‘Husband, wife’ now off limits, says public service guide
Rebecca Urban, The Australian, 16 December 2016
Victorian government workers are being discouraged from using “heteronormative” terms such as “husband” and “wife” in a new guide to communicating with the LGBTI community.
Instead, the workers are being schooled in adopting gender-neutral pronouns “zie” and “hir”.
The Inclusive Language Guide, which has been designed for use across the public sector, also warns against derogatory terms, such as “dyke” and “fag”, as well as “offensive questions”, including asking a transgender person whether or not they have had surgery.
In his introduction to the guide, Victorian Equality Minister Martin Foley says the government’s responsibility is to keep people safe, including the LGBTI community.
“The guide is one of the ways in which we are addressing and eradicating homophobia, biphobia and transphobia,” he says.
Ro Allen, the state’s first gender and sexuality commissioner, encourages businesses also to use of the guide, saying that equipping people with correct language will “promote safer spaces” for LGBTI Victorians.
While the document aims to counter the prejudice and stereotypes experienced by LGBTI people, it has been ridiculed for pushing contested ideology about gender as a social construct.
Centre for Independent Studies senior research fellow Jeremy Sammut said the language guide appeared to have been dictated by “academics wielding their critical postmodernist theory of the world” who were “determined to force (it) on the rest of us”.
“It’s a totalitarian project dressed up as liberation theory,” he said. “I would think it is possible to treat people with respect and respect people’s privacy without resorting to this.”
Dr Sammut said the state Labor government, which has been increasingly active in LGBTI causes, risked alienating those voters more concerned about economic management, crime and education standards.
The guide, developed with support from Victoria’s LGBTI Taskforce which comprises activists and academics, says “it is important to challenge our thinking beyond the binary constructs of male and female”.
“Some people may identify as agender (having no gender), bigender (both a woman and a man) or non-binary (neither woman nor man). There is a diverse range of non-binary gender identities such as gender queer, gender neutral, genderfluid and third gendered … language in this space is still evolving.”
The guide cautions against “heteronormativity”, described as the assumption everyone is heterosexual. “It is better to use the word “partner” than wife/husband where the gender, sexual orientation, or relationship status of a person is unknown.”
People talking about their children does not necessarily mean they are in heterosexual relationships, the guide cautions.
The Coalition’s parliamentary secretary spokesman Tim Smith described the guide as “minority fundamentalism gone berserk”.
“Heaven help the next generation of Victorians who have been indoctrinated into a sinister postmodernist ideology.”
Psychologist Laura McNally, a critic of the contentious Safe Schools program, which is based on similar ideology, said contested gender theory was being fast-tracked into public institutions.
Ms McNally said the concept of gender as a continuum or identity, was incoherent. While gender was billed as fluid and evolving, “cisgender” was defined as a static match between identity and sex. “This theory makes fodder for navel gazing sociologists, but in terms of its own internal logic, the theory is redundant.”