Victorian Greens leader ousts party’s state convener over past comments about trans people

The leader of the Victorian Greens has ousted the party’s controversial state convener after successfully applying to have recent election results set aside.

Linda Gale, a senior industrial officer at the National Tertiary Education Union, was elected last Saturday to fill a casual vacancy as state convener of the Victorian Greens, despite co-authoring a 2019 paper that had been labelled “transphobic”.

Her appointment prompted backlash on social media from members of the party, including the Greens senator Janet Rice, and two Victorian Greens MPs who said there was “no alternative” but for her to resign when she did not disavow the comments.

But late on Friday, Samantha Ratnam, an upper house Victorian MP and the parliamentary leader of the Greens in the state, revealed that she had taken action under the party’s rules to have the results overturned.

In a series of tweets, Ratnam confirmed she had moved against Gale because of her comments, and urged her not to run again when a new election for state convener was held.

Ratnam said she had applied for the result to be set aside as candidates had not been given the opportunity to communicate with members about their candidacy, which she believed “materially impacted the outcome of the election”.

She said she had not commented publicly before last night so as to not compromise her application for the result to be set aside.

“So many Greens supporters have joined our movement over the years because of our unwavering commitment to equality, including for trans and gender diverse people,” Ratnam tweeted.

“Right now, those supporters are understandably very distressed and disappointed by what is happening in the party.

“In positions of leadership, our personal views do matter. People need to trust that we can support and protect them at all times. I stand with our trans and gender diverse communities. I will fight for you always.”

It is unclear when a new election to elect a convener and assistant state secretary will be held.

Gale told Guardian Australia she strongly refuted the proposition she held any transphobic views but was still considering whether to run again as state convenor.

She said that while the administrative review panel who ruled on Ratnam’s application was under “intense pressure” the decision they made was “flawed”.

Gale also criticised Greens members who used social media to lash her appointment, saying their concerns should have been raised within the party rather than publicly.

Gale said the 2019 paper was a response to another Greens-authored paper which had raised “difficult” questions about gender. She said after fellow members told her they had been hurt by its contents, she dropped the issue.

But she did not walk back from its contents, saying she “honestly did not think it was transphobic”.

“It was not a perfect document, and if I was writing it again in 2022, with the knowledge of all the debate and the conversations that I’ve had with trans persons in the interim, I probably would have written it differently, but the questions that it asked are still important questions,” Gale said.

“Yes, it might have been more sensitively written, I suppose, but I don’t think it was the tone that concerned people, it was the content.”

The three-page paper made statements such as: “Feminists fought and continue to fight very hard for freedom from male violence and for specific rights for women – reproductive and maternity rights, privacy rights, equality with the male sex in public life (education, workplace, politics, sports, etc), specific healthcare issues and so on.

“If ‘woman’ is a category predicated entirely on a person’s subjective self-identification rather than on an objective, identifiable fact such as biology, what are the policy and practical implications for these hard-won sex-segregated spaces or sex-specific affirmative actions?”

Gale said that the reaction to her appointment showed that there was no way for progressives to seriously “debate the intersectionality between trans rights and women’s rights”.

“At the moment it seems any attempt to do that is being decried as far right fundamentalism,” she said.

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

In a statement she prepared ahead of the Victorian Greens state council meeting on Saturday, which she had written prior to Ratnam having the election results overturned, Gale revealed she had met with Greens leaders including Adam Bandt, Rice, Ratnam, Judy Cameron and Rohan Leppert on 16 June with a view to releasing a statement, but the group could not agree on a wording.

She declined to discuss the meeting further, but said in the statement she regretted listening to advice from the party about not making public statements amid the barrage of criticism.

“On further reflection, I apologise to members for bowing to advice and failing to publicly defend the party and the right of members to elect who they see fit,” she wrote in the statement.

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