May 6, 2024

Tickle v Giggle: Australian court to decide who are women and who are not

Should women be forced to open female-only spaces to biological men? This is the question which the Federal Court of Australia is pondering this week in the landmark case of Roxanne Tickle vGiggle for Girls (“Tickle v. Giggle”). 

Tickle, a biological male who self-identifies as a woman, claims to have faced discrimination in being banned from a female-only networking app, “Giggle for Girls”. Tickle’s barrister, Georgina Costello KC,told the court that her client had had hormone treatment and gender-affirming surgery. A birth certificate states that Tickle is a female. “She perceives herself as a woman,” the barrister said. “She presents herself as a woman, she uses a woman’s name … and she feels in her mind, psychologically, that she is a woman.”

Tickle joined the app in 2021, after passing an AI-moderated registration to verify if users really are women. But in 2022, Tickle was banned from the site because Tickle was a man. 

The founder and CEO of the app, CEO, Sall Grover, denies that Tickle was discriminated on the basis of gender identity; instead, her legal team contends that Tickle’s disqualification was on the basis of sex. 

“We are taking a stand for the safety of all women’s only spaces, but also for basic reality and truth, which the law should reflect,” said Grover. Her case is, essentially, that Australian law must uphold the truth of biological reality.

The defence will argue that Australia’s ratification of CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) obliges the State to protect women’s rights, including to single-sex spaces – and that expanding the legal definition of “women” to include biological men contradicts this key international treaty.

It will also claim that the Australian government acted unconstitutionally in amending the Sex Discrimination Act to legislate “gender identity” as a protected characteristic. 

The outcome of the decision will be of great importance to countries which have ratified CEDAW. A win for Giggle could help to shield female-only services and spaces across the world. 

Solicitor Katherine Deves is representing Giggle. She is an experienced campaigner in trans battles. In the 2022 Australian election she ran as a Liberal Party candidate for the lower house. But she was dragged across the coals for her anti-trans views and lost. She says:

“The Federal Court of Australia will have to make an ultimate decision on the most basic question – what is a woman?”

“The stakes are high in this case. Women’s international human rights will be lost if ‘woman’ now includes any male who identifies as such. This decision matters not just in Australia but also to the watching world.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission invited input from the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls, Reem Alsalem. Her submission states: 

“While not addressing or defining the terms “sex” or “gender”, many foundational human rights treaties, and declarations, including CEDAW, enshrine a prohibition of discrimination based on sex which can only be taken to mean as referring to biological sex. In General Recommendation No. 28, the CEDAW Committee reiterated that “the objective of the Convention is the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women on the basis of sex”.

Tickle v. Giggle comes at a time where women around the world are fighting to protect the right to single-sex spaces. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, for example, has been outspoken about the need to ensure rape-crisis shelters, bathrooms, locker rooms and prison cells remain single-sex. 

Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur has also petitioned the Biden Administration to protect female-only sports and changing facilities to safeguard against a “loss of privacy, an increased risk of physical injury, heightened exposure to sexual harassment and voyeurism, as well as a more frequent and accumulated psychological distress due to the loss of privacy and fair and equal sporting and academic opportunities.”