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  • Writer's pictureLeonardo Puglisi

Greens 'trans rift' back on the agenda as party searches for new Victorian senator

All but one candidate confirmed in a survey obtained by 6 News that they agreed "trans women are women and trans men are men".

The Victorian Greens are continuing their search for a new senator to replace Janet Rice, who announced her retirement in late September.

Six candidates have nominated for pre-selection:

  • Sarah Jefford (2022 Wills candidate)

  • Josh Fergeus (City of Monash councillor)

  • David Risstrom (City of Melbourne councillor 1999-2004)

  • Steph Hodgins-May (2022 Macnamara candidate)

  • Apsara Sabaratnam (Former council and senate candidate)

  • Huong Truong (Former Victorian MLC)

Risstrom was the first elected representative for the Victorian Greens, winning a seat in Melbourne at the 1999 Victorian local elections. Fergeus is the first Greens candidate ever elected in Monash, winning a seat in 2016 and retaining it in 2020. Truong was a member of the Victorian Legislative Council in 2018.

In a survey for all senate preselection candidates conducted by Queer Greens Victoria (QGV), which has been obtained by 6 News, the candidates were asked various questions relating to the LGBTQ+ community.

Josh Fergeus gave the longest answer to the second question - "What would you do as a Senator to support LGBTIQA+ people and our rights?" - writing that out of all candidates, he has "by far the strongest track record of implementing Greens policy in favour of LGBTIQA+ individuals and communities in elected office."

"In my first 6 months on Council, I successfully added ‘transphobia’ to the list of forms of discrimination Council would aim to eliminate as part of our Council Plan. I launched Council’s first Community Needs Assessment with local LGBTQIA+ people in 2018 which resulted in many service improvements across Council and later established Council’s first LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee."

"I have shown time and time again that I can advocate for and win support for our party’s policies, including our National and Victorian Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Intersex Policies, and win over new Greens voters in the process."

Fergeus went on to say: "The overwhelming feedback I have received from members during the preselection campaign has been that we need to find a way to band together as an association of members. The bad faith interpretations of candidate responses to previous QGV surveys promulgated by some members, the misreporting of those responses on social media for non-members to misuse, and the unfair tactic of ublicly denouncing members for holding views that they do not in fact hold, have been major contributors to reputational damage suffered by the party in recent years."

"These contrived divisions between members must stop. When members disagree, we must debate ideas, not demonise people. As party members we must renew our understanding that we have all signed up to the same values and objectives and realise our profound responsibility to work together with respect."

Fergeus did not respond to any further questions, according to the QGV survey, including:

  • "Would you consult with Queer Greens on issues that affect LGBTIQA+ people?"

  • "Do you agree with the statement that "trans women are women, trans men are men, and gender diverse identities exist and are valid"?"

  • "Do you agree with the statement that "health care should affirm a person's sexual orientation and gender identity, and not seek to change or suppress it"?"

  • "Are there any LGBTIQA+ issues on which your personal views or actions don't or haven't align with Party policy, values, or community expectations?"

Jefford, Risstrom, Hodgins-May, Sabaratnam and Truong all answered "yes" to the first three, and "no" to the fourth of those questions.

Other questions on the survey included ones about potential quotas "to ensure gender diversity" and reducing membership length requirements for voting in preselections.

Risstrom answered "maybe" to the question of quotas, writing: "I think the reality of administering quotas about and within the LGBTIQ+ community need consultation and considered decisions to make sure inclusion remains the primary impulse."

Reports of a 'rift' in the Victorian Greens over trans rights has been ongoing for more than a year, with Nine reporting in April this year that there was a "war on transphobia" within the party.

Leader Samantha Ratnam told 6 News exclusively in October 2022 that: "It’s really important we speak out against homophobia, transphobia, and any prejudice and discrimination we see happening."

In April 2022, the Greens released a statement saying they “reject any suggestion that trans rights should be up for debate,” after Melbourne councillor Rohan Leppert told The Age that he’s "never met a transphobic person in my party," and he "hope(s) that the left can make space for respectful debate."

Then in June, a second controversy unfolded, with Janet Rice saying it was "untenable" for Linda Gale to continue as Convenor of the Victorian Greens because she "co-authored a paper which I believe to be transphobic.”

Port Phillip Greens councillor Tim Baxter said at the time there are a "institutionally powerful people" in the party who hold transphobic views & claimed they had been "fighting to silence trans members and allies in the party."

Ms Gale said in a statement she will "fight for the right of trans and gender diverse people," but days later was no longer in the role & withdrew from an internal election.

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