Prejudice against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community comes with a hefty price tag.
It is paid for by the individuals who are subject to direct and indirect acts of discrimination, being denied employment, or services, because of who they are, who they love or how they identify.
And by others, who self-censor, missing out on opportunities and on full participation in society, because of the legitimate fear of such discrimination.
It is paid for in the adverse mental health impacts experienced by the LGBT community, with depression, anxiety and other mental illness caused by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
And most tragically by those who end their lives as a consequence.
It has even been estimated that homophobia costs the global economy at least $119.1 billion in lost GDP every single year (and presumably more if the effects of biphobia and transphobia are included).
But, in this post, I want to take this question – who pays for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – more literally.
In essence, who provides the money that funds anti-LGBT prejudice? Who allows it to occur in the first place?
The answer (or at least one of the answers), sadly, is all of us. Let me explain.
You are probably aware that most religious schools in Australia currently enjoy special privileges that permit them to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.
This includes religious exceptions such as section 38 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, as well as equivalent anti-discrimination laws in New South Wales and Victoria.
In fact, Tasmania and now the ACT are the only Australian jurisdictions that do not allow religious schools to discriminate against teachers and students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.
All of the other states and territories allow at least some discrimination against LGBT students, or teachers, or in many cases both (Queensland actually comes closest to matching Tasmania and the ACT’s ‘best practice’ approach: it does not permit discrimination against LGBT students, while LGBT teachers are subject to a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ regime – although that still means they can be fired if they even mention having a same-sex partner in the workplace).[i]
And you likely also know that in Australia, religious schools receive significant government funding.
But you are probably not aware just how much public money – taxpayers’ money, your money – is given to these institutions.
According to the 2018 Budget, the Commonwealth Government will provide:
- $11.829 billion to non-government schools in 2018-19
- $12.452 billion in 2019-20
- $13.145 billion in 2020-21, and
- $13.821 billion in 2021-22.
That’s a total of $51.247 billion in taxpayers’ money going to non-government schools in just four years.
In fact, it’s even worse than that. In September, the Morrison Liberal-National Government announced an extra $1.1 billion for non-government schools over the next four years (and $4.5 billion over the next decade).
And these numbers don’t include the funding provided by state and territory governments.
Based on averages published by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), state and territory governments provide approximately one-third of the amount funded by the Commonwealth.
That means an extra $17.43 billion of public funding over the next four years alone, bringing the overall total to $69.78 billion.
Now, a couple of important caveats. Given religious schools in Tasmania are not permitted to discriminate against either LGBT students or teachers, let’s subtract $1.438 billion from this figure (the $1.079 billion allocated to Tasmanian non-government schools in the Commonwealth Budget, plus an extra third for additional state government funding) as well as $1.083 billion for the ACT (the $811.7 million allocated by the Commonwealth, plus an extra third from the Territory government).
And, with a small proportion of non-government schools being non-religious in nature and therefore generally not allowed to discriminate (except in NSW, where the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 permits all private schools, religious or otherwise, to discriminate against homosexual and transgender students and teachers), let’s be generous and subtract another 5%.
That still leaves $63.83 billion in Commonwealth, state and territory government funding allocated to religious schools over the next four years even though they are allowed to discriminate against LGBT teachers, students or both.[ii]
And who picks up the tab for this Government-sponsored homophobia, biphobia and transphobia? You do of course.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in June 2017 there were 19.963 million Australians aged 15 and over (and therefore potentially of taxpaying age).
This means that for every Australian individual taxpayer Commonwealth, state and territory governments will collectively give $3,198 over the next four years to religious schools that have the legal right to discriminate against LGBT students and/or teachers. Roughly $800 every year, per person, spent subsidising anti-LGBT prejudice.[iii]
What makes these figures truly offensive, obscene even, is remembering that this money is coming from LGBT teachers, who are paying for religious schools to have the ability to deny them employment in up to 40% of the jobs for which they are qualified.
From the parents of LGBT children, who are paying for the special privileges of these institutions to reject their child’s enrolment simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And from same-sex couples in rainbow families, who are paying for religious schools to deny their children admission on the basis of their parents’ relationship.
Indeed, the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools is being paid for by the taxes of all LGBT Australians, our families, friends and allies.
And by the 61.6% of voters who just last year said that we are, or should be, equal irrespective of our sexual orientation or gender identity.
Despite that result (or perhaps even because of it) the Liberal-National Government seems intent on making what is a horrible situation worse.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commissioned the Ruddock Review of Religious Freedom during last year’s same-sex marriage parliamentary debate.
The contents of that review’s final report, delivered to the government in May but not yet released to the public, were leaked yesterday to Fairfax newspapers, and appear to support the further entrenchment, and possible expansion, of the ‘right’ of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers.
This could potentially include the Commonwealth Government using the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to override the anti-discrimination laws of states and territories like Tasmania and the ACT (and to a lesser extent Queensland) that have moved to limit these special privileges.
New Prime Minister Scott Morrison does not seem opposed to such a development, saying that the right to discriminate against gay students ‘already exists’ (ignoring the fact it has been curtailed in some jurisdictions).
Three weeks’ ago he also told Sky’s Paul Murray that:
Let me give you this example. I send my kids to a Christian school, I think that Christian school should be able to ensure they can provide education consistent with the Christian faith and teaching that I believe as a parent. That’s why I’m sending them there. I don’t think that school should be told who they can and can’t employ, or have restrictions on them in ensuring that they’re delivering to me – the parent, their client, their customer – what I’ve invested in for my children’s education.
What he fails to mention is that, by virtue of public funding for religious schools, we are all ‘investing’ in his children’s education.
And what the Ruddock Review, Prime Minister Morrison and some members of his Government seem to want is for all of us to pay even more to allow more religious schools to discriminate against more LGBT students and teachers.
Well, fuck that. Enough is enough.
It’s time we stopped handing over money so that religious schools can fuck over LGBT students.
And it’s time we stopped coughing up cash so that these institutions can tell LGBT teachers and other staff to fuck off.
These human rights violations have gone on long enough.
To borrow a phrase from the American Revolution, there should be no taxation without anti-discrimination protection. Or even more simply:
No Taxation For Discrimination.
Instead of being an excuse for expanding religious exceptions in relation to religious schools, the Religious Freedom Review should be the catalyst for these special privileges to finally be subjected to proper scrutiny.
If the Morrison Government introduces amendments to entrench and expand the exceptions in section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act, and potentially to override the best practice approaches of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act and ACT Anti-Discrimination Act, it will be up to Labor, the Greens and the cross-bench to block it (for his part, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is making the right noises, saying “The fact is every child is entitled to human dignity. We shouldn’t even be having this debate”).
The pressure will also be on Liberal moderates, who like to claim credit for delivering marriage equality (they didn’t, but that’s a post for another day), to stand up and help defeat proposals that will increase discrimination against that same community.
But stopping things from getting worse would hardly be a heroic achievement. The religious exceptions of the Sex Discrimination Act, and the equivalent laws in most states and territories that promote anti-LGBT prejudice, must be repealed.
Because LGBT teachers should be employed on the basis of their abilities, not their orientations or identities.
And LGBT students should not be refused enrolment, expelled, or discriminated against in any way, shape or form, just because of who they are. Not one student. Not ever.
While the rest of us shouldn’t be forced to pay for it, literally funding the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools.
Bottom line: if religious schools want one cent from us, they must be decent to us, and that means ending their special privileges to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff once and for all.
To take action, please sign and share this petition from just.equal: www.equal.org.au/protectourkidsandteachers
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[i] For more information about these laws, see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.
[ii] I am not suggesting that all of these schools would discriminate against LGBT students and/or teachers. In practice, a number provide welcoming environments irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, these schools retain the legal right to discriminate on these grounds.
[iii] By way of comparison, the Commonwealth Government will provide $245.6 million over the next four years to another inappropriate and unjustified school funding initiative (the National School Chaplaincy Program), or the equivalent of $12.30 for every Australian aged 15 and over. On the other hand, the Turnbull Government, of which Scott Morrison was Treasurer, axed the $8 million Safe Schools program in 2016 – in effect, they could not even be bothered spending 40c per taxpayer, spread over four years (so just 10c per taxpayer per year), to help address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools.