New gender diversity guidelines convey the message that our surf clubs are for everyone.

In a groundbreaking move, Surf Life Saving Australia has produced a transgender and gender diverse factsheet for Surf Life Saving clubs.

The factsheet was released in December, with SLSA working in consultation with Lifesavers with Pride (LWP) and Pride in Sport.

With the aim of promoting inclusivity, the factsheet provides practical suggestions to assist clubs with gender diverse members.

Club members are encouraged to use a person’s preferred name and pronoun, avoid making assumptions about someone’s gender identity, challenge gender stereotypes and speak up against discrimination.

Not all club members in the state-wide organisation supported the factsheet, according to an article in The Daily Telegraph on 13 December 2023, titled ‘Surf Life Saving gender diverse factsheet questioned by Sydney volunteers’. Nabil Alizai, an LWP committee member, says the organisation was ‘really disappointed’ with some of the personal opinions conveyed.

“It is designed to help educate where there is a lot of misinformation,” Nabil tells Peninsula Living Pittwater (PLP). “I’m pretty proud of the genuine advice it provides to surf clubs.

“But often the voices of the dissent are the ones that get more airtime, so I wasn’t surprised there were some negative opinions,” Nabil adds.

Tracey Hare-Boyd, chief executive officer for Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches (SLSSNB), tells PLP that The Daily Telegraph article was based on a ‘holding statement’ that was superseded.

“The (factsheet) they actually put out there was an early draft,” Ms Hare-Boyd explains. “But some people did read the article and go, ‘Hold on a minute, what are we doing?’

“But this is our membership. This is what we’ve got to take into account. You’re going to get gender diversity hitting the forefront.“

“It’s the same as having someone in a wheelchair or a special needs nipper. We have to change the way we do things for certain members.”

Changes involve not only use of gender-inclusive language, but practical things like gender-neutral changerooms and facilities – just like putting in accessible toilets for people with a disability.

“What we’re saying now to a club is, ‘if you are doing any works, if you’re putting through a development application, then consider having a unisex toilet.”

Peter George, head of mission at SLSA, tells Peninsula Living Pittwater that SLSA has not received any negative feedback about the factsheet directly from any of its surf clubs.

“The transgender and gender diversity fact sheet was developed at a request from our clubs for some guidance in relation to transgender and gender diverse members, as they were starting to see more members identifying as gender diverse,” Mr George says.

Rainbow Beaches promotes inclusivity.

“(SLSA) has a member protection policy that encourages diversity and inclusion,” he says. “These guidelines will assist clubs in making transgender and gender diverse members feel welcome. They will also help to achieve consistency in how our transgender and gender diverse members are welcomed and included in all surf lifesaving activities across the federation.”

Nabil, a member of Palm Beach Surf Life Saving Club, says LWP likes to take ‘a grassroots approach to inclusion’.

“We don’t want to do a lot of ‘blast messaging,’” explains Nabil. “We’d like to talk to clubs and understand what’s practical for them in order to make a change.”

Tracey says more people are identifying as gender diverse and choosing to tick one box over another.

“It’s like tagging sharks. We knew they were always in the ocean. It’s just we tag them now. Before, we didn’t know how many transgender or gender diverse people members we had, but now (people) are going, ‘I’m comfortable enough where I can tick that box to let people know’.”

Nabil says LWP has been talking to clubs about leadership roles and would like to see more people on surf club committees focused on inclusion and diversity.

“Those are the people who can build the support and build a specific approach for their own club.”

More than 100 clubs across Australia have signed up for Rainbow Beaches this year, a day when surf clubs promote inclusivity for the LGBTQIA+ community. Clubs decorate the beach with rainbow flags, banners and bunting. This year, 60 per cent of those participating are first-time registrations, showing a steady increase in support for the day.

“It’s also for those who feel like the beach isn’t for them,” explains Nabil. “Because they don’t want to wear a swimsuit, or they feel like they might look different to (other) people at the beach. It’s a chance to say, ‘You’re welcome here, come down’.

Nabil says LWP is proud of the factsheet.

Tracey added: “As the largest volunteering organisation in Australia, you would expect us to have a diverse membership given that your ‘average’ Australian is no longer blond-haired and blue-eyed. We can’t be left in the dark ages.

“The tides change, so we’ve got to change with them.”

Mr George says work in this area is ongoing.

“SLSA continues to work with the Federal Government and experts in this area to ensure our programs reflect diversity and inclusion,” he says. “We will continue to look for opportunities to ensure our programs cater for all members.”

Tracey says that knowledge and skills are what matter.

“Black, white, yellow, pink, gender neutral, non-binary, LGBTQIA+, if you’ve got the skills and you’ve got the knowledge, you’re more than welcome to stand on the flag with me.

“The water doesn’t discriminate, so neither should we.”