During the 2017 same-sex marriage debate, we were told there would be “no consequences” for freedoms or for children. But as Tasmanian Liberal Senator Claire Chandler points out in this speech delivered in Parliament yesterday, children’s health is now being imperilled and the freedom to speak about it is being criminalised. Below is an edited extract.
In Britain last week, a momentous judgment with international implications was handed down by the High Court. The court found in favour of the arguments put forward by the mother of a child with gender dysphoria and Keira Bell, a brave 23-year-old woman who had been prescribed puberty blockers at 16 after three short appointments with the Tavistock youth gender clinic.
The judges observed that prescribing puberty blockers to children with gender dysphoria is an “experimental treatment” with “real uncertainty over the short and long-term consequences of the treatment with very limited evidence as to its efficacy”.
Given the potential lifelong effects on fertility, sexual function, bone density and development, as well as a lack of evidence of the full long-term impacts, the court found that children are very unlikely to be able to adequately understand and give informed consent to these experimental treatments. This judgment has profound implications for Australia — not that you would know it from the muted, in some cases non-existent, coverage by many media outlets.
Let’s look at what is happening right now in Australia and how out of step it is with what has been found in Britain’s High Court. Last month, The Australian’s Bernard Lane reported on a court removing a child from their parents because they wanted psychologists to consider other possible factors in their child’s gender dysphoria and the potential for non-invasive treatments.
The parents told The Weekend Australian state authorities have said it’s dangerous for the child to come back to their house because they want a thorough assessment by an independent psychologist and haven’t consented to testosterone treatment. The parents know their child needs help and support, and they want it to be provided by medical experts in an evidence-based way.
For this, their child has been taken away from them by the state. The mother said their family and friends were shocked at their story — “they just can’t believe that it happens in Australia”.
Last week, as Britain’s High Court was finalising its findings, the Victorian government was introducing legislation that criminalises discussion of the very same issues highlighted by the court.
The Victorian legislation makes any conduct or practice that is not seen as “gender affirming” potentially illegal. The definition is so broad that it includes conversations and online discussion. Under this bill, Bell — a woman who has been through the transition process and had a court uphold the legitimacy of her concerns regarding that process — could be charged with a crime if she discusses her experience with a young Victorian experiencing gender dysphoria.
If the bill passes, the Victorian Human Rights Commission would get extraordinary powers to launch investigations into people questioning gender change practices and to “take any action it considers appropriate after conducting an investigation”.
It would also “offer education to persons and organisations engaged in change or suppression practices” — practices can include conversation about gender identity theory and the risks of medical treatment on children.
If this legislation isn’t Orwellian and dangerous enough on its own, it has been introduced by the Victorian government at the exact time states are supposed to be working together to develop a model for safe and appropriate care and treatment of children with gender dysphoria.
How can the Victorian government play a central role in developing an evidence-based model of care while simultaneously introducing a law criminalising any treatment that is not “gender affirming”? The same has to be asked of the Queensland and the ACT governments, which have also forced through similar laws in the past year.
In Australia, just as in Britain, the number of children and adolescents being treated for gender dysphoria with “gender affirming” medical interventions has skyrocketed in recent years.
Patient numbers at Britain’s Tavistock clinic rose from 97 in 2009 to 2519 in 2018. We know from Freedom of Information data that referrals to Victoria’s Royal Children’s Hospital gender clinic rose by more than 1700 per cent between 2012 and last year.
We have no idea what the national figures are because states do not release the data on how many children are given puberty blockers, hormone treatment and surgery. We don’t even know if this data is kept.
This must be a turning point away from silencing and slurs and towards evidence-based outcomes and public discussion.