Canberra court rules on truth speech

Former military captain Matthew Clinch, who now identifies as Bridget, successfully sued Canberra newsreader Beth Rep for misgendering in 2020.

Rep was originally found to have vilified Clinch by stating biological truth but a Canberra court has just upheld an appeal that found she did not necessarily vilify him on all counts.

Clinch was awarded $10,000 damages over Facebook posts Rep made referring to transwomen as males but that has now been halved.

On appeal, the tribunal ruled that discussion on trans issues was “in the public interest” and that “calling a transwoman a man will not necessarily be vilification”.

“Our approach is that in order to amount to vilification it is necessary that the post incite hatred toward, revulsion of, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of Ms Clinch or the group of transwomen,” the ruling says.

This could include words likely to encourage hatred or suggesting a transwoman was “inferior, a threat, or a criminal”.

“Generally, we do not think that referring to a transwoman as a man will necessarily do so (amount to vilification),” the appeal tribunal rules.

The decision reduces the damages to be paid by Ms Rep to $5000, while also striking down the original tribunal’s order that Ms Rep be refrained from making social media posts similar to those complained about. Amid ongoing backlash from some feminists about transwomen’s access to female-only services and places, the appeal tribunal found such issues were legitimate topics of public discussion.

Neither party says they will appeal any further.

Binary spokeswoman, Kirralie Smith, said it is incredible this issue was even taken to court.

“Truth speech is not hate speech,” she said.

“Biology matters. What kind of society have we become where people are threatened and dragged to court for stating biological facts?

“This topic must be discussed publicly and vigorously for the sake of women’s safety, dignity and privacy.”