Marriage equality or marriage discrimination – a simple test

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Is it marriage equality, or is it marriage discrimination?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.

 

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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)”

 

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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.

 

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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

Update #2:

On 3 April 2019 – immediately prior to the Morrison Liberal-National Government calling the federal election – the Committee published a Second Interim Report, which can be found here.

The Second Report discusses both the concerns of religious organisations that their rights are under threat (without providing any compelling evidence that this threat is real) and those of other organisations that religious rights are currently privileged at the expense of other groups, including LGBTI people, with my own submission quoted on page 36:

“Mr Alastair Lawrie argues that religious exceptions “inherently lead to human rights abuses against LGBT people” and give religious schools “free rein to mistreat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.”

The Report then discusses a range of different approaches to legislating in this area, including a Charter or Bill of Rights, a Religious Freedom Act (which would give religious organisations positive rights to discriminate against LGBT people), a Religious Discrimination Act (which would introduce religion as a protected attribute in Commonwealth law), as well as expanding or limiting religious exceptions in anti-discrimination laws.

The Committee only made two recommendations:

  1. The Sub-Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with the states and territories, develop and introduce or amend as necessary, legislation to give full effect to Australia’s obligations under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  2. The Sub-Committee recommends that this inquiry be continued in the 46th parliament, so as to enable a proper and thorough consideration of the international situation for the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief before a final report can be tabled.

While at first glance Recommendation 1 appears innocuous, the prioritisation of the freedom of religion, over and above other fundamental human rights (such as the right to non-discrimination) carries significant risks for vulnerable communities, including and especially for LGBTI Australians. Article 18 of the ICCPR in particular must not be legislated on its own without important qualifications that protect others from religious-motivated discrimination.

If the Morrison Liberal-National Government is re-elected in May, LGBTI people must be on guard against any further encroachment of our rights in this area.

 

Update #1:

On 30 November 2017, the Committee published an Interim Report, looking at the issue of freedom of religion and how it is applied in domestic law. That report can be found here.

 

In particular, Chapter 7 (from page 75 onwards) discusses the interaction between religious freedom and other human rights, including the right to be free from discrimination. This is obviously the most relevant debate for the LGBTI community.

 

The Committee did not make any recommendations, but did raise a number of now-familiar arguments by the Australian Christian Lobby and others that rather than narrowing religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws, they should be broadened, as well as re-framed as positive rights to discriminate (rather than simply exceptions).

 

It will be interesting to see, if and when the Committee hands down its final report, what recommendations it does make and how they have been shaped by subsequent debates, including the release of the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review and moves to abolish the ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students.

 

Original Post:

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.

Malcolm Turnbull, If you want to ‘strengthen’ anti-vilification laws, here’s something you can do

Update 29 April 2017:

In early April, I wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis suggesting that, it they genuinely wanted to ‘strengthen’ Australia’s anti-vilification protections, they should introduce laws prohibiting vilification against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

In that letter, I included statistics from The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse which found that 74% of LGBTIQ Australians experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse at some point in their lives, with 48% reporting anti-LGBTIQ harassment in the past 12 months alone.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Australian Government isn’t particularly interested in doing anything to address this epidemic of anti-LGBTI abuse – there is no LGBTI equivalent to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and, based on the response I received this week from the Attorney-General’s Department (see below), the Turnbull Government will not introduce one.

Perhaps the most bizarre part of the Government’s letter is the reference to ‘sexual harassment’ provisions within the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, as offering protections against anti-LGBTI vilification. The definition of sexual harassment under that legislation is as follows:

Section 28A

Meaning of sexual harassment

(1) For the purposes of this Division, a person sexually harasses another person (the person harassed) if:

(a) the person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed; or

(b) engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed…

(2) In this section:

‘conduct of a sexual nature’ includes making a statement of a sexual nature to a person, or in the presence of a person, whether the statement is made orally or in writing.”

This definition, and its focus on ‘of a sexual nature’, means that while LGBTI people are protected against ‘sexual harassment’ under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, only a small fraction of the anti-LGBTI verbal abuse that is experienced by LGBTI Australians would be covered by this provision – the vast majority of harassment and abuse, including nearly all of the comments reported in The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia, would remain entirely legal.

Of course, given their ongoing refusal to pass marriage equality without a completely unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite, and the attacks on and dismantling of the Safe Schools program, it was always unlikely that the Turnbull Government would do anything substantive to tackle anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment and abuse.

Still, now that they have been presented with the evidence, they can no longer claim that there is no problem with homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in Australia. They know it exists – they are simply choosing to ignore it.

Here is the full response from the Attorney-General’s Department:

27 April 2017

Dear Mr Lawrie

Thank you for your correspondent of 3 April 2017 to the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, regarding Commonwealth anti-vilification laws. Your letter was referred to the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, as the matter falls within his portfolio. The Attorney-General has asked me to respond on his behalf.

The Australian Government believes that people are entitled to respect, dignity and the opportunity to participate in society and receive the protection of the law regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) prohibits discrimination on these grounds in a range of areas of public life.

The Sex Discrimination Act also prohibits sexual harassment in a number of areas of public life. Under the definition of sexual harassment, the circumstances to be taken into account include, but are not limited to, the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status of the person harassed.

Criminal laws in Australia generally prohibit conduct which threatens or results in harm to a person, regardless of the individual attributes of the victim.

The Australian Government considers these protections, in conjunction with other protections under Australian law, are appropriate in addressing the behaviour outlined in your letter.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to the attention of the Australian Government.

Yours sincerely

[Name withheld]

Director, Human Rights

Civil Law Unit

 

**********

 

Original Post:

 

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Monday 3 April 2017

Dear Prime Minister

Commonwealth Anti-Vilification Laws

I am writing to you about a subject that has preoccupied your Government in recent weeks: Commonwealth anti-vilification laws.

However, I do not wish to re-litigate the debate over your proposed amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, especially now that those changes have been comprehensively rejected by the Senate (happily from my perspective, presumably less so from yours).

Instead, I wish to discuss an area where it appears that, at least based on your public statements, you and I agree.

Specifically, during the course of the debate around 18C, two key principles emerged from media releases and speeches made both by yourself, and by the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis.

First, your Government believes that there is a place for legal protections against vilification.

This is apparent not just from the fact that you chose to try to amend section 18C, rather than repeal it (therefore acknowledging the overall legitimacy of anti-vilification laws), but also through your comments at the joint Press Conference on 21 March, announcing the changes:

“We are defending the law by making it clearer. We are defending Australians against racial vilification.”

And from the Attorney-General’s Second Reading Speech:

“I have always believed that there is no inconsistency whatever between effective, appropriately-worded racial vilification laws, and the robust defence of freedom of speech.”

Second, your Government believes that such legal protections against vilification should be ‘strong’.

Indeed, both you and your Attorney-General repeatedly claimed that the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 would strengthen existing vilification protections.

At your joint Press Conference you stated that “[W]e are announcing changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Commission legislation, which will strengthen the protection of Australians from racial vilification” and that it was time to “defend Australians with effective laws, clear laws, against racial vilification.”

The Attorney-General similarly claimed in his Second Reading Speech that the changes were being proposed “to strengthen its anti-vilification provisions.”

Taking you at your word(s) then, you both believe there is a place for anti-vilification laws, and that such laws should be strong and effective.

I agree with these two principles (even if we disagree on how they should be reflected in the Racial Discrimination Act).

Which is why, now that your changes to section 18C have been defeated, I write to suggest an additional way in which you can protect Australians against vilification: by introducing anti-vilification protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

As you would be aware, there is currently no Commonwealth protection against vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Nor are there LGBTI anti-vilification protections under the laws of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia or the Northern Territory (meanwhile, the protections that exist under NSW law are overly-narrow, and fail to protect some parts of the community).

This leaves a significant proportion of Australia’s LGBTI communities without any legal protections against homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification.

Unfortunately, such vilification remains all-too-common in Australia.

In a survey that I conducted at the start of 2017, 74% of LGBTIQ respondents reported being subject to anti-LGBTIQ verbal abuse or harassment at some point during their lives[i].

Disturbingly, 48% of respondents reported that at least one instance of such abuse or harassment occurred during the last 12 months.

These figures were even higher for some sections of the LGBTIQ community:

  • 68.2% of trans respondents
  • 65% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ respondents, and
  • 74.5% of LGBTIQ respondents aged 24 or under

reported verbal abuse or harassment in the past 12 months alone.

I hope that you agree these rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic verbal abuse are simply unacceptable.

And if you are unconvinced by the raw numbers, then I suggest that you read the even rawer, and in some cases quite horrific, examples of anti-LGBTIQ harassment shared by the 1,672 people who took part in my survey (attached).

The challenge for you is that this abuse is happening on your watch.

If you genuinely believe there is a place for anti-vilification laws, and that such laws should be strong and effective, then I believe you should respond to this epidemic of anti-LGBTI verbal abuse and harassment with Commonwealth anti-vilification laws covering sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, on an equivalent basis to existing racial vilification protections.

After all, if racist vilification is considered so serious as to require legislative intervention, then there is no logical reason why homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification should not be similarly prohibited.

If you do not take action to address this issue, then by implication you are suggesting that you and your Government find anti-LGBTIQ vilification to be less offensive, and arguably more ‘acceptable’, than racial vilification.

In conclusion, I will return to another comment made by you at the joint Press Conference on 21 March:

“Ensuring Australians are protected from racial vilification, likewise, is part of that mutual respect of which I often speak, which is the foundation of our success as the greatest and most successful multicultural society in the world.”

My question to you is: do you believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians also deserve ‘mutual respect’?

If you do, then please take action to protect LGBTI Australians from the homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification that far-too-frequently mars our own participation in the country you currently lead.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Cc Senator the Hon George Brandis

Attorney-General

PO Box 6100

Senate

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Malcolm Turnbull Hands

Whether LGBTI Australians receive anti-vilification protections under Commonwealth law is now in Malcolm Turnbull’s hands.

Footnotes:

[i] For full results, see The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia, Survey Results Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

With unrelenting attacks on the safe schools program, divisive debate about the proposed marriage equality plebiscite, the horrific mass murder at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the tragic suicide of Indigenous gay youth Tyrone Unsworth, the past 12 months have undeniably been tough on members of Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) communities.

Now we have empirical evidence to prove that last year was indeed an annus homophobicus.[i]

At the start of this year I conducted a survey of LGBTIQ Australians asking about their experiences of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in 2016, covering a range of topics including verbal harassment, physical violence, the places where prejudice occurs, and discrimination in education, employment and other areas.

Excluding responses from non-LGBTIQ people, and from LGBTIQ people outside Australia, a total of 1,672 people completed the survey in the four weeks between 26 December 2016 and 21 January 2017.

This post is the first in a series of six reporting the results of this survey, with a particular focus on three questions about the verbal harassment and abuse experienced by LGBTIQ Australians.

For many people, a number of the results will be unsurprising and yet still shocking – although, even for hardened campaigners such as myself, there are a few findings that are both depressing and disturbing, especially the varying impact of verbal harassment on different sections of the LGBTIQ community.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia (4)

Question 1: Have you ever experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?

&

Question 2: Has one or more instances of this verbal harassment or abuse occurred in the past 12 months?

Overall, 74% of survey respondents – 1,226 people out of the 1,655 people who answered question 1 – indicated they had experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of their LGBTIQ status at some point in their life.

799 people – or 65% of respondents who answered yes to question 1[ii] – then answered question 2 by stating that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment or abuse had occurred during the last 12 months.

Even including those who answered no to question 1, that still means 48% of all respondents reported experiencing verbal harassment or abuse in the past year alone.

These numbers might not be surprising to members of our community, but it is nevertheless shocking to confirm that 3 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have been verbally harassed because of who they are, with almost half of all respondents reporting homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse in the last 12 months.

The following sections show the results to these two questions according to different demographic groupings, including LGBTIQ status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, age, and residence by state and territory.

LGBTIQ Status

There were similarities, as well as some stark differences, in how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people experienced verbal harassment and abuse. Their respective answers to questions 1 and 2 are as follows:

Lesbian: 77.6% have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment, and of those 68.7% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[iii]

Gay: 78% ever, and of those 56.5% during the past 12 months[iv]

Bisexual: 63.9% ever, of those 68.8% in last 12 months[v]

Transgender: 81% ever, of those 84.4% in last 12 months[vi]

Intersex: 88.2% ever, of those 93.3% in last 12 months[vii], and

Queer: 79.8% ever, of those 79.9% in last 12 months[viii].

Among lesbian, gay, transgender and queer respondents, the proportion that had experienced verbal harassment or abuse at some point in their lives was remarkably consistent – all falling somewhere between 77.6% and 81%. The proportion of bisexual people reporting lifetime abuse was somewhat lower, at 63.9%[ix].

However, there were much larger differences between groups in terms of experiences of anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment and abuse over the past year.

While 43.4% of all gay respondents, and 44% of all bisexual respondents, reported verbal harassment or abuse during the last 12 months[x], this figure rose to 53.1% of all lesbian respondents (slightly above the overall average).

In terms of queer respondents the figure was higher still, at 63.9%, while for transgender people it rose again to 68.2%.

Think about that for a second: more than two-thirds of transgender people reported being verbally harassed or abused simply because of who they are in the past 12 months alone.

Further, while there is little difference between gay and transgender people in reporting lifetime verbal harassment (78% and 81% respectively), transgender people were 57% more likely to report verbal abuse over the past year.

Of course, all of these figures are far too high; no level of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia is acceptable. Nevertheless, we must not ignore the fact that, when it comes to verbal harassment and abuse over the last year, the burden has fallen much more heavily on transgender and queer Australians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

A total of 62 survey respondents indicated that they were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (or 3.7% of the sample).

83.3% reported that they had ever reported verbal harassment or abuse because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status[xi]. Of those, 78% reported verbal harassment or abuse during the past 12 months[xii].

That means 65% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ respondents reported homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic abuse during the last 12 months, significantly above the national average and placing them at similar risk to transgender and queer Australians.

Age

The survey asked respondents to nominate their respective cohort: 24 and under; 25 to 44; 45 to 64; or 65 and over. The answers provided by these different groups were relatively similar for question 1, although varied greatly for question 2.

Have you ever experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?

  • 24 and under: 70.6% yes[xiii]
  • 25 to 44: 78.2% yes[xiv]
  • 45 to 64: 79.5% yes[xv], and
  • 65 and over: 69.4% yes.[xvi]

Prima facie, the fact the figures for people aged under 25 are slightly lower than the two generations that preceded them might seem encouraging.

However, looked at in a different way, they are a cause for serious alarm: in 2017, a young LGBTIQ person is almost as likely to have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse at some point in their comparatively shorter life as someone with 20 or even 40 more years life experience.

This concern is borne out by the answers to the second question:

Has one of more instances of this verbal harassment or abuse occurred in the past 12 months?

  • 24 and under: 74.5% yes[xvii]
  • 25 to 44: 58.9% yes[xviii]
  • 45 to 64: 46.1% yes[xix], and
  • 65 and over: 33.3% yes[xx].

The net effect of these two questions reveals that 54.6% of all respondents aged 24 or under have been verbally harassed or abused because of who they are in the last year, compared to 46.1% of respondents aged 25 to 44 and 36.3% of respondents aged 45 to 64.

To put it another way: young LGBTIQ Australians were 50% more likely to be subject to homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal harassment and abuse in 2016 than LGBTIQ people aged 45 to 64.

This result simultaneously proves and undermines the ‘It Gets Better’ message – yes, it gets better for individuals as they grow older, but, on the basis of these findings, it does not seem it has gotten significantly better for young LGBTIQ people today.

Personally, I believe this result at least partially reflects the fallout of attacks on the safe schools program by religious fundamentalists and right-wing extremists, with a potentially devastating impact on young LGBTIQ people, many of whom are only beginning their journey toward self-understanding and self-acceptance, and consequently may be lacking the same resilience as their older counterparts.

State or Territory of Residence

In contrast to the significant differences in results based on age, the levels of anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment and abuse reported in different jurisdictions around Australia were remarkably consistent. The respective answers to question 1 and 2 are as follows:

New South Wales: 74% have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment, and of those 64.8% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xxi]

Victoria: 74.1% ever, and of those 67.3% during the past 12 months[xxii]

Queensland: 76.2% ever, of those 63% in last 12 months[xxiii]

Western Australia: 76.3% ever, of those 65.5% in last 12 months[xxiv]

South Australia: 71.1% ever, of those 66% in last 12 months[xxv]

Tasmania: 70.3% ever, of those 77.9% in last 12 months[xxvi]

Australian Capital Territory: 73.2% ever, of those 51.2% in last 12 months[xxvii], and

Northern Territory: 76.2% ever, of those 56.3% in last 12 months[xxviii].

Including those who answered no to question 1, this means for most states and territories the proportion of LGBTIQ people reporting verbal harassment or abuse in the last 12 months was between 42.9% (NT) and 50% (WA)[xxix].

The jurisdiction with the lowest incidence of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal abuse in the last year was the ACT at 37.5%; the highest was Tasmania at 54.1% of all respondents.

Of course, while the rates of anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment may be similar across Australia, the options available to victims of such abuse vary considerably.

Only four jurisdictions offer any legal protections against vilification to the LGBTI community (NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT[xxx]). With no equivalent to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, LGBTI people in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory are not protected against vilification at any level[xxxi].

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Question 3: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of this homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal harassment or abuse [Optional]

This question allowed respondents to provide an example of the verbal harassment or abuse they had received, irrespective of when it had occurred.

A large number of LGBTIQ respondents took up this opportunity, and the results are sobering, and frequently heart-breaking, to read. A lightly-edited[xxxii] version of these comments can be found at the following link:

question-3-verbal-harassment-and-abuse-comments [PDF]

I encourage you to take the time to read the survey respondent’s very personal stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic abuse, of them experiencing verbal harassment simply because of who they are.

Ideally, conservative and/or right-wing politicians, many of whom claim that anti-LGBTIQ prejudice either doesn’t exist, or is no longer a serious problem, would read them too. If they did, they would have their ‘relaxed and comfortable’ ideas shattered by the irrefutable evidence provided via these real-life stories.

From my perspective, some of the derogatory comments related to sexual orientation that stood out include:

“I was just coming out of a convenience store and walked past this man who was staring at me. Then suddenly he started screaming “Faggot, faggot!!” at me. No one around me said or did anything. I just tried to not react and get away as soon as I could.”

“I normally get something once a year. Walking down the street in Brisbane, my (now) husband and I were shouted at by a couple of blokes who started by saying: ‘you have got to be fucking kidding’ in reference to the fact we were holding hands.”

“I recently saw two young gay men, a couple, who were walking up Chapel Street holding hands. A group of 3 older men were harassing them, following them. I joined the 2 gay men and told them to cross the road and ignore the others. I was then also subjected to the same vitriol with comments such as ‘there’s another one’ and ‘look at the 3 poofters’. We walked into a crowded shop and they didn’t follow us. I was extremely upset by this as were the 2 other younger fellows.”

“I was in my Drs surgery last year & I was abused, & my children were abused, by another patient. My Dr had to drag him away. Some of the names I was called were pervert, deviant, faggot. My kids were called queer, sexually perverted and confused.”

“A co-worker was informed that I identify as bisexual. She berated me openly, saying that I was merely attention seeking and that my children would be very confused adults with such poor guidance in life. She then contacted my husband through social media and told him to take my children and leave because raising them with a mentally ill person was dangerous.”

Transphobic harassment, and verbal abuse on the basis of gender identity, was also disturbingly widespread:

“Public name calling outside a local pub, shouting to others that I don’t have a penis… Being deadnamed in public despite being asked not to, in dismissal of transition or gender status… All in the last 3 months.”

“I was harassed outside a disabled toilet, which I went to because I was uncomfortable in gendered toilets. I overheard someone talking about a ‘faggot’ and learned they were talking about me. I was called transsexual repeatedly against my will by someone. Constant misgendering, deadnaming and disrespect on a daily basis just for being me…”

“Without going into detail, I have been referred to as a tranny, and had both my sexuality and gender identity mocked and invalidated repeatedly. I have been told to kill myself an innumerable amount of times, including being told to ‘get my teeth and gender straight or kill myself’, and that my gender is ‘cancer’. This is just a short list of the abuse I’ve suffered.”

“Demeaning laughter. Hostile stares. Derogatory language (eg ‘faggot’, ‘it’), usually just spoken audibly to others in front of me occasionally yelled from cars. Deliberate misgendering. I’ve noticed increased hostility from authority figures (eg ticket inspectors) in response to me looking more identifiably trans also. When I was closeted, I used to find people making transphobic jokes in front of me a common and painful experience.”

“Because of my choice of clothing/hairstyle I get called shemale. Heshe. Thing. It. Freak. Pervert. Dyke. Faggot. And that’s just the shortlist, and the most common insults I deal with, especially when I go clothes shopping or use a public restroom.”

This story was worrying, both because of the source of the discriminatory comments, but also because of the lack of action by authorities:

“I’m a pre-service teacher (still in university completing a bachelor). While on one of my teaching placements I received verbal harassment intermittently from the year 6 classes. When I reported this I was underwhelmed by the response from the faculty, both at my teaching school and the university faculty. The underlying cause of transphobic slurs directed towards me was undermined by only addressing ‘disrespect’ and they refused to address anything extending from that. When I expressed my concern in not addressing homophobia and transphobia directly I was met with hostility from the faculty, which made my teaching the remaining 3 weeks very uncomfortable.”

The most common story shared in response to this question concerned homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse from people in passing cars: at least 78 different comments cited this type of harassment.

This is both an extraordinary total, and an extraordinary indictment of the kind of person who would engage in the behaviour of shouting anti-LGBTIQ abuse at strangers from the safety, comfort and anonymity of their vehicles.

A typical story related to this type of harassment: “Minding my own business at a train station waiting to be picked up and a car full of guys and girls were yelling out ‘faggot’ to me just because they didn’t like the look of me.”

Although perhaps my favourite comment (for reasons that will soon become obvious) was this: “I was on a date walking with the guy and a guy started yelling at us from his car while he was driving, he lost control of the car and crashed into a sign.” #karma

Another common story was homophobic, biphobic or transphobic harassment on public transport, including trains, buses, trams and even taxis: at least 34 comments reported this kind of abuse. This included:

“Frequent dirty looks in public. Once on a bus (my partner and I were holding hands and talking) a woman stood up from her seat [and] said loudly that ‘we didn’t need to rub our sexuality in everyone’s face’ and moved to a seat further away from us.”

“On a packed train going home and one man took offense to another man’s skin was touching him (we were crammed in together… everyone was touching everyone). He started screaming about how the next person doing ‘any more gay shit’ to him was going to cop it. And screamed at the poor man who tried to defend himself. Anyone who tried to get him to calm down was met with homophobic language and threats. It was very scary.”

“(I’m a trans man, my husband is a cis man – we married and had a daughter before I transitioned). Just last week my husband and I were boarding a bus to the local shopping centre with our 4 year old daughter in tow. The myki machine was taking a bit of time to read each card. A man behind us shouted ‘move it, faggots!’ at us several times. Our daughter became visibly upset. No one stepped in to help or say anything. The man spent the entire bus ride glaring at us and making snide comments to the person in front of him.”

Perhaps most disappointing about the comments in response to question 3 was the fact approximately 20 people described homophobia, biphobia or transphobia from other members of the LGBTIQ community. This was particularly aimed at bisexual people, and to a slightly lesser degree transgender people[xxxiii]. For example:

“Told I’m greedy for being bi, that bisexuality is an excuse to hide that I’m ‘actually gay’, told that I’m a disgrace to the LGBT+ community for ‘not being able to decide’/’pick a side’…”

“Mostly it’s been lesbians telling me that bisexuals are just straight people trying to be trendy and undermining my identity…”

“There have been quite a few instances over the years where people have learned my sexuality and gone on a rant on how disgusting it is, and in some instances behaved threateningly while doing so. This comes from both non-LGBT+ and LGBT+ people.”

“Spat on in a gay bar for being transgender. Called a freak and told to kill myself. Been told I’m not a real man.”

If we are going to campaign for the elimination of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia from society, then it is incumbent upon us to do better on these issues within our own communities, too.

One small positive from the responses to question 3: the old stereotype of gay man (or trans person) as ‘paedophile’ appears to be fading away, with only eight comments including this description as an element of the verbal harassment or abuse received. That particular form of abuse cannot die soon enough.

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Conclusion

The results of this survey suggest that 3 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic verbal harassment or abuse at some point in their lives.

The survey also confirms that 2016 was a bad year for the LGBTIQ community, with 48% of people reporting that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ verbal abuse occurred in the past 12 months.

These figures are unacceptably high to begin with, but we must also not overlook the fact these proportions are higher still for several groups within the LGBTIQ community who are particularly vulnerable:

  • Transgender individuals were 57% more likely to report verbal harassment and abuse in the past 12 months than gay people
  • Queer individuals were 47% more likely than gay people to experience recent verbal abuse
  • Almost two-thirds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents were subject to homophobic, biphobic or transphobic verbal harassment throughout the course of the past year, and
  • LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under were 50% more likely to have experienced recent verbal abuse than their counterparts aged 45 to 64.

These statistics show that the state of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australia, in 2017, features far more anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment than any of us would like. The stories shared in response to question 3, detailing personal accounts of this abuse, powerfully reinforces this fact.

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

The next five, which focus on physical abuse or violence, the places where prejudice occurs, and discrimination in education, employment and other areas, will be published during March and April.

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.

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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] See 2016: Annus Homophobicus.

[ii] Only people who answered yes to question 1 were provided with the opportunity to answer question 2, with 1,220 people completing the second question and 421 people (or 35%) indicting they had not experienced verbal harassment or abuse because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the past 12 months.

[iii] Question 1: 253 yes/73 no. Question 2: 173 yes/79 no.

[iv] Question 1: 501 yes/141 no. Question 2: 280 yes/216 no.

[v] Question 1: 333 yes/188 no. Question 2: 229 yes/104 no.

[vi] Question 1: 303 yes/71 no. Question 2: 255 yes/47 no. For those respondents who identified as both trans and bisexual, this figure was even higher – 86.3% reporting lifetime abuse. Queer trans respondents also reported higher rates (86.2% lifetime abuse).

[vii] Question 1: 15 yes/2 no. Question 2: 14 yes/1 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re intersex status must be treated with caution. For this reason, intersex status is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[viii] Question 1: 394 yes/100 no. Question 2: 314 yes/79 no.

[ix] Without additional information, it is difficult to reach any firm conclusions about why this is the case, although one factor may be historically lesser visibility of bisexuality (which may reduce verbal harassment and abuse, but also exacerbates exclusion and isolation).

[x] Noting that this calculation includes the numbers of respondents who answered no to question 1.

[xi] Question 1: 50 yes/10 no.

[xii] Question 2: 39 yes/11 no.

[xiii] 627 yes/261 no.

[xiv] 341 yes/95 no.

[xv] 221 yes/57 no.

[xvi] 25 yes/11 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people aged 65 and over must be treated with caution. For this reason, this group is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[xvii] 485 yes/141 no.

[xviii] 201 yes/140 no.

[xix] 101 yes/118 no.

[xx] 8 yes/16 no.

[xxi] Question 1: 401 yes/141 no. Question 2: 259 yes/141 no.

[xxii] Question 1: 286 yes/100 no. Question 2: 191 yes/93 no.

[xxiii] Question 1: 192 yes/60 no. Question 2: 121 yes/71 no.

[xxiv] Question 1: 116 yes/36 no. Question 2: 76 yes/40 no.

[xxv] Question 1: 96 yes/39 no. Question 2: 62 yes/32 no.

[xxvi] Question 1: 78 yes, 33 no. Question 2: 60 yes/17 no.

[xxvii] Question 1: 41 yes/15 no. Question 2: 21 yes/20 no.

[xxviii] Question 1: 16 yes/5 no. Question 2: 9 yes/7 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people in the Northern Territory must be treated with caution.

[xxix] Full results (reporting verbal harassment of abuse in the past 12 months, all respondents):

  • NSW 47.8%
  • Victoria 49.5%
  • Queensland 48%
  • WA 50%
  • SA 45.9%
  • Tasmania 54.1%
  • ACT 37.5%
  • NT 42.9%

[xxx] Although NSW does not include vilification protections for bisexual or intersex people, and Queensland does not protect intersex people.

[xxxi] Obviously, depending on the circumstances of the verbal harassment or abuse, only some of the responses given to the survey would fit the legal definition of vilification, irrespective of the ground on which it was based.

[xxxii] Comments were edited to, amongst other things:

-Remove identifying information

-Remove defamatory comments, and

-Remove offensive remarks (for example, deleting explicitly racist comments and/or unnecessary descriptions of a person’s race).

[xxxiii] Although I was particularly disturbed by a small number of respondents who included transphobic comments in their answers to question 3 itself, which were subsequently edited to remove the most offensive elements.

What’s Wrong With Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998?

This is part of a series of posts looking at Australia’s anti-discrimination laws and discussing how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The articles on other jurisdictions can be found here.

In these posts, I have analysed Commonwealth, state and territory legislation with respect to three main issues:

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

This post will be the shortest of the nine, because in all three areas Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is either best practice, or close to best practice.

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Protected Attributes

 Unlike some other schemes, Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 protects all parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community against discrimination.

Section 16 sets out the protected attributes of the Act, and they include sexual orientation (sub-section c), gender identity (ea) and intersex variations of sex characteristics (eb) [noting that Intersex Human Rights Australia’s position is that this last attribute should simply be ‘sex characteristics’ rather than intersex variations of sex characteristics, in line with the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10].

The definitions of these terms in section 3 are also inclusive:

sexual orientation includes-

(a) heterosexuality; and

(b) homosexuality; and

(c) bisexuality”

gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms of other gender-related characteristics of an individual including gender expression (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth, and may include being transgender or transsexual”

gender expression means any personal physical expression, appearance (whether by way of medical intervention or not), speech, mannerisms, behavioural patterns, names and personal references that manifest or express gender or gender identity”

sex characteristics means a person’s physical, hormonal or genetic features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, genes, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics”.

Overall, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 adopts close to best practice in terms of the protected attributes it includes, covering all LGBTI Tasmanians.

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Religious Exceptions

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is best practice when it comes to religious exceptions – in fact, Tasmania is better, far better, than any other Australian jurisdiction in this area.

There are three provisions outlining relevant religious exceptions in the Act:

Section 51 “Employment based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment if the participation of the person in the observance or practice of a particular religion is a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to the employment.

(2) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment in an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion if the discrimination is in order to enable, or better enable, the educational institution to be conducted in accordance with those tenets, beliefs, principles or practices.”

Section 51A “Admission of person as student based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to admission of that other person as a student to an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who is enrolled as a student at the educational institution referred to in that subsection.

(3) Subsection (1) does not permit discrimination on any grounds referred to in section 16 other than those specified in that subsection.

(4) A person may, on a ground specified in subsection (1), discriminate against another person in relation to the admission of the other person as a student to an educational institution, if the educational institution’s policy for the admission of students demonstrates that the criteria for admission relates to the religious belief or affiliation, or religious activity, of the other person, the other person’s parents or the other person’s grandparents.”

Section 52. “Participation in religious observance

A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or religious activity in relation to-

(a) the ordination or appointment of a priest; or

(b) the training and education of any person seeking ordination or appointment as a priest; or

(c) the selection or appointment of a person to participate in any religious observance or practice; or

(d) any other act that-

(i) is carried out in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion; and

(ii) is necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of any person of that religion.”

At first glance these exceptions appear extensive in their application. However, the most important point to observe is that discrimination by religious bodies, including religious schools, is only allowed on the basis of the person being discriminated against’s religion – for example, a christian school offering preferential enrolment to students that are christian.

It specifically does not allow discrimination on the basis of other attributes, such as the person being discriminated against’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics.

In this way, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is clearly superior to other state and territory LGBTI discrimination laws, as well as the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (which not only provides a general religious exception allowing discrimination against LGBT people in a wide range of circumstances, but also a specific one with respect to religious schools that permits discrimination against LGBT students and teachers). It is therefore pleasing that the ACT Government embraced the Tasmanian approach in its recent reforms to protect LGBT students and teachers at religious schools – although it retains exceptions for health and other community services at this stage.

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

The anti-vilification protections afforded LGBTI Tasmanians under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 are also strong. There are actually two provisions that prohibit vilification under the Act:

Section 17 “Prohibition of certain conduct and sexual harassment

(1) A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of an attribute referred to in section 16(e), (a), (b), (c), (d), (ea), (eb) and (k), (fa), (g), (h), (i) or (j) in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed…”

Section 19 “Inciting hatred

A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of-

(a) the race of the person or any member of the group; or

(b) any disability of the person or any member of the group; or

(c) the sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity of the person or any member of the group; or

(d) the religious belief or activity of the person or any member of the group; or

(e) the gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics of the person or any member of the group.”

The effect of these two provisions mean that LGBTI Tasmanians are protected both against conduct that offends, humiliates, insults or ridicules, as well as conduct that incites hatred, serious contempt or serious ridicule. This means Tasmania’s LGBTI anti-vilification provisions are the equal best in the country, alongside the ACT.

[Although it should be noted that, in its previous term, the Tasmanian Liberal Government attempted to undermine these anti-vilification protections. It sought to introduce amendments that would have permitted vilification for public acts done in good faith for ‘religious purposes’ (where “religious purpose includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief”). This would have inevitably resulted in increased vilification of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Tasmanians. Thankfully, while the Bill was passed by the Liberal-majority Legislative Assembly, it was rejected by the Independent-majority Legislative Council in August 2017.]

will-hodgman

Former Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman sought to undermine LGBTI anti-vilification protections.

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Overall, it is clear that Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is the best LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia. It has set the standard to which all other jurisdictions should aspire.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

What’s Wrong With South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984?

This post is part of a series looking at Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, and examining how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people against discrimination. The other posts in the series can be found here.

In particular, they assess Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation in terms of the following three issues:

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

Unfortunately, while South Australia has expanded the range of people legally protected against discrimination, the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 remains grossly inadequate because of the breadth of religious exceptions it offers, and its failure to establish LGBTI vilification offences.

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Protected Attributes

Section 29 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Australians from discrimination.

Sub-section (2a) defines discrimination “on the ground of gender identity” to include (among other things):

  • “if the person treats another unfavourably because the other is or has been a person of a particular gender identity or because of the other’s past sex;
  • if the person treats another unfavourably on the basis of a characteristic that appertains generally to persons of a particular gender identity, or on the basis of a presumed characteristic that is generally imputed to persons of a particular gender identity… and
  • if the person requires a person of a particular gender identity to assume characteristics of a sex with which the person does not identify.”

Importantly, unlike some jurisdictions, South Australia protects all trans people against discrimination (and not just people with binary gender identities).

The protections against discrimination “on the ground of sexual orientation” contained in sub-section (3) are similarly broad, and would cover all lesbian, gay and bisexual South Australians.

The Relationships Register Act 2016 has expanded this coverage even further by introducing a new protected attribute of ‘intersex status’, with the addition of sub-section 29(4)[i].

With this change, South Australia has become only the fourth jurisdiction in Australia – after the Commonwealth, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory – to explicitly protect intersex people against discrimination. Although it should be noted that in the March 2017 Darlington Statement, intersex activists called for this terminology to be replaced by a protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’.

Summary: The South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people against discrimination – with the 2017 inclusion of ‘intersex status’ making it only the fourth Australian jurisdiction, out of nine, to cover the entire LGBTI community.

**********

Religious Exceptions

Unfortunately, while the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 will soon be close to best practice on protected attributes, in terms of religious exceptions it is anything but.

Section 50 sets out an incredibly broad range of circumstances in which religious organisations are legally entitled to discriminate against LGBTI South Australians:

Religious bodies

(1) This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to-

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

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

(ba) the administration of a body established for religious purposes in accordance with the precepts of that religion; or

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

While paragraphs (a) and (b) are at least directly related to religious appointments – and therefore somewhat defensible because of their connection to freedom of religion – paragraph (ba) and especially paragraph (c) effectively encourage discrimination by religious organisations in healthcare and other community services.

It is also unclear whether this general exception allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBTI students. That is because there is a separate section which provides exceptions for religious schools regarding students (section 37), and it does not allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

However, unlike the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 which protects LGBT students, there is nothing in the general religious exception in section 50 of South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984 which states that it does not apply to religious schools.

This means that it is still possible the general religious exception in section 50 allows discrimination despite what section 37 says – a risk even the SA Equal Opportunity Commission expressed concern about in their submission to the South Australian Law Reform Institute’s review of Exceptions under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (p73). Indeed, the Law Reform Institute recommended:

“that section 50(1)(c) should be removed to make it clear that it does not apply to discrimination with respect to potential or current students of religious educational institutions” (pp83-84).

The situation is also complicated with respect to teachers in religious schools, with sub-section 34(3) setting out a separate, specific exception in that area:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(iii) to other members of the public.”

Some may see this as a relatively positive approach, because at the very least it allows everyone to be informed about the policies any particular school adopts. And, admittedly, it is preferable to the carte blanche approach adopted in other states (and especially in New South Wales).

However, there are three important qualifications to this ‘benign’ assessment:

  • It still allows discrimination against teachers and other employees in religious schools. This discrimination – which has no connection whatsoever to the ability of LGBTI teachers and other staff to do their jobs – remains unacceptable, irrespective of the procedural steps a school must first negotiate,
  • It is (I believe) unique in Australia in that it specifically states that religious schools can discriminate on the basis of intersex status (despite there being no supporting evidence of doctrines, tenets or beliefs which discriminate against people born with intersex variations), and
  • The general religious exception in sub-section 50(c) may still apply, for the same reason that it may allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students – meaning it is possible that religious schools can ‘pick and choose’ the basis on which they discriminate against teachers and employees (and therefore potentially avoid these procedural hurdles altogether).

There is one final religious exception which allows discrimination against LGBTI South Australians – sub-section 35(2b) allows ‘associations’ to exclude and otherwise adversely treat people on the basis of their intersex status, gender identity or sexual orientation “if the association is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion.”

Summary: The religious exceptions contained in the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 allow discrimination against LGBTI people in a wide range of circumstances, including healthcare, community services, associations and in education (although there is some uncertainty about how far the exceptions apply in that area).

**********

Anti-Vilification Coverage

This section will be the shortest of this post – because there is none. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Australians have no protection against anti-LGBTI vilification under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984[ii].

This is despite the fact that an entire stand-alone act exists with respect to racial vilification (the Racial Vilification Act 1996). Given homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are just as damaging, and just as harmful, as racism, the lack of equivalent protections against anti-LGBTI vilification is, in my opinion, shameful.

**********

Other Issues

There are a few additional issues in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 that it would be remiss not to at least mention.

On the negative side, there is a very broad ‘inherent requirement’ exception in relation to employment. Sub-section 34(2) provides that:

“This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to employment or engagement for which it is a genuine occupational requirement that a person be of a particular sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.”

It is difficult to think of many jobs in which it is an inherent requirement that someone be of a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. It would be interesting to see on what possible basis the drafters attempted to justify this sub-section.

Similarly, sub-section 34(4) allows discrimination in employment against transgender people generally, and non-binary gender diverse people in particular, on the basis of their appearance, stating that:

“This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of gender identity in relation to employment or engagement if the discrimination is for the purposes of enforcing standards of appearance and dress reasonably required for the employment or engagement.”

Once again, it is hard to see how such discrimination can possibly be justified, and I would argue that both sub-sections (34(2) and (4)) should be repealed.

On the other hand, there are two exceptions that allow positive discrimination in favour of LGBTI people.

The first, in sub-section 35(2a), permits LGBT-specific associations to be created (for “persons of a particular gender identity”, for “persons of a particular sexual orientation (other than heterosexuality), or for “persons of intersex status”, noting that heterosexuality remains privileged within Australian society).

The second, in section 47, authorises actions designed to overcome discrimination against minority groups:

Measures intended to achieve equality

This Part does not render unlawful an act done for the purpose of carrying out a scheme or undertaking intended to ensure that persons of a particular sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, have equal opportunities with, respectively, all other persons, in circumstances to which this Part applies.”

Nevertheless, while these final two provisions are welcome, they do not negate the harmful aspects of the Act, including its overly-generous religious exceptions, and the complete lack of anti-vilification coverage for LGBTI South Australians.

It remains to be seen whether the Liberal Government, under Premier Steven Marshall, will take any action to improve the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

 

_MEG1426_0

Will Liberal Premier Steven Marshall amend South Australia’s out-dated Equal Opportunity Act 1984?

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Footnotes:

[i] “(4) For the purposes of this Act, a person discriminates on the ground of intersex status-

(a) if the person treats another unfavourably because of the other’s intersex status or past intersex status; or

(b) if the person treats another unfavourably because the other does not comply, or is not able to comply, with a particular requirement and-

(i) the nature of the requirement is such that a substantially higher proportion of persons who are not of intersex status complies, or is able to comply, with the requirement than of those of intersex status; and

(ii) the requirement is not reasonable in the circumstances of the case; or

(c) if the person treats another unfavourably on the basis of a characteristic that appertains generally to persons of intersex status, or presumed intersex status, or on the basis of a presumed characteristic that is generally imputed to persons of intersex status; or

(d) if the person treats another unfavourably because of an attribute of or a circumstance affecting a relative or associate of the other, being an attribute or circumstances described in the preceding paragraphs.”

[ii] Although South Australia is not alone in this regard – there are also no LGBTI vilification protections in Commonwealth law, and in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Submission to Inquiry into Freedom of Speech in Australia

Update 1 March 2017:

The Joint Committee on Human Rights handed down its report on Freedom of Speech in Australia yesterday (Tuesday 28 February). A full copy of the report can be found here.

On the positive side, the Committee did not make formal recommendations to wind back, or even repeal, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, although it did include a number of options that, if implemented, would effectively undermine racial vilification protections in this country.

On the negative side, and despite accepting and publishing my submission (see below), the Committee apparently failed to consider the issue of whether anti-vilification laws should be expanded to cover other groups who are currently not protected in Commonwealth law, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.

Disappointingly, Labor members did not refer to this issue in their additional comments, nor did the Australian Greens as part of their dissenting report. All of which means that the campaign to secure Commonwealth LGBTI anti-vilification laws that are equivalent to section 18C must continue.

 

Original post:

As many of you would be aware, Commonwealth Parliament is currently conducting an inquiry into ‘freedom of speech in Australia’ – specifically whether the racial vilification protections offered by section 18C in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 should be restricted.

The following is my submission to this inquiry, arguing that not only is there insufficient justification to amend (or even repeal) 18C, but that Parliament should instead be considering how to better protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians against vilification.

Full details of the Inquiry, including the 374 submissions (and counting) that have been published, can be found here.

 

**********

 

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

18Cinquiry@aph.gov.au

 

Dear Committee Members

Submission to Inquiry into Freedom of Speech in Australia

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to this inquiry into what is an important issue.

 

In this submission I will primarily focus on terms of reference 1 (concerning sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975) and 4 (how the Australian Human Rights Commission can better protect freedom of speech), rather than terms of reference 2 (regarding the processes that apply to complaint handling) or 3 (‘soliciting complaints’).

 

I am writing this submission from the perspective of an Australian with Anglo-Celtic heritage, and therefore someone who is unlikely to be subject to racial vilification in this country.

 

However, I also write as an out gay man, who has witnessed, and experienced, vilification on the basis of sexual orientation. Those experiences particularly inform the latter part of this submission.

 

**********

 

Term of Reference 1: Whether the operation of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) imposes unreasonable restrictions upon freedom of speech, and in particular whether, and if so how, ss 18C and 18D should be reformed.

 

No law is ever perfect. Each piece of legislation that exists today could probably be better drafted in some way (or indeed many ways).

 

That statement applies to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, in the same manner as any other law, including its provisions that make racial vilification unlawful.

 

As the Committee would be aware, section 18C stipulates that:

 

“(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

  • the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
  • the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

 

As I wrote in my submission to the Government’s Exposure Draft Freedom of Speech (Repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014, “I do not believe that, were provisions regarding racial vilification to be drafted today, they would include the terms ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ (or at least not without aggravating factors or considerations).”

 

It is at least possible to argue that the type of conduct that is, prima facie, captured by these terms – insult and offend – is too broad.

 

But, as I then went on to observe in that same submission, “it is one thing to suggest that the drafting of a provision is something less than ‘ideal’ – it is another to suggest that poor drafting has directly caused problems that mean it must be amended.”

 

And it is on that second point that I believe the case to amend or even repeal section 18C falls down. Because I am yet to be convinced that the drafting of 18C itself has caused serious problems in the operation of Australia’s racial vilification framework.[i]

 

There are three main arguments that support this conclusion.

 

First, racial vilification generally, and section 18C specifically, has been subject to considerable public debate since the election of the then-Abbott Liberal-National Government in September 2013.

 

Many critics have argued, at times vociferously, that the section as drafted is an unacceptable infringement upon the right to free speech. If such a claim were true, then these same critics should be able to provide examples of speech that are unlawful currently, that would be lawful if this section was reformed, and which are clearly in the public interest to be heard.

 

I am unaware of anyone who has, over those past three years, been able to provide a compelling example. That failure seriously undermines the case for change.

 

Second, I believe it is equally difficult to find an example of section 18C being applied incorrectly in case law, such that speech that should have been lawful was, ultimately, found to be unlawful by the courts.

 

The most famous (or infamous) case that is often cited is Eaton v Bolt [2011] FCA 1103. However, as I observed in my submission to the Government’s Freedom of Speech (Repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014, “it is not clear that the outcome of the “Bolt case” makes any persuasive case for change.”

 

I went on to write:

 

“In the summary of that decision, Justice Mordecai Bromberg explained that “I am satisfied that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed by the newspaper articles” of Mr Bolt (para 17).

 

“Justice Bromberg also explained that Mr Bolt’s conduct could not fit within what are, to be frank, extremely generous exemptions in section 18D, writing that “I have not been satisfied that the offensive conduct that I have found occurred, is exempted from unlawfulness by section 18D. The reasons for that conclusion have to do with the manner in which the articles were written, including that they contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language” (para 23, emphasis added).

 

“In his summary, Justice Bromberg also articulates at least one of the reasons why laws should exist to prohibit writings such as those of Mr Bolt: “People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying. Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of the racial identification of a group of people is likely to be destructive of racial tolerance, just as disparagement directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people is also destructive of racial tolerance” (para 22).

“In short, there appears to at least be an arguable case that not only was the “Bolt case” decided correctly on the existing law, but also that the current provisions are operating as intended to limit the negative effects of racial intolerance. Conversely, I believe it is difficult to argue, solely on the basis of Eatock v Bolt, that section 18C is so deficient that it should be amended, and amended as a matter of high priority.”

That remains my opinion today.

 

Third, it is impossible to argue for amendment to, or repeal of, section 18C in isolation, and without considering the generous exemptions provided by section 18D:

 

“Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

  • in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or
  • in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or
  • in making or publishing:
    1. a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or
    2. a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.”

 

These provisions, and especially the protections for ‘fair comment’ on a ‘matter of public interest’ if it is ‘an expression of a genuine belief’, cover an extremely wide range of potential statements where they otherwise offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate other persons or groups on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

 

Once again, it is up to advocates for change to the existing law to provide examples of speech that remains unlawful, despite section 18D, and that it is clearly in the public interest to hear. As with section 18C discussed above, I am not aware of any such example.

 

Recommendation 1: Sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 should remain as currently drafted.

 

In the absence of a compelling case to amend or repeal sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, I would like to suggest an alternative area of anti-vilification law reform for which there is, from my perspective, a clear and urgent need for reform: the introduction of vilification protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.

 

Despite the almost relentless criticism of racial vilification laws over the past three years, and especially in certain mainstream media publications in 2016, there has been comparative silence, or near silence, about the fact there are currently no Commonwealth protections against vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

The Commonwealth is not alone in failing to offer these protections: only NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT have laws that expressly prohibit anti-LGBTI vilification[ii].

 

This is an issue that I have repeatedly attempted to draw attention to, via multiple policy submissions (including the already-mentioned submission on the Government’s Exposure Draft Freedom of Speech (Repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014, a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Inquiry into Traditional Rights and Freedoms, and a submission in response to their Interim Report, as well as a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s consultation on Rights & Responsibilities, led by the now-Member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson).

 

In each process I have made the case that, if race-based vilification is considered legally unacceptable, then so too should be homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification.

 

As I wrote in the Star Observer newspaper in May 2014[iii]:

 

“[T]here is no conceptual or philosophical reason why racial vilification should be deemed to be so serious a problem as to require a legal complaints and resolution scheme, but vilification based on homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and anti-intersex prejudice should not.

 

“After all, both groups – Australians of diverse racial backgrounds and LGBTI people – are regularly subject to vilification in public contexts, whether that be in political or media debates, or in harassment and abuse in public spaces.

 

“For LGBTI people, this includes comments made in Federal Parliament itself. Over the past [15] years, we have had three… senators rhetorically link marriage equality with bestiality, repeat claims that allowing two men or women to wed will create another stolen generation, and smear an openly-gay High Court Justice with allegations of paedophilia (apparently solely on the basis of the judge’s homosexuality).

 

“Vilification based on sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status occurs all-too-frequently at the everyday ‘street level’, too. Anyone who is visibly identifiable as LGBTI, including non-LGBTI people who are perceived as being LGBTI by others, or indeed anyone who simply wants to engage in the tender act of holding one’s same-sex partner’s hand, knows the risks that expressing who you are in public can bring, from being yelled at from passing cars, to the very real threat of much worse.

 

“Such fears are grounded in hard statistics. A 2003 NSW Attorney-General’s Report found that in the previous 12 months, 56 per cent of gay men and lesbians had been subject to one of more forms of homophobic abuse, harassment or violence. And that’s before we take into account the disturbingly high number of gay and bisexual men violently murdered in Sydney during the 1980s and 1990s, but whose deaths are only now being properly investigated.

 

“The consequences of anti-LGBTI vilification are also reflected in figures that show that LGBTI Australians continue to experience disproportionately high rates of mental health issues, including depression, self-harm and, most tragically, suicide. It is not hard to draw a link between public denigration and contempt for a person’s identity or status, and poorer personal mental health.

 

“So, if Australians of diverse racial backgrounds and LGBTI people are both subject to vilification, and both experience negative outcomes as a result, why shouldn’t both vulnerable groups have the same level of legal protection?”

 

That question remains relevant to this Committee today, and especially to this particular Inquiry.

 

I would argue that, given the harms of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification outlined above, rather than recommending amendment to or repeal of sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Vilification Act 1975, the Committee should instead support the introduction of equivalent provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to prohibit vilification against LGBTI Australians.

 

Recommendation 2: The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 should be amended to make vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status unlawful. These provisions should be drafted on the same basis as existing prohibitions against racial vilification in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

 

**********

 

Term of Reference 4: Whether the operation of the [Australian Human Rights] Commission should be otherwise reformed in order better to protect freedom of speech and, if so, what those reforms should be.

 

I would like to make one final point, related to the previous discussion, about the terms of reference to this inquiry, and the overall direction of anti-vilification reform in Australia.

 

Namely, there continues to be disproportionate focus on freedom of speech, with little attention paid to the potential harmful outcomes from unfettered or completely unregulated speech.

 

This ideological bent is already apparent in the term of reference highlighted above (focused on free speech and not its effects), but is revealed even more clearly by examining the paragraph in the Terms of Reference that follows:

 

“The Committee is asked, in particular, to consider the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission in its Final Report on Traditional Rights and Freedoms – Encroachments by Commonwealth Laws [ALRC Report 129 – December 2015], in particular Chapter 4 – “Freedom of Speech”.

 

Turning to that Report, the relevant recommendation is found at 4.251 on page 126:

 

“The ALRC concludes that the following Commonwealth laws should be further reviewed to determine whether they unjustifiably limit freedom of speech:

  • Pt IIA of the RDA, in conjunction with consideration of anti-vilification laws more generally.”

 

That last phrase – “in conjunction with consideration of anti-vilification laws more generally” – only fully makes sense when considered in the context of the preceding discussion in paragraphs 4.207 to 4.209 on page 119 of the Report:

 

“The ALRC has not established whether s 18C of the RDA has, in practice, caused unjustifiable interferences with freedom of speech. However, it appears that pt IIA of the RDA, of which s 18C forms a part, would benefit from more thorough review in relation to freedom of speech.

 

“In particular, there are arguments that s 18C lacks sufficient precision and clarity, and unjustifiably interferes with freedom of speech by extending to speech that is reasonably likely to ‘offend’. The provision appears broader than is required under international law to prohibit the advocacy of racial hatred and broader than similar laws in other jurisdictions, and may be susceptible to constitutional challenge.

 

“However, any such review should not take place in isolation. Stakeholders put forward arguments that people should also be protected from vilification on other grounds, including sex, sexual orientation and gender identity” (emphasis added).

 

In short, the Government asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine traditional rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech. The ALRC then considered sections 18C and 18D in detail, but was not in a position to determine whether or not these sections unjustifiably interfered with freedom of speech.

 

Instead, the ALRC recommended that this part of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 be reviewed further – as part of a broader review of anti-vilification laws, including whether these protections should be extended to others grounds, such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

However, in establishing this Inquiry, the Government appears to have done the exact opposite: it has focused solely on the protection of freedom of speech, and not at all on the consequences of unfettered free speech, ignoring any possible need to introduce additional protected attributes in Commonwealth anti-vilification law.

 

Once again, I would urge the Committee – and through you, the Parliament – to consider the issue of whether LGBTI anti-vilification protections should be established in Commonwealth legislation, and in this way to give full effect to the recommendation of the ALRC.

 

**********

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide this submission, and for taking it into account as part of the Committee’s deliberations.

 

Should you have any questions, or to request additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the contact details provided with this submission.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Friday 9 December 2016

 

Footnotes:

[i] Please note here that, as stated in the introduction, I am not commenting on the processes that apply to complaint handling, which includes complaints with little or no substance, as well as the timelines involved in resolving complaints. Other individuals and/or organisations are better placed to make recommendations on those particular matters (although I suspect it may involve a combination of procedural changes, and increased funding for the Commission and Courts to enable the existing caseload to be dealt with in a more timely manner).

[ii] Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia have racial vilification laws but no LGBTI equivalent, while the Northern Territory has neither.

[iii] Star Observer, “Where’s the LGBTI Equivalent of Section 18C?” 19 May 2014.

Our 7-Year Engagement (and Counting)

7 years isn’t just the name of a nauseatingly awful song by Lukas Graham. It also happens to be the length of time that, as of today, Steve and I have been engaged.

 

On 23 January 2010, after about 18 months together and on a trip to Melbourne, I asked him to marry me. He made me an incredibly happy man when he said, “Of course I will.”

 

What should have followed were several months of wedding planning – including the inevitable fights over guest-lists, and the small ‘p’ politics of who sits at which table (or, more likely in our case, arguments over the music play-list).

 

What has followed has been seven years of advocacy – of fighting for the right just to be treated the same as other Australians, and the capital ‘P’ politics of trying to change the ALP national platform, then attempting to make that platform binding, of resisting an unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite, and finally of arguing for Commonwealth Parliament to actually hold a vote on marriage equality, instead of countless inquiries and endless delays.

 

It’s fair to say that, after seven years of campaigning for change, Steve and I are becoming increasingly frustrated by the inability of our so-called leaders to pass this reform. After all, it should take seven seconds, rather than seven years, for most people to recognise that all couples deserve to be treated equally under the law, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

It’s also true to say that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians are feeling worn out, and worn down, by the ongoing battle, of having exactly the same conversations, with the same nonsensical responses by those against marriage equality, ending in the same result: yet more inaction.

 

There is a real risk that many in the LGBTI community, not to mention our family members, friends and allies, will find this debate increasingly tiresome (I know that, even as someone who is clearly passionate about this topic, I am starting to find writing about it somewhat tedious).

 

To a large extent, that is what our opponents want. They would love nothing more than for people who support marriage equality to become depressed about the lack of tangible results to date, and to consequently give up the fight.

 

Groups like the Australian Christian Lobby lost the policy argument a long time ago – they are now engaged in a war of attrition, hoping that, if this issue sits in the too hard basket for long enough, it will disappear from the political agenda altogether.

 

We can’t afford to let that happen. As annoying as it is – as boring as it is – we must start the year in exactly the same way we started last year, and the year before that, and the year before that (plus several more besides).

 

By writing letters to, and calling, our MPs and Senators, by using traditional media, and social media, to keep marriage equality in the spotlight, by marching, and protesting, by making a noise, and generally making a nuisance of ourselves.

 

Our 226 elected federal representatives must be constantly reminded that we will not go away until this, the simplest of reforms, is finally passed.

 

It could even happen this year. All it would take is for Malcolm Turnbull to demonstrate the leadership that many once hoped he possessed. Or for the Liberal party-room to decide the issue has dragged on long enough, and by holding a conscience vote. Or even for a small handful of Liberal MPs and Senators to decide this is something worth crossing the floor over.

 

Of course, marriage equality may not happen this year either. It could be delayed until 2018, 2019 or even longer. But no matter how much time it takes, we will continue pushing until our parliamentarians catch up to where the Australian population has been for some time.

 

In the meantime, there are literally tens of thousands of couples just like Steve and I who are essentially stuck in limbo, unable to do the basic things other engaged couples do: pick a wedding date, book a venue, and send out invitations (to those who make the agreed-upon final cut anyway).

 

We are reminded of this discrimination every time a day like today rolls around – the anniversary of an engagement that was happily entered into, but that has been unhappily, and involuntarily, extended by our government.

 

On a personal level I must admit I am finding this particular anniversary – our 7-year ‘engagement-versary’ – to be a particularly frustrating one, and just a little bit odd too.

 

It is weird to consider that we have now been engaged so long there is even a popular myth – at least partially backed up by research[i], as it turns out – that this is the time at which many married couples actually start to divorce.

 

And it’s a strange event to ‘celebrate’ – or at least commemorate – when you would prefer to be able to reflect on your wedding instead (as an aside, if we were married, the traditional 7-year gifts are wool, or copper – does that mean I should be buying Steve a nice new jumper?)

 

It is probably fitting that I will spend our anniversary at work, listening in the background to yet another Senate Committee hearing discussing whether couples like us should have the ability to marry – and, if we do, what new special ‘rights’ civil celebrants, religious bodies and others should have to discriminate against us[ii].

 

If I had the opportunity to address that Committee, I’d let them know how large a difference they could make if they just made a small change to the Marriage Act, thereby allowing Steve and I – and thousands of couples just like us – to exchange wedding vows.

 

I’d finish my testimony by making my own vow, on behalf of Steve and I – that I will not stop fighting until our relationship is finally treated equally under the law. Because one day, hopefully not too far in the future, we deserve the right to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, and not our 8th, 9th or even 10th engagement anniversary.

 

melbourne-trip

Steve (left) and I on the January 2010 trip to Melbourne during which we got engaged. 7 years later and I only love him more.

 

Footnotes:

[i] New York Times, Study Finds a 7-Year Itch, and a 4-Year One, 5 October 1999.

[ii] The Senate is holding an inquiry into the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, with the first hearing, in Melbourne, held on Monday 23 January. Full details of the inquiry can be found here.

If we want genuine marriage equality, we’re going to have to fight – & write – for it

2017 might be the year that Australia finally introduces marriage equality[i].

If it is, it will only be because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians, and our families, friends and allies, have fought long and hard to make it happen.

However, there is also a very real risk that we end up with something less than genuine equality.

This is because there are some members within the Liberal National Coalition who are willing to support the right of LGBTI couples to marry, but only on the condition that new special rights to discriminate against us are included in any amendments to the Marriage Act.

That is simply not good enough.

As the US Supreme Court found more than 60 years ago[ii], separate but equal is not equal. And so we must reject any attempt to impose a 2nd-class system of marriage for LGBTI Australians, where we can be treated differently to cisgender heterosexual couples, merely because of who we are.

In the same way that we have fought, and continue to fight, for the right to marry, we must also fight for the right to marry equally.

The battleground for this campaign is the Government’s Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, released in October 2016. This is the legislation that the Government would have introduced had its (unnecessary, wasteful and divisive) plebiscite been held, and had it been successful.

While the Bill allows any two people to marry – and therefore would provide LGBTI Australians with the ability to finally tie the knot – it also proposes four new special rights to discriminate against any relationship that is “not the union of a man and a woman[iii].” This includes:

  1. A specific provision allowing ministers of religion to reject LGBTI couples, and only LGBTI couples[iv] – even though ministers of religion can already reject any couple for any reason. That means this clause is both unnecessary, and unfairly targets our relationships.
  1. An entirely new right for civil celebrants to reject LGBTI couples, and only LGBTI couples[v]. No other section of the Marriage Act 1961 currently allows these celebrants to discriminate. This homophobic provision is especially concerning given three out of every four weddings in Australia are conducted by civil celebrants.
  1. A specific provision allowing ‘religious bodies and organisations[vi] to deny facilities to, and withhold goods and services from, LGBTI couples, and only LGBTI couples[vii]. This has been included despite existing religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws, at both Commonwealth and state and territory level, and applies even where these groups are engaged in commercial enterprise.
  1. A new right for Defence Force chaplains to reject LGBTI couples, and only LGBTI couples[viii]. This is despite the fact these chaplains are public servants, paid for by all taxpayers – including LGBTI Australians – and that they are expected to “administer spiritual support to all members, regardless of their religion” (emphasis added)[ix].

None of these new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples are necessary. All are completely unjustified. All must be challenged.

Fortunately, this Bill generally, and these proposed new ‘religious exceptions’ specifically, are currently the subject of a Senate inquiry.

The Select Committee examining this Bill has called for public submissions, which close next Friday (13 January). Full details of the Inquiry, including how to lodge, can be found here.

I encourage you to make your own submission, calling for the Committee, and ultimately the Parliament, to reject these four new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

In doing so, you could make the following two main points:

  • This Bill is NOT marriage equality

While the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill would allow LGBTI couples to finally marry, by including new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples – and only LGBTI couples – the Bill actually establishes a 2nd-class system of marriage for some Australians based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. ‘Separate but equal’ is not equal – which means this Bill would not deliver genuine marriage equality.

  • The exceptions included in this Bill do not protect religious freedom, they promote homophobia and transphobia

There are a variety of different religious beliefs about marriage. Some people believe only cisgender heterosexual couples should be able to marry[x]. Others do not believe in divorce, and therefore oppose the right of people to participate in second (or subsequent) weddings. Some even continue to hold the (once widespread) belief that people of different faiths should not marry.

If the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill reflected genuine concerns about protecting ‘religious freedom’, it would allow civil celebrants, religious bodies and organisations and Defence Force chaplains to discriminate against divorced people, or against inter-faith couples[xi].

The fact that it does not, and that it establishes new special rights to discriminate solely against LGBTI couples, reveals the fundamental truth of this legislation: it has very little to do with protecting religious freedom, and much more to do with promoting homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia[xii].

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3 Ways to Take Action

If you agree with me, then now is the time to get involved, to get fighting – and writing – to let the Senate Committee, and the Government, know that marriage equality should mean exactly that: equality. And we won’t accept anything less.

Here are three ways you can take action in the next week:

  1. Write your own submission to the Senate Inquiry. As noted above, details on how to do so can be found here. Alternatively, two LGBTI organisations have designed web platforms to make writing a submission easier:
  1. Complete these surveys about the Bill. Both the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby and just.equal (& PFLAG Australia) are consulting the LGBTI community about what they think of the proposed religious exceptions. Let them know your views here:
  1. Sign and share this petition to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, demanding that Equal love should not be treated unequally.

Above all, if you think that equal means equal, no ifs, buts, or maybes, then it’s time to get writing…

equalmeansequal-3

Footnotes:

[i] Of course, if Malcolm Turnbull continues to fail to show any leadership on this issue, we might instead be forced to wait until 2019 or 2020.

[ii] Brown v Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954)

[iii] Interestingly, this phrase would not cover all LGBTI couples – for example, civil celebrants, religious bodies and organisations and Defence Force chaplains would not be able to reject heterosexual couples where one or both members are transgender and where the couple identifies as a man and a woman.

[iv] Proposed sub-section 47(3)

[v] Proposed new section 47A

[vi] It is worrying that these terms are not defined in the Bill, meaning the number of bodies or organisations allowed to discriminate against LGBTI couples could be high.

[vii] Proposed new section 47B

[viii] Proposed new note to section 81

[ix] For more on why these new special rights to discriminate must be rejected, see The Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill in Unacceptable.

[x] Of course, they should not be able to impose that belief on others through secular law.

[xi] I am not arguing for either to be made lawful, merely highlighting the double-standard that lies at the heart of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.

[xii] The Government, having revealed its (homophobic) intentions, also cannot now turn around and extend these new special rights to discriminate against divorced people and inter-faith couples because they will only be doing so to ‘cover up’ the anti-LGBTI nature of its original legislation.