‘Billboard Chris’ case threatens free speech in Australia

HRLA is assisting Canadian father and activist Chris Elston, known online as ‘Billboard Chris’, who is challenging a removal notice from Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant. The order required social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) to remove a tweet made by Mr Elston that criticised the appointment of Teddy Cook, an Australian transgender activist, to a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert panel drafting guidelines for the care of trans and non-binary people.

HRLA will be representing Chris as he appeals the decision of the Commissioner in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). His case is also being supported by Alliance Defending Freedom International.

X is also appealing the order.

Mr Elston’s tweet, which is now geoblocked in Australia but still visible elsewhere, read as follows:

“This woman (yes, she’s female), is part of a panel of 20 ‘experts’ hired by the @WHO to draft their policy on caring for ‘trans people.’ People who belong in psychiatric wards are writing the guidelines for people who belong in psychiatric wards”.

In relation to the tweet, Mr Elston said:

“(It was) not my nicest tweet ever, but technically accurate, and I don’t mean that to say all trans-identified people belong in psychiatric wards, especially kids,” Mr Elston said.

“These kids are lost and confused and they’re being lied to, but there are clearly psychiatric issues, and as per all the scientific evidence, the children who end up in these gender clinics are struggling with various mental health comorbidities.”

Mr Elston is a father of two girls who ‘decided to take a stand against gender ideology’, saying that ‘children should be free to be who they are - not indoctrinated to believe they were born in the wrong body’.

No one should be censored for exposing the truth about gender ideology. As Mr Elston said:

"Whether or not you support my message, we can all agree that this form of state-imposed censorship is entirely illiberal and undemocratic. Australians have a right to openly discuss the serious issues impacting our children today.

Ultimately, the message I wanted to communicate with this Tweet is that children struggling with gender dysphoria deserve better than ‘guidelines’ written by activists who only want to push them in one direction.”

Censorship doesn’t just violate the rights of one person, it hurts all of society. Mr Elston’s public comments form part of the debate about one of the most pressing and highly contested issues of our time. Mr Elston’s concerns about “affirmative” gender treatments have been validated by the latest developments from the UK, with the release of the Final Report of the Cass Review into gender treatments for children and young people. As reported in the Australian:

“Mr Elston said guidelines for gender dysphoric children should not be written by activists like Cook, but by people like the British physician Dr Hilary Cass, whose recent landmark review of that country’s policy found a ‘lack of high quality evidence’ for the use of puberty blockers and hormones in treating minors”.

HRLA client and former Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor Jasmine Sussex was similarly subject to censorship at the direction of the eSafety Commissioner, after her tweet stating that ‘men cannot breastfeed’ was ordered to be taken down because it had ‘broken the law’.

Billboard Chris’s case will be an important test for free speech in Australia, which is a right guaranteed in international law. This case is also significant in light of the current statutory review of the Online Safety Act 2021, which is being conducted at the direction of the Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and may result in a “major expansion” to the eSafety Commissioner’s already substantial powers.

Every person has the right to peacefully share their beliefs. HRLA exists to help protect this fundamental freedom for all Australians.