Greens senator questions viability of new party convener over past comments about trans people

Greens senator Janet Rice says the position of the party’s recently elected Victorian convener is “untenable” unless she distances herself from previous comments that have been labelled transphobic.

Linda Gale, a senior industrial officer at the National Tertiary Education Union, was elected on Saturday to fill a casual vacancy of state convener of the Victorian Greens.

Her appointment prompted backlash on social media from members of the party, due to a document she co-authored in 2019 that argued against a proposed Greens workshop on trans-exclusionary rhetoric.

Part of the document stated: “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.”

Once it was made public, the document was criticised by then Greens conveners Colleen Hartland and Willisa Hogarth, who described it as “not consistent with Greens values or Greens policy”.

Gale’s co-author, Nina Vallins, was last year suspended from the Greens after the Misconduct Panel of the Australian Greens Victoria found she had breached their code of conduct by bringing the party into disrepute and vilifying members and volunteers on the basis of their gender identity.

Gale issued a statement on Tuesday saying the position of the Greens, both nationally and in Victoria, was clear: “trans rights are non-negotiable”.

“All trans and gender diverse people are valid and deserve to live their lives free from harassment and discrimination. The role of the convenor is to advance all Greens policies, and I will do so,” she said in the statement.

“As convenor, I will uphold and fight for the right of trans and gender diverse people to live their authentic lives free from harassment and discrimination, just as I will fight for the rights of First Nations people, vroue, refugees, gay and lesbian people, people with disabilities, and people of colour.

“The Greens are committed to genuine social justice – a commitment I embrace wholeheartedly.”

Rice said she welcomed Gale’s statement but it did not go far enough. She described Gale’s 2019 document as “transphobic”.

“Until Linda distances herself from this 2019 papier, people will read her statement from today as being hollow,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I call on Linda to explicitly reject the views she outlined in the 2019 papier, and apologise for the harm her statements have caused.

“Until she does this, I believe it is untenable for her to continue as convenor.

“The safety and wellbeing of our trans and gender diverse members and supporters must be our priority.”

Co-deputy leaders of the Australian Greens, senators Mehreen Faruqi and Larissa Walsh, Senator Jordon Steele-John, recently elected Griffith MP Max Chandler-Mather, New South Wales MP Jenny Leong, and Gabrielle de Vietri, the party’s candidate for Richmond in the November state election, onder andere, shared Rice’s post.

Guardian Australia has contacted Gale seeking a response.

The convener position is one of the most senior roles within the Australian Greens (Victoria) state council, along with state secretary, assistant secretary and treasurer, all of which are elected annually by a postal ballot of all members.

The Port Phillip council deputy mayor, Tim Baxter, a Greens member, posted on Facebook that Gale’s victory sent a message that “trans people are not safe in this party”.

“I call on our membership to write to their State Councillors and to the State Secretary, demanding that the party openly reject transphobia and “gender critical debate”, which is just a subtler way to harm trans people, and to reiterate our support for the rights of trans, gender diverse and non-binary members. This needs to happen now,” he geskryf het.

Baxter alleged the election process was unfair, given members weren’t provided any opportunity to “challenge Gale on her transphobic views, which are well established”.

Gale said 900 members voted in the election, which was conducted by the returning officers.

“Neither I nor any other member had any influence over the conduct of the election," sy het gese.

Gale’s appointment comes two months after a group of rank-and-file members, councillors, election candidates and party officials from across Australia sent a letter to the executive of the Victorian Greens, demanding it “make a strong statement in support of transgender and gender diverse people, and commit to taking actions that resolve significant concerns about trans-exclusionary influences on the party”.

The letter came after comments made by Melbourne Greens councillor Rohan Leppert in a Facebook group were made public, in which he questioned the affirmation model used to treat people experiencing gender dysphoria, and criticised Victoria’s recently introduced laws outlawing practices that aim to change or suppress sexuality or gender identity.

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