Labor MP Stephen Jones on Tuesday delivered a powerful speech against Scott Morrison’s Religious Discrimination Bill and its potential to harm gay and trans students in faith-based schools.

Trigger Warning: This story discusses self harm and suicide, which might be distressing to some readers. For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

Jones paid tribute to his 15-year-old gay nephew Ollie, who took his own life last week. The MP for Whitlam also asked Parliamentarians to step into the “heels” of his son.

Jones started his speech with the misplaced priorities of the Morrison government. “There are 10 sitting days remaining in the 46th parliament. There is a crisis in our aged care system. Hundreds of Australians are dying in understaffed, underfunded homes and yet this government is doing nothing about it,” Jones said, and pointed to the government’s failure to set up a federal anti-corruption commission.

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“These are the matters we should be focusing on in the final weeks of this parliament. Instead we are debating a bill which pleases no one,” the MP said.

Jones said that while he supports freedom of religion and strengthening laws to protect religious freedom, the government has not brought a law to protect children.

Family Tragedy

The MP said that it was not just an “academic” issue for him and revealed a family tragedy.

“Last week my family said farewell to my nephew Ollie. He was just 15 when he took his own life. He was a beautiful, creative, courageous young man. He was loved and accepted by his parents, brothers and friends. His mum and dad are in anguish. We all are.”

“He was gay. He was uncertain about his gender and struggled with his mental health. Now he is gone and we will no longer be able to love him and support him on his journey throughout life. Clearly the love and acceptance of his family and friends was not enough,” said Jones.

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He then when on to speak about his own son. “My own son is also a beautiful, creative, intelligent 14-year-old. He designs and makes clothes, is a gifted makeup artist, moves seamlessly between the wardrobes of men and women. He wears heels that give me vertigo and has more handbags than his sister.”

‘I Worry For My Son’

“He has more courage than any boy I have met. He swims against the tide. I love and support him unconditionally and brag about his talents to whoever will listen,” the proud father said, but added about how he worries for his son.

“But I worry myself sick every time he leaves the house. I know that the love and protection that he enjoys with his mother, with his friends and family is very different to the reception he may receive in the world outside. Could this be the day when we get a call telling us that something has happened? That he has been attacked just for being who he is?”

“This is about my kids, but it’s not … this is about the families and every child who has the courage to swim against the tide just to be themselves,” Jones said.

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Jones asked the Prime Minister and Parliamentarians to consider the impact the contentious Religious Discrimination Bill will have on young children.

‘Step Into Their Heels’

“I’d ask the prime minister and every other member in this place to put themselves in the shoes of the parents or the heels of their kids as they step out in public. What message do we want to this parliament to send to these kids. Are they as loved and cherished and respected as every other kid? Surely we aren’t saying to them – it’s OK if you are gay … Just as long as we can’t see it.”

“Because the thing that every parent of every gay or trans kid knows is that the love and protection that we provide for them inside our homes and families is not enough.”

Jones reflected on what it means to be an Australian today. “It’s not easy crafting a national story that includes us all – but that’s our job. And that national story must have a place for all of us and all our kids – how we imagine them. But more importantly how they are. If a young kid has the courage to be themselves and own their identity – the least, the very least we can do is say “welcome”.”

“There have been too many funerals and too many grieving families. We have in our gift the power to do something,” said Jones, and urged his fellow MPs:  “Let’s not let it (Religious Discrimination Bill) pass.”

 

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

 

 

 

 

 

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