I’ve been a member of Australian Greens since 2010, but the latest, ugly episode that saw me set aside as a Victorian convention raises real concerns about the future of a party that claims to be a champion of democracy.
The Greens are fighting for things I believe in: social justice, economic redistribution, peace and attempts to save our planet from an environmental disaster. As a feminist, anti-racist, education activist, trade unionist and environmentalist, I naturally became active in the Greens, just as I have been active all my life in many social and campaign groups.
On June 11, I was elected head of state by a democratic vote of more than 900 Green members. I was keen to support the work of the party as we went from our most successful federal election ever to the Victorian election in November.
Two days later, the whole hell broke loose. A local council member from the Greens, Port Phillips Deputy Mayor Tim Baxter, wrote on social media that my election “sends a clear message [that] transgender people are not safe in this party ”. Baxter’s post was liked and shared. A lot. His offensive and slanderous claims that I have transphobic attitudes, that I use institutional force to crush dissent, that I promote bigotry and hateful ideas, were repeated and reinforced on Twitter.
I was condemned as “transphobic” because in 2019 I co-authored an internal debate paper in response to a proposal published by other Greens members entitled “Trans Exclusionary Rhetoric”, which sought to ban debate on gender issues.
I asked if there were potential complexities around the rights of non-trans women – in sports, in intimate medical procedures, in shelters for domestic violence, in hospital wards and prisons – and if so, how should the party relate to them? A political party that strives to legislate must be mature enough to deal with such complexities.
As the social media storm blew up around me, to my shock and dismay, instead of calming things down by reassuring trans members about the Greens’ well-established support and advocacy for LGBTIQA + rights, party MPs decided to pour petrol on the fire. Led by Senator Janet Rice, lawmakers and local councilors, including Tim Read, Sam Hibbins and Lidia Thorpe, used social media to declare my tenure as convener untenable.
The attacks were personal and disturbing, but there are much more important things at stake here than my emotions. These attacks challenge whether members have the right to discuss complex and sensitive issues within the party. And the overthrow of my election is a disturbing move by a party that upholds grassroots democracy as a core principle.