New South Wales was the first state in Australia to pass anti-discrimination protections for gay people – ensuring they could not be discriminated against in employment, housing, and public education – in 1982, two years before it even decriminalised homosexual sex. But, as WorldPride gets underway and Sydney’s reputation as a gay-friendly city has grown internationally, New South Wales’ Anti Discrimination Act is still an inadequate piece of legislation which fails to protect many vulnerable members of the queer community. Only an overhaul of the Act will have it meet the contemporary needs of the queer community.
In their current state, NSW anti-discrimination laws protect LGBTQ+ people on the basis of sexuality or “transgender status”, but antiquated language and inconsistencies limit the extent to which these laws can protect members of the queer community. The Act defines “transgender status” as relevant only to people who identify “as a member of the opposite sex”; excluding non-binary, agender, and genderfluid individuals.
Similarly, the Act protects people from discrimination “on the grounds of homosexuality”, which means that bisexual people may not be protected from discrimination.
The Act’s mechanisms for preventing discriminatory behaviour are also deeply insufficient. Currently, the current system can only aid individuals who have already been victimised by their oppressor. When the only means of counteracting discrimination means to have to suffer it, some queer people are faced with a situation in which it is safer to hide their identity rather than subject themselves to discrimination.
In other states across Australia, these inadequacies have been addressed through law reform efforts or they are in the process of being remedied. As a result, NSW’s legislation has been left behind. And queer people have been left to suffer. The changes the state government must make are not difficult changes; it is only neglect which is to blame for the current state of the Anti Discrimination Act. It’s time the government fixed it.