National spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Australia, Shelley Argent, is asking who will protect the LGBTIQ community, after the Coalition Government released its controversial Religious Discrimination Bill on Thursday.
In a statement in response to the draft bill, the 2011 Queensland Senior Australian of the Year criticised the government’s failure to protect LGBTIQ community members by allowing religious organisations to discriminate.
“As national spokesperson for [PFLAG}, I ask ‘Who will protect them, our sons and daughters? What are their rights?” Argent wrote.
“We hear about the needs of the religious, but what about their freedoms and the negative impacts on those who they consider to be against God, Allah etc. for their own reasons?”
Argent further castigated conservative individuals and groups who condone the use of religion as a “weapon” to discriminate.
“Shame on this government and anyone else who condones discrimination, especially in the name of God and who uses the Bible as a weapon of abuse.
“There is already enough abuse in churches – just ask the ministers and priests already in jail. Now the government wants to legalise more abuse. Shame on them.”
The Religious Discrimination Bill, overseen by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter, was released at the Great Synagogue in Sydney this week.
LGBTIQ community advocates have expressed concerns that religious conservatives were pushing for the bill to go further, enabling unmitigated discrimination against LGBTIQ individuals.
Argent listed the implications of the bill for the LGBTIQ community and condemned former Wallabies star and staunch Christian Israel Folau for his ongoing battle with Rugby Australia over anti-LGBTIQ posts made to his Instagram in April.
“It seems to me the likes of Israel Folau will now have free rein with his words, and healthcare will be able to be refused if health care practitioners do not agree with [LGBTIQ individuals’] lifestyle or needs,” she said.
“LGBTIQ people will be able to be ostracised and insulted by work colleagues because Christians will be permitted free speech, which will amount to hate speech, all in the name of religion.”
In her wide-ranging statement, Argent also slammed the Federal Government for its plans to weaken state discrimination legislation.
“Worse still, the Commonwealth is planning on watering down state legislation that protects minorities from abuse and discrimination. What message does that give to our young people?” she asked.
“First, it tells our children they are inferior and it tells others that it’s open season on our children.
“I am calling on Mr Albanese, Mr Di Natalie and cross-benchers to not comply with blatant discrimination from right-wing religious individuals and groups.
“This is not the Australia I grew up in.”
Argent became one of Australia’s most prominent LGBTIQ activists after her son told her he was gay in 1995.
Determined that her son not be considered a second-class citizen, Argent has fought for her son’s rights as an LGBTIQ lobbyist and activist for over 20 years.
Argent has enshrined her experiences in her new book Just a Mum, detailing not only her life’s work but also the histories and important moments of the fight for LGBTIQ rights in Australia.
Meanwhile, in related news, a rally will be held today at 1pm (Saturday, 31 August) outside the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne to oppose the draft Religious Discrimination Bill.
The just.equal group has also launched a survey to gauge the impact of the current debates on religious discrimination and trans issues. The survey can be found online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/JustEqual.