Equality Australia welcomes decision to deny exemption to exclude trans women from lesbian event

17 October 2023 – LGBTIQ+ groups have welcomed a decision by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to reject an application by a lesbian group to hold a social event at the Victorian Pride Centre that excludes women who are transgender or bisexual. 

The Lesbian Action Group (LAG) applied in August for a temporary exemption from anti-discrimination laws to hold the event, along with a general exemption for five years to hold further events. 

In a joint submission to the AHRC, Equality Australia and 14 other LGBTIQ+ groups said the application would undermine the intention of the Act and could not be realistically enforced. 

“Discrimination laws exist to protect all of us, especially groups that have experienced historical discrimination and marginalisation because of their race, disability, sexual orientation or gender,” Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said on Tuesday. 

Last week, the AHRC published its decision that it would not grant the temporary exemption because it was inconsistent with the objects of the Sex Discrimination Act, which was amended in 2013 to explicitly protect all LGBTIQ+ people including trans women and non-binary people from unfair treatment. 

“We welcome this decision to reject this intentionally cruel and divisive application,” Ms Brown said. 

“I’m proud to be part of a community that has responded with solidarity for our trans sisters in the face of this deliberate attempt to sow division and fuel hate.” 

Ms Brown said the application was “deliberately provocative” as it sought to hold the social event at one of the few spaces in Victoria intended to be safe and welcoming of the LGBTIQ+ community as a whole. 

“You build community and a sense of belonging by creating inclusive and safe spaces, not by weaponising these spaces to exclude the most marginalised and vulnerable,” she said. 

“They lost their application because they attempted to define a ‘lesbian’ by scrutinising the bodies and sex lives of people who were supposed to just be there to sing, dance and socialise. That is a disturbing thing for any event organiser to require.” 

Dykes on Bikes Melbourne Communications Officer Kieran Cavanagh said trans and gender diverse people played an important part in the lesbian community. 

“We’re overjoyed at the findings from the AHRC to reject this so-called ‘Lesbians born female only’ event. This decision proves that transphobia does not deserve a seat at the table in our community,” she said. 

“Groups like LAG seek to cause division by excluding those who don’t fit into their narrow concept of ‘womanhood’. 

"Our Lesbian community is rich with diversity and experience. That’s what makes us strong. Without our trans sisters and queer elders, we wouldn’t have the freedoms and rights we enjoy today.” 

Switchboard Victoria CEO Joe Ball welcomed the decision and urged LAG to question its brand of activism. 

“As a tenant of the Victorian Pride Centre, we understand the importance of communities being able to come together and celebrate and support each other through community events,” he said.

“Personally, I wholeheartedly reject the premise of LAG’s intentions. Instead of seeking to bring people together their proposed exclusory event was a malicious and disingenuous ploy to grab the media spotlight. 

“I call on LAG to think deeply about its actions and whose campaigns it is strengthening.” 

Media Contact: Mike Hitch 
0408 898 154, mike.hitch@equalityaustralia.org.au