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. More hopefully, the new NT Government is currently considering possible improvements to their legislation, including the introduction of ‘gender identity’ as a protected attribute (for more information, see their consultation paper here.)

 

  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.

 

  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. The Northern Territory does not prohibit either racial or anti-LGBTI vilification – although it is considering the issue of anti-vilification protections as part of its current consultation process.

 

  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]

 

  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 jurisdictions 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.

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2 thoughts on “A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws

  1. Omg, thank you for writing this. I was among people having a discussion about this yesterday – si hard to navigate, but this is incredible! Able to see what you need at a glance but then contains the extra detail you need! Thank you so much for taking the time to create this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome Michelle. I agree that it’s a difficult area to navigate, and I hope I’ve made it a little bit easier. Of course, there’s plenty of work left to do ensure these laws adequately protect LGBTI Australians against discrimination irrespective of where they live.

      Like

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