28 Reasons to Vote Yes on Marriage Equality

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  1. Vote yes on marriage equality because love does not discriminate, and neither should the Marriage Act

 

  1. Vote yes for the tens of thousands of LGBTIQ Australian couples who are waiting for the opportunity to marry in front of family members and friends – just like anybody else

 

  1. And for other LGBTIQ couples who don’t want to get married, but who deserve the right to make that decision for themselves and not have it imposed upon them by the Parliament

 

  1. Vote yes out of respect for the couples where one or both have died over the past 13 years without being allowed to marry the love of their life[i]

 

  1. And to stop this same fate being experienced by other couples in the future

 

  1. Vote yes because no-one should be forced to divorce their spouse in order to have their gender identity recognised under the law[ii]

 

  1. Vote yes because a good marriage is based on the content of your characters, not your sex characteristics[iii]

 

  1. Vote yes to make it easier for LGBTIQ Australians to prove their relationships, especially when it matters most[iv]

 

  1. Vote yes to recognise the marriages of thousands of LGBTIQ Australians that already exist, having wed overseas

 

  1. And to ensure that, when some of those relationships break down, they are able to divorce[v]

 

  1. Vote yes so that all members of a family are treated exactly the same under the law

 

  1. Vote yes so that parents, and grandparents, and brothers and sisters, are able to attend the weddings of their family members

 

  1. And so that the children of rainbow families can attend the weddings of their parents

 

  1. Vote yes for all of the lesbian grandmas, gay uncles, bi aunts, trans nephews and intersex nieces, and queer cousins

 

  1. Vote yes if you think that your child should be able to marry whoever they want to when they grow up

 

  1. Vote yes if you think that every child should be able to marry whoever they want to when they grow up

 

  1. Vote yes on marriage equality for your friends

 

  1. And your colleagues

 

  1. And your teammates

 

  1. And your neighbours, and all of the LGBTIQ people in your community

 

  1. Vote yes for the many young LGBTIQ Australians still struggling to comes to terms with who they are, wondering whether they are accepted

 

  1. And for older LGBTIQ Australians who have experienced a lifetime of discrimination

 

  1. Vote yes for every LGBTIQ Australian, to show them that they are not lesser and should not be treated as lesser under the Marriage Act

 

  1. Vote yes because you are LGBTIQ yourself and this is a matter of pride

 

  1. Vote yes because you believe in a fair go for all, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics

 

  1. Vote yes because you think Australia can be a better, fairer and more inclusive country

 

  1. And because you want to help make Australia a better, fairer and more inclusive country

 

  1. Vote yes on marriage equality because all love is equal, and it’s time we changed the law to reflect that.

 

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Two final points:

 

If you are reading this before Thursday 24 August, please check your enrolment here, and if you’re not enrolled to vote, please enrol here.

 

And if you need help to have conversations about marriage equality with family members, friends, co-workers, teammates and others in your community, check out the helpful resources of the Equality Campaign here.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Like long-term LGBTIQ rights campaigners Peter and Bon, who were together for half a century, with Bon passing away earlier this year after having pleaded with Malcolm Turnbull to allow them to marry before he died – a plea that was ignored.

[ii] Australia was criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee earlier this year because of its policy of forced trans divorce. Find out more here.

[iii] To find out more about how discrimination in the Marriage Act affects people with intersex traits, see OII Australia’s submission to the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016.

[iv] Tragically, Tasmanian Ben Jago was unable to bury his de facto partner, or even attend his funeral, after his premature death (see this piece in the Guardian). While such discrimination is already unlawful, being married would make these situations far less common.

[v] Australia has also been criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee because of its failure to allow LGBTIQ couples that have married overseas to be able to divorce when those relationships break down. Find out more here.

7 things we need to do now

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At the end of a long week – which felt more like a month, and frankly had a year’s worth of ups and (mostly) downs – it’s time to take stock, and work out what we do next.

 

Thankfully, there are now two challenges to the Government’s pseudo postal plebiscite (aka the Australian Bureau of Statistics ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’), which will be heard by the High Court on September 5 and 6.

 

However, while we might hope for the best – that the judiciary finds this extraordinary and unprecedented process to be an unconstitutional abuse of executive power – we must also prepare ourselves for the worst.

 

In that context, I offer the following seven suggestions of how we should respond to Malcolm Turnbull’s supposed statistical survey:

 

  1. Enrol

 

The Government has already announced that, in order to participate in the ‘plebiscite’, you must be on the electoral roll by 6pm on Thursday 24 August.

 

So, the most immediate thing you need to do is:

 

  • Check your enrolment here.

 

  • If you aren’t enrolled, enrol to vote here.

 

Even if you are currently intending to boycott the ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’, you might end up changing your mind in the coming weeks and months, so please update your enrolment now and leave your options open in September and October.

 

  1. Engage

 

This step is harder than the first, especially when emotions are understandably running high and we feel that the process that has been inflicted upon us is incredibly unfair (because it is). But that doesn’t mean the pseudo postal plebiscite is necessarily going away either.

 

Which means we need to engage, with our family members (including extended family), our friends, our colleagues, our peers, basically anyone and everyone we have connections with, to encourage them to support the fight for equality.

 

Of course, there are limits to this ask. Don’t engage with trolls, or with people who show they are unwilling to genuinely engage with you (neither group is worth your time). And don’t engage where you don’t feel comfortable, and above all, safe in doing so.

 

But, please have these conversations wherever and whenever you can, because that’s how we remind people who are already on our side what they need to do, and how we persuade the people who have yet to make up their minds.

 

  1. Educate

 

This step, which is related to number two, is much more difficult again. It is hard when the decision by the Turnbull Coalition Government to hold this pseudo postal plebiscite has already politicised every minute, every hour and every day of our lives – politicised our mere existence – until this farce is over.

 

And there’s no denying the perennial problem that in struggles for justice, the burden of educating the oppressors falls disproportionately on the oppressed (when people should instead bear responsibility for educating themselves).

 

Nevertheless, there will still be many opportunities in the months ahead for genuine education. To provide information to people who may not have thought about LGBTIQ issues before. To answer questions from those who don’t know a lot about us, or our relationships, but who show a sincere desire to learn.

 

Of course, for many in our community, for different reasons, this task is not something they are willing or able to do – and that’s totally okay. And for anyone who does decide to engage in these discussions, you should always remember that your personal information is yours, and you should only disclose as much as you feel comfortable. Nobody has a ‘right’ to know everything about you.

 

But for those of us who are in a position to have these conversations, we should. And if you need help getting started, Australian Marriage Equality/The Equality Campaign have produced a number of useful resources (including translations into Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hindi, Greek, Italian, and Spanish).

 

  1. Vote

 

We’ve reached the fourth step on my list, and the third most important: to vote (and obviously to vote yes).

 

Before I start, I’d like to say to anyone who is currently considering boycotting the pseudo postal plebiscite that I completely understand where you’re coming from. It is a bullshit process, imposed for bullshit reasons. It is inherently offensive to LGBTIQ people; it is insulting, and demeaning, to our relationships.

 

In fact, the decision by Liberal and National MPs and Senators to adopt a supposed statistical survey on marriage equality made me even more angry, and frustrated, about a subject that I thought had exhausted my reserves of both. Despite all this, I have decided that I will vote, and I urge you to do the same, for the following reasons:

 

a) Most LGBTIQ people think we should

 

Before the Government’s appalling actions this week, PFLAG and just.equal conducted a survey of 5,261 LGBTI Australians to ascertain their views about a possible postal vote, and how we should respond as a community.

 

Only 15.2% thought we should boycott such a vote, with more than half publicly opposed to a postal ballot but prepared to win it if it’s held. And, even though that survey was conducted based on a hypothetical, and the subsequent reality might have changed the depth of our feelings, I don’t think it has altered our thinking.

 

b) Most LGBTIQ community organisations think we should

 

For people who have been engaged in LGBTIQ advocacy for a while, it’s no secret we sometimes don’t play well together. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that nearly all major community organisations have come out in the past 24-48 hours to say that, while they oppose the pseudo postal plebiscite, they will fight to win it.

 

How ironic that Malcolm Turnbull’s divisive debate, that will cause such disharmony across Australian society, could end up being a powerful unifying moment within the LGBTIQ community itself.

 

c) Pragmatic politics

 

There are several political reasons why we should vote, including the obvious one: that a yes vote offers the best chance (albeit no guarantee) of marriage equality being passed this year. A significant yes majority will also diminish the influence of the groups that oppose LGBTIQ rights, like the Australian Christian Lobby, not just on this topic but across all issues.

 

But, even if we lose (which is a real possibility, given a voluntary postal opinion poll has significant flaws, and skews towards older, more conservative voters, effectively stacking the decks against us), the closer the loss the easier it will be for Labor and the Greens to introduce marriage equality in future.

 

d) Personal

 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a strong personal motivation to campaign for equality: the desire to finally marry my fiancé of seven and a half years. However, as much as I love Steven – and trust me, it’s a lot – he’s not the reason I will be voting, and voting yes.

 

Teenage Alastair is. Who realised he was gay on his first day at a religious boarding school in Brisbane in 1991. Who took about a month to understand just how homophobic his surrounding environment was, and became depressed. Who, from the second term of year 8, until the final term of year 12, thought about ending his life every day, multiple times a day, because he feared he would never find acceptance for who he was.

 

Alastair aged 12 to 17 probably wouldn’t have understood the ethical reasons why some people in the LGBTIQ community might have wanted to boycott a supposed statistical survey. But he definitely would have understood the message of a large no victory: that his country was explicitly rejecting him, and anyone like him.

 

So, I’m voting for him.

 

Many of us have been that person. Most of us know someone who has been through something similar. All of us can empathise with what that fear, that isolation, that loneliness, feels like. So let’s stand up for all of them – including those who tragically didn’t make it – and vote yes.

 

  1. Take Care of Yourself

 

We already know that, if the pseudo postal plebiscite is not rejected by the High Court, the next four months are going to be awful. There will be misinformation, and outright lies, spread against us by those who wish to do us harm. Indeed, their hate-based campaign has already started – so much for the Prime Minister’s so-called #respectfuldebate.

 

We should not underestimate the impact that this battle will have on all of us, or the fact it will disproportionately affect the more vulnerable groups within the LGBTIQ community itself (including young people, trans and gender diverse people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people and rainbow families and their children).

 

Throughout this process, we must all take care of ourselves.

 

There are services in place that can help if you need it, including:

 

  • QLife, the national telephone and web counselling service for LGBTI people, families and friends. Call 1800 184 527, 3pm to midnight everyday.

 

 

For a longer list of the support services available to LGBTIQ+ community, see this article by SBS.

 

Beyond these formal services, however, there are plenty of other ways to practice self-care, and self-love, during this time. If you need to talk to someone, reach out to your friends and other people in your life. If you are finding yourself negatively affected by the public debate and/or social media, switch off. If you have to take a break from the campaign, do – drop out for as long as you need.

 

For other tips on what you can do to take care of yourself, see the helpful info-graphic produced by ACON at the end of this article. If you are a member of an LGBTIQ family, you can also check out this handy guide produced by Rainbow Families. And if you are aware of, or come across, other useful resources, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below.

 

  1. And Each Other

 

The other, equally important, part of this equation is to look out for, and take care of, each other.

 

It is difficult to imagine a process that causes more damage, or has the prospect for greater division, than the three-month long, voluntary, non-binding ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’ designed by the Turnbull Government.

 

Indeed, that may have been the intention of some of those who advocated this option. At best, Coalition MPs and Senators have shown that they are completely indifferent to the harm the pseudo postal plebiscite will cause the LGBTIQ community.

 

They don’t care about us. So we must care about each other.

 

Be pro-active. Check in with the people around you to see they are okay. If you notice someone struggling, ask how they’re going, give them a call, have a cup of tea, offer a helping hand – or a shoulder to cry on.

 

Over recent decades, the LGBTIQ community has had to endure many challenges, to show resilience in the face of adversity. We need to do so again now.

 

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These last two steps – Take Care of Yourself. And Each Other – aren’t just the catchphrase of a trashy 90s talk-show host. They are also the two most important things we need to do in the coming weeks and months. Because while winning this vote, and achieving marriage equality, might be important, we – the members of the LGBTIQ community – are more important.

 

Before I finish, however, there is one last point that I need to make:

 

  1. Allies – It’s time to step up

 

I still remember early last year (although it seems longer) standing in front of a room full of mostly-cisgender, heterosexual activists and asking them for their help to win ‘Plebiscite 1.0’ – because the LGBTIQ community could not possibly win it on our own.

 

Well, that plea is just as relevant, probably even more so, for ‘Plebiscite 2.0’, especially with the challenges of voluntary postal voting, and an overall process engineered to benefit the side of those opposed to marriage equality.

 

If you consider yourself an ally of the LGBTIQ community, it’s time to step up. If you are a family member, friend, colleague or peer of an LGBTIQ person, it’s time to get involved.

 

Enrol. Engage and Educate (and, if you need to, educate yourselves). Vote, and encourage others to vote, too. I also have no doubt it will be an awful experience for many of you to see the trauma inflicted on the LGBTIQ people close to you – so look after them, as well as yourselves.

 

Most importantly, stand with us, by our sides, in this battle. Sit with us, and listen to us, if we ask you to. And fight for us, because we need you to.

 

And, if you’re not convinced by me, listen to the excellent advice of the even more excellent GetUp marriage equality campaigner, Sally Rugg:

 

“If you have ever put a rainbow filter on your Facebook profile picture, return your ballot paper the day you receive it.

 

If you have a friend, a family member or a co-worker who is LGBTIQ+, return your ballot paper the day you receive it.

 

If you have ever cringed at the words “one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” at a wedding, return your ballot paper the day you receive it…

 

The postal plebiscite will be won or lost on how allies of the LGBTIQ+ community step up over the next two months.”

 

Over to you.

 

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2,756 Days. Frustration and Love.

It’s five o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting on a bus leaving Sydney, and I finally have some time to process the extraordinary events of the past few days.

 

It really is hard to put into words just how devastating, heart-breaking and frankly appalling the actions of the Liberal Party room on Monday evening, and Turnbull Coalition Government yesterday, have been.

 

First, was the devastating decision not to adopt a conscience vote on marriage equality, but to instead push once more for a ‘traditional’ plebiscite.

 

That’s the same unnecessary and wasteful non-binding opinion poll that was rejected by the Senate in November 2016, at the request of LGBTI Australians, because of the harm it will inevitably cause young and vulnerable members of our community.

 

It is no exaggeration to say that lives could be lost as a direct result of the extreme, hateful, hurtful bigotry that would accompany any such vote.

 

Second, was the heart-breaking decision that, even if the Senate once again rejects the legislation for a ‘traditional’ plebiscite (as it appears highly likely to do), the Government will attempt to hold a ‘postal’ plebiscite on the issue.

 

A ‘postal’ plebiscite has all of the disadvantages of a ‘traditional’ plebiscite, plus a few more of its own, including that it will be voluntary rather than compulsory to participate, it will disenfranchise large sections of the community, including young Australians (as even Malcolm Turnbull conceded, about the last one held twenty years ago) and, without legislation to give it effect, is constitutionally doubtful.

 

Which brings me to the third, and perhaps worst, decision of all – that they now intend to hold it as a ‘statistical survey’ conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, rather than an actual vote overseen by the Australian Electoral Commission.

 

This ‘pseudo postal plebiscite’ is nothing more than a naked attempt to circumvent not just the will of the Parliament, but also the legitimate limitations of the Constitution.

 

Thankfully, multiple groups campaigning for marriage equality have already indicated they are seeking legal advice before potentially challenging this postal plebiscite-in-all-but-name in the High Court. Here’s hoping they are successful, and that this bad joke of a policy is stopped before it starts to wreak its damage.

 

These three decisions, taken together, reveal the absolute contempt that some members of the Liberal and National Parties have for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

No other group has ever been subjected to this kind of process merely for the chance of being treated equally under secular law. No other group has ever been expected to jump through these ridiculous hoops just to have their human rights recognised.

 

Of course, in a debate that is about symbolism as much as it is about substance, it isn’t just the process they have chosen to adopt that is offensive – it is the way in which they have carried on the debate, a depressing mixture of denial, inconvenience and frustration.

 

Denial that marriage equality is an issue that is important to everyday Australians (it is). Denial that LGBTI couples, our families and friends exist in every electorate across the country (we do).

 

And denial that access to marriage rites is a fundamental right (it is – and if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many Coalition MPs and Senators who have chosen to exercise that rite, and right, themselves).

 

It seems like many in the Liberal and National Parties find the entire marriage equality debate, and the ongoing demands of LGBTI Australians for equality under the law, to be terribly inconvenient (I’m sure there are some who probably find the mere existence of LGBTI people to be inconvenient too, but that is a topic for another time).

 

It is as if they are somehow ‘hard done by’ just by being forced to consider this issue, and wish it would all go away (here’s a newsflash for those MPs and Senators who mustn’t have been paying attention until now – we will not go away until we are truly equal, and we will keep on making ourselves as ‘inconvenient’ as possible in the meantime).

 

Then there are those, like Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who have actually said, out loud, that they are ‘frustrated’ by this issue, and frustrated by the fact they cannot spend their time talking about ‘more important issues’.

 

Frustrated? Are you f#$%ing serious?

 

With all due respect, they have absolutely no idea what frustration about this subject feels like.

 

Frustration is being a member of the LGBTI community, and having your human rights, your dignity and your worth as a person publicly debated, year after year, with no apparent resolution in sight.

 

Frustration is being the family member or friend of LGBTI couples, wanting nothing more than to celebrate the wedding of your loved ones, but being denied that ability because of the ongoing, unjustifiable and inexcusable inaction of Commonwealth Parliamentarians.

 

Frustration is me typing this, on day two thousand, seven hundred and fifty-six of my engagement to my fiancé Steve, and still having no idea when we will finally be able to ‘tie the knot’.

 

We have been engaged now for more than seven and a half years (it bears repeating, for the benefit of those MPs and Senators who think that marriage equality is a hypothetical issue, one that doesn’t affect the lives of real people).

 

In that time, we have been involved in campaigns to change the ALP platform to support marriage equality (which was won almost six years ago), and to adopt a binding vote (partially won, coming into effect at the next federal election).

 

We spent the better part of twelve months fighting against ‘Plebiscite 1.0’, even though it could have meant us marrying sooner, because the recognition of our relationship as adults was not worth the harm it threatened to LGBTI young people, and the children of rainbow families.

 

We could not stomach the thought of saying ‘I do’, while knowing the pain that would have been inflicted on 15-year olds around the country, just like 15-year old Steve and Alastair had once been, in order to for us to walk down the aisle.

 

And, just when we thought the marriage equality debate in this country couldn’t go any lower, it reaches a new nadir, with ‘Plebiscite 2.0’ (or a postal plebiscite, or a ‘pseudo postal plebiscite’ dressed up as a supposed statistical survey).

 

Whatever it is called, we’ll fight it too – to stop it from happening, and if it does proceed, to win it. Because, no matter how tired we are, we must.

 

The worst part of all of this is that it is a completely unnecessary battle, imposed upon us by a Government that refuses to do its job – by voting on legislation, in Parliament – but instead shirks, and outsources, its basic responsibilities.

 

Indeed, today could have been the day that a Bill to introduce marriage equality, one that stood a decent chance of success, was finally introduced into the House of Representatives.

 

That would have been a lovely way for Steve and I to celebrate nine years of being together (did I forget to mention that we first met on this day way back in 2008?)

 

Instead, we’ll remember our anniversary as the day the Turnbull Government reintroduced the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill in the Senate, its latest attempt to delay, and if possible derail, the equal treatment of our love.

 

Of course, despite that personal indignity, there is another date, and another anniversary, this week that is far, far more depressing.

 

This coming Sunday it will be 13 years since the Senate approved the Howard Government’s original ban on marriage equality, on August 13 2004.

 

The passing of a law the sole aim of which was to treat LGBTI people and our relationships as lesser than other Australians was unconscionable.

 

The fact that, today, the Marriage Act 1961 continues to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics is unconscionable.

 

That MPs and Senators in successive Parliaments have failed to take action to remove this stain from our statute books, meaning that many, many couples have died while waiting for the ability to wed, is unconscionable – and unforgivable.

 

And the fact that, through its actions, the Turnbull Government apparently wants nothing more than to unnecessarily prolong the engagements of couples of Steve and me, and to ensure all LGBTI Australians endure as much vitriol as possible in the meantime, is completely unconscionable too.

 

**********

 

It is now almost 8am and the bus will soon be pulling into Canberra, where I will be spending the next three days at a conference just across the lake from our institutions of Government.

 

From a Parliament, and Senate, that I hope will reject the reintroduced legislation to hold a traditional plebiscite.

 

From an Executive that will respond by pushing ahead with a ‘pseudo postal plebiscite’, a mean and tricky proposal that will cause serious and sustained injury to young and vulnerable members of the LGBTI community, and waste $122 million in the process.

 

And from a Judiciary who I hope will find this entire farce to be unconstitutional.

 

Like many in the LGBTI community, I know I am going to find today to be incredibly challenging, just like yesterday was and the day before – and probably tomorrow, and the weeks and months ahead too.

 

But I am going to try my best to spend the rest of today thinking about Steve, and our relationship, and not the parliamentarians who wish to do us harm.

 

Because I love him with all my heart. Because the last nine years have undeniably been the best years of my life.

 

And because one day I will marry him. It won’t be on day 2,756 of our engagement. It probably won’t be on day 3,000 either. But it will happen, and there is nothing, and nobody, who I will let stand in our way.

 

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Steve & I at one of the many marriage equality rallies we’ve attended over the years. We’ll keep fighting until it’s won.

 

Marriage equality or marriage discrimination – a simple test

Based on media coverage over the past few days, it now seems possible that Commonwealth Parliament will – finally – hold a free vote in coming weeks on the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians to marry.

 

Of course, it is just as likely (perhaps even more likely) that the Turnbull Government will instead decide to hold a non-binding, voluntary postal vote on the subject, but that unnecessary, wasteful, divisive and downright offensive proposal is a subject for another day.

 

What I wanted to write about today is the kind of legislation that might ultimately be voted upon.

 

Because, amidst the understandable excitement of activists and advocates, the LGBTI community, our family members and friends, indeed all Australians who believe in fairness and the right of all people to marry the person they love, that progress might be imminent, we must not overlook a fundamental question:

 

Is it marriage equality, or is it marriage discrimination?

 

That is, does the Bill treat LGBTI-inclusive couples exactly the same as cisgender heterosexual couples, or will it introduce new special rights for civil celebrants and/or other wedding-related businesses to discriminate against us?

 

If it is the former, it is genuine marriage equality. If it is the latter, then it is something else, something lesser: marriage discrimination.

 

Unfortunately, based on multiple news reports it appears that the private member’s bill being drafted by Western Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith will include new ‘protections’ that provide celebrants with the right to refuse to officiate the ceremonies of LGBTI couples.

 

Given religious celebrants already have this ability, presumably Senator Smith’s Bill will extend this ‘right to discriminate’ to (at least some) civil celebrants.

 

The argument that will inevitably be put forward to justify the differential treatment of couples under the Marriage Act 1961 is that it is necessary to protect the ‘religious freedom’ of the celebrants involved.

 

From my perspective, whether we should accept this argument, and indeed whether we should accept legislation that includes these types of ‘religious exceptions’, comes down to this simple test:

 

Will it treat LGBTI couples in the future differently from, and worse than, divorced people seeking to get (re-)married today?

 

Now, I admit this might seem to be a somewhat strange comparator, so please allow me to explain.

 

There is a wide range of religious beliefs about the rite of marriage, from groups who believe in marriage between more than two people, to others who do not believe in marriage between people of different faiths.

 

One of the more common religious beliefs about marriage, and indeed still the official position of what is the second-largest religious group in Australia (the Catholic Church, after ‘No religion’), is that divorce is a sin, and consequently people who have divorced should not be allowed to re-marry.

 

The Marriage Act currently allows churches, and religious celebrants, the ability to refuse to officiate the ceremonies of couples where one or both parties have already been divorced.

 

However, despite the fact some civil celebrants are Catholic themselves (and therefore may have some qualms about second, third or even fourth marriages), there is no equivalent right for civil celebrants to decline to perform these weddings.

 

And that seems like a reasonable distinction to make – because civil ceremonies under the Marriage Act are secular, rather than religious, in nature, there is no need to provide civil celebrants with the right to reject divorced people on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

 

But, if it is not deemed essential to protect ‘religious freedom’ by allowing civil celebrants to discriminate on the basis of marital or relationship status now, then it should not be necessary to permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the future.

 

Indeed, by comparing the rights of divorced people seeking to re-marry today with the rights of LGBTI couples under any future legislation that seeks to permit all couples to marry, it becomes clear that:

 

Amendments that provide civil celebrants with the ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBTI couples are not based on protecting ‘religious freedom’, but instead are legislating a right to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

 

As a result, any legislation that allows LGBTI Australians to get married, but does so on the condition that civil celebrants are able to turn them away because of their personal prejudices, is not marriage equality, it is marriage discrimination.

 

The Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill that was released by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, during the debate on the (traditional) plebiscite way back in October 2016 clearly failed on this front.

 

Not only did it significantly expand the right of civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples, it also clarified that defence force chaplains (who are public servants) could reject people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. It even allowed for-profit businesses, run by religious organisations on a commercial basis, to turn LGBTI couples away.

 

For all of these reasons, the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill was Unacceptable.

 

It is possible that Senator Smith and others have ‘learned’ from that experience, and that his private member’s bill will look significantly different to the Brandis Bill on the surface. The new ‘protections’ may not even explicitly target LGBTI couples, and instead be couched in more neutral terms.

 

But the real question will be how it treats LGBTI people in its substance. Irrespective of the wording used, if the legislation allows civil celebrants and/or other wedding-related businesses to treat LGBTI couples differently from, and worse than, divorced people seeking to re-marry today, it is simply homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in a pretty wedding dress (or tuxedo).

 

And so, by all means get excited by the possibility that the interminable debate about the right of LGBTI couples to marry in Australia might soon be over. But we should also be on guard against any proposals that provide civil celebrants and others with the ‘right to discriminate’ against us.

 

We’ve waited long enough for genuine marriage equality. We shouldn’t settle, or be forced to settle, for marriage discrimination.

 

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We should hold off on cutting the celebratory wedding cakes until we know exactly what is in the substance of any Bill, including any religious exceptions it may contain.

A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws

Commonwealth_ Sex Discrimination Act 1984

 

In the five years I have been writing about LGBTI rights in Australia, I have yet to come across a quick guide to the laws which protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians against discrimination (even the Wikipedia page ‘LGBT rights in Australia’ has a brief description of the rights provided by the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 before stating that ‘each of the states and territories have their own laws which protect LGBTI people from discrimination’ – and that’s it).

 

In which case, and given I have already written in detail about the LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws that exist in the Commonwealth, and each of the States and Territories (those posts can be found here), I thought it would be useful to provide the following short summary of these laws, including who they cover, the religious exceptions they contain, and whether they provide protection against vilification:

 

  1. What is the relevant law?

 

Jurisdiction

Legislation

Commonwealth

Sex Discrimination Act 1984

New South Wales

Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
Victoria

Equal Opportunity Act 2010

Queensland

Anti-Discrimination Act 1991

Western Australia

Equal Opportunity Act 1984
South Australia

Equal Opportunity Act 1984

Tasmania

Anti-Discrimination Act 1998

Australian Capital Territory

Discrimination Act 1991

Northern Territory

Anti-Discrimination Act

 

  1. Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected against discrimination?

 

                                 

Lesbians and gay men

Bisexuals

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

As you can see, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the only anti-discrimination law in Australia that does not cover bisexual people[i] (interestingly, it is also the only jurisdiction where heterosexuals have no protection under anti-discrimination law).

 

  1. Are transgender people protected against discrimination?

 

Different jurisdictions have adopted different approaches to transgender anti-discrimination protection, in large part due to when their respective laws were introduced. This means that while some cover gender identity broadly,[ii] others only protect trans people with binary gender identities (where a person identifies with the ‘opposite’ gender to that which they were assigned at birth – eg MTF and FTM trans people) and exclude people with non-binary gender identities (ie people whose gender identities are more diverse).[iii]

 

                                 

Trans people with binary gender identities

People with non-binary gender identities

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

Some*
South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Some*

 

Disappointingly, only four jurisdictions cover people with both binary and non-binary gender identities. While seven laws at a minimum cover all people with binary gender identities, there are two jurisdictions that have adopted even narrower definitions:

 

  • The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 only covers people who have been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 (meaning those people who have transitioned and where that transition has been recognised by the Government);[iv]

 

  • The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act protects ‘transsexuality’ as part of the definition of ‘sexuality’ – some people who have binary gender identities (MTF or FTM) may not identify with this terminology.

 

  1. Are intersex people protected against discrimination?

 

 

Intersex

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

When the Commonwealth Government passed the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, it became the first national parliament in the world to include ‘intersex status’ as a protected attribute.[v] Since then, Tasmania, the ACT and South Australia have all introduced amendments to protect intersex people against discrimination (although as at 30 July 2017 they have not commenced in SA).

 

  1. Are LGBT people protected against discrimination by religious organisations (general)?

 

As I have written extensively elsewhere, one of the key weaknesses of most LGBTI anti-discrimination laws in Australia is that they provide special rights for religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.[vi] We will first examine how these religious exceptions operate generally, before looking specifically at the issues of students in religious schools (question 6) and teachers and other staff in religious schools (question 7).

 

                                 

Do LGBT people have any protections against discrimination by religious organisations?

LGBT people have limited protections against religious discrimination

LGBT people have general protections against religious discrimination

Commonwealth

Aged care*
New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia Teachers*

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

There is only one LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia that offers general protections against discrimination by religious organisations: Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998. That is because the religious exceptions contained in that legislation only allow religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of people’s religious beliefs, and not on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

On the other hand, the religious exceptions contained in the anti-discrimination laws of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory provide religious organisations with carte blanche to discriminate against LGBT people. Section 56 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is a typical example of the special rights given to these bodies:

 

“Nothing in this Act affects:

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religious or members of any religious order,

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religious or members of a religious order,

(c) the appointment of any other person in any capacity by a body established to propagate religion, or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

 

The other jurisdictions offer only limited protections against religious-based discrimination against LGBT people. Under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, religious organisations can discriminate against LGBT people in all circumstances other than with respect to LGBT people accessing Commonwealth-funded aged care services[vii] (although they can still discriminate against LGBT employees in these facilities).

 

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 actually contains the second-best protections for LGBT people against discrimination by religious organisations. It does not allow discrimination against LGBT students in religious schools, and has limited protections for teachers too (see questions 6 and 7 respectively). More broadly, it does not provide a general right for religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees, but instead limits this right to employees where acting, or not acting, in a particular way breaches the ‘genuine occupational requirements’ of that position.[viii]

 

The South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 provides broad religious exceptions outside religious schools, where they may or may not be able to discriminate against LGBT students, and have to satisfy procedural obligations in order to discriminate against LGBT teachers (see questions 6 and 7, below).

 

Finally, the religious exceptions contained in the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act are narrower than in other jurisdictions because of the specific wording that is used:

 

“Section 51 This Act does not apply to or in relation to: …

(d) an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is done as part of any religious observance or practice.”

 

This at least restricts the discrimination that is permissible to acts in relation to ‘religious observance or practice’ only (although there are specific exceptions in relation to employment in religious schools – see question 7 below).

 

  1. Are LGBT students protected against discrimination by religious schools?

 

 

LGBT students at religious schools

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Probably not*
Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Probably*

 

There are only two jurisdictions in which LGBT students are clearly protected against discrimination by religious schools: Tasmania and Queensland. In two other jurisdictions, the level of protection is debatable. In the Northern Territory it is likely that LGBT students are protected, because of the narrow way in which the religious exceptions contained in section 51 of the Anti-Discrimination Act are framed.

 

In South Australia the situation is less clear. Section 37 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 provides quite broad protections against discrimination by educational authorities against students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.[ix] However, it is likely these protections are still overridden by the broad religious exceptions contained in sub-section 50(1)(c).[x]

 

In all of the other jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT, LGBT students do not have any protection against discrimination by religious schools. Indeed, the exceptions contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 go even further, allowing discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender students by all private schools and colleges, even where those institutions are not religious.[xi]

 

For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.

 

  1. Are LGBT teachers protected against discrimination by religious schools?

 

 

LGBT teachers at religious schools

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell*
Western Australia

South Australia

Procedural requirements*
Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

Only one Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination law fully protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers and other staff at religious schools against discrimination: Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1988.

 

In Queensland, religious schools are allowed to discriminate against people who work for religious schools where “the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs, during a selection process; or in the course of the person’s work; or in doing something connected with the person’s work; and it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person… act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.”[xii]

 

However, religious schools are not allowed to ‘seek information’ in relation to an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In effect, LGBT teachers and other staff at religious schools in Queensland are subject to a ‘Don’t Ask’ Don’t Tell’ policy (which, as was seen in relation to the United States military, is nevertheless an unjust and unjustifiable imposition on a minority group).

 

In South Australia, religious schools are allowed to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, however this ‘right’ is subject to procedural requirements, including that the school must have a written policy outlining its discriminatory policy which is provided to people interviewed for or offered employment. The policy must also be provided on request, free of charge, to employees, students and parents (and prospective employees, students and parents) as well as to general members of the public.[xiii]

 

In all other Australian jurisdictions (the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, WA, the ACT and the Northern Territory[xiv]), religious schools are free to discriminate against LGBT teachers. Once again, in NSW this extends to all private schools and colleges, even where they are not religious.[xv]

 

For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.

 

  1. Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected against vilification?

 

                                 

Lesbians and gay men

Bisexuals
Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

Only four Australian jurisdictions offer any anti-vilification protections for the LGBTI community: NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT.

 

In NSW, as with the protections against discrimination, these laws do not cover bisexual people against vilification. The maximum individual fine for ‘homosexual vilification’ under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is also significantly lower than the maximum individual fine for ‘racial vilification’ (10 penalty units[xvi] versus 50 penalty units[xvii]).

 

In contrast, the Commonwealth, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia all have protections against racial vilification, but fail to offer equivalent protections against anti-LGBTI vilification (while the Northern Territory does not contain protections against either racial or anti-LGBTI vilification).

 

  1. Are trans and intersex people protected against vilification?

 

                                 

Trans people with binary gender identities

People with non-binary gender identities

Intersex

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

Four jurisdictions protect transgender people with binary gender identities against vilification (NSW[xviii], Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT). However, given the narrow definitions adopted in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 and the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, only Tasmania and the ACT protect people with non-binary gender identities against vilification.

 

Those same jurisdictions – Tasmania and the ACT – are also the only places in Australia to prohibit vilification on the basis of intersex status. However, in Tasmania there is a concern in that while all of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex are included in the general anti-vilification provision,[xix] only sexual orientation is included as part of the more serious offence of inciting hatred.[xx]

 

  1. What other issues exist with Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws?

 

The above questions have examined three main areas of the LGBTI anti-discrimination laws across the Commonwealth, and the States and Territories:

 

  • Protected Attributes
  • Religious Exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

 

However, these are not the only areas where there are significant problems with the anti-discrimination laws that apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and bisexual people in Australia. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the other issues I have come across:

 

Commonwealth: The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 does not establish a position of LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner (despite providing for a Sex Discrimination Commissioner). This leaves Australia’s LGBTI community at a significant disadvantage compared to other vulnerable groups, and should be rectified (for more on this issue, see: Why we need a full-time LGBTI Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission).

 

NSW: The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 allows employers with five employees or less to discriminate against LGBT employees[xxi]. There are no such provisions allowing employers to discriminate on the basis of race.

 

Victoria: The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 doesn’t just allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people, it also includes a special right for individuals to do the same[xxii] (a provision that does not seem to be replicated in any other jurisdiction).

 

Queensland: The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 includes a particularly abhorrent section which allows discrimination against transgender people in relation to employment that involves children. Section 28 states:

 

“Work with children

(1) It is not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of lawful sexual activity or gender identity against a person with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under subdivision 1 if-

(a) the work involves the care or instruction of minors; and

(b) the discrimination is reasonably necessary to protect the physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of minors having regard to all the relevant circumstances of the case, including the person’s actions.”

 

Western Australia: While the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 allows for positive discrimination “to ensure that persons of a particular sexual orientation have equal opportunities with other persons”[xxiii] there are no equivalent provisions allowing for positive discrimination for transgender people.

 

South Australia: Disappointingly, the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 makes it lawful to discriminate “on the ground of gender identity in relation to employment or engagement if the discrimination is for the purposes of enforcing standards of appearance and dress reasonably required for the employment or engagement.”[xxiv]

 

Tasmania: The Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is generally acknowledged as the best LGBTI anti-discrimination law in the country. However, it is currently [as at 30 July 2017] under threat, with proposals to make it easier to vilify lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people on the basis of religious belief. For more on this dangerous proposal, see: Submission re Tasmania’s Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016.

 

  1. Are LGBTI people protected against discrimination under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009?

 

While most anti-discrimination protections are included in the nine Commonwealth, state and territory laws discussed above, there is also a key protection against discrimination located in the Fair Work Act 2009.

 

                                 

Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected under the Fair Work Act?

Are transgender people protected? Are intersex people protected?
Commonwealth

 

Unfortunately, as this table demonstrates, the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 does not protect all parts of the LGBTI community against discrimination. That is because section 351 provides that:

 

“(1) An employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee, of the employer because of the person’s race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.”

 

While it includes sexual orientation (meaning lesbian, gay and bisexual people enjoy protection), the omission of gender identity and intersex status leaves both of these groups without equivalent protection.[xxv] This is a serious deficiency that must be addressed as a matter of priority.

 

**********

 

For more detailed analysis of the LGBTI anti-discrimination laws that operate in the Commonwealth, and each State and Territory, see:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**********

 

Footnotes:

[i] NSW protects only ‘homosexuality’, with the definition in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 stating that ‘homosexual means male or female homosexual’. In contrast, other jrisdictions either include a protected attribute of ‘sexual orientation’, or specifically include both homosexuality and bisexuality.

[ii] For example, section 4 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 defines gender identity as ‘the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.’

[iii] For example, section 38A of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 states that ‘[a] reference in the Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person… (i) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or (ii) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex…’

[iv] The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 prohibits discrimination ‘against a gender reassigned person on gender history grounds’ (section 35AB), where section 4 defines a gender reassigned person as ‘a person who has been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000’ while section 35AA states that ‘a person has a gender history if the person identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex.’

[v] With ‘intersex status’ defined in section 4 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as ‘the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

(a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or

(b) a combination of female and male; or

(c) neither female nor male.’

[vi] In this section, I refer primarily to LGBT people, rather than LGBTI people, because it is generally understood that religious exceptions would not (or at the very least should not) be used against people with intersex variations.

[vii] Sub-section 37(2) of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 limits the general religious exceptions contained in the Act by stating that they do “not apply to an act or practice of a body established for religious purposes if:

(a) the act or practice is connected with the provision, by the body, of Commonwealth-funded aged care; and

(b) the act or practice is not connected with the employment or persons to provide that aged care.”

[viii] Sub-section 25(3) of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provides that:

“It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.”

[ix] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: “Section 37- Discrimination by educational authorities …

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) in the terms or conditions on which it provides the student with training or education; or

(b) by denying or limiting access to a benefit provided by the authority; or

(c) by expelling the student; or

(d) by subjecting the student to other detriment.”

[x] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: “This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to-

(c) any other practice of a body established for religious purposes that conforms with the precepts of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

[xi] Sections 38K(3) and 49ZO(3), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xii] Sub-sections 25(2) and (3) of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

[xiii] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: Sub-section 34(3):

“This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity in relation to employment or engagement for the purposes of an educational institution if-

(a) the educational institution is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion; and

(b) the educational authority administering the institution has a written policy stating its position in relation to the matter; and

(c) a copy of the policy is given to a person who is to be interviewed for or offered employment with the authority or a teacher who is to be offered engagement as a contractor by the authority; and

(d) a copy of the policy is provided on request, free of charge-

(i) to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors of the authority to whom it relates or may relate; and

(ii) to students, prospective students and parents and guardians of students and prospective students of the institution; and

(iii) to other members of the public.”

[xiv] Despite its relatively narrow religious exceptions, section 37A of the NT Anti-Discrimination Act provides an explicit right for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers:

“An educational authority that operates or proposes to operate an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may discriminate against a person in the area of work in the institution if the discrimination:

(a) is on the grounds of:

(i) religious belief or activity; or

(ii) sexuality; and

(b) is in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.”

[xv] Sub-sections 38C(3)(c) and 49ZH(3)(c), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xvi] Sub-section 49ZTA(1)(b), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xvii] Sub-section 20D(1)(b), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xviii] Although, once again, the maximum individual fine for transgender vilification (as established in sub-section 38T(1)(b) of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977) is significantly lower than the maximum individual fine for racial vilification (10 penalty units versus 50 penalty units).

[xix] Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.

[xx] Section 19 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.

[xxi] Sub-sections 38C(3)(b) and 49ZO(3)(b), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xxii] Section 84, Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[xxiii] Section 35ZD, Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

[xxiv] Sub-section 34(4), South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

[xxv] The inclusion of ‘marital status’ rather than ‘marital or relationship status’ is also potentially problematic.

5 Years of Blogging: Highlights & Thanks

Next month (July 2017) will mark five years of writing this blog. In that time, I’ve published more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters, on a wide range of topics, from marriage equality to anti-discrimination laws and plenty in between.

 

For reasons I will explain at the end of this post, now is an appropriate time to take a quick look back on what have been some of the highlights of the past five years, as well as to express my gratitude to the support I have received during that time (and from one person in particular).

 

  1. #NoPlebiscite

 

One of the things I am proudest of was my contribution to the campaign to stop the unnecessary, wasteful & divisive plebiscite on marriage equality. While obviously the #NoPlebiscite campaign was a group effort, and I was only one of many people involved, I think I managed to play an important role – from refining the arguments against the plebiscite, to producing effective social media messaging/materials, and conducting one of the community surveys which established that the LGBTI community would rather take the risk that marriage equality might be delayed rather than accept the certainty of young and vulnerable LGBTI people being harmed.

 

For more of my thoughts on the campaign against the plebiscite, see Pride, Pressure & Perseverance.

 

  1. #ItsTimeToBind

 

Another campaign in which I played something of a leading role was the push for the Australian Labor Party to adopt a binding vote on marriage equality at its 2015 National Conference. Unlike the campaign against the plebiscite, #ItsTimeToBind was only partially successful: ALP MPs and Senators will only be bound to vote for marriage equality after the next federal election (to be held in late 2018 or early 2019).

 

Nevertheless, if there is a change of government (which seems more likely than not at this stage), this rule change means there will be no further delays on a reform that has been delayed for far too long already – a newly-elected Shorten Labor Government will be able to pass marriage equality in a matter of months.

 

For more on this campaign, see What ALP National Conference Delegates Should Hear About Marriage Equality.

 

  1. ALP National Conference 2015

 

One of the things I have tried to do with this blog – and sometimes I have done this more successfully than others – is to ensure that my LGBTI activism and advocacy is about more than just marriage equality. In the lead-up to that conference this meant pursuing a broad LGBTI agenda (see 15 LGBTI Priorities for ALP National Conference 2015), beyond simply achieving a binding vote.

 

As a result, I drafted at least 13 different amendments to the ALP Platform that were ultimately successful, helping to contribute to the most progressive major party manifesto on LGBTI issues in Australian history. This included policies on youth suicide, homelessness, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools, rainbow families and inter-country adoption, consideration of an LGBTI Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission and the introduction of vilification protections, LGBTI inclusion in foreign aid, and three amendments on intersex issues (including an end to involuntary medical procedures).

 

Perhaps the two reforms I am most proud of were a commitment to remove out-of-pocket medical expenses for trans people, and a declaration that “Labor will not detain, process or resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum-seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them.”

 

  1. Diversity of Issues

 

This approach – writing about a diversity of LGBTI issues – is something I have attempted to do beyond just the 2015 ALP National Conference. And, while it has been easy at different points to be distracted by the fight for marriage equality, I am happy I have managed to focus on a broad range of other topics.

 

This includes posts on everything from anti-vilification laws to the homosexual advance defence, the age of consent and expungement for historical homosexual offences, rainbow families (including adoption, assisted reproductive technology and inter-country adoption), relationship recognition, gender identity and access to legal documentation, intersex autonomy and involuntary medical procedures, and LGBTI refugees and people seeking asylum.

 

Perhaps the only high-profile issue over the past five years that I haven’t written about (both because it has been written about extensively elsewhere, and because I didn’t have much original to add) was Safe Schools. But, at the same time, I was one of only a few people to focus on the issue of LGBTI inclusion in the National (and later NSW) Health & Physical Education Curriculums.

 

  1. Focus on LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Law

 

Possibly the main issue I have written about over the past five years – and especially over the past 18 months – has been anti-discrimination law, and how well, or poorly, it protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

 

This includes a specific focus on how LGBTI anti-discrimination law interacts with, and is undermined by, special rights to discriminate given to religious organisations (aka ‘religious exceptions’). I have also written about the strengths and weaknesses of current LGBTI anti-discrimination laws at Commonwealth level, and in every state and territory, in a series called ‘What’s Wrong With…’

 

To see all of my posts on LGBTI anti-discrimination law, including the issue of religious exceptions and the ‘What’s Wrong With…’ series, see: LGBTI Anti-Discrimination / #NoHomophobiaNoExceptions.

 

  1. The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey

 

One of the more recent highlights of this blog was The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey, which I conducted at the start of 2017, the results of which I have published in a series of six posts from March to June.

 

These articles explored the discrimination experienced by (far too many) LGBTIQ Australians in terms of verbal harassment and abuse, physical abuse or violence, where discriminatory comments occur and their impact, discrimination in education, discrimination in employment, and discrimination in health, community services or aged care.

 

I encourage you to read these posts in full, including the many heartbreaking personal stories of discrimination shared by survey respondents. You can find them all here: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia.

 

  1. Personal Stories

 

Some of the posts that I have found the most difficult to write (particularly as someone who is generally an introvert) are the ones where the subject matter has been deeply personal. These include several articles that discuss the ongoing inability of my fiancé, Steven, and I to marry under Australian law. On the other hand, I think they are probably some of the most powerful posts I have written, because they are personal in nature. You can judge for yourself, here: Personal.

 

  1. Feedback Received

 

One of the best things about writing a blog – of putting your thoughts down in ‘black and white’, and sharing them with the world – is the feedback you receive in return. This includes the many, many comments received via social media on my posts, some of which apparently aroused strong views (both for and against), but with the vast majority generating thoughtful responses from other passionate members of the LGBTI community.

 

Having said that, two particular pieces of feedback received over the past five years stand out in my memory:

 

  • The great Martina Navratilova tweeting that my piece In search of the elusive gay or bisexual male tennis player was “very well put” (it also happens to be the most popular piece I’ve ever published, by far), and
  • A comment from inspiring ACT UP activist Peter Staley on my review of the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘How to Survive a Plague’ in which he features (the review itself was far from best thing I’ve written – but his engagement made it worthwhile).

 

Martina

 

  1. Audience Reach

 

Another satisfying part of ‘blogging’ is seeing what you’ve written reach its audience. Admittedly, writing a blog that primarily concerns itself with LGBTI law reform and policy, in Australia, is the definition of a ‘niche’ endeavour.

 

Nevertheless, over the past five years my blog has received almost 90,000 views, and (as of 11 June 2017) has been visited by people in 189 different geographic regions. In fact, there aren’t many countries where someone hasn’t clicked on something I’ve written (although I am still waiting for first-time readers from North Korea, Turkmenistan, Liechtenstein, Greenland, Cuba, French Guiana, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, in our own region, Samoa and the Solomon Islands).

 

Obviously, choosing to write about the things I do means it is never going to be ‘clickbait’ – but it is still pleasing to know some people have found what I’ve written to be informative, or enjoyable (or hopefully a combination of both).

 

  1. Thanks

 

Which brings me to the most important part of this post – and that is to say thanks. Thank you to you, the readers, who have clicked on, read, liked, commented on and shared the more than 200 articles, submissions and open letters I have published here.

 

I have genuinely appreciated your interest, your views (including where you thought I got something wrong) and your support. Writing this blog has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done, and being read by people who are passionate about the same things I am has definitely made it worthwhile.

 

But of course there is one person who deserves the most thanks of all – and that is my partner of almost nine years, and fiancé of more than seven, Steven. His support, encouragement, patience and, above all, belief has allowed me to devote my time and energy to this blog, and to the campaigns I have run here – I literally could not have done any of this without him. Thank you my beautiful man.

 

And that brings me to the underlying reason for this post. After almost five years of writing this blog, it is time to take a step – maybe even two – back and to focus on other things. This reflects an understandable desire to spend more of my available time with my fiancé. It also coincides with changing jobs (my new role will consume much more of my focus, especially in the next year or two).

 

At this stage, I’m still not 100% sure whether I will stop blogging completely, or whether it will simply be far less frequent (every couple of months, rather than three or four posts per month) or perhaps even about other subjects. Whatever the future holds, I’d just like to say that I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written so far, and that I hope it has made a difference in some way, shape or form. Thanks very much for reading.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 6: Discrimination in Health, Community Services or Aged Care

This post is the final in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

 

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

 

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to four questions, asking whether they have experienced discrimination in health, community services or aged care, whether any of this discrimination occurred in the past 12 months, whether this discrimination related to religious organisations and to provide an example of the discrimination that they experienced.

 

The responses reveal a disturbing pattern of discrimination across these areas, with many LGBTIQ Australians denied equal access to services simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

The question about whether any of this discrimination occurred in relation to religious organisations is important because of the existence of ‘special rights’ to discriminate for these bodies in most states and territories[ii], leaving LGBTI people in these circumstances without any legal redress.

 

I also encourage you to read the examples provided in response to question four, which reveal some of the different types of discrimination that LGBTIQ people have encountered in health, community services or aged care.

 

 

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia-11

 

Question 1: Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to health, community services or aged care

 

Question 2: Has one or more instances of this discrimination (in health, community services or aged care) occurred in the past 12 months?

 

&

 

Question 3: Did any of this discrimination (in health, community services or aged care) occur in relation to a religious organisation?

 

Of the 1,611 people who answered the first question, 345 – or 21% – said they had experienced discrimination in one of these areas at some point in their lives.

 

Disturbingly, 189 survey respondents[iii] reported experiencing anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care in the past 12 months alone. In other words, more than half of those who had experienced discrimination in these areas reported at least one instance of this mistreatment just in 2016 – that is simply shocking.

 

The proportion reporting discrimination by religious organisations was 3.7%[iv]. This is thankfully lower than the rates reported for discrimination by religious organisations in education (Survey Results, Part 4) and employment (Survey Results, Part 5), although this nevertheless represents roughly 1 in 25 LGBTI people exposed without adequate protections from anti-discrimination schemes.

 

LGBTIQ Status

 

There were some significant differences in reported discrimination in health, community services and aged care between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer survey respondents:

 

Lesbian

 

  • 26.5%[v] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 14.5%[vi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3.5%[vii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Gay

 

  • 19.8%[viii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 9.9%[ix] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 2.7%[x] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Bisexual

 

  • 16.1%[xi] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 8.7%[xii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 4.7%[xiii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Transgender

 

  • 35.3%[xiv] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 24.9%[xv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3.8%[xvi] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Intersex

 

  • 40%[xvii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 13.3%[xviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6.7%[xix] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Queer

 

  • 29.6%[xx] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 19.2%[xxi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 4.6%[xxii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

LGBTIQ Category Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
Lesbian 26.5 14.5 3.5
Gay 19.8 9.9 2.7
Bisexual 16.1 8.7 4.7
Transgender 35.3 24.9 3.8
Intersex 40 13.3 6.7
Queer 29.6 19.2 4.6

 

The highest rate for lifetime discrimination was from intersex respondents, although the small sample size for that group (n=15) means this figure should be treated with some caution. It is also interesting that intersex people reported average rates of recent discrimination in these areas.

 

Of the other groups, gay and particularly bisexual respondents reported lower rates of both lifetime, and recent, discrimination in health, community services and aged care than other groups.

 

In contrast to earlier survey results, lesbians reported higher rates of discrimination on both measures. One possible explanation is greater involvement, and therefore potential exposure to discrimination in, family-related health and community services.

 

Once again, higher rates of discrimination, and especially recent mistreatment, were reported by transgender and, to a slightly lesser extent, queer survey respondents.

 

It is particularly disturbing that one in five queer respondents, and fully one quarter of trans people, experienced discrimination in these areas in the past 12 months alone.

 

Taking a closer look at the trans cohort, and in particular respondents who identified as both trans and another LGBQ category, the figures were as follows:

 

Trans and lesbian: 37.2%[xxiii] ever, and 25.6% in the last 12 months

 

Trans and gay: 40.4%[xxiv] ever, and 28.1% in the last 12 months

 

Trans and bisexual: 26.7%[xxv] ever, and 16.7% in the last 12 months, and

 

Trans and queer: 40.1%[xxvi] ever, and 32.2% in the last 12 months.

 

These groups were largely consistent, although trans and bi respondents reported lower rates on both measures, while trans and queer respondents were more likely to experience recent discrimination (at almost 1 in 3 people overall).

 

Finally, there is little that stands out in the reported rates of discrimination by religious organisations in these areas, with the range from 2.7% (gay) to 6.7% (intersex).

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

 

The rates of discrimination for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were higher for both lifetime discrimination, and especially for recent discrimination, than for their non-Indigenous counterparts.

 

On the other hand, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported lower rates of discrimination by religious organisations in health, community services or aged care. The full figures are as follows:

 

  • 24.6%[xxvii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point (compared to 21.3% of non-Indigenous people)
  • 17.5%[xxviii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months (compared to 11.5% of non-Indigenous people) and
  • 1.8%[xxix] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation (compared to 3.7% of non-Indigenous people).

 

  Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander 24.6 17.5 1.8
Non-Indigenous 21.3 11.5 3.7

 

Age

 

Aged 24 and under

 

  • 15.7%[xxx] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.8%[xxxi] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 3.3%[xxxii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

25 to 44

 

  • 31.1%[xxxiii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 15.8%[xxxiv] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 3.9%[xxxv] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

45 to 64

 

  • 23.7%[xxxvi] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 9.1%[xxxvii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 4%[xxxviii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

65 and over

 

  • 25.8%[xxxix] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 9.7%[xl] experienced any instance in the past 12 months
  • 9.7%[xli] reported discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Age cohort Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
24 and under 15.7 10.8 3.3
25 to 44 31.1 15.8 3.9
45 to 64 23.7 9.1 4
65 and over 25.8 9.7 9.7

 

Given their lesser years of life experience, it is perhaps unsurprising that young people experienced lower levels of lifetime discrimination in these areas. Although the fact that more than 1 in 10 LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under reported homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic discrimination in health or community services over the past 12 months is alarming.

 

What is perhaps most surprising is that people aged 25 to 44 were most likely to report both lifetime discrimination in these areas (with almost a third of respondents affected), as well as anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in the past 12 months (at almost 1 in every 6 respondents).

 

Meanwhile, the highest rate of reported discrimination by religious organisations was from LGBTIQ people aged 65 and over – which is possibly explained by recent interactions with religious-operated aged care services.

 

State or Territory of Residence

 

The final demographic category according to which I have analysed the survey results is the state or territory of residence:

 

New South Wales

 

  • 21.4%[xlii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.9%[xliii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 2.7%[xliv] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Victoria

 

  • 22.8%[xlv] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 12.4%[xlvi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 4%[xlvii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Queensland

 

  • 22%[xlviii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 11.4%[xlix] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6.1%[l] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Western Australia

 

  • 22.1%[li] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 12.8%[lii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 2.7%[liii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

South Australia

 

  • 19.5%[liv] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 14.3%[lv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3%[lvi] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Tasmania

 

  • 16%[lvii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.4%[lviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 1.9%[lix] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

  • 23.2%[lx] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10.7%[lxi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 7.1%[lxii] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Northern Territory

 

  • 20%[lxiii] reported discrimination in these areas at some point
  • 10%[lxiv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 5%[lxv] experienced discrimination by a religious organisation

 

State or territory Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
NSW 21.4 10.9 2.7
Victoria 22.8 12.4 4
Queensland 22 11.4 6.1
WA 22.1 12.8 2.7
SA 19.5 14.3 3
Tasmania 16 10.4 1.9
ACT 23.2 10.7 7.1
NT 20 10 5

 

These results were largely consistent across state and territory boundaries (thus lending weight to the overall figures, discussed earlier).

 

The lowest lifetime rates of discrimination in health, community services or aged care were in Tasmania, while the highest (but only just) were in the ACT. Meanwhile, South Australians were most likely to experience discrimination in the last 12 months, while LGBTIQ people in Queensland and the ACT reported the highest rates of discrimination in these areas by religious organisations.

 

**********

 

Question 4: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of the discrimination you experienced in relation to health, community services or aged care [Optional]:

 

This question allowed respondents to provide examples of the anti-LGBTIQ discrimination they had experienced and, just as with previous survey results, these comments are often confronting to read.

 

A lightly-edited[lxvi] version of the answers to this question – providing examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in relation to health, community services or aged care – can be found at the following link:

 

 

question-4-examples-of-health-community-services-and-aged-care-discrimination

 

These answers demonstrate a range of different ways in which LGBTIQ people were mistreated in comparison to cisgender heterosexual people, including:

 

One of the most common stories was denial of LGBTIQ relationships, including refusal to treat partners as next of kin:

 

“I was asked if I was in a relationship and what not and gender during a visit to a new and local doctor, I said yes and gender non-binary and I was put down as single and female. Single because my partner was a woman and the system didn’t have an option for same sex couples and it was “easier”.”

 

“Having my female partner not being able to be with me in emergency because it was family and partners only. (Had no family in the region at the time)”

 

“My wife was in emergency at [redacted] Hospital and the doctor did not want to discuss with me her condition or provide me with a carers certificate because of our sexuality”

 

“While an inmate in the mental health unit, the doctor assigned to me was very uncomfortable when my partner was in the room. And even though I gave permission, he would not treat my partner with respect or discuss my care with her.”

 

“At a hospital where my partner of over ten years was not accepted as my next of kin. I had to put my son down”

 

“Was at a hospital after becoming very ill and my girlfriend was holding my hand. Once my nurse noticed, her attitude towards me changed and she told me that “friends” couldn’t visit”

 

“While my girlfriend was in hospital and had come in via ambulance I was denied access to her / the ability to see her while she was in the emergency department because a receptionist didn’t believe we were partners. Clearly thought I was ‘just a friend’”

 

“I was critically ill and my partner was ignored by hospital staff as my next of kin”

 

Another common story related to an assumption that being gay (or bi, or trans) automatically equates to being at high risk of HIV, including being subjected to additional testing or ‘safety precautions’ – or, in one case, being denied testing:

 

“Feeling like the dentist did not want to treat me because I answered the at risk of HIV questions (in the 90s)”

 

“Disclosing that I had a same sex partner opened me up to extra medical testing before procedures, including unnecessary HIV testing unrelated to my procedure.”

 

“I was informed that due to being bisexual, I was at a high risk of STDs, regardless of the fact that I am married and in a monogamous relationship.”

 

“A doctor was dismissive of my health concerns and wrote me off as an HIV magnet for being transgender.”

 

“Because I am open about being gay, I have been repeatedly advised by health practitioners to have an HIV test when consulting them about a range of health issues that have no relation to HIV. Of course, I have had HIV tests and would do so again if I thought I had been at risk.”

 

“A GP refused to test me for HIV as he had “better things to do than take care of sexually promiscuous people like” me. I had not told him anything about my sex life apart from the fact that I was gay – this was purely a homophobic assumption on his behalf. He suggested I go to a free sexual health centre in the city instead.”

 

It is unsurprising that these attitudes translated to adverse treatment of people who are HIV-positive:

 

“A doctor was bombastic when I presented at ED when he learned I was HIV +. He just carried on about my HIV Status and not the issue I presented for”

 

Several respondents cited the blanket ban on sexually-active gay men donating blood as being anti-LGBTIQ discrimination:

 

“Apparently just cause I’m gay I can’t donate blood, even tho [sic] I get tested all the time probably more times than a straight person would in their life time”

 

“Gay men are not allowed to give blood if they’ve had sex within the past year. It is alienating and presumptuous”

 

This approach also applies to some transgender people:

 

“Refused to donate blood. Because blood donation is a purely altruistic act, this makes one feel apart from the community. The policy of the local blood collection organisations is to treat all transgender people like gay men, irrespective of the sex they were assigned at birth, the state of the individual’s legal document, the individual’s genitals, etc.”

 

There was a range of stories about homophobia from GPs:

 

“I had a sore throat and my GP suggested that it may be because men weren’t designed to suck cock.”

 

“Doctor called me a homo, and multiple doctors being uncomfortable discussing sexual health issues once finding out my sexuality.”

 

“Being told by a doctor that I am more prone to disease because I am homosexual”

 

“A GP at my local health centre treated me with caution and wrote a ridiculous warning on my medical file for anyone to see. “Warning: Homosexual relations”.”

 

Lesbian respondents also described a variety of discrimination they had experienced:

 

“Talking about sex with GPs and health providers, there’s an assumption that sex is only with the opposite sex and that nothing else is sexual. Even when in a monogamous same sex relationship doctors would assume and ask questions about male sex partners and dismiss my actual partner. Ie, could you be pregnant? When they know I’m a cis woman only having sex with a cis woman.”

 

“Local doctor told me that I couldn’t go on the pill to stop my painful periods due to endometriosis because I was not in a sexually active relationship with a man, that because I was lesbian and not at risk of falling pregnant there was no need to be put on the pill”

 

“I have had a doctor tell me that I shouldn’t get a pap smear because I had never had sex with someone who had a penis, which is just wrong information and could be detrimental to my health. This denial was also mixed with her confusion and homophobia around the fact that I was queer and I felt very uncomfortable and shamed.”

 

This included a particularly-horrific situation involving sexual assault:

 

“I have received many instances of refusal of care or denial of optimal care by health professionals because of my sexuality. But the one that still traumatises me is when I went for a Pap smear with a female gp and she inserted her fingers into my vagina (for what I now know is an optional test) without telling me. I screamed and told her to stop, but she continued saying people like me like this kind of thing…she raped me. While looking at me in the face. Because I am gay.”

 

As with previous survey results, the most frequent stories of discrimination came from trans respondents. This included blatant transphobia, as well as deadnaming and misgendering:

 

“I was referred to by a receptionist to one of her co-workers as ‘a dude who wants to cut his d*ck off.’ The other replied with ‘well, you don’t want those types to breed.’”

 

“In 2005 I was involved in a car crash which necessitated a precautionary visit to the emergency dept at [redacted] in Perth. An orderly could not contain his mirth at me being a transgender person and kept commenting about it and laughing at me several times over a period of hours while I was required to stay motionless on my back awaiting a spinal scan.”

 

“I was repeatedly misgendered by nurses in a public hospital despite my efforts to correct them”

 

“being continually misgendered and deadnamed at a hospital”

 

“No doctor has refused to treat me but I have had doctors refuse to refer to me as a male once they find out, or assume every ailment must be linked to being transgender.”

 

It also included a refusal to provide essential trans-related medical services:

 

“Doctor telling me I should not get PBS for testosterone because it’s a lifestyle choice not a medical condition”

 

“Had a doctor tell me to stop HRT because it was dangerous, he did not seem to think being trans was real.”

 

“Was prevented from getting access to medical treatment and to start my transitioning for over 6 yrs by doctors.”

 

“My first psychiatrist was a gatekeeper who denied me access to services essential to transition.”

 

Several trans respondents complained about systemic discrimination in place simply to access transition:

 

“I think having to get diagnosed with gender dysphoria and have your life torn open by a psychologist is fucking pretty discriminatory. It’s bullshit. My body, my rules.”

 

“the entire process for getting access to gender related assistance is transphobic”

 

This comment seemed to sum up the feelings of many:

 

“Most doctors are totally clueless about how to treat trans people.”

 

A concerning theme to several stories was homophobic, biphobic and transphobic treatment of LGBTIQ people accessing mental health services:

 

“I was in a psychiatric ward for severe mental health issues and I mentioned that I was queer. The registrar fixated on it and tried to make it out that my sexuality was the root of all my problems. He tried to pathologise it.”

 

“I also had a session with a counsellor who referred to me as having a split personality when they found out I was Transgender.”

 

“Psychologists were the worst, though. I have serious mental illness and part of the problem was sexual assault trauma and problems with harassment and discrimination because of being bisexual. The psychologists told me that it didn’t exist and that I had to choose and that “if you want women it means you need mothering in your relationships so work on that with men”. Dangerous lies.”

 

“My counsellor didn’t “believe” in LGBT people or issues and told me I just needed to “get a job, join a gym and eat healthy””

 

“In a psychiatric ward I got told that my being gay was a part of my mental illness and a contributing factor to my depression”

 

Domestic and family violence was also cited as an area of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination:

 

“I’ve contacted domestic violence places for support groups and been told ‘women only’ even though I’m non-binary, assigned female at birth, and don’t pass as male. When I’ve asked where I’m meant to go, they’re suggested men’s behavioural change programs (I was the victim, I ended up with PTSD!) and then said they had no idea.”

 

“DV situation cops didn’t take a woman abusing a woman seriously”

 

“Having no services for DV Support to get help after a 8 yr DV relationship. Mainstream services having no understanding of LGBTIQ relationships/ community”

 

Finally, there were several examples of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination on the basis of religious belief:

 

“I was hospitalised for a suicide attempt. While there, I was sent a chaplain instead of a nurse to watch me. He spent 6 hours telling me how I was going to hell and how much god hated me and my gender was all in my head.”

 

“I was offered help by the salvation army after I was forced to leave home. I was told that I could just go home, once I mentioned that the cause of my situation was abuse related to my sexuality, the belief seemed to be that I should somehow change my mind and then my parents would accept me.”

 

“I was refused for a counselling service because the organization was religion based and insisted they wouldn’t work with someone that was beyond help like me.”

 

“My job in regards to [employment-related organisation] was with a religious org and it ran aged care services. The org wouldn’t recognise an aging couple’s relationship and they were placed in 2 separate care homes”

 

**********

 

Conclusion

 

The results of these four questions have confirmed that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in health, community services or aged care is relatively widespread, and has a significant impact on many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.

 

This includes more than 1 in every 5 respondents people reporting lifetime experience of such discrimination, with 11.7% reporting at least one instance of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in health, community services or aged care in the last 12 months alone.

 

Some groups within the community reported even higher rates than these already high averages, with intersex and trans people, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people and people aged 25 to 44 particularly affected.

 

While the rates of discrimination by religious organisations were comparatively low, it is important to note than in most cases, such discrimination is entirely lawful, due to the wide-ranging and completely unjustified religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws in the majority of Australian jurisdictions.

 

The personal examples of discrimination in health, community services and aged care shared in response to question 4 demonstrate the different forms such prejudice can take, with many heart-breaking stories of homophobia, transphobia and even discrimination by mental health services.

 

As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the last in my series of six articles reporting the results of my The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia survey.

 

Thank you to all those people who participated in the survey, and of course to everyone who has read the results I have published. Hopefully, through this process we have demonstrated the ongoing problems caused by homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in Australia – and the urgent need for our lawmakers and decision-makers to take action to address these issues.

 

Finally, if you would like to continue to receive articles on LGBTI rights, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

 

**********

 

If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

 

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people.

Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)

 

Footnotes:

[i] The previous posts can be found here:

Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

Part 3: Where Discriminatory Comments Occur and Their Impact 

Part 4: Discrimination in Education

Part 5: Discrimination in Employment

[ii] Noting that discrimination against LGBTI people accessing aged care services from Commonwealth-funded aged care facilities operated by religious organisations is prohibited by the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (although those same protections do not cover LGBTI employees in those facilities).

[iii] 343 people responded to question 2: 189 yes/154 no.

[iv] 344 people responded to question 3: 59 yes/285 no.

[v] 317 people responded to question 1: 84 yes/233 no.

[vi] 46 respondents.

[vii] 11 respondents.

[viii] 626 people responded to question 1: 124 yes/502 no.

[ix] 62 respondents.

[x] 17 respondents.

[xi] 508 people responded to question 1: 82 yes/426 no.

[xii] 44 respondents.

[xiii] 24 respondents.

[xiv] 365 people responded to question 1: 129 yes/236 no.

[xv] 91 respondents.

[xvi] 14 respondents.

[xvii] 15 people responded to question 1: 6 yes/9 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xviii] 2 respondents.

[xix] 1 respondent.

[xx] 480 people responded to question 1: 142 yes/338 no.

[xxi] 92 respondents.

[xxii] 22 respondents.

[xxiii] 43 respondents total, with 16 yes to question 1 and 11 yes to question 2.

[xxiv] 57 respondents total, with 23 yes to question 1 and 16 yes to question 2.

[xxv] 120 respondents total, with 32 yes to question1 and 20 yes to question 2.

[xxvi] 183 respondents total, with 75 yes to question 1 and 59 yes to question 2.

[xxvii] 57 people responded to question 1: 14 yes/43 no.

[xxviii] 10 respondents.

[xxix] 1 respondent.

[xxx] 860 people responded to question 1: 135 yes/725 no.

[xxxi] 93 respondents.

[xxxii] 28 respondents.

[xxxiii] 431 people responded to question 1: 134 yes/297 no.

[xxxiv] 68 respondents.

[xxxv] 17 respondents.

[xxxvi] 274 people responded to question 1: 65 yes/209 no.

[xxxvii] 25 respondents.

[xxxviii] 11 respondents.

[xxxix] 31 people responded to question 1: 8 yes/23 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xl] 3 respondents.

[xli] 3 respondents.

[xlii] 524 people responded to question 1: 112 yes/412 no.

[xliii] 57 respondents.

[xliv] 14 respondents.

[xlv] 378 people responded to question 1: 86 yes/292 no.

[xlvi] 47 respondents.

[xlvii] 15 respondents.

[xlviii] 245 people responded to question 1: 54 yes/191 no.

[xlix] 28 respondents.

[l] 15 respondents.

[li] 149 people responded to question 1: 33 yes/116 no.

[lii] 19 respondents.

[liii] 4 respondents.

[liv] 133 people responded to question 1: 26 yes/107 no.

[lv] 19 respondents.

[lvi] 4 respondents.

[lvii] 106 people responded to question 1: 17 yes/89 no.

[lviii] 11 respondents.

[lix] 2 respondents.

[lx] 56 people responded to question 1: 13 yes/43 no.

[lxi] 6 respondents.

[lxii] 4 respondents.

[lxiii] 20 people responded to question 1: 4 yes/16 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[lxiv] 2 respondents.

[lxv] 1 respondent.

[lxvi] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information

-Removing potentially defamatory comments and

-Removing offensive remarks.

I have also corrected some spelling/grammatical mistakes for ease of reading.