Community Statement calls for end to LGBTI discrimination in the name of religion

Rainbow Church

LGBTI equality advocates have welcomed a community statement calling for an end to laws that allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTI people.

The statement was organised by Community Activists Against Homophobia and was signed by over 100 community organisations, activists and prominent personalities. It comes ahead of Government’s religious discrimination and freedom legislation which advocates fear may undermine discrimination protections for LGBTI people.

“Just as LGBTI Australians did not stand for inequality in marriage, we will not abide attacks on our rights and dignity under the cover of ‘religious freedom’,” said Just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome. “For over twenty years, my home state of Tasmania has prohibited anti-LGBTI discrimination by all religious organisations and anti-LGBTI hate speech in the name of religion, without the sky falling in.”

“I want all LGBTI Australians to have the same level of legally-guaranteed safety and inclusion LGBTI Tasmanians enjoy. We call on both major parties to rule out ‘religious freedom’ being used to undo the gains made with marriage equality, and to commit to removing exemptions in national law that allow discrimination in God’s name.”

Joint Statement on Religious Exemptions:
“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, sex 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 LGBTQIA folk being in contact with young people. In some states and territories, students and workers in faith based schools are protected from discrimination regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender expression, 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 people second-class citizens, restricting 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 discrimination, particularly funded by government grants, emboldens homophobes, transphobes and intersexphobes, 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 this minority groupas 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, sex or gender identity, and rule out any new exemptions in the proposed Religious Discrimination Act.

“When LGBTI people face discrimination and hatred, God weeps,” said National PFLAG spokesperson, Shelley Argent OAM. “The Bible should never be used as a weapon of abuse against anyone, including LGBTI people. When some religious leaders talk about ‘religious freedom’ what they mean is maintaining their power and privilege to disadvantage and vilify our LGBTI children.”

“As parents of LGBTI people we are determined to foster a society where everyone has equal rights and protections. That means not allowing discrimination and hate speech across the board, including by people who say they speak in the name of God.”

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