There are many events that cater for the trans community in Tasmania that are all-inclusive. This event was going to be just for lesbians who are same-sex attracted.”
According to The Australian, Hoyle and the LGB Alliance intend to appeal Bolt’s ruling – which Hoyle describes as discriminatory towards lesbians: “Many lesbians feel uncomfortable having trans[women] in their spaces, because they are not female; they are biological males. We are forced to have them in our groups but none of us want to date them… I feel discriminated against by Sarah Bolt on the basis of being a lesbian, same-sex attracted [woman].”
This ruling has far-reaching implications that extend beyond Tasmania, as it sets a legal precedent with the power to shape the outcomes of future cases. As Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Bolt advises the Minister of Justice on matters relating to discrimination and prohibited conduct. She also promotes the recognition and approval of acceptable attitudes, acts and practices. As her ruling indicates, Bolt does not believe that lesbians creating spaces by and for ourselves is an acceptable act or practice.
What Bolt fails to recognize is that lesbians are oppressed at least twice over, on the basis of our sex and sexuality. We are females who love desire and build our lives around other females – which has been treated as suspicious for the duration of patriarchy. Around the world, lesbians continue to be at risk of discrimination and violence – from losing custody of our children to suffering ‘corrective’ rape.
In multiple countries, being lesbian or gay is actively criminalized. Some states even punish homosexuality by death. This all happens as backlash against lesbians saying no to males.
Given the myriad of harms that have been inflicted on lesbians for rejecting males, it is grotesque that Tasmania no longer permits lesbians to meet or organise without them. Lesbian women are a marginalized group with distinct needs and interests. And we have as much right as any other marginalized group to self-organize – whether or not Bolt recognises it.
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