FSU defend Public Service Advisor censored for using term ‘male-bodied’

The Free Speech Union newsletter reports on a case where it defended a worker who was called to a meeting after using accurate language.

In something you would almost think is out of George Orwell’s 1984, a member of the Free Speech Union received a scathing and bullying letter from a very senior ministry official for having the audacity to refer to transgender women as ‘male-bodied’.

This advisor, who works in a ministry and sits three tiers below the senior public servant, attended a presentation by LGBTQIA+ activist group InsideOUT and raised a question at the end with the presenter. 

After the presentation, this advisor was understandably concerned when they received a letter from the Deputy Chief Executive of the organisation, claiming that they had been ‘offended and shocked’ along with others for using the term ‘male-bodied’. That is despite the Human Rights Commission using the term in its description of transwomen. The advisor reached out to us to see if we thought these comments were appropriate, and to get help in defending their right to speech. 

Last week, I sat down with the Deputy Chief Executive of the particular ministry, along with a senior ministry HR advisor, and the employee (member of the Free Speech Union).

Unfortunately, the Deputy Chief Executive was intransigent, insisting that they had the right to control the language that is used in the ministry and that this didn’t undermine free speech in any way. Somehow, in their mind, their stated desire to have a diverse workplace that celebrates different opinions is consistent with no one being allowed to offend anyone else. (It’s interesting the Public Service Association never seems to come out on these issues. If you’re in the public service and looking for a Union that has your back, you should join up with us.)

This is how censorship occurs. This is what having speech controlled looks like. Rarely is it a blatant ban. It’s just a threatening letter here, a slap on the wrist there, a disapproving comment or review from a superior.  

He’s our letter to the Ministery (read online here):

Here at the Free Speech Union, we say that in no circumstance is it acceptable for a senior public servant to exercise their influence to bully staff to silence them or limit their speech. 

There is a maxim in the public service not to let ‘politics get in the way of their job, or their job in the way of politics’.  This isn’t one of those cases – political transgender / language issues have absolutely nothing to do with the functions of this particular ministry.