Victorian Greens edge towards civil war

Tensions are once again growing within the Victorian Greens over the issue of trans rights and transphobia.

On 23 July, about 85 members attended a meeting in Melbourne in person or online and launched The Docklands Declaration.

They included prominent transphobes, including NTEU senior industrial officer Linda Gale and Melbourne city councillor Rohan Leppert.

Since then the number of signatories has grown to more than 350—a sizeable grouping in a state branch with a membership of around 4000.

The support for transphobia within the Victorian Greens reflects the influence of radical feminist politics among an older generation of women and men that is reinforced by academics such as Holly Lawford-Smith at the University of Melbourne.

On the face of it, the declaration is a call for open debate within the party.

It states in part: “Members are free, within the Party, to discuss, disagree with, and propose the making or changing of any party policy or decision.

“Members do not need permission from anyone to do these things, nor do they need any particular identity.”

But the state branch’s recent history of conflict over trans rights, and the part played by leading members of the transphobic tendency, shows that talk of free speech is merely code for something darker—the reference to “identity” gives it away.

Transphobic agenda

The declaration is a stalking horse for a transphobic agenda.

The authors of the declaration know they would struggle to gain anything like the same level of support for an open statement against trans rights.

They are dishonestly using “free speech” to rally Greens members behind the argument that gender is biologically determined and that trans people (particularly trans women) are a threat to women’s rights.

There may well be some members who have supported the declaration simply because they are frustrated with the internal regime within the party.

One of the signatories, for example, is former state co-convenor Colleen Hartland, who has publicly criticised Gale for a 2019 transphobic document she had helped author.

Others are primarily active in the refugee or anti-AUKUS movement. One signatory told Solidarity, “Questioning is not hate speech.”

The declaration calls on Greens members, “particularly State Councillors, members who hold public office, and candidates for these positions”, to support its aims.

One Greens member told Solidarity the numbers on State Council were currently 9-6 in favour of trans rights.

But with elections for half the places due in less than a year, it’s clear that the transphobes behind the declaration are organising to win control of the state council, which is responsible for the management and strategy of the party.

Victory would put the transphobes on a collision course with Victorian leader Samantha Ratnam, Senator Janet Rice and national leader Adam Bandt, who represents the federal seat of Melbourne. All support trans rights. It might also see an exodus of members from the Victorian Greens.

Nationally, Greens members and supporters have responded with a sign-on statement that calls for those responsible for The Docklands Declaration to be expelled.

Position paper

A Greens member who supports trans rights told Solidarity that while the transphobes were claiming the mantle of free speech, “We wouldn’t be having this debate if it was about racism.”

But the transphobes have been pushing their case for some time. In 2019, Gale and fellow Greens member Nina Vallins (since expelled) wrote a position paper, pushing back against the Greens’ support for trans people and their rights. Its focus was a Greens pro-trans workshop.

The paper read in part, “If the purpose of this workshop is to develop a proposal for a State Council decree that statements such as ‘There are two sexes,’ ‘The science is not conclusive,’ ‘This is an active debate in feminism,’ ‘Shutting down debate is censorship,’ or ‘Trans women aren’t the same as biological women,’ are banned within the Greens and would constitute behaviour worthy of censure, suspension or expulsion, this is totally contrary to a Greens ethos which encourages robust debate and the development of policy based on real evidence.”

Such bigoted statements as “trans women aren’t women” are the classic dog whistle used by transphobes to rally support. The paper was widely condemned.

So there was uproar when Gale was elected state convenor in a party by-election in June 2022. Greens state MPs Sam Hibbins and Tim Read called for her to resign.

Read wrote, “Her past statements, and unwillingness to acknowledge the pain they cause, have so firmly associated Linda with opposition to trans rights that nothing she now says can alter that.”

State leader Ratnam voided the election on a technicality. Gale did not contest the election when it was re-held and it looked like the episode was over.

But beneath the surface the transphobes were simply regrouping, with The Docklands Declaration the indication that they are back on the attack.

One signatory told Solidarity the division in the Victorian Greens was generational, between older conservative members and young members who focus on questions of oppression and identity.

Ongoing turmoil

The Victorian Greens are facing a crisis. It is remarkable enough that transphobes are organising within the Victorian branch. But if the transphobes seize control of the party machine, the party will be dragged further to the right and at odds with the overwhelmingly sentiments of the LGBTIQ community and the left.

If the leadership once again uses technicalities to defeat the transphobes, the bitterness will fester.

The Greens’ focus on electoralism and winning votes means there is a tendency to stress party unity, paper over divisions and deal with the transphobia bureaucratically instead of efforts to politically campaign among the membership.

If the transphobes win in Victoria, it would be a major setback for the fight for trans rights. It would shift the Greens further to the right and boost mainstream transphobes such as Katherine Deves and Moira Deeming.

The Greens in Victoria, and nationally, would be discredited, weakened and marginalised.

At a time when Labor is failing on housing, climate and AUKUS, everyone on the left has an interest in seeing the transphobes in the Victorian Greens defeated.

It has been tremendously encouraging to see recent union struggles, in the NTEU and at the Brotherhood of St Laurence for example, taking up the fight for, and winning, gender affirmation leave. The whole left would be stronger if the Greens were actively involved in building such struggles.

For the Greens to be able to have a role in building a real alternative to Labor’s right wing agenda, the transphobia “debate” has to be confronted. The leadership behind The Docklands Declaration should be expelled.

By David Glanz


Solidarity meetings

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