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Activists disrupt gender-critical conference inside Parliament

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Amanda Cohn
NSW Greens MP
23 June 2023

On Thursday, trans rights activists interrupted a controversial gender-critical conference, hosted in Parliament House and supported by two members of NSW Parliament, as dozens more protested outside the building.

The gender-critical conference, called ‘Why Can’t Women Speak About Sex?’, claimed to address the “war on women who speak out for sex-based rights” and the “transgender orthodoxy.”

Hobart City Councillor Louise Elliot, currently under investigation by the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner for hate speech incitement, and Angie Jones, an organiser of a Let Women Speak event co-opted by neo-Nazis in Melbourne in March, were among the speakers inside Parliament. They argued that supporting trans women’s rights is oppressive and dangerous to biological women.

As Liberal Democrats member John Ruddick started giving his introductory remarks, however, trans rights activists stood up from the audience and inveighed against his involvement and the event more broadly.

Security eventually escorted the activists outside, whereupon they joined a contingent of other protests organised by activist group Pride in Protest and the National Union of Students. 

Despite only having 48 hours to organise the rally, Dashie Prasad, a Pride in Protest member, said it was important to mobilise quickly as “transphobia should never go unchecked…and it should not be given protection inside Parliament.”

Lining the pedestrian footpath in front of Parliament House, protestors held pink and blue placards saying, “trans rights are human rights”, “trans rights need respect,” and “kick the TERFs out”. The refrain “when trans rights are under attack, we stand up, fight back” was chanted repeatedly as a rallying cry.

While NSW MLC John Ruddick, co-host of the conference alongside Labor member Greg Donnelly defended the event as a matter of “free speech”, Greens MLC Amanda Cohn told City Hub, “freedom of speech isn’t freedom from consequences.”

“What they’re talking about is harmful,” she said, “none of it is factually correct, and there is a real irony in people claiming they have been silenced while simultaneously having a private function in Parliament.”

MLC Amanda Cohn, speaking at the rally as the Greens’ LGBT+ spokesperson and a former GP, also expressed her solidarity with the LGBT+ community of parliamentary staff “who are forced to put up with hate speech at their place of work.”

She told the crowd that “it makes me angry to hear people who have no idea what they’re talking about use medical words to say trans people have no right to use public toilets or play certain sports.”

Other speakers also criticised the policies of the Minns Government, calling for more action to safeguard trans rights. One activist emphasised that “while we cannot be complacent about these transphobic feminists, there is a bigger problem—trans people need surgery just to get respect, Premier Minns refuses to change that.

“The biggest transphobia is not from TERFs but daily, trickling down from the government’s transphobic policies.”

New South Wales is the only jurisdiction in Australia that requires trans people to have costly gender affirmation surgery before they can update their birth certificate and other identity documentation.  

Minister Cohn pledged that the Greens will reform the law, ban conversion therapy, ensure safe and affordable healthcare, and repeal faith-based discrimination exemptions under the Anti-discrimination Act.

Evelyn, a 19-year-old trans woman, expressed her gratitude for the community’s support amid the derogatory remarks made by those inside the conference.

“It hurts knowing people behind these walls don’t want to see me exist, but that pain is ultimately dwarfed by the sense of community that comes from events like this—there is so much love and I know that will triumph in the end,” she told City Hub.

Taylor, 20, added that “even one voice can make so much noise. They can’t ignore us.”



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Amanda Cohn
NSW Greens MP
23 June 2023


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