The Australian Christian Lobby has labelled the issue of discrimination against LGBTI students at religious schools an “illusory problem” in evidence given at a Senate inquiry into legislation to protect students.

Two representatives of the ACL, Christopher Brohier and John Steenhof, spoke at the committee hearing in Sydney last Thursday alongside representatives of the Australian Family Association and the Australian Family Coalition, Hansard transcripts show.

 “In a pattern that’s becoming familiar, activists have confected an outrage to push for legislation to address an illusory problem,” Steenhof said.

“No religious schools are expelling students who identify as same-sex attracted or who experience gender dysphoria.

“This is not some epidemic of gays being expelled. Rather than responding to a pressing social need, this bill, we view, has been proposed in support of a long-term political strategy advanced by a vocal minority.”

The Australian Family Association’s Terri Kelleher complained about programs like Safe Schools, saying she had received “calls from parents concerned about the effect on their children and family of curricula, programs, lessons and classroom activities that presume a world view of sex and relationships that’s not in accord with their beliefs and convictions in such matters.”

“The world view that I’m talking about is that a person’s gender is how they feel—more masculine or more feminine—that it may differ from biological sex, that it’s fluid and can change, and that a person can change their gender, which really means sex—that is, a boy can be trapped in a girl’s body and can transition or change sex to be a girl, or vice versa,” she said.

Kelleher went on to say that “faith based schools, in particular, are the ground zero of a battle that is taking place over the hearts, minds and bodies of our children” and that if “the gender-fluid worldview is effectively mandated in the government sector, then faith based schools will have no exemptions to teach their beliefs of the biological worldview and it will be almost impossible for parents to pass on their beliefs and values to their own child or children.”

Kelleher hosted a presentation against marriage equality in 2016 at which booklets distributed by US-based hate group MassResistance were passed around, which linked the legalisation of same-sex marriage to a large increase in HIV transmissions and instances of domestic violence.

Damien Wyld, formerly of anti-marriage equality campaign group Marriage Alliance which has since rebranded as anti-trans organisation Binary Australia, also gave evidence on behalf of the Australian Family Coalition.

For his part, Wyld called the bill a response to “a manufactured crisis”, saying “there is no widespread endemic problem that this bill seeks to address.”

Senator Louise Pratt asked the ACL, AFA and AFC representatives how they include LGBTI Christians who deviate from their more fundamental beliefs.

“I just have one question for all three organisations,” Pratt said.

“I want to ask, in particular, the Christian Lobby: how do you include the views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Christians, and others who don’t conform in their belief to traditional beliefs about gender and sexuality but nevertheless identify very strongly as Christians?”

“I think you’ve got to take a step back. You have a situation where you have certain faith based schools that have been set up with certain doctrinal statements. They are there and they’re operating,” Brohier said.

“It’s quite legitimate for me to ask about the nature of your organisation and where it comes from, just in the same way that you might construe people who are interested in these issues—who might, in fact, be Christians of faith who are lesbian and gay—to be activists or something like that,” Pratt responded.

“It’s quite legitimate for me to ask you about how you include, or if you seek to include at all, the views of LGBTI Christians in determining the submission and the values of and the position put by the Australian Christian Lobby or the Australian Family Association or the Australian Family Coalition. That’s my only question.”

“Respectfully, that’s irrelevant to this inquiry. This inquiry–” Brohier said, before Pratt interjected.

“If you don’t, that’s fine–”

“I’m answering your question, Senator; let me finish. This inquiry is about this bill, and it’s about an educational context. Your question is irrelevant,” Brohier said.

“I can take it, therefore, that you don’t,” Pratt replied.

The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee was due to table its report following the hearings today, but Chair Ian Macdonald – who came under fire for some of his questioning during the hearings – last week requested an extension to February 12.

The report is now due to be tabled in the Senate tomorrow, with debate over the bill itself set to resume in the House of Representatives this week.

You can read more of the evidence given at Thursday’s hearings in Sydney by clicking here.

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