Former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce ignited national controversy this week after saying religious schools should be able to expel students for being transgender.
In comments made to Sky News, the National Party lawmaker claimed that cisgender students shouldn’t be burdened with being forced to use the restroom or locker room with children that identify as trans or gender nonconforming.
“If I send my child to an all-girls’ school, I don’t want the complication and the possibility… that if someone turns up and says, ‘I want to identify was a woman, I want to identify as a girl, I want to go into your bathrooms, [and] I want to go into your change rooms,’” Joyce told the U.K.-based news channel.
“That might be that person’s right and wish, but everybody else says, ‘Well, that’s an affront on our rights and we want that issue dealt with,’” he continued.
Joyce added that this scenario is “unfair” to cisgender students and their parents.
“You cannot send a student whose genetic makeup is XY … to a school established for people who are XX,” he claimed. “It is not fair on the larger school unit that they have to change and accept all because of the desires of one.”
To the parents of trans students, the conservative had a message: They can just “choose a different school” for their kids.
Joyce’s remarks were made in response to a debate in the Australia Parliament over whether faith-based schools should be permitted to remove LGBTQ students from schools. The discussion was triggered by a leaked report showing the government intended to strengthen “religious freedom” protections for private institutions.
Following widespread backlash over the federal proposal, current PM Scott Morrison claimed the plan was mischaracterized by media. He claimed Parliament would introduce legislation to clear up “confusion and anxiety for parents and students.”
“I will be taking action to ensure amendments are introduced as soon as practicable to make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality,” said the evangelical Christian, who declined to vote in favor of a same-sex marriage bill following last year’s marriage equality referendum.
But under current law, religious schools do have the ability to discriminate against students “on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status.”
Legislation to address potential discrimination against LGBTQ students, though, has stalled in Parliament. According to The Guardian, Labour Party Senator Jacinta Collins voiced concern that a proposal put forward by the Australia Greens does not sufficiently recognize “the right of religious schools to be run in accordance with their beliefs.”
Collins claimed the government must “respect the ethos, values, and principles” of faith-based institutions.
But as the national legislature continues to come to a consensus on the issue, the parents of transgender students warned the contentious dialogue is scapegoating some of Australia’s most marginalized youth.
Jo Hirst, author of The Gender Fairy and parent of a trans student, claimed Joyce is “publicly insulting children” in a tweet.
“Barnaby Joyce has shown zero understanding or compassion for transgender students,” she added in an interview with the Australian website The New Daily. “When a parent and a school support a trans child, it is on the advice of that child’s doctors and psychologists.”
Hirst further called on the former deputy PM to resign from Parliament over his comments.
“When we have a federal minister blatantly flouting the recommendations of our health professionals, and publicly shaming and disparaging our vulnerable kids, I think it’s time for our Prime Minister to step in and say enough is enough,” she said. “These children deserve better than this. He should be asked for his resignation.”
Joyce, though, is unlikely to step down amid the near-universal backlash.
When criticized by the mother of a transgender seven-year-old who informed Joyce that “what is in her pants is nobody’s business,” the politician told Tom Elliott of the 3AW Drive radio program that a child knowing they’re trans is “blatantly absurd.”
“At seven they’ve decided they’re transgender?” he asked. “Are you for real?”