The headline was explicit: ‘Husband, wife’ now off limits, says public service guide.
Apparently the Victorian Government had banned the words and was instead asking its civil servants to adopt the gender-neutral pronouns “zie” and “hir.”
Cue furious outrage on talkback radio. Twitter lit up with conservative columnists scandalised by this latest assault on the Aussie battler’s right to live unencumbered by the Loony Left’s word police.
Great story. Shame it was a complete beat-up. The truth is nobody has banned anything.
What The Australian had dug up as a “new” story was an inclusive language guide, launched in August without controversy by the Minister for Equality, Martin Foley, and Victoria’s Gender and Sexuality Commissioner, Rowena Allen.
The one-page guidelines are non-prescriptive and based on fundamental tenets of respect and good manners.
Only the most staunch homophobe would find it unreasonable to suggest that government employees refrain from using terms such as “fag” or “dyke” in the workplace.
Nor does it seem controversial to point out that not every female colleague has a husband and every male has a wife. While the story was written to give this impression, nowhere in the guide does it say these terms should never be used. It would be ludicrous to suggest a straight married man be banned from using the word “wife” to refer to his partner.
What the guidelines propose is that when enquiring about a colleague’s relationship status, it can be insensitive and rude to presume they are straight and married to a person of the opposite sex, particularly in a country where marriage rates are rapidly declining and LGBTI people are still denied this legal right. In this context, the word “partner” seems an entirely appropriate substitute.
As for “zhie” and “hir”, the guide does not state that they should be used instead of “she” and “her” or “husband” and “wife”, but simply makes staff aware that these gender neutral pronouns exist. It also suggests respectful ways to address a trans or intersex colleague, such as not asking whether they have had surgery.
The story also failed to mention that this guide was not a top-down edict, but rather, created in response to requests from senior public servants.
Managers asked the government for guidance on how they could be more respectful and inclusive of their growing number of same-sex attracted and gender diverse staff.
It was a request for education in a changing world that for some, can be confusing. They wanted to know how they could, for example, best support a transitioning employee. Or how to make a gay or lesbian colleague feel safe and welcome.
This was an attempt to swap ignorance for understanding, and it should be applauded.
And yet, in a dreadful year that has seen unrelenting attacks on the queer community, some basic education designed to make life easier for LGBTI people is being painted as an affront to the rights of the heterosexual majority.
Sound familiar? We have seen it with the war on Safe Schools Coalition, where a significant proportion of the population now believe – despite all evidence to the contrary – that this life-saving anti-bullying program teaches kids about bondage, pornography and swingers parties, and is a recruiting ground for Marxism revolutionaries.
But fear is often more powerful than fact.
On Friday, Roz Ward, founder of Safe Schools, was sacked from her position as head of its Victorian arm after a year of relentless attacks from those who conflated her personal political beliefs with the goals of the program.
Premier Daniel Andrews ended the government’s contract with Ward’s employer - La Trobe University - six months early, bringing Safe Schools into the education department, amid claims he was concerned the controversy surrounding Ward would damage Labor politically in the lead-up to the 2018 state election.
She had previously refused to step down, maintaining that it would not stop the opposition to Safe Schools, which she believed was fundamentally based on homophobia.
Just days after being told she and her three team members were out of a job, we are already seeing evidence that Ward may be right. Miranda Devine from The Daily Telegraph, and Lyle Shelton, head of the Australian Christian Lobby have both penned pieces saying Ward’s removal is not enough, and that Safe Schools must be shut down.
When you give a shark a taste of blood, it only makes it hungry for more.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that our leaders stand firm in fighting for what they claim to believe in.
The Victorian Government, arguably the most progressive in the country, must maintain its support of LGBTI people, regardless of the headlines. Capitulation will cost lives.
And it must continue to fight fear with facts. By doing so, it will provide a much needed beacon of leadership for a community doing it tough.