The right-wing ‘union’ bringing anti-trans activists to Australia

The Free Speech Union has organised for Graham Linehan to tour Australia later this year.

The Free Speech Union has organised for Graham Linehan to tour Australia later this year. Photo: Getty Images

A free speech group that calls itself a union has announced it is bringing a controversial television showrunner, comedian and anti-transgender rights activist to Australia, sparking comparisons to Posie Parker’s ill-fated tour last year.

Free Speech Union of Australia – an offshoot of a British organisation – has organised a book tour for comedian Graham Linehan, the creator of popular sitcoms The IT Crowd and Father Ted.

Linehan, once a giant of British television and comedy, is touring his book about his ‘‘cancellation’’ over anti-transgender commentary and tweets.

He has “joked” on Twitter about running over counter-protesters and claimed that “almost every central trans figure is a nonce.”

Reuben Kirkham, a director of Free Speech Union of Australia, said Linehan had made reasonable points in public and has been castigated for it”.

“I wouldn’t go as far as saying he is extremely controversial: If you talk to him, he’s a very reasonable guy,” Kirkham said.

“He may have been involved in a controversial debate, but there’s a distinction.”

Linehan has also questioned the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and the existence of human-caused climate change.

Martine Delaney, an LGBTQI advocate and transgender woman, said she believed organisations bringing anti-trans activists like Linehan and Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull (also known as Posie Parker) to Australia were intentionally trying to create a reaction.

“When you’ve got people like him, JK Rowling and others saying the things they say about trans people, it has an enormous impact,” she said.

“Ninety-nine per cent of trans people just want to live as their authentic self and get on with life.

“Negative comments from people who have influential public platforms are incredibly damaging, both to everyday life and young people.”

Freedom of speech

Keen-Minshull’s international tour of Australia and New Zealand resulted in widespread protest last year, but Kirkham said he didn’t expect a similar reaction to Linehan.

“We’re not doing outdoor marches, we are doing civilised book launches and discussions,” he said.

“We’re interested in having a civilised discussion with Graham and what he has to say, it’s not standing outside parliament with a megaphone.”

Those rallies included Nazis attending in Melbourne and, in Hobart, counter-protesters surrounded Keen-Minshull and her small group of supporters.

Protesters turned up in force against anti-transgender rights activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull last year. Photo: AAP

Delaney said while she expected some negative responses to Linehan’s book tour, she was also working working with “firebrand” members of the LGBTQI community on how to respond to anti-trans activists.

“In Hobart, there was a counter-rally with hundreds of people screaming and waving their fists at Posie Parker and her handful of supporters,” she said.

“To me, that was as damaging as anything because there was an implicit threat of violence.”

Research has shown that gender-affirming care – the medical and psychological health care for transgender people – improves the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and non-binary children.

The Australian Medical Association “unequivocally” supports gender-affirming care for transgender people.

Right-wing links

Free Speech Union of Australia’s two directors, Kirkham and lawyer Dara Macdonald, established the organisation in late 2023.

Linehan is the first international speaker it has organised to bring to Australia.

It is an offshoot of the Free Speech Union, and similar organisations have formed in New Zealand and South Africa.

British columnist Toby Young founded the FSU to – in his words – fight against cancel culture and “digital McCarthyism”.

He has espoused the positives of “progressive eugenics,” and spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Macdonald was a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank that rejects the science of climate change and denied the harms of passive smoking on behalf of the tobacco industry.

Kirkham said that members, not organisations like the IPA, funded Free Speech Union Australia.

“We are totally independent of the IPA,” he said.

“She (Macdonald) worked for the IPA a few years ago for a few months. That’s as far as I know.”

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