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Commonly known as the Coogee Ladies’ Baths, the McIver’s Ladies Baths in Sydney’s east is making headlines this week after posting a rule on the FAQ page of its website saying “Only transgender women who’ve undergone a gender reassignment surgery are allowed entry.”
The rule came as a response to a query on its site which asked “Are transgender women allowed?”
On Monday night, Elly Belfort, a Sydney-based data architect and trans-activist took to the Sydney Trans Rights Activists Facebook page to spread the word.
“After a lot of backlash in their Facebook page, they later changed the wording, but still require trans women to be legally recognised as women, which I’m appalled to know, in NSW, requires the trans person to have gone through irreversible surgery!” Belfort wrote.
“There are fears that this is a deliberate manoeuvre to replicate in Australia what happened in the UK.”
The response by the Randwick and Coogee Ladies Swimming Association which operate the pool has since been removed from the site. By the following afternoon, the website had amended it to say: “Transgender women are welcome to the McIver’s Ladies Baths, our definition for transgender is as per the NSW Discrimination Act.”
According to the NSW Anti Discrimination Act, a transgender person is someone “who identified as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex,” “has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex,” or “who being of indeterminate sex, identifies as a member of a particular sex by living as a member of that sex and includes a reference to the person being thought of as a transgender person, whether the person is or was, in fact, a transgender person.”
The Association did not explain how the policy will be enforced, though re-instated on its Facebook page that the pool is “for women and girls (open age) and boys up to 13″.
The pool, which was built in 1886 and requires a $2 entry fee, is the country’s only coastal pool exclusively for women and children after the NSW government gave the baths an exemption from the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1995.
Public outrage has spurred to have the regulation changed to include trans-women. The page has since been updated to state that transgender women are allowed. The Association’s website also states the pool “provides a safe place for women of many ages, religions, and backgrounds” and “a sanctuary of healing, acceptance, and security”.
The Association was this week directing requests for comment to Randwick City Council. A spokesperson from the Council told Yahoo News Australia they were “glad to be part of the discussion” and that the Association is primarily responsible for “management and entry to the baths.”
“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 statement 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.”
The statement has since been shared on Twitter.
The barrage of criticism on social media continues, with comments coming in including one on Facebook saying “Genuinely, women’s baths, how do you plan to enforce this policy? Will you be asking anyone you don’t think looks sufficiently ‘female’ to pull their swimming bottoms down?”
The baths have also suffered negative reviews on its Trip Advisor page.
“Not only has Randwick council targeted the trans community in their new conditions of entry but they have barred trans WOMEN from entering if they have not undergone reassignment surgery,” one person said.
“This both assumes that their womanhood is conditional on their physicality (it’s not) and that access to expensive and incredibly invasive surgery is not an issue. Trans WOMEN are WOMEN.”
Another comment on Facebook wrote that the Association has “chosen an un-winnable battle.”
“Until today they admitted trans women only if they had had gender affirmation surgery. That is, if they had the $30k to $40k it takes to get to that point. Which is the minority. Most trans women tuck, if they go swimming at all.”
Alastair Lawrie, a Senior Policy Officer at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and LGBTQIA rights activist took to Twitter to say: “The situation at McIver’s Ladies Baths highlights … The NSW Government must urgently amend the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act to allow trans & gender diverse people to control their identities, not surgeons or medical practitioners.”
A Change.org petition has been circulating, demanding that the Randwick and Coogee Ladies Swimming Association and Randwick City Council formally apologise.
“We call on McIver’s Ladies’ Baths management to publish a statement making clear that all people who self-identify as women – cis, trans, surgery or no – are welcome to use the pool, change the website and on-site signage to reflect this policy and issue a full apology.”
The petition’s organiser, Melissa Hather wrote that the initial statement from earlier the week was “an example of the prejudice and discrimination that are ongoing challenges for transgender people.”
“If there are single-sex spaces, it should be the individual’s right to choose that which best matches their identity. “What if?” situations are often raised but there is no evidence they ever happen. Exclusion of trans people, however, is well-documented and degrading.”
Photo Credit: Duane Robinson