Sydney Morning Herald
The head of the University of Queensland law school, who faced controversy during his two years in the role over comments he made about transgender children, will step down in the new year.
Professor Patrick Parkinson, AM, will leave his role as academic dean and head of the TC Beirne School of Law in January before “transitioning to a fractional appointment” at the university.
Appointed in May 2018 after time as a family law and child protection specialist at the University of Sydney, Professor Parkinson also chairs the conservative think tank Freedom for Faith. The Australian Christian Lobby also commissioned a report from him while at his former university.
Professor Parkinson told Brisbane Times on Tuesday that “giving up” the senior role to better balance his work and family life had been a difficult decision to make.
“But as I explained to the staff, the needs of the family really had to take priority at this stage and could not easily be met while in such a demanding role,” he said. “The law school is doing really well and I am confident it will go on from strength to strength.”
News of the departure came a little over a year after his comments at a September 2019 Freedom for Faith conference in Sydney sparked a revolt in the law faculty in Brisbane.
Presenting a paper prepared for the event, Professor Parkinson argued that religious schools should be free to not accept the “new” gender identity of a child who wanted to transition.
The conference, held at NSW’s Parliament House, was also addressed by federal Liberal senator for Queensland Amanda Stoker and Justice Sarah Derrington, president of the Australian Law Reform Commission, which is conducting a nationwide review of religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.
The paper – Is Gender Identity Discrimination a Religious Freedom Issue? – drew comparisons between transgender children and those with eating disorders, while attempting to outline “just how many of the ideas strongly promulgated by some in the transgender movement are based upon unscientific beliefs”.
A total of 37 law academics then pledged to support transgender students at the university in an open letter that did not explicitly name the professor. The UQ Law Society sought to distance itself from the professor.
“These sentiments are not reflective of the inclusive culture fostered amongst law students,” the society wrote at the time.
Professor Parkinson said the fact he spoke on “difficult social issues” had “never been an issue” for university leadership.
“They recognise the importance of academic freedom,” he said. “As a family lawyer and child expert, I have dealt with difficult issues throughout my career.”
The University of Tasmania Law Review rejected another recent paper by Professor Parkinson critiquing that state’s review of transgender laws, News Corp reported last week.
The 2019 laws made gender optional on birth certificates and ended the need for transgender people to have surgery to be recognised. A review from the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute found the laws, welcomed by the transgender community and advocates, had no significant unintended consequences.
Professor Andrew Griffiths, executive dean of UQ’s Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, said Professor Parkinson had been a “great contributor” to the law school and the broader faculty, and he was “delighted” that he would remain on its staff until 2026.
“In the coming weeks, an internal acting head of school will be appointed and they will work with Patrick on a seamless transition,” he said. “We will commence an external recruitment process in the new year.”