Sex, Gender and Sexuality diversity in mediation (and other human services)

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At the 2016 National Mediation Conference Olivia Rundle will be giving  a presentation drawn from a just released book called Sex, Gender, Sexuality and the Law, on behalf of the authorship team of Samantha Hardy, Olivia Rundle and Damien W Riggs. Professor Gillian Triggs, Human Rights Commissioner, writes in her Foreword:

The point is well made by the authors in this ground-breaking publication that the law  is not effective for the vast majority of those in the LGBTI community who experience discrimination, and who fail to report it. It is for this reason that community attitudes must change through education and evidence-based understanding of the damaging effect such discrimination has, not only on the immediate victim, but also on their parents, children and extended family and friends. The authors have gathered together all available evidence of discrimination against the LGBTI community in Australia and have put their research to highly practical use. They have provided detailed advice for practitioners – lawyers, mediators, the courts and service providers – who work with those who have been marginalised on the basis of their sex, gender, or sexuality.

Our book draws together legal and social science literature, legislation and case law to explore the legal treatment and common life experiences of people who are trans or gender diverse, intersex and/or non-heterosexual. We have deliberately avoided lumping together the distinct categories of sex, gender and sexuality, instead clarifying the specific characteristics that are relevant to topics that we discuss in the book. We start by explaining the terminology that we use, explore issues that affect individuals, then couples, then families who include a person who is trans or gender diverse, intersex and/or non-heterosexual. The final part of the book provides advice to professionals about how to improve the way that they deliver services to clients who may be trans or gender diverse, intersex and/or non-heterosexual.

The book project was inspired by some research results from a small pilot study in Victoria. The study invited mediation practitioners, potential and actual clients to contribute their ideas and experiences of mediation services. The results suggested that there was a gap between mediators’ perception of the suitability of their practice for diverse client groups and the actual needs of clients who are trans or gender diverse, intersex and/or non-heterosexual. In short, the mediator respondents demonstrated either discriminatory attitudes or ignorance of the way that they assumed that all of their clients were cisgender and heterosexual (and therefore did not practise in a way that was inclusive of trans or gender diverse, intersex and/or non-heterosexual clients). Some false expectations about non-heterosexual people were also evident in the results. The survey results have not been published before, but are discussed in Part 4 of our book.

There are largely unconscious assumptions in most contexts that people are either male or female, are the gender that was assigned to them at birth, that their intimate relationships are heterosexual, and that children are parented by a mother and a father who are both heterosexual. The pervasiveness of these assumptions has the effect of alienating and/or discriminating against people who do not fit into those categories. Furthermore, cisgenderism and heterosexism perpetuate an expectation that to be legitimised, people who are not cisgender and heterosexual must perform stereotypical expectations of being a heterosexual cisgender person, a heterosexual cisgender couple, or that children should experience as close as possible the heterosexual mother-father parented nuclear family. In her Foreword Professor Triggs notes:

The authors observe the paradox that, in order for the LGBTI community to have
their sexual orientation and diversity respected, it has become necessary that they
demonstrate how similar they are to traditional heterosexuals.

Our book challenges practitioners to engage in critical reflection upon the assumptions and expectations that they bring to their practice, and to learn different, more inclusive ways of engaging with their diverse community of clients. We hope that all practitioners, scholars and students who read our book will learn new information that will equip them to celebrate and improve the way that they work with the beautiful diversity in our society.

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About Dr Olivia Rundle

Dr Rundle is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania. She has worked as a nationally accredited mediator and a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. Dr Rundle is especially interested in the role of lawyers in dispute resolution processes and the policy environment that positively encourages lawyers to engage with dispute resolution. She teaches and researches in broad areas of Dispute Resolution, Civil Procedure and Family Law.

One thought on “Sex, Gender and Sexuality diversity in mediation (and other human services)

  1. Looking forward to this important presentation Olivia and Sam. We all need to be more knowledgable about gender and sexual diversity but also more self aware and ensure as practitioners we are conscious of our assumptions when working with people.

    Liked by 1 person

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