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Academics warn Latham’s gender bill would force Shakespeare from the classroom

More than 100 academics have signed an open letter saying One Nation’s proposed ban on teaching gender fluidity in NSW schools would force Shakespearean plays such as Twelfth Night and classic Australian novels to be cut from the curriculum.

The ban would also affect discussion of gender roles and stereotypes in class, said the letter’s author, Leigh Dale, a former Professor of English at the University of Wollongong.

“I don’t know if there’s been a precedent for someone trying to ban discussion of a topic in a classroom through legislation,” she said.

Judi Dench as Viola and Peter Geddis as Fabian in Twelfth Night.

Judi Dench as Viola and Peter Geddis as Fabian in Twelfth Night.Credit:Douglas H Jeffery

The letter has been signed by English departments at the University of Sydney, Macquarie University, Western Sydney University and University of New South Wales, as well as by individuals at other universities such as the Australian Catholic University.

However, Mr Latham said the bill would not affect the teaching of those texts at schools. “On one level [the letter is] fanaticism and on another it’s funny,” he said.

Out of the picture: Films such as Tootsie.

Out of the picture: Films such as Tootsie.

The letter said many of Shakespeare’s plays featured cross-dressing characters such as Portia and Jessica in the Merchant of Venice, Imogen in Cymbeline, Rosalind in As You Like It and Viola in Twelfth Night. Several books by Nobel Prize-winner Patrick White also featured cross-dressed characters.

“If you look closely at the definition of gender fluidity in Latham’s draft legislation, it refers to what most people would call gender, which is to say any cultural dimension of sexual difference,” Professor Dale said.

“They’re not just talking about trans kids, they’re talking about being able to talk about whether men or women act a certain way. The only way you’re allowed to talk about gender is as a biological fact, and that’s quite limiting.”

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