The robo-debt letter that should be sent

This time last year, there was an emerging scandal for the Turnbull Government – the automated letters being sent to hundreds of thousands of people who had received social security seeking repayment of supposed debts worth tens of thousands of dollars.

 

Based on incomplete and often inconsistent information, a significant proportion of these notices were inaccurate, with many recipients owing nothing at all.

 

The ‘robo-debt’ letter program was nothing short of an omnishambles. Unfortunately, despite scathing assessments by both the Commonwealth Ombudsman and a Senate Inquiry, this scheme continues to this day.

 

Instead of targeting many of the most vulnerable members of the community, for debts they either don’t owe or can’t pay, there is one robo-debt letter that I think should be sent.

 

To a group of people that have cost Australian taxpayers a large amount of money, by failing to perform their most basic duties, and who definitely have the capacity to pay.

 

**********

 

Dear Liberal and National Senators and Members of Parliament,

 

We are writing to seek repayment of a significant sum you owe to the people of Australia. This debt has been incurred due to your failure to fulfil the minimum responsibilities of your employment.

 

In August 2017, instead of voting on legislation in Parliament – which is, after all, what you are elected to do – you decided to outsource your obligations to the general public, by holding a postal survey about same-sex marriage.

 

Your postal survey was unnecessary. Unlike Ireland, there was absolutely no requirement for this process, which could at best be described as a voluntary, non-binding, national opinion poll.

 

Your postal survey was harmful. Exactly as the LGBTI community had told you it would be: “experiences of verbal and physical assaults more than doubled in the three months following the announcement of the postal survey compared with the prior six months”, while “more than 90% reported the postal vote had a negative impact on them to some degree.”

 

Your postal survey was unprecedented. Never before has an optional survey, run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, been used to cast judgement on the fundamental human rights of a minority group. It must never be used again.

 

Your postal survey was wasteful. Originally budgeted at $122 million, it apparently came in under budget – at just $80.5 million*. This is money that could have been spent on health. Or education. Or any number of government programs that actually benefit the Australian community.

 

The historic events of the past fortnight have merely confirmed this monumental waste. LGBTI marriage has finally been passed in both houses of Parliament – the places where this important change should have been made all along.

 

Indeed, Commonwealth Parliament is the only place where it could ever have been achieved.

 

You are one of 105 Coalition Members of Parliament elected at the 2016 federal election. Your personal share of responsibility for this debt, of $100 million, has been allocated equally.

 

Your estimated debt is $766,666.67. We seek your repayment within 30 days of receipt of this letter.

 

Responsibility for seats currently unoccupied due to dual citizenship-related ineligibility – Liberal Senator Stephen Parry, Nationals Senator Fiona Nash and Liberal MP John Alexander – will fall on their respective political parties.

 

We understand a small number of you have consistently opposed your Government’s proposals to hold a plebiscite and then, when that legislation was rejected by the Senate, to conduct a postal survey instead. We thank you for your principled position.

 

If you fall into this category, please supply evidence of your denunciation of these policies, following its announcement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott in August 2015, and during the plebiscite debate in the second half of 2016 and the postal survey debate in August 2017, both under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

 

Once this evidence is received, you share of responsibility will also be allocated to your party’s head office.

 

Grievance procedures

 

It is possible some of you will feel aggrieved to receive this letter. If that is the case, please feel free to lodge a formal letter of complaint.

 

However, you should be aware we will give it the same level of consideration that you gave to the legitimate concerns expressed by the LGBTI community ahead of your decision to hold the postal ballot.

 

You should also consider yourselves lucky.

 

Lucky you are not having your wages deducted for all the years in parliament during which you failed to pass this most straight-forward of reforms (for some of you, stretching all the way back to the Howard Government’s original ban on marriage equality in 2004).

 

Lucky you are not being charged for all the time and expense wasted by LGBTI Australians, and our families, friends and allies, in having to fight for equal rights during your unjust, and unjustifiable, postal survey.

 

Lucky you will not have to pay damages for the emotional, mental and social harms you have caused by shirking your essential responsibilities and undertaking a bitter and divisive ‘vote’.

 

The LGBTI community was not so lucky. We were forced to wait more than 13 years for the equal recognition of our relationships. And then jump through hoops no-one else has ever been expected to negotiate.

 

We paid the price for your lack of leadership. Now it’s time for you to pay up.

 

Sincerely,

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, our families, friends and allies

 

Parliament House

*NB An earlier version of this article used the figure $100 million as the estimate announced by the ABS on the day the postal survey results were announced. On 8 December, Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann revealed the final cost to the Government was $80.5 million.

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Wedding Dates and Mandates

Centennial-Park heart

Centennial Park, Sydney.

 

A couple of weeks ago, my fiancé Steven and I were walking around Centennial Park in Sydney when we started discussing possible wedding dates.

 

That shouldn’t be remarkable: an engaged couple talking about the timing of their nuptials. Except it was probably the first time in about five years that we seriously considered when and where we might hold our ceremony.

 

The previous conversation coincided with the last proper vote on marriage equality in Commonwealth Parliament – way back in September 2012. But now, with the same-sex marriage postal survey drawing to a close, there is a real prospect that marriage equality might finally become law in the months ahead.

 

Of course, there are some major hurdles still to overcome before Steven and I start booking venues and sending out save-the-date cards.

 

The first, and most obvious, hurdle is that the Australian Bureau of Statistics must announce a majority Yes result at 10am on Wednesday 15 November, just ten days from now.

 

Assuming that outcome is favourable, the second hurdle is for our 226 parliamentarians to pass legislation to respect the wishes of the Australian population.

 

That part should be relatively straight-forward – amending the Marriage Act to make the definition of marriage inclusive of LGBTI couples, and to recognise the marriages of thousands of couples that already exist.

 

But it is highly likely the debate around what should be included in, and excluded from, a marriage equality bill will be just as divisive as the postal survey that preceded it, if not more so.

 

That is because the same groups who have steadfastly opposed the equal recognition of LGBTI relationships, including the Australian Christian Lobby and conservatives within the Coalition, are now arguing that any bill to introduce marriage equality must be weighed down by new special privileges allowing discrimination against us across multiple spheres of public life.

 

As reported by news.com.au these changes: “could include lessening hate speech laws, axing legislation that gives same-sex parents the same rights as straight parents, barring gay couples from accessing IVF and allowing parents to remove kids from any school lesson that even fleetingly mentions gay people. There is also the prospect of businesses being given the green light to refuse to serve anyone who is gay, not just those organising same-sex weddings.”

 

The introduction of such amendments would fundamentally alter the purpose of the legislation being debated. It would no longer be a marriage equality bill, it would instead be a bill to promote discrimination against LGBTI Australians, where expanding the right to marry would be purely incidental.

 

Obviously, these changes must be resisted, and resisted strongly, which means it will once again fall to LGBTI Australians, and our allies, to argue for the equal treatment of our relationships.

 

Once again, we have the arguments on our side. From the principle that secular law should not discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, to the ideal of a fair go which means one form of discrimination should not simply be replaced by another.

 

We must also highlight the inconsistency of those claiming these rights to discriminate are necessary to protect ‘religious freedom’ – if they have not historically been required to allow discrimination against divorced couples remarrying, they are not necessary to permit discrimination against same-sex couples now.

 

But there is another argument against the introduction of these new special privileges to discriminate that I would like to talk about, and that is the theory of political mandates (I know, I know, this is far less romantic than discussing possible wedding dates, but please hear me out).

 

For those who don’t know, a mandate is defined as ‘the authority to carry out a policy, regarded as given by the electorate.’

 

In this case, the Australian electorate has just participated in a $122 million, three month long, nation-wide postal survey to determine whether it supports same-sex marriage. If the result is Yes, as is widely-expected, what does that mean for the ‘mandate’ of the Government, and the Parliament more broadly?

 

  1. There is a mandate for same-sex marriage

 

The first, and least controversial, outcome is that, if the population has voted yes, there is a clear mandate for Parliament to introduce amendments that allow all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians to marry. Not even Lyle Shelton could argue against that (well, he might try, but should be ignored).

 

  1. There is no mandate for new special privileges to discriminate against same-sex couples

 

On the other hand, a Yes vote does not provide the Government or Parliament with a mandate to introduce new special privileges allowing individuals and organisations to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

 

Why? Because of the question that Australians were asked to answer: ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’

 

What is not there is just as important as what is. There were no asterisks at the end of the question, no footnotes on the survey form saying ‘different terms and conditions apply’.

 

Nor were there any extra clauses – it did not ask whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry subject to additional rights to discriminate against them.

 

The absence of asterisks, terms and conditions or extra clauses on the postal survey question means Parliament does not have a mandate to introduce asterisks, terms and conditions or extra clauses to our equality in the Marriage Act.

 

Indeed, this point was (inadvertently) conceded by former Prime Minister John Howard in September, when he called for current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to release details of the Bill it would put forward in the event of a Yes vote:

 

“On the evidence to date, it would seem that the only protections in that bill will not go much beyond stipulations that no minister, priest, rabbi or imam will be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony… It is precisely because parliament should reflect the will of the people that the people are entitled to know what, if anything, the government will do on protections before they vote.”

 

The fact the Turnbull Government did not put forward any official legislation means, by Howard’s own rationale, it does not have a mandate to introduce new special privileges to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

 

Postal survey form

No asterisks, terms and conditions or extra clauses – the postal survey only asked whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

 

  1. There is a mandate for marriage equality

 

The wording of the postal survey question means a Yes vote does provide the Parliament with a mandate to introduce genuine marriage equality. In fact, I would argue they have an obligation to do exactly that.

 

Unless the question specifically stated that same-sex couples would be treated as lesser than cisgender heterosexual couples are now – which, as we have seen, it did not – then the logical inference is that they would and should be treated the same.

 

And that is exactly how the question was interpreted by the Australian population.

 

As reported by Buzzfeed this week, a Galaxy poll: “canvassed 1,000 Australians on their views on same-sex marriage from October 26 to 30.

 

“In response to the question, ‘If the majority vote ‘yes’ in the postal survey, should same-sex couples be treated the same under the law compared with other couples?’, 78% of respondents said yes.

 

“This figure consisted of 98% of respondents who said they had voted ‘yes’, and [even] 43% of those who said they had voted ‘no’.”

 

As noted by PFLAG’s Shelley Argent in the same article: “This poll couldn’t be clearer. Australians want marriage equality and we want it without any of the caveats and exemptions that will further entrench discrimination against same-sex couples.”

 

And so, if the outcome of the postal survey on 15 November is a Yes, then the message to our Parliamentarians will be unambiguous – they should provide LGBTI Australians with the right to marry, and they must do so on exactly the same terms as it is enjoyed by cisgender heterosexual couples today.

 

**********

 

Nobody should underestimate the scale of the challenge that lies ahead of us. Even if we win the postal survey in ten days time, the debate that follows, about what same-sex marriage looks like in practice, is going to be a messy one.

 

Our opponents will fight just as hard, and just as dirty, as they have over the past few months. We will need to rely once more on our patience, our passion and our principles to win.

 

It is also unclear how long this debate will last. While some express the hope that marriage equality could be passed by Christmas, it is possible that this process will take several months to resolve, lasting well into 2018. There is even the chance that same-sex marriage is not passed this term, because the legislation that is put forward has to be rejected as it falls short of true equality.

 

All of which means that, while Steven and I have (re)started our discussion about possible wedding dates, we still have no clear idea when that might ultimately be.

 

But I do know this: when I asked him to marry me on that January day in Melbourne almost eight years ago, there were no conditions attached. When Steven and I finally get married, there shouldn’t be any conditions attached either.

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 successful marriage is based on the content of your character, 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.

 

original_1495494419744.405

 

Two final points:

  • Please share this post, adding your own reason(s) why you will be voting for marriage equality. Or come up with your own list, and share that. Because we have the arguments on our side, but we need to be making them from right now until the postal survey closes.

 

  • To find out how else you can get involved in the Yes campaign, including volunteering opportunities, visit their website 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.

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.

 

311032_10150319757443027_200380029_n

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.

 

Untitled design-2

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.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 5: Discrimination in Employment

This post is the fifth 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 ever experienced discrimination in employment, whether any of this discrimination occurred in the past 12 months, whether this discrimination related to employment by religious organisations and to provide an example of the discrimination that they experienced.

 

The responses to these questions confirm that too many LGBTIQ Australians have to worry about discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in the workplace on top of the usual career and financial worries.

 

The question about whether any of this discrimination occurred in relation to employment by a religious organisation is important because of the existence of special rights to discriminate for these employers in most states and territories, leaving LGBTI employees 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 many different types of employment-related discrimination that LGBTIQ people have encountered.

 

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 employment (including as an employee, contract worker or job applicant)?

 

Question 2: Has one or more instances of this employment-related discrimination occurred in the past 12 months?

 

&

 

Question 3: Did any of this discrimination occur in relation to employment, or an application for employment, with a religious organisation?

 

Of the 1,622 people who answered the first question, 491 – or 30% – said they had experienced employment-related discrimination at some point in their lives.

 

Disturbingly, 235 survey respondents[ii] reported experiencing anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment in the past 12 months alone. That is 14.5% of the total, or 1 in every 7 people who completed the survey.

 

The proportion that reported employment-related discrimination by religious organisations was 6.1%[iii]. This is thankfully much lower than the proportion that had reported discrimination by religious schools (in Survey Results, Part 4) – although that is likely a reflection of the expansive reach of religious schools, and comparatively smaller employment footprint of religious bodies.

 

Nevertheless, most of those 6% probably had no recourse to anti-discrimination protections given the excessive, and unjustified, exceptions provided to religious organisations in most Australian jurisdictions.

 

LGBTIQ Status

 

There were some significant differences in reported employment-related discrimination between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer survey respondents:

 

Lesbian

 

  • 31.6%[iv] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 15.3%[v] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 7.8%[vi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Gay

 

  • 34.3%[vii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 13%[viii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 5.9%[ix] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Bisexual

 

  • 20.3%[x] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 11.1%[xi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 4.3%[xii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Transgender

 

  • 44.4%[xiii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 29.2%[xiv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6.8%[xv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Intersex

 

  • 73.3%[xvi] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 40%[xvii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 20%[xviii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Queer

 

  • 30.3%[xix] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.9%[xx] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6%[xxi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

LGBTIQ Category Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
Lesbian 31.6 15.3 7.8
Gay 34.3 13 5.9
Bisexual 20.3 11.1 4.3
Transgender 44.4 29.2 6.8
Intersex 73.3 40 20
Queer 30.3 16.9 6

 

The highest rates for all three were from intersex respondents, although the small sample size for that group (n=15) means those figures should be treated with some caution.

 

Of the other groups, there was a large degree of consistency, with two main exceptions:

 

  • Bisexual respondents reported significantly lower rates of employment-related discrimination in all three areas (ever, last 12 months and by religious organisations), and
  • Transgender respondents reported significantly higher rates of lifetime employment-related discrimination, and particularly in the last 12 months (although, interestingly, not in terms of discrimination by religious organisations).

 

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

 

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

 

Trans and gay: 47.4%[xxiv] ever, and 28% in the last 12 months

 

Trans and bisexual: 36.1%[xxv] ever, and 24.6% in the last 12 months, and

 

Trans and queer: 42.2%[xxvi] ever, and 25.9% in the last 12 months.

 

While there was little variation in terms of discrimination over the past 12 months (at a disturbingly high 1-in-4 across all groups), trans and queer, and especially trans and gay respondents were more likely to report lifetime discrimination in employment than the other two groups.

 

Overall, then, while lesbian, gay and queer people reported close-to-(the LGBTIQ)-average levels of employment-related discrimination across the board, bisexual respondents reported lower rates.

 

On the other hand, intersex and transgender respondents were particularly affected by discrimination in employment, with people who were both trans and gay and (to a lesser extent) trans and queer more likely to report lifetime discrimination.

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

 

The rates of discrimination for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were higher for all three questions than for their non-Indigenous counterparts, although thankfully in relation to discrimination in the past 12 months and by religious organisations these rates were only slightly elevated:

 

  • 37.9%[xxvii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point (compared to 30% of non-Indigenous people)
  • 15.5%[xxviii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months (compared to 14.5% of non-Indigenous people) and
  • 6.9%[xxix] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation (compared to 6.1% of non-Indigenous people).

 

Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander 37.9 15.5 6.9
Non-Indigenous 30 14.5 6.1

 

Age

 

These results are potentially the most interesting of this post:

 

Aged 24 and under

 

  • 20.9%[xxx] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 13.8%[xxxi] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 3.8%[xxxii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

25 to 44

 

  • 36.9%[xxxiii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.2%[xxxiv] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 7%[xxxv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

45 to 64

 

  • 48.5%[xxxvi] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.1%[xxxvii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
  • 11.3%[xxxviii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

65 and over

 

  • 41.9%[xxxix] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • None experienced any instance in the past 12 months
  • 16.1%[xl] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Age cohort Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
24 and under 20.9 13.8 3.8
25 to 44 36.9 16.2 7
45 to 64 48.5 16.1 11.3
65 and over 41.9 0 16.1

 

Young people obviously have less employment history, and therefore the lower rates of reported lifetime discrimination are perhaps unsurprising. However, the fact that almost 1-in-7 suffered employment-related discrimination during the past 12 months alone, when a significant share would not even be in the workforce at all, is shocking.

 

Lifetime rates of discrimination then increase for the next two age groups, peaking at almost 1-in-2 for LGBTIQ people aged 45 to 64. In effect, just as many people in this cohort have experienced discrimination in employment as those who have escaped its impact – another remarkable statistic.

 

Perhaps just as depressing is the fact that for both people aged 25 to 44, and 45 to 64, the rates of recent anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in employment were roughly the same – at a time when they should be more ‘secure’ in their careers, almost 1-in-6 experienced employment related discrimination in the last year alone.

 

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

 

  • 28.7%[xli] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 13.4%[xlii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 5.7%[xliii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Victoria

 

  • 33%[xliv] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.2%[xlv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6.6%[xlvi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Queensland

 

  • 36.6%[xlvii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 17.5%[xlviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 6.9%[xlix] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Western Australia

 

  • 32.7%[l] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 17.3%[li] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 5.3%[lii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

South Australia

 

  • 26.3%[liii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 15.8%[liv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 7.5%[lv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Tasmania

 

  • 20.4%[lvi] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 9.3%[lvii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3.7%[lviii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

  • 19.6%[lix] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.3%[lx] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 3.6%[lxi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

Northern Territory

 

  • 35%[lxii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
  • 10%[lxiii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 15%[lxiv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation

 

State or territory Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?
Ever Last 12 months By religious organisation
NSW 28.7 13.4 5.7
Victoria 33 14.2 6.6
Queensland 36.6 17.5 6.9
WA 32.7 17.3 5.3
SA 26.3 15.8 7.5
Tasmania 20.4 9.3 3.7
ACT 19.6 14.3 3.6
NT 35 10 15

 

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

 

Tasmania and the ACT reported low lifetime rates of employment-related discrimination, with Queensland recording the highest rates (alongside the Northern Territory, although note the latter’s small sample size, n=20).

 

Queensland and Western Australia reported higher levels of anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in the workplace during the last year – more than 1-in-6 employees reporting recent discrimination. Tasmania (and the Northern Territory) reported the lowest rates – but that nevertheless reflected the fact 1-in-10 LGBTIQ people were discriminated against in 2016 alone.

 

**********

 

Question 4: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of the discrimination you experienced in relation to employment [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[lxv] version of the answers to this question – providing examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in relation to employment – can be found at the following link:

 

question 4 examples of discrimination in employment

 

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

 

  • Being refused employment

 

“I was told “we don’t hire faggy trans here, or anywhere in this town. If you come back in this shop, we’ll shoot you.””

 

“I was hired as CEO for a charity. After three interviews, a psych test and a video presentation, I was told I was the leading candidate by a mile. We negotiated start date and salary. As part of the process, I disclosed I was married to a man. That disclosure happened at 305pm on a Monday. At 740am Tuesday, I received an email advising me that the offer was withdrawn. They, of course, did not say it was because I was gay. I, apparently, did not demonstrate sufficient interest in the job.”

 

“Denied a job based on cultural reasons – sexuality not part of our culture therefore cannot teach about said culture. Offer of employment rescinded.”

 

“Got a job interview but as soon as they saw that I was a dyke I didn’t even get a chance to speak to them they acted awkward and uncomfortable and said I wouldn’t suit the job.”

 

  • Being fired from employment

 

“when they found i was homosexual i was sacked from my position as bar attendant in a league club”

 

“Refused employment because of my transgender status, the supervisor found a reason for dismissal on day one and asked what dose oestrogen I was on as my voice is deep and upsetting my patients”

 

  • Losing shifts, especially in casual or part-time employment

 

“My old maccas got a new restaurant manager who hated me because of it and stopped giving me shifts.”

 

“At my last job my employer found out I was a lesbian and coincidentally I stopped receiving any shifts.”

 

“I was in a casual position, the moment I began to transition however, I was shoved sideways and out the door. No more hours.”

 

  • Contracts not being renewed

 

My contract was not renewed because I am gay”

 

“I believe that when my homophobic boss found out I was gay, she discontinued my contract”

 

  • Being denied other employee entitlements

 

“I wasn’t allowed to nominate my partner to receive my superannuation in the event of my death.”

 

Some survey respondents indicated they were punished because of fears (real or perceived) that clients would react badly to their sexual orientation or gender identity:

 

“I have been turned down for some jobs where I would be dealing with the public in hospitality because I was a non passing trans woman.”

 

“I had a job interview with an organisation specialising in disability support in the Midland area (Western Australia), to work as a disability support officer. I had already done exactly the same work for about a year with two other similar organisations which both wanted me to take on more hours. Because those organisations were both a long drive from where I lived I wanted to change to a closer employer. At the end of the interview one of the two interviewers said they could not employ a transgender person because their clients would not accept me. Funny that, their clients must have been very different from the other clients who accepted me without question.”

 

“Clients have refused to hire me and have been open about it being related to my sexuality. My clients’ clients have been very vocal and made complaints about hiring me because of my work with young people and their sexuality/gender identity/expression”

 

For some, workplace homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia was explained by a need to ‘protect’ children:

 

I was sacked in 1987 because I was gay and working as a swimming teacher with children. Despite my full accreditation this was perceived to be inappropriate. I had no resources to take legal action as I was just 19, from a poor background and despite being the regional swimming champion the community had turned against me.”

 

“One employer was so uncomfortable with my sexuality that he would not allow his 3 daughters to have contact with me despite bringing them into the office frequently.”

 

“In 2012 my boss suggested that we have 2 Christmas dinners. One for people with kids, and a separate one with just me and the 2 bosses because “it’s not appropriate to allow a gay man near the kids of other staff members”. I worked at an adult store (sex shop), where I thought I’d be accepted by open minds. I was wrong.”

 

“I was doing work with teenagers at my church’s youth group, but when I refused to hide my sexuality I was told that I was being a bad influence on the kids and would let the devil into their lives and condemn them to damnation. I was no longer allowed to work with the teenagers.”

 

This last example points to a much larger issue – employment-related discrimination by religious organisations, as evidenced by the following responses:

 

“I was a charge nurse of an operating suite that had successfully turned around the fortunes of a religious based hospital: a new manager was appointed that decided to “root out’ all the homosexuals working in the organisation.”

 

“I have been asked to sign a document that guarantees my not wilfully “sinning” (listing homosexual acts as one of those sins) in order to be considered for employment at a religious school.”

 

“After completing my course with results and references from teachers and clinical placements which were far superior to other students, I received no interviews or call backs from employers from religious organisations. I did find work at a private company in my field and am doing well in my job. I feel like my talents and abilities were denied to the clients of these religious employers because of my gender identity and my employment options were severely limited.”

 

“I work as a nurse at a religious based hospital and I experience bullying/ homophobic remarks frequently at work”

 

“company bought out by exclusive brethren, all gays got sacked, was obvious, but they got away with it. “company restructure”…”

 

“I was employed by the Salvation Army. They told me not to have a photo of me and my partner on my desk even though all the Het people had their photos on their desks. I was then told they accept me being a Lesbian provided I’m not a practicing Lesbian. They put a private detective on me and harassed me out of my job.”

 

“I was required to resign my job in 2006 when I came out as gay because my employer was religious. The job had only tangential connection to his religion. I chose not to fight the discrimination – I had lost the heart to work there any more any way. I was then unemployed for 8 months.”

 

“Before I moved into my own practice, I was working in a Baptist school on a maternity leave position. The position then became a permanent role. My manager wanted me to apply and she put my name forward. They pretty much told her that they did not want me in the role because of my “sexuality”…”

 

“Many years ago I won a job in a religious school, was offered the job and then the offer was withdrawn with the explanation that I would not fit the culture.”

 

The public service was not exempt from examples of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination (although some were more historical than others):

 

Being told my sexuality would count against me in an interview for a public sector position.”

 

“In 2012 I was appointed as [senior position] in the [redacted] government. It was a high level and high profile appointment. The Deputy Secretary of the Department who appointed me, wrongly informed the Secretary (i.e. CEO) of the Department that I was gay, in the period when I was coming on board in the role. His response? He told the Dep Sec “I hope he’s not going to flaunt it”. This from one of the highest paid public servants in the entire public service in [redacted] – and the very person who was supposed to safeguard the rights of me and all his other employees. Unbelievable!”

 

“In the early 1990s, I was working in the Commonwealth Public Service in Sydney. I applied for a job at a higher level and was accepted for interview. I was told that although I had come first in the selection process, the job was going to be given to the second-rated candidate because as he was a “family man” he deserved the promotion (and increase in income) more than I did.”

 

“Face significant formal (policy) and informal (cultural attitudes) discrimination in the workplace as an ADF member. Whilst this is improving, it is wrong to say that I am not discriminated against – e.g. placed in the wrong accommodation area, having to adhere to binary uniform codes, etc.”

 

As suggested by the statistics earlier, transgender respondents provided a range of examples of workplace discrimination:

 

“Very difficult to apply for job when all experience and jobs were held under previous identity”

 

“I was told that because I wasn’t using my legal name in my application, I couldn’t be input into their system, and hence did not receive an interview.”

 

“After losing my job, at every interview I’ve been told I ‘got the job’, and once they receive my legal documents and tax file number they never get back to me. At one interview, they told me that my gender identity was a ‘mental illness’ and they needed a doctor’s note before I could work.”

 

“HR seemed to take me seriously at first but whenever I would make a small mistake she would blame it on my transition saying that I was a different and less capable person (primarily she blamed hormone therapy). Most of the time she would talk about me to other people and I needed to quit that job for my own mental health.”

 

“Employers felt uncomfortable with my gender identity and asked me not to wear a binder at work. I’ve started presenting as only female at work now. It’s killing me”

 

“Despite the fact I had a name tag that said Adam and had introduced myself as trans, I was constantly called she. I complained to a manager and it happened again, in a group chat to all employees and managers I yet again said in the kindest way that I do wish to be respected and not misgendered and later that night and from then on was still misgendered.”

 

“Refusal to change name in email system. Misgendering during heated discussions (seemingly deliberate). Office doesn’t have gender-neutral toilets, asked to use toilets of assigned gender. Could go on…”

 

“When I finally told my work I was Transitioning I was made to feel an outcast and I finally left the position”

 

“My work requires i wear a male uniform regardless of my gender identity. I didn’t get a choice of what gender uniform. Only got to choose the size”

 

Disturbingly, some survey respondents reported complaining about the anti-LGBTIQ conduct they experienced, but then no (or insufficient) action being taken:

 

“I have also been the subject of religious based hate speech in a non religious school in the lunch room and that was let slide despite my protestations.”

 

“Gay and AIDS jokes being made, and then on one occasion when i complained to the manager, the manager made me stay home whilst she investigated the complaint, which made me feel as if I was being punished and not the offender.”

 

A few respondents noted the difficulty of proving homophobic discrimination:

 

“It’s really hard to explain, you know when people are making decisions about you without actually saying out loud it’s homophobia. It can be very obscure & hard to prove, but its there alright.”

 

“I can’t prove it but have a strong suspicion my position was made redundant because my boss found out I was gay”

 

This final comment explicitly describes discrimination by religious organisations, the fact that it remains completely lawful in most circumstances, and the impact that this has:

 

“This is an area that I get upset about, especially working for a religious organisation. The invisibility and intolerance by some people is hard to bear, especially knowing that religious organisations are exempt from the Anti-Discrimination Act. Living with the fear that if management realise you are gay and sack you for being gay – this is TOTALLY LEGAL. This is totally unjust and disgraceful that anti-discrimination law actually endorses and permits discrimination. I recently had a new manager who, though looking cool, held some very conservative views. I didn’t dare sound him out on gay issues, because I would have been lectured that I was an abomination for being gay (as other people have told me). This leads me to not reveal my true identity at work and to live in some fear of discrimination (knowing the law does not protect me)”

 

**********

 

Conclusion

 

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

 

This includes 3 in every 10 respondents people reporting lifetime experience of such discrimination, with 1 in 7 reporting at least one instance of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment in the last 12 months alone.

 

Some groups within the community reported even higher lifetime rates than this already high average, with intersex and trans people, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people and people aged 45 to 64 particularly affected.

 

While the rates of discrimination by religious organisations were comparatively low, this is likely explained by the lower numbers of people employed in this sector (especially compared to the far higher proportion of students in religious schools).

 

The personal examples of employment-related discrimination shared in response to question 4 demonstrate the many different forms such prejudice can take, with a particular focus on transphobia, and discrimination by religious organisations (noting that such mistreatment is entirely lawful in most jurisdictions due to religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws).

 

As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the fifth in my series of six articles reporting the results of my The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia survey. The remaining article, which will focus on discrimination in health and other areas, will be published within the next week.

 

If you would like to receive updates of these results, 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

[ii] 490 people responded to question 2: 235 yes/255 no.

[iii] 490 people responded to question 3: 99 yes/391 no.

[iv] 320 people responded to question 1: 101 yes/219 no.

[v] 49 respondents.

[vi] 35 respondents.

[vii] 629 people responded to question 1: 216 yes/413 no.

[viii] 82 respondents.

[ix] 37 respondents.

[x] 513 people responded to question 1: 104 yes/409 no.

[xi] 57 respondents.

[xii] 22 respondents.

[xiii] 367 people responded to question 1: 163 yes/204 no.

[xiv] 107 respondents.

[xv] 62 respondents.

[xvi] 15 people responded to question 1: 11 yes/4 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xvii] 6 respondents.

[xviii] 3 respondents.

[xix] 485 people responded to question 1: 147 yes/338 no.

[xx] 82 respondents.

[xxi] 29 respondents.

[xxii] I have excluded the figures for discrimination by religious employers, which ranged from 1.8% for trans and gay, to 8.1% for trans and queer, with trans and lesbian, and trans and bisexual, sitting in the middle.

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

[xxiv] 57 respondents total, with 27 yes to question 1 and 16 yes to question 2.

[xxv] 122 respondents total, with 44 yes to question1 and 30 yes to question 2.

[xxvi] 185 respondents total, with 78 yes to question 1 and 48 yes to question 2.

[xxvii] 58 people responded to question 1: 22 yes/36 no.

[xxviii] 9 respondents.

[xxix] 4 respondents.

[xxx] 871 people responded to question 1: 182 yes/689 no.

[xxxi] 120 respondents.

[xxxii] 33 respondents.

[xxxiii] 431 people responded to question 1: 159 yes/272 no.

[xxxiv] 70 respondents.

[xxxv] 30 respondents.

[xxxvi] 274 people responded to question 1: 133 yes/141 no.

[xxxvii] 44 respondents.

[xxxviii] 31 respondents.

[xxxix] 31 people responded to question 1: 13 yes/18 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xl] 5 respondents.

[xli] 530 people responded to question 1: 152 yes/378 no.

[xlii] 71 respondents.

[xliii] 30 respondents.

[xliv] 379 people responded to question 1: 125 yes/254 no.

[xlv] 54 respondents.

[xlvi] 25 respondents.

[xlvii] 246 people responded to question 1: 90 yes/156 no.

[xlviii] 43 respondents.

[xlix] 17 respondents.

[l] 150 people responded to question 1: 49 yes/101 no.

[li] 26 respondents.

[lii] 8 respondents.

[liii] 133 people responded to question 1: 35 yes/98 no.

[liv] 21 respondents.

[lv] 10 respondents.

[lvi] 108 people responded to question 1: 22 yes/86 no.

[lvii] 10 respondents.

[lviii] 4 respondents.

[lix] 56 people responded to question 1: 11 yes/45 no.

[lx] 8 respondents.

[lxi] 2 respondents.

[lxii] 20 people responded to question 1: 7 yes/13 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[lxiii] 2 respondents.

[lxiv] 3 respondents.

[lxv] 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.

Submission to Inquiry into the Status of the Human Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief

The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is currently holding an inquiry into ‘religious freedom’, although sadly it is disproportionately focused on promoting the freedom to, rather than freedom from, religious belief. My submission below attempts to redress this imbalance. For more details on the inquiry, click here.

 

Committee Secretary

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

PO Box 6021

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2066

religionorbelief@aph.gov.au

 

Dear Committee Secretary

 

Inquiry into the Status of the Human Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to the above-named inquiry.

 

In this submission, I will be focusing on Term of Reference 4, namely:

 

“Australian efforts, including those of Federal, State and Territory governments and non-government organisations, to protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief in Australia and around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific region.”

 

In my view, Australian Governments, of all levels, all-too-often promote the freedom of religion – and in particular, the freedom of christian beliefs – at the expense of the equally-important freedom from religion.

 

The imposition of christianity on others, including on those who are atheist or have no religious belief, as well as its negative consequences for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians (who may or may not be christian themselves), can be observed in multiple ways.

 

Symbolically, there is a range of ways in which christianity is treated preferentially in Australian law which I believe is inappropriate in a country which is, or at least should be, secular (and by that I mean a nation that does not favour, or disfavour, any particular belief or lack of belief).

 

This includes having a formal head of state (the King or Queen of England) who is also, as a function of this role, the symbolic head of a christian denomination (the Anglican church), as well as the fact that each Commonwealth parliamentary sitting day begins with the recitation of a christian statement (the lord’s prayer).

 

More substantively, there are a number of ways in which the principle of separation of church and state – which should operate to protect both secular government, and the free exercise of religion, including freedom from religion – has been fundamentally breached by Federal, and State and Territory, Governments. This is especially apparent in education, and particularly in relation to public schools.

 

First, the inclusion of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) or Special Religious Education (SRE) in the school timetable is completely inappropriate because religious indoctrination, which is primarily christian indoctrination, should have no place in public classrooms.

 

On a practical level, SRI/SRE is also flawed for several reasons, including that it regularly operates as an ‘opt-out’ system rather than ‘opt-in’, and also because the ‘choice’ in many state schools is limited to either attending a lesson of christian indoctrination, or doing nothing (there can be few better examples of wasting time than mandating some students do not learn anything at all because other students are learning about their particular god or gods, something that should instead be taking place in the home or their respective place of worship).

 

SRI/SRE also frequently has a detrimental impact on LGBTI students. This is because it is disproportionately conducted by evangelical christians who, as numerous publicly-reported examples demonstrate, are more likely to express anti-LGBTI views, causing harm to students who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.

 

As recently noted by crikey[i]:“While religious groups complain about the teaching of sex education issues, the [NSW Government] review found that religious instruction teachers were “overstepping the mark” in addressing issues of sexuality and explicitly expressing homophobic views.”

 

A second example of the fundamental breach of the separation of church and state in relation to government schools, which infringes upon the freedom from religion, can be found in the long-running, controversial National School Chaplaincy Program, which involves the (mis)use of public monies to pay public schools to hire people who – at least for the majority of the scheme’s existence – must be religious in order to be employed.

 

Despite guidelines that stipulate these religious (and in the vast majority of cases, christian) appointees must not ‘proselytise’ in the classroom or schoolyard, it is inevitable that many will – with evidence that they have repeatedly done so collected over many years[ii].

 

From my perspective there can be no proper policy justification for the allocation of literally hundreds of millions of Commonwealth, and therefore taxpayer, dollars on a program that preferentially employs people of a religious background (and excludes people who are not religious).

 

This breach is especially egregious because if public money is to be provided to promote student welfare, then that money should be directed towards employing the best qualified people to do so – trained school counsellors, who may or may not be religious (but whose religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are irrelevant to their ability to perform the role) – rather than ‘chaplains’ who must be of a religious background.

 

These two policies – SRI/SRE, and the National School Chaplaincy Program – are clear examples of the preferential treatment of religion, and primarily christianity, in contemporary Australia.

 

However, the most fundamental way in which the freedom from religion is infringed upon in Commonwealth, State and Territory policy is through the operation of ‘religious exceptions’ to anti-discrimination laws.

 

While appropriate recognition of freedom of religion would accord individuals and groups the right to hold beliefs, to celebrate those beliefs through religious ceremonies, as well as to appoint ministers of religion and other religious office-holders, these religious exceptions go far beyond what is necessary to achieve those aims.

 

Instead, they allow religious organisations to discriminate against employees, and in many cases against people accessing services, in an extraordinarily broad range of situations.

 

This includes discrimination in key areas of public life (including health and education), discrimination against people on the basis of irrelevant factors (for example, refusing to hire a qualified mathematics teacher on the basis of their sexual orientation), and discrimination in the use of public funds (in a number of circumstances, religious organisations are permitted to discriminate even where the service involved is part, even in large part, publicly-funded).

 

Of course, many religious organisations will argue that the ability to discriminate in each of these situations is necessary to ‘manifest beliefs in community with others’. However, such rights are not, and should not be, unfettered.

 

As observed by the Australian Human Rights Commission in their submission to this Inquiry:

 

“Legitimate limitations on the freedom to manifest a religion or belief in worship, observance or practice must be prescribed by law and necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

 

Anti-discrimination laws, such as the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, exist to protect a variety of groups against harm – effectively protecting their fundamental rights and freedoms – and they should not be undermined by the granting of special rights to discriminate to religious organisations.

 

It should also be noted that these religious exceptions are disproportionately used to adversely treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people[iii], who may or may not be religious themselves, but who nevertheless do not deserve to be discriminated against as they go about their daily lives simply because of who they are or who they love.

 

Essentially, religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws deny too many LGBT Australians the right to be free from religion, and free from the negative consequences of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia that is based on, or claimed to be based on[iv], religious belief.

 

Perhaps the worst examples of these laws – and the clearest demonstration of how they inherently lead to human rights abuses against LGBT people (among others) – are the religious exceptions that allow religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

For example, section 38 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 not only permits discrimination against LGBT [school] employees and contract workers (which is unacceptable in and of itself), sub-section (3) also states that:

 

“Nothing… renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy in connection with the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Basically, under the Sex Discrimination Act, religious schools are given free rein to mistreat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, including by expelling or refusing to enrol these students (or refusing to enrol the children of rainbow families), teaching them that who they are is not okay, or in other ways treating them significantly worse than heterosexual and/or cisgender students.

 

The majority of states and territories have adopted similar provisions with NSW even going so far as allowing all non-government schools, including private schools that are not religious at all[v], to adversely treat LG and T students[vi].

 

It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of these religious schools are in receipt of Commonwealth, and State or Territory, funds, including from LGBT taxpayers – the notion that my taxes are being used by these organisations to actively discriminate against young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is both heartbreaking, and infuriating.

 

But, even if absolutely no taxpayer funds were involved, allowing religious schools to discriminate in this way would still be a fundamental breach of the human rights of these students to be who they are – including their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, which are both inherent or essential attributes – and to not be unfairly discriminated against as a result.

 

This principle is reinforced if we substitute students of different racial or ethnic backgrounds for LGBT students. We would not legally allow schools, whether government, religious or otherwise independent, to discriminate against students on the basis of their race or ethnicity. So why should we permit any school, irrespective of its ownership, to discriminate against LGBT students for who they are?

 

In short, any student, in any school, could be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex – and they each have a fundamental right to education, free from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

Logically, the only way in which this can be guaranteed is for every school to provide a learning environment that treats all students – heterosexual, cisgender and LGBTI-alike – equally.

 

In my view, the best interests of children in this situation, who are at their most vulnerable and whose protection is the responsibility of governments of all levels, especially in education which sits squarely in the public sphere, must supersede the religious beliefs of parents, or the schools themselves.

 

To suggest otherwise is to argue that LGBTI students in religious schools are just collateral damage of the ‘right’ to freedom of religion of others, and that the adverse consequences they inevitably suffer – from mistreatment and exclusion, to bullying, mental health issues and even suicide – should simply be ignored.

 

Well, I will not ignore these consequences, and I submit that this Committee, and the Commonwealth Parliament, must not ignore them either.

 

Which means that, if the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is genuinely interested in the issue of how ‘to protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief in Australia’, then it must also consider the issues of how to protect and promote the freedom from belief, and how to protect LGBTI people from the negative consequences of the religious beliefs of others.

 

This includes investigating why religious indoctrination continues to feature in the nation’s public school classrooms (in the form of Special Religious Instruction or Special Religious Education), as well as why hundreds of millions of Commonwealth dollars continue to be allocated to employing religious people in our schoolyards (through the National School Chaplaincy Program).

 

Above all, it means questioning why religious organisations should be granted special rights to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, and people accessing services (through wide-ranging ‘religious exceptions’ to anti-discrimination laws), and why religious schools are legally permitted to mistreat LGBT students simply because of who they are.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide a submission to this important inquiry. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should the Committee wish to clarify any of the above, or for further information.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

Simon Birmingham

Commonwealth Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who couldn’t find $2 million per year to continue Safe Schools, but provides $60 million+ per year to the National School Chaplaincy Program.

 

Footnotes:

[i] “Homophobic, anti-science and frightening” religious instruction teachers remain in NSW, crikey, 12 April 2017.

[ii] See Chaplains accused of pushing religion in schools, ABC News, 8 April 2011 and Brisbane school chaplain being investigated for proselytizing after claiming his mission is to disciple school children and their families, Courier Mail, 18 May 2014.

[iii] It is considered unlikely that religious exceptions under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 would be employed against intersex people.

[iv] The inclusion of religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws actually encourages individuals and organisations to claim that anti-LGBTI prejudice is based on religious belief because it is less likely to attract consequences (even if the anti-LGBTI prejudice in fact has nothing to do with religion whatsoever).

[v] See NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 sections 49ZO(3), and 38K(3).

[vi] Remembering that, in 2017, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 still does not protect bisexual people against discrimination.