Failing to use “he” or “she” properly could land Australians in court, according to Tasmanian legal experts examining controversial transgender rights reforms.
The reforms are the product of the Labor opposition, the Greens, who would make it illegal to call people by gender names other than their preferred pronoun. The new law would also allow parents in Tasmania to decide whether or not they want to register their child’s gender on birth certificates, and also would allow citizens 16 or older to legally change their gender.
This legislation passed Tasmania’s lower house last month, but to become law must also be approved by the state’s 15-member upper house.
The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Dr. Greg Walsh said that while he believes the reforms were in many ways “admirable,” the government trying to dictate how people use pronouns is “completely unacceptable.”
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“The Tasmanian parliament’s proposed changes to its anti-discrimination legislation could make it illegal for a person to not accept a transgender person’s gender identity,” Walsh told The Australian. “Although it is admirable that parliamentarians want to ensure those who are transgender are respected, the attempt to use state power to force individuals to use language that contradicts their deeply held beliefs is completely unacceptable.”
According to UK’s Daily Mail, “Conservative activist group Advance Australia described the proposed changes as a ‘slippery slope’, ‘compelled speech’, and asked: ‘What’s next?”
‘If a trans person said to me, ”I would prefer it if you called me or address me by X”, out of respect, you would do it. But the government has no place telling you that you must say that,’ the organisation’s national director, Gerard Benedet, told the paper.
Those in favor of the law tout that it’s an overall positive. “These changes will make people, who we should all care about, feel happier, safer and more included,” said state Greens leader Cassy O’Connor.
The idea that people who are misunderstood should be better respected is one most can agree with. But enforcing what they are called by law – regulating speech through the force of government – cuts against the grain of any free society.
The only thing worse than hurting someone’s feelings with the misuse of “he” or “she” is uprooting the principle of free speech that is integral to freedom.