It’s reached that point in late February where, every day at 4:20pm, I visit the Bureau of Meteorology website to check the forecast for Saturday night’s Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.
But, irrespective of whether the BoM says it will rain, hail, (smoke) or shine, there’s a much larger cloud hanging over Australia’s LGBTI community: the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.
This legislation has the potential to adversely affect nearly every aspect of our existence.
From health-care, where it will allow doctors and pharmacists to deny hormone therapy, including puberty blockers, to trans and gender diverse people. And to refuse to provide access to PEP, and PrEP, exposing gay and bisexual men to greater risk of HIV transmission.
To the workplace, where employers and colleagues will be able to make comments that offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule us, as long as those statements are based on religious belief.
A manager could tell a staff member that gay sex is sinful, and same-sex relationships are intrinsically disordered.
An interviewer may inform a trans applicant that gender is binary, and therefore their gender identity is not real.
A colleague could respond to a lesbian co-worker showing pictures of her family in the lunch-room that she has deliberately denied her children of a father, and will be condemned by god for her ‘lifestyle’ choices.
These are all entirely plausible scenarios. And all would be legally permitted under the Religious Discrimination Bill, because statements of belief are effectively exempt from all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.
Indeed, statements of belief would be protected across all areas of public life, not just employment.
If this legislation passes, international tourists visiting Sydney this time next year could be subjected to degrading and demeaning comments anywhere and everywhere, at the airport, in the taxi or uber, on buses, trains and ferries, at the hotel or B&B, at tourist attractions, in cafes and restaurants, at shops and on the streets.
That sounds more like hate-song than ‘matesong’.
Except, once the party is over tourists will be able to leave these homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments behind, while LGBTI Australians will be stuck with them, like unshakeable glitter, invading every nook and cranny for years to come.
As a certain bank tried to remind us last week – and was then itself reminded by the community – ‘words do hurt’. It is unacceptable that our own Government is so focussed on ensuring we are all exposed to more hurtful words in our lives.
The Bill also further entrenches the special privileges granted to religious schools and other faith-based organisations to discriminate against teachers, other employees, students and, in some cases, people accessing their services, on the grounds of religious belief or lack of belief. Even where these services are being delivered using public funding.
It doesn’t explicitly grant new powers to religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and students. But then it doesn’t need to, either – because those powers already exist under the Sex Discrimination Act and, despite promising to protect LGBT students before the end of 2018, the Morrison Government has so far failed to shield some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
The theme for this year’s Mardi Gras is ‘What Matters’. In pushing ahead with the Religious Discrimination Bill, despite criticism from LGBTI organisations and a wide range of other civil society bodies, while failing to protect students in religious schools, it is clear the right to be a bigot matters much more to them than the safety of LGBT kids.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the current debate is that, from an LGBTI advocate’s perspective, it is a purely reactive one – defending existing rights under what are already-flawed anti-discrimination laws, rather than trying to make those laws better (for example, including bisexual, non-binary and intersex people in NSW’s out-dated Anti-Discrimination Act).
It takes attention away from other urgent law and policy reform, too.
We shouldn’t forget that this Saturday’s march takes place in a state where trans people still need to have surgery – which is both expensive, and for some people, unwanted – before being able to update their identity documentation.
And in a country where children born with variations in sex characteristics continue to suffer massive human rights violations, including coercive, intrusive and irreversible surgery and other medical treatments.
The Religious Discrimination Bill will take LGBTI rights in Australia backwards, when there is still so much progress left to be made, on these and many other issues.
It’s time the Morrison Government abandoned this legislative attack on our community, and instead worked with us to achieve positive change – maybe then we can finally celebrate under clear skies.
For more on this subject, see The Religious Discrimination Bill: What you should know.
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