Editorial
Let me be me

The strategy, finally, was that of a school bully: find the most vulnerable child on the playground and make their life worse. This is where the religious freedom bill ended up, sweaty faced and shirt untucked, laying into a kid behind the bike sheds.

We don’t know whose idea it was to make trans students the wedge on which Scott Morrison misbalanced his plan. Possibly it was Morrison’s or Michaelia Cash’s. Possibly it was a perverse staffer, unable to connect the reality of what they were doing with the political gain they were hoping to make.

We know that Morrison doesn’t believe schools are a place for trans identities. He has said as much on radio. “It’s not happening in the school I send my kids to,” he says, “and that’s one of the reasons I send them there.” The line he reaches for means the opposite of what he pretends it does: “Let kids be kids.”

Of course, if this were his intention he would not choose the most at-risk group of kids and make laws to specifically facilitate their punishment. He would not make their existence a question to be debated on the floor of parliament. When Morrison says “Let kids be kids” he means “Let me be me”.

On gay conversion therapy, he says it’s not his problem. “It’s just not an issue for me and I’m not planning to get engaged in the issue.”

When the marriage equality bill was voted for, he abstained. He lent no number to the rights of queer Australians. He said the ugly postal vote, brought on by the lack of decency within his own party, had affected Christians just as much. “They have also been subject to quite dreadful hate speech and bigotry as well. It is not confined to one side of this debate.”

This last comparison, although false, is the premise of his bill to harm trans youth. He views it all as a trade: if you can get married, we need something else in return.

Everything to Morrison is transactional. He will keep dealing until the end, even if what he is left dealing in is the lives of children. He is Rumpelstiltskin, locked mad in a room, settling on a first born for his payment.

It’s not clear how many votes there are in this. People of faith already live unimpeded. Inquiries have found as much. Many would see the bargaining for what it is: vicious and unbelievably cruel.

The bill has been amended, although not enough. Trans youth will be afforded the same meagre protections as queer children. This doesn’t change what was intended: that their rights be offered up for the sake of a win. It is impossible to overstate how disgusting this is.

What Australia needs is not a crude piece of legislation to protect bigoted principals and doctors who want to insult their patients. We need a bill of rights to enshrine all principles of freedom. More than that, we need a government willing to offer one, rather than to trade on the edges with one life over another.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 12, 2022 as "Let me be me".

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