Open Letter

“Roosevelt on discrimination”by AFresh1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

CAAH has initiated this open letter on the ‘right to discriminate’. Please consider adding your name by emailing Cat Rose
catherinerose87@gmail.com

The government has indicated it will introduce a ‘religious freedom’ bill at the beginning of July. There are grave concerns about this (and so should you) because Labor are now looking to support it in the wake of their election loss. Some sections of the LGBTI community are also talking about a possible ‘compromise’ – but there can be no compromises on equality. Either we are equal, or we are not. I have signed: will you?

THE LETTER

We call on the Coalition and Labor to commit to removing all anti-discrimination exemptions that allow religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, and to rule out proposed new exemptions and protections, including in the proposed ‘Religious Discrimination Act’.

Students and workers are currently denied their right to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity at school and work, without risking expulsion, discrimination, or the sack. In particular, because of the current legal situation, many teachers working in religious schools remain closeted. The current ban in many religious schools on being openly LGBTQIA prevents young people from growing up with role models who reflect a cross section of the community, and suggests there is something inherently problematic about us being in contact with young people. In some states and territories, LGBTQIA students and workers in faith based schools are protected from discrimination, this standard should apply on a national basis.

Religious exemptions are not about freedom of religion or speech, they’re about retaining laws that make us second-class citizens, restricting our access to education, employment, and other services. Once again, just like marriage equality, Australia has fallen behind numerous countries that long ago abolished this form of discrimination. Legal permission to discriminate emboldens homophobes and transphobes, signalling that their bigotry is acceptable.

The recent election was not a win for the forces against LGBTQIA equality. In the recent postal survey 133 electorates returned a clear majority in favour of marriage equality. All subsequent polling indicates that even more people support the removal of religious exemptions than marriage equality itself. YouGov polling indicates 79% support removing exemptions for discrimination against staff, and 82% support removing exemptions for discrimination against students. Earlier reports by Equality Australia indicate that even 67% of LNP voters, and 77% of ALP voters support removing these exemptions.

In 2018, the Ruddock Religious Freedom review endorsed the right of religious organisations to expel students and fire LGBTQIA teachers. It explicitly treated us as second class citizens, calling for an end to some exemptions in the law, but not exemptions allowing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. In response to a major community outcry, the Prime Minister committed to end religious discrimination against students before the end of the year. The Opposition Leader of the time made further commitments. Since that time there have been Senate Inquiries in favour of ending religious discrimination, and petitions with over 50,000 signatories submitted to parliament. However, we are still waiting for action from parliament.

The leaders of both major parties should commit to removing all exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, reject any new exemptions including in the proposed Religious Discrimination Act.

To sign this letter email: catherinerose87@gmail.com

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)