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Women’s pool faces searing backlash after banning trans women unless they’ve ‘undergone surgery’

Vic Parsons January 12, 2021
McIver's Ladies Baths faces backlash after quielty excluding trans women

(Envanto)

McIver’s Ladies Baths in Sydney has deleted its Facebook page and made several updates to its website after receiving heavy criticism for attempting to ban some transgender women from the swimming pool.

In a recent update to its website, the McIver’s Ladies Baths in the Sydney suburb of Coogee added a new rule to its FAQ section under the headline: “Are transgender women allowed?”

“Only transgender women who’ve undergone a gender reassignment surgery are allowed entry,” the website for the popular swimming spot said, according to Out In Perth.

Under a post about this new policy on its now-deleted Facebook page, the McIver’s Ladies Baths was swamped with thousands of questions about the new policy, with commenters asking how it would be enforced by the organisation, how staff would determine which women were trans and whether they’d had gender-affirming surgery, and whether cisgender women who weren’t deemed sufficiently “feminine” would be questioned about their genitals.

“The ‘drop your pants so we can check’ policy is breathtakingly offensive, and evidence of extremely outdated, reductive and classist thinking,” one person wrote on the Facebook page, according to The News.

“I’m happy to swim with non-op trans women any day of the week (and yes, before the trolls go bonkers, I can and will do so at other pools); not happy with your dodgy reductive policy.”

“As a long-time swimmer at the pools I am really disgusted and upset by this policy,” wrote another. “I’ve always enjoyed McIver’s because I’ve seen it as safe and accessible haven for so many in Sydney. Your website says a ‘safe space for all women’ but this policy says another.”

As the negative responses to the “disappointingly transphobic” new policy continued, the organisation updated its website again, saying: “McIver’s Ladies Baths has an exemption under the Anti-Discrimination Act awarded in 1995. Only women and children (boys up to 13 years of age) are permitted entry. If you wish to make any further inquiries please contact the Randwick City Council.”

A spokesperson for the council said they believed the organisation running the pool had always been inclusive and reported that the council had requested them to update their website to express this.

“Randwick council is an inclusive organisation that values diversity in our community, and have always supported the inclusion of transgender women at McIver’s Ladies Baths,” the spokesperson said.

“It is our understanding the association has always had a policy of inclusion and we have been in contact with the management of the baths to ask them to more accurately communicate this inclusive position on the issue on their website.”

Following this statement, McIver’s Ladies Baths made a third update to its website on Tuesday (13 January) which states that the organisation would comply with New South Wales’ (NSW) anti-discrimination laws.

“Yes. Transgender women are welcome to the McIver’s Ladies Baths, our definition for transgender is as per the NSW Discrimination Act,” the latest update read.

The NSW Discrimination Act defines a trans woman as someone who identifies as trans and lives as a woman. But there is a different definition for trans women who have had their gender legally recognised, with laws in NSW requiring trans people who wish to obtain legal recognition of their gender to undergo gender-affirming surgery.

This means it is unclear whether the McIver’s Ladies Baths latest policy offers strong protections for all trans women wishing to swim in the pools – as per the definition of a trans woman – or whether the organisation will still attempt to ban some trans women from the pools, as per the requirements for legal gender recognition.

Liam Elphick, a discrimination expert and associate professor in Monash University’s law faculty, told the Guardian that if the latest policy was referring to the first definition, it offered “strong protection for trans women who identify as trans women”, who should, under the law, need to demonstrate only that they live or intend to live as a woman – rather than needing to provide documentation – but that it was “far less strong” for those without legal recognition of their gender.

“We have discrimination laws all throughout the country,” he said, “and organisations should act not just in accordance with those laws, but as best as possible in the spirit of those laws. And those laws require that we do not discriminate in the provision of goods and services against transgender people.”

According to a National Trust report on the baths, they have been used as a spot for bathing for women since before 1876.

The baths themselves were built in 1886 and the lease expired in 1901. The McIver family ran the baths until 1922 when the Randwick Ladies Amateur Swimming Club was formed. The club took over the lease and has held it since that time.

More: McIver's Ladies Baths, Sydney, trans women, trans women in sport, transphobia

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