My Gay Agenda – Brian Greig

Brian Greig

Stop Labor’s anti-homosexual laws

The Gillard Labor Government will soon endorse legislation in federal parliament to specifically allow gay teachers to be denied jobs or sacked, gay students to be isolated or expelled and anti-homophobia programs to be withdrawn or rejected from schools.

This legislation is dressed up as “anti-discrimination protections” and is being sold to our community as a good thing with a lot of spin and bullshit. It’s time we woke up and got angry.

Labor is pressing ahead with “comprehensive” reform of Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws and while this is decades overdue, the escape clauses being deliberately built into the legislation so that religious bigots can carry on with homophobic attitudes and behaviours is unforgivable. It’s also unnecessary and can be stopped.

The religious exemptions that pepper these laws are a sop to the Catholic Church and the fundamentalist enclaves which insist that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, homosexuality is behaviour not orientation. And so, just like stealing, rape and bestiality, same-sex attraction is a sin that cannot be tolerated. The Labor party clearly agrees because it wrote these laws and continues to defend them.

The trouble with this is that the very people behind these arguments are the exact same people and organisations which oppose same-sex marriage and for the same reason: homosexuality is behaviour not a human trait.

But whereas our community has been relentless in pursuing equal marriage against fierce opposition and herculean odds, it has gone soft on this issue. Why?

A number of journalists with Fairfax and News Limited (and yours truly), have raised the alarm and called for change, but the GLBTI lobby groups have been muted. Rainbow Labor is silent. Sure, there have been some genteel representations at senate committee hearings but where are placards, the petitions, the marches and protests? Where are the public meetings in seats like Melbourne Ports, Sydney and Brisbane?  Why are there no full page adverts in the queer press shouting, “Stop Labor’s Anti-Homosexual Laws?”

The answer is in two parts. First, as a community we tend to expect second best and have learned to be grateful for that. It’s all part of the low self-esteem zeitgeist which permeates our community, a legacy of decades of oppression, shame and submission.

Second, in election years the ALP can get pretty nasty behind the scenes. I’ve experienced this first hand. Be assured that senior people in Labor will be whispering to our community leaders that if they rock the boat on this issue, embarrass the government and demand that religious exemptions be removed, then they will get nothing. Even the protections for gay people in nursing homes will be withdrawn. The entire Bill might be dropped and watch out – because Tony Abbott as Prime Minister will be much worse!

This divide-and-conquer, bogey-man politics is as lazy as it is predictable and we mustn’t fall for it. The reality is that both Gillard and Abbott oppose same-sex marriage and both Gillard and Abbott support religious exemptions. They are equally the enemies of equality.

With the exception of changes to religious-run nursing homes, the positive reforms in the proposed legislation are largely symbolic. Yes, it’s good that Commonwealth employees and those in receipt of commonwealth services will be covered by the law, but existing anti-gay discrimination in this area is almost unheard of.  By contrast, the discrimination currently happening in religious schools is real, dreadful and urgently needs addressing. This is where the focus is needed.

There is still time to turn this legislation around and there is a solution: The Tasmanian Model.

Almost ten years ago Tasmania removed religious exemptions from its statutes. Religious organisations are still entitled to discriminate where employees or service providers advocate against the tenets or teachings of the institution, but they cannot sack a teacher merely for being gay or expel a student simply for coming out. This system works perfectly well.

This is the model we need federally. It’s time our community started demanding, loudly, that we insist on the Tasmanian Model for anti-discrimination protections. Not the Roxon Model, the Tasmanian Model. Anything less is largely pointless.

Let’s be clear about this, The Greens will most assuredly be moving these amendments in the senate if Labor doesn’t and if the numbers fail the point won’t be lost on voters. Labor won’t win itself any friends. The same level of support in the wider community for gay marriage exists for removing religious exemptions, most especially where taxpayer funds are used by church groups for service delivery.

Only a few years ago Labor policy was blanket opposition to same-sex marriage and they repeatedly voted it down. It said the community didn’t want it, the churches didn’t like it and voters didn’t support it.

If our community can successfully lobby and push Labor to completely turn that on its head to the point where Labor policy now supports gay marriage, we can and must do precisely the same thing with the Tasmanian Model. It’s exactly the same politics.

Don’t be fooled by the pretty sparkles that new Attorney General Mark Drefus is sprinkling through the gay media. It’s a turd rolled in glitter.

Too many church-run schools are the engine houses of homophobia. It has to stop. How many times have we been told that one-third of youth suicides are from gay kids, only to see nothing being done about that in the places where intervention is most urgently needed?

Imagine it this way: imagine that religious exemptions didn’t exist and that our community was properly protected under law. Then imagine that Labor wanted to repeal that and bring in exemptions to allow anti-gay discrimination. How would you feel? What would you do about that?

You have nothing to lose. Federal Labor will be wiped out at the next election so we have to go for broke. Get off your ass. Write those petitions, paint those placards, organise those community meetings and phone your Labor MP.

Insist on genuine reform. Demand the Tasmanian Model.

About the author

Brian Greig is a former Democrats senator and long term gay rights campaigner