This Politician Asked Whether He Could Just Announce He Is A Woman To Use Women's Bathrooms

    LNP senator Barry O'Sullivan wondered aloud if he could spend all his smokos in the ladies' bathrooms.

    Liberal Nationals Party senator Barry O'Sullivan has asked whether he could identify as a woman in order to access ladies' bathrooms.

    As part of the Senate Estimates process, Greens senator Janet Rice has been asking various departments how they have been implementing the Australian government's guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender, which was supposed to be in place from July 1, 2016.

    The guidelines recognise that people might identify as a gender other than male or female, and may identify as a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth.

    These questions to each agency so far have gone fairly unchallenged, until Rice sought to ask the same questions of the Department of Agriculture, in the Rural and Regional Affairs committee, chaired by Queensland senator Barry O'Sullivan.

    And look. He just found it all very confusing.

    APH/BuzzFeed News

    "Can I go into the ladies' loo-loo then, if I choose to, if I've declared myself a female, within the organisation?" he asked.

    Officials said that it was more about how information about gender was captured within departmental records, but O'Sullivan persisted.

    "If you were to find me in the ladies' changerooms, I've declared myself to be a female, and I'm in the ladies' changerooms, am I insulated from any punitive action from that?"

    "I'm not sure exactly what you mean by punitive action," department deputy secretary Daryl Quinlivan responded.

    O'Sullivan questioned if that meant if he declared to HR that he was a woman then he wouldn't be in trouble for it.

    Officials said the process was more detailed than simply making a declaration to HR and then waltzing directly into a female bathroom.

    Rice, who is married to a transgender woman, said the questioning was not sensitive.

    "People who are transgender and gender diverse, it is their identity and they deserve to be treated respectfully and not to have disrespectful questions asked in Senate Estimates," she told O'Sullivan.

    Nationals senator Barry O'Sullivan seriously asked if he could self-declare as a woman so he could spend "all his smoko breaks in the ladies change room" #estimates https://t.co/QT3q8itr93

    Rice told BuzzFeed News in a statement that O'Sullivan was conflating concerns about predatory behaviour from men with the government's guidelines on recognising sex and gender.

    "To mix these two issues is outrageous, and minimises the experience and identities of trans and gender diverse people. A person’s gender identity is not a choice made on a whim in order to tick a form, as he implied," she said.

    "Disrespect to trans and gender diverse people should have no place in our society, let alone in our parliament."

    The whole "men in women's bathrooms" scare campaign formed part of the argument in the postal survey on same-sex marriage last year, but isn't backed up by any data.

    A 2017 CNN investigation of various US states where trans people can access bathrooms aligned with their gender identity found just one case of a man – who cited anti-discrimination law as his motivation – who had undressed in a women's locker room.

    A survey of US transgender adults in 2016 found that 12% of respondents were verbally harassed while using a restroom in the previous year, and 9% were denied access to the restroom.

    Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Josh Taylor at josh.taylor@buzzfeed.com.

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