Australia’s prime minister has expressed support for a nationwide bill that would exclude trans people from single-sex sports.
Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison lauded Australia’s controversial “Save Women’s Sports” bill as “terrific” in a Feb. 22 press conference ahead of the country’s 2022 federal elections. If signed into law, the legislation would allow national sporting associations to bar trans participation in women’s and girls’ sports. This would apply to trans youth under 12, and would protect organizations from discrimination lawsuits.
“I support it, as Claire knows,” Morrison said, lauding the bill’s author, Sen. Claire Chandler. “Claire is a champion for women’s sport and I think she’s been right to raise these issues in the way that she has.”
Australia’s bill follows similar legislative attempts in the U.S. to limit athletic participation among trans youth. Introduced to the Parliament of Australia earlier this month, an explanatory memo claims the proposal “seeks to ensure that women’s single-sex sport is protected and encouraged and that a male person is not entitled to demand inclusion into women’s sport on the basis of gender identity.”
The “Save Women’s Sports” measure aims to achieve that goal by redefining the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) of 1984 to exclude gender identity as a protected class in single-sex sports. Similar to the proposed Equality Act in the U.S., the SDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of characteristics like gender identity, intersex status, sexual orientation in areas like employment and public accomodation, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
The last amendment to the SDA was in 2013 when the definitions of “woman” and “man” as rooted solely in biology were removed from the legislation.
Chandler has focused on trans participation in sports since her election to parliament in 2019. That same year, the advocacy group Sport Australia issued guidelines recommending that 16,000 sporting clubs across the nation categorize sports based on “gender identity” not “biological sex” and allow athletes to compete in alignment with their lived gender. Chandler claimed the recommendations prioritized trans inclusion over the alleged health and safety of women.
Chandler told Australian broadcaster ABC News that she introduced the “Save Women’s Sports” bill after allegedly being “contacted by parents of girls who have realised how despondent their girls have become competing in sport in situations where they’re competing against males and feeling like they’re not good enough to be in the game and I think that’s an untenable position,” adding that the legislation does not force anyone to discriminate.
“Women and girls have had a right to access single-sex sport for generations now, that right was hard fought for and I’m just seeking to protect that.”
The lawmaker, however, has not been able to give a specific example of a sport’s organization or individual who has expressed such concerns or reached out to her for help, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Morrison has come under fire by Australian LGBTQ+ advocates for backing the discriminatory bill. Echoing a common refrain among supporters of trans rights in the U.S., equality groups say Chandler’s proposed legislation is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
“In supporting this cruel, divisive and unnecessary bill, the prime minister once again underestimates the community’s support for trans and gender diverse children,” Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said in a press release. “This is completely unacceptable, particularly when this group of people already experience disproportionate levels of discrimination, marginalisation and social isolation.”
Charlie Burton, a spokesperson for Equality Tasmania, added that the bill “would strip transgender people of the right to live as we are.”
“In Tasmania, transgender women have been playing women’s sport and accessing women’s services for many years without any of the problems predicted by Senator Chandler,” Burton said in a statement, referencing the Australian state Chandler represents in the federal legislature. “We reject attempts to sow fear and division about policies that have worked well and have made Tasmania a better place for everyone.”
Morrison, a Pentecostal Christian, is no stranger to anti-LGBTQ+ policies. He has previously supported a controversial “Religious Discrimination Bill” (RDB) that would allow further discrimination against trans and gender-nonconforming students and teachers at faith-based schools. When the proposal was introduced in November 2021, Morrison said he was backing the effort in order to “protect people’s statements of belief” and fight against so-called “cancel culture” as reported by BBC News.
The “Religious Discrimination Bill” was shelved earlier this month following concerns among lawmakers that the legislation does “more harm that good,” according to U.K. newspaper The Guardian. Australia’s SDA already makes it legal for religious schools to expel LGBTQ+ students or refuse to hire LGBTQ+ teachers.
As major Australian sporting associations express opposition to the proposal, it’s unclear if the “Save Women’s Sports” bill will find any more support in parliament. Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan said it “should be up to each sport to represent whatever it is that is required in their own spaces” and claimed Chandler had not contacted their group to discuss the legislation. (Organizations like Cricket Australia and Rugby Australia also said they were not consulted on the issue of trans participation.)
“We haven’t had any dialogue with any government on what their views are,” Ryan told the Sydney Morning Herald.