Feminist Legal Clinic Inc. is a community legal service run entirely by volunteers on a shoestring budget. Up until just recently it operated from a shared space in council-owned Benledi House in the Sydney suburb of Glebe. Anna Kerr, as Principal Solicitor, represents and supports many impoverished and marginalised women within the legal system, who would otherwise have limited access to justice. Her case load consists primarily of assisting women who have been victims of male violence or discrimination and includes many women who are at a particular disadvantage including women with disabilities, those from indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds and lesbian women.
Last month, Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Council members voted to terminate FLC’s modest $10,000 accommodation grant at Benledi House, in a stark example of the collision between the sex-based rights of women and girls, and the asserted rights of those who declare a gender identity to be protected by discrimination law.
The otherwise peaceful event was invaded by belligerent transactivists who stole items and shouted slurs and insults
Benledi House is typical of sprawling Victorian mansions found in the leafy suburbs of Sydney, that have been repurposed for commercial use. The tatty grandeur of soaring ceilings, generous hallways, ornate cornices and staircases juxtaposes with industrial carpet, shared kitchens smelling of cold toast and old tea, dogleg corridors and awkward repurposed bathroom space. Drafty in winter, stifling in summer, the vintage and style is reflective of the periodic architecture found in this progressive and colourful inner-city neighbourhood. A stone’s throw from major university campuses, the former Glebe slums are a mix of coveted gentrified workers’ cottages and terraces, and once bustling cafes and bars now shuttered due to the ongoing COVID lockdown.
Since first receiving the grant in 2017, FLC enjoyed “A” tenancy ratings until coming to the attention of Council staffers as the country contact for the international Women’s Human Rights Campaign. In February 2020, FLC participated in the launch of WHRC Australia at University of Sydney where a panel of women spoke about the implications of gender identity ideology. The otherwise peaceful event was invaded by belligerent transactivists who stole items, shouted slurs and insults to intimidate the attendees, and only left when the police were called.
In July 2020, FLC’s rating was reduced to a “B” for their affiliation with the “Women’s Sex Based Rights Movement” and “published materials and events”. In ongoing correspondence, Council expressed support for FLC’s legal work but demanded they remove extracts of articles from their website, claiming the posts could incite discrimination on the basis of gender identity. FLC maintained that the material, published elsewhere, covered a broad spectrum of feminist issues including the impact of aggressive transactivism on the rights of women and girls, and did not constitute discrimination as it was in the public interest.
People who identify as trans, gender diverse or gender non-conforming should not be subjected to discrimination and harassment. Yet this is being weaponised against women who disagree with the core demand of transactivists, the belief that “transwomen are women”. This belief entitles males declaring a female gender identity immediate access to the sex-based rights, services and resources designated for the purpose of eliminating discrimination and harassment against women and girls.
Council declared that FLC had 14 days to purge their website of unspecified material; in response, FLC password protected content so that it was no longer publicly available. FLC received local and international support with the Women’s Human Rights Campaign sending the Lord Mayor an open letter with over 700 signatures, as well as submissions from federal Senator Claire Chandler, human rights barristers, lawyers, academics and members of the public.
But on 16 June 2021, Council advised FLC that their rating had been downgraded to a “C”, giving five days notice to prepare a response at the Council Committee Meeting.
On 21 June 2021, Council took umbrage with FLC’s affiliation with WHRC, the Lord Mayor taking the position that “discrimination and disadvantage experienced by trans and gender diverse people” was the priority. “Trans people are very welcomed and supported as a part of our community, and that is part of our values, that is really the beginning and the end of it for us… we have a very inclusive and non-discriminatory policy at this council [and] that very much includes trans people.”
Anna Kerr defended FLC by arguing such a policy excludes gender critical feminists, because there is no other organisation where they can discuss issues relevant to them. Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully explained the City’s ethics framework favours an “inclusive approach” and their values arise from the perspective that “transwomen are women”, stating that this is where “the fundamental disagreement lies”.
Herein lies the crux of it all, the conflict between those who bend the knee to gender identity ideology and believe “transwomen are women”, and those who accept the reality of biological sex and the real, material implications of existing in a female sexed body.
City of Sydney ratepayers may be surprised to know that Council has chosen to align with such a controversial ideology, particularly since failing to acquiesce now means withdrawal of resources for the provision of legal services for disenfranchised and distressed women. The loss of this space means there is no longer a dedicated woman-centred legal service in the City of Sydney.
The Council appeared to be unable to recognise the difference between the global debate around the harms of transactivism, and unlawful discrimination against transgender people or those with a gender identity. In contrast to their treatment of FLC, City of Sydney provides substantial resources and funding for organisations that openly lobby in favour of a transactivist agenda.
FLC was punished for failing to agree with ideas that do not centre the needs of the women they serve
In the meeting on 28 June 2021 the Council unanimously voted to approve a cash sponsorship of $500K to Sydney WorldPride 2023. An international festival celebrating LGBTIQ+ culture, featuring a Human Rights Conference that claims to “shine a light on human rights issues across the Asia-Pacific”, and hosting a discussion panel with renowned pro-gender identity activists, such as CEO of ACON, Nicolas Parkhill, board member of ILGA Oceania, Bess Hepworth, and CEO of Equality Australia, Anna Browne.
Inner City Legal Centre is also the recipient of a City of Sydney Council tenancy grant; they receive $1.2 million in government funding, with twelve staff, forty volunteer solicitors and thirty-three student volunteers. In addition to generalist legal services, ICLC provides specialist legal advice to LGBTIQ people, specifically a pro-bono Trans and Gender Diverse Legal Service in partnership with Dentons.
Also located in the City of Sydney is ACON, a publicly funded charity established in 1985 to respond to the HIV/AIDs epidemic. An affiliate of Stonewall UK, ACON has diversified in recent years to promote an agenda favourable to gender identity ideology, including hosting the award-winning Transhub website that provides resources for children and adults seeking to socially, legally or medically transition.
Generously funded by Australian taxpayers ($15 million) and a fee-for-service model ($2.6 million), ACON has replicated the Stonewall Diversity scheme with the Australian Workplace Equality and Pride in Sport Indexes. The City of Sydney Council is a member, along with Australian state and federal government departments, tertiary education institutions, large corporations, law firms and other medium and small businesses. Membership requires the embedding of queer theory and gender identity ideology into internal policies and external communications by prioritising LGBTQA+ inclusion. It stands to reason that FLC would be punished for failing to agree with the Council about ideas that do not centre the needs of the women that they serve.
Every protected group should have the right to advocate for their interests and to facilitate discussions that impact those interests, yet the City of Sydney Council do not believe women are entitled to that right. Denying modest resources to a woman-centred legal service for daring to question the controversial belief that “transwomen are women”, the Council have joined the ranks of other Australian institutions that are in thrall to gender identity ideology.
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