The Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) welcomes the results of a recent poll showing that four out of five Australians oppose the right of religious schools to hire and fire staff or expel students because of their sexuality.
The poll, reported in The Guardian, was conducted by YouGov Galaxy on behalf of LGBTI rights lobby group Just Equal. It found that 82% of respondents opposed the expulsion of students from religious schools because of their sexuality, and 78% opposed the expulsion of students because of their gender identification.
It also found that 79% opposed the firing of teachers if they married a same-sex partner, 78% opposed religious schools receiving taxpayer funding if they legally discriminate against LGBTI staff and students, and 69% believed the law should not be changed to allow businesses to refuse services for same-sex weddings.
Lobby Co-Covener Dale Park said, in welcoming the results, “This poll shows us what we already know. Australians want a fairer and more inclusive society, not one in which LGBTI people can be legally discriminated against. Last year, Australians overwhelmingly voted for marriage equality. They voted for change, not further discrimination.”
The YouGov Galaxy poll comes in the lead-up to the release of the report by the Religious Freedom Review’s Expert Panel, chaired by former attorney-general Philip Ruddock. The Review was announced by the prime minister in November last year, and is expected to report at the end of May.
Mr Park said that the federal government needs to heed the negative experiences of those living under discrimination such as Kathy* – a woman who told her story to the Lobby:
Kathy is a teacher in a Catholic school and identifies as a lesbian. However, Kathy lives in fear that her employer will discover her sexual orientation. Kathy does not talk about her personal life with her colleagues or students and avoids social settings that are known to be frequented by same sex attracted patrons.
Kathy had heard of lesbian teachers being discovered holding hands with other women on the street and being sacked. Kathy’s relationships have broken down in the past because her partners do not accept her closeted lifestyle and wish to be able to hold hands in public.
Kathy felt very lucky to secure a teaching role at the school given the difficult employment market for teachers and the long waiting list for jobs in the public school system. She intends to continue to sacrifice her personal life in favour of employment.
Mr Park said that the comments such as those of Denis Hart, the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne and chair of the powerful Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, to threaten to fire staff at Catholic organisations if they married a same-sex partner, represented a major threat to the wellbeing and job security of people like Kathy.
Archbishop Hart gave his public warning in August last year, in the lead-up to the same-sex marriage postal survey. Mr Park also said that it was in light of stories such as Kathy’s that the Lobby had recently launched an online petition addressed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten calling for an end to legal loopholes that allowed religious organisations to legally discriminate.
Earlier this year, Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek stated that Labor has “no plans” to change religious exemptions in discrimination law that allow religious schools to fire teachers based on their sexuality.
“We call on both the federal Government and Opposition to amend the Fair Work Act and end discrimination,” said Mr Park. “In particular, the upcoming ALP National Conference provides a key opportunity for the labour movement to commit to scrapping these loopholes and protecting workers like Kathy from workplace discrimination.”
“There is a very real risk that the Government will use the upcoming Religious Freedom Report to expand these loopholes under the guise of advancing a ‘religious freedom’ to fire workers. With the labour movement standing with us, we can fight off any push to attack LGBTI workers, and to commit to real reform that advances workers’ rights.”
*Kathy name has been changed for privacy and confidentiality