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Protecting our rights
with Justin Koonin
NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby
Public hearings for the federal Senate inquiry into the governments proposed new anti-discrimination laws were held in Melbourne and Sydney last week, and events of the last fortnight have made it abundantly clear how sorely needed these laws are.
Last week Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) candidate Tess Corbett made headlines for attempting to draw connections between gay and lesbian people and paedophiles, while her compatriot tweeted support and claimed that he would not gay people teaching his children.
The week before, Parramatta Lord Mayor John Chedid made the news when one of his advisors asked Twenty10 to remove banners promoting the support organisation, which were deemed “offensive”.
These are not isolated examples of homophobia and transphobia.
Over the past few weeks, in preparation for the Senate inquiry, we have collected hundreds of stories of bullying, vilification, physical assault and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – from teachers, café workers, patients seeking healthcare, school children and members of the Australian community accessing essential services funded by the government.
Encouragingly, the public response to each of the events publicised above has been overwhelming – Tess Corbett was forced to step down as a candidate, Bernard Gaynor was suspended from the KAP, and Lord Major Chedid offered a written apology to Twenty10 after an online petition urging him to do so collected 12 000 signatures.
If passed, the new laws will protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time at a federal level.
It is very likely, however, that exemptions will remain allowing religious organisations to discriminate, if not doing so would cause “injury to religious sensitivities”.
As the Bill currently reads, the only exception to this is in the provision of aged care services, which is consistent with the government’s new National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable and may not have choice over the aged care services they receive.
However, the decision to remove aged-care services from the ambit of exemptions, and not other services, including health, education, disability, and social services – which also deal with vulnerable people – is somewhat arbitrary.
At a minimum, religious organisations should not be able to discriminate in the provision of goods and services. Indeed, the exemptions should be narrower than this – but both sides of parliament seem reluctant to move on further this issue in the current climate.
Clearly there is more work to do, and you can help. If you have experienced discrimination on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you can share your story here.
You can also support the work of the GLRL through the Mardi Gras season by volunteering, or marching with us in the parade. Come to our information session on Thursday 31st January, 6.30pm at the GLRL offices. More details here.
We look forward to seeing you there!