Last week I was lobbying federal politicians with a simple ask – don’t allow more discrimination against LGBTQI people in the name of “religious freedom.”
I was there with PFLAG spokesperson Shelley Argent, and PFLAG dad Geoff Thomas. Their message was the same – don’t allow religions the privilege to disadvantage and demean LGBTQI people.
It was clear the Government isn’t really listening. It intends to go ahead with a religious discrimination bill that may include provisions rolling back LGBTQI discrimination protections.
It will also push through amendments to existing federal marriage law, charities laws and discrimination laws that will infringe on our existing rights. The backlash against marriage equality is in full swing.
Just as demoralising was a lack of courage and purpose in Labor ranks.
Some Labor members are fired up about protecting existing discrimination laws. After all, these laws are largely a Labor legacy. But others have no strategy or no heart for sandbagging equal rights against a rising tide of prejudice.
Others still just don’t see what Labor has to gain from making a fuss about something they believe (without a shred of evidence) will further alienate religious voters in Western Sydney.
The situation is uncannily like 2004 when John Howard pushed the same-sex marriage ban through parliament with Labor’s help because of fears over what “Western Sydney” would think.
So, what can we do to shore up support and prevent the worst?
These arguments seemed to have an impact on Labor, independent and cross bench members, and some moderate Liberal backbenchers:
-anti-discrimination and hate speech laws have fostered a more inclusive Australia
-“religious freedom” is a euphemism for weakening these laws and means special rights and privileges to discriminate against the vulnerable
-LGBTQI people are the obvious target but so are women, unmarried couples, single parents, people with disabilities and religious minorities
-states with strong discrimination and hate speech laws risk being overridden by federal legislation
-polls shows the majority of people of faith support an end to discrimination in the name of faith
-the relentless “religious freedom” debate is impacting badly on LGBTQI mental health, and there must be more consultation with the LGBTQI community
These messages indicate the path our campaigning should take: LGBTQI people must ally with others who will be affected; the states with stronger laws must work together; mental health experts must speak out; and we must all put maximum pressure on Labor, the cross bench and other allies to take a stand.
Please join a rally in your capital city. There are several in the coming weeks.
Please call and email your federal members of Parliament with the message of “no more discrimination and no more hate.”
This “religious freedom” movement arose in the US and is further advanced there. Almost half of US states have religious freedom laws that allow services to be denied to LGBTQI people in a way that resembles a new type of segregation.
It’s as if, in the wake of the emancipation that came with marriage equality, our American LGBTQI siblings are suffering their own version of Jim Crow.
We have an opportunity to learn from the American experience. We can see the dark road down which “religious freedom” takes a nation and we can pull Australia back on to the path of inclusion and equality.
But the LGBTQI community can no longer rely on many of the powerful allies who joined us towards the end of the long marriage equality campaign.
We must take our destiny into our own hands. We must be strong, patient, kind, resolute and, above all, uncompromising.
There can be no concessions like there were in the 2017 marriage legislation.
We must not make ourselves a “small target” like we did in the postal survey campaign, throwing LGBTQI students, transgender people and LGBTQI people of faith under the bus.
We must never again seek to appease prejudice or negotiate with hate. That approach empowered the religious right, instead of stopping it.
The LGBTI community and our allies forged a nation that voted “Yes” for marriage equality out of love, courage and honesty.
Never doubt we can do it again, this time evoking from our fellow Australians a final “No” to all discrimination.
Rodney Croome is a spokesperson for just.equal and Equality Tasmania