Letter to Leader of the Opposition

Anthony.AlbaneseMP@aph.gov.au

mark.dreyfus.mp@aph.gov.au

Dear Mr Albanese,
I have been a campaigner, writer, journalist and broadcaster on LGBTI rights for almost 50 years: one of the founders of Gay News in London in 1972, eventually moving to Australia, editing Melbourne Star, and broadcasting on Joy 94.9.

I met Mr Dreyfus at a Community Cabinet, during Julia Gillard’s tenure of the office you now hold, and was lucky enough to advocate to him against the ‘religious exemptions’ that allowed aged care facilities to discriminate against LGBTI residents.

I am now retired, living in Queensland, and right now, I am worried about the proposed religious freedom law and religious freedom commission. It seems to me these are fig leaves to licence a gay-bashing spree by the “religious right”. Our punishment for having defeated them in the marriage equality debate.

The Ruddock Review Report showed there would be very little impact on Christians – or any other religious adherents – from the  recognition of LGBTIQ equality. They already have full religious freedom: what now appears to be sought are yet more religious privileges.

There are already too many of these: the indoctrination of state school children by unqualified amateurs with religious instruction, instead of teaching religions, plural, in a proper academic manner; subsidising religious owned and run schools (if you insist on brainwashing kids, do it on your own dollar, I say); allowing religious owned commercial organisations to ignore anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTI, single mums and adherents of other religions and none; and giving them unfair business advantages through tax exemptions.

For example, welfare groups, aged care units and hospitals are predominantly run by Christian businesses. Their employees can be retrenched or service refused to people because their diverse sexuality or gender is against the Organization’s religious beliefs.

Yet all these organisations are supported by the (secular) taxpayers dollar.
Teachers in religious schools can be retrenched and students rejected, again because their sexuality and gender diversity is against the schools religious beliefs. 

Proposals have been floated to remove these rights, it is true, but only to replace them with the right to run the schools in accordance with a religious “ethos”, which is just the same discrimination under another label.
All these special privileges should be done away with. But instead, additional ‘religious freedom’ laws are being suggested that threaten to empower businesses to retrench workers who are sexually and gender diverse, single mums, etc. etc., if the owners claim this conflicts with their ‘religious’ principles. 

And not just Christians: the same principle would apply to Muslims, Scientologists, Jews – businesses owned by the adherents of any recognised religion.

Presumably this would also licence any sect within any religion to discriminate against other sects. Thus Catholics would be licensed to discriminate against Protestants, Sunni Muslims against Shia, and so on.
In short, religious freedom laws, which would have to apply equally to all, are a recipe for discord and division. They could not be drafted so as to privilege only Christians, or one subset of Christians, leaving all other sects unprotected (and we know the dangers of unprotected sects 

Such laws would provide legal cover for hate speech, which would in turn increase the likelihood of communal violence, especially homophobic and transphobic violence. A religious group or individual may not believe their words are harmful (or may not care) but the impact of what is said or written under the cover of “preaching doctrine” can be devastating, not just for LGBTI people, but for the aforementioned single parents, unmarried couples, members of competing religions and sects and so forth.

I ask you, please, to speak strongly, stand, and vote against any such dangerous and divisive proposals, and in favour of removing the excessive privileges religions already enjoy.

May I also ask you to once again establish a whole-of-government shadow spokesperson for LGBTIQ rights, with responsibility for ensuring that all their colleagues in the shadow cabinet have regard to the impact on our community of their proposals, speeches and actions?

Thank you.
Yours truly

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)