The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked

Update 10 December 2020:

The Morrison Government’s Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill was released one year ago today (on Human Rights Day, which was particularly ironic given its contents trample on the rights of women, LGBTI people, single parents, divorced people and people in de facto relationships, and people with disability, among many others).

Following public consultation during January and February, it was expected the final version of the Bill would be introduced in Commonwealth Parliament by Attorney-General Christian Porter in March 2020.

Of course, COVID-19 had other plans – who knew all it took to stop this awful law was the worst global pandemic in a century? Although, in reality, their proposed legislation was only ever placed on pause – and there is increasing evidence PM Morrison and AG Porter plan to introduce their Religious Discrimination Bill in early 2021.

On Sunday 6 December, the Guardian Australia reported that:

The attorney general, Christian Porter, said in a statement: “The government will revisit its legislative program as the situation develops, and bring the religious discrimination bill forward at an appropriate time.”

This was followed by a story in Monday 7 December’s Australian, stating that:

Australia’s faith leaders are urging Scott Morrison to put the implementation of a Religious Discrimination Act at the top of his political agenda next year, warning their congregations would hold the Prime Minister to his election pledge once COVID-19 passes…

Catholic, Anglican and Muslim leaders told The Australian work on a Religious Discrimination Act must begin as early as February when federal parliament returned from its summer break.

It is clear that religious fundamentalists both within and without the Government want to push ahead with this deeply-flawed legislation come hell or high water, the rights of other Australians be damned.

There is a very real risk the final Bill will be introduced in the first half of 2021, perhaps as soon as when Commonwealth Parliament resumes on February 2nd. Scott Morrison is fond of (over-)using the word ‘comeback’ at the moment – but reviving the Religious Discrimination Bill is one comeback that most definitely should not happen.

The Religious Discrimination Bill must be resisted, in the strongest possible way, for all of the reasons outlined below in my original post about the Second Exposure Draft. To allow it to pass would mean undermining the rights of many, many Australians to live our lives free from discrimination.

Original Post:

It is ironic that a Bill that uses the phrase ‘in good faith’ multiple times (four times in the First Exposure Draft, and nine times in the Second) was itself developed through a process that was the polar opposite.

The Religious Discrimination Bill is the end product of the Religious Freedom Review, which was a gift to religious fundamentalists during parliamentary debate about marriage equality in 2017, and was payback against LGBTI Australians for having the temerity to demand equal rights under secular law.

When that review was finally released in December 2018, Attorney-General Christian Porter promised that the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill would be similar to other anti-discrimination laws, and ‘follow a very standard architecture’.[i] Instead he has delivered incredibly complex legislation with several unique, special rights for religious individuals and organisations to discriminate against others (more on that below).

Mr Porter also stated in December 2018 that ‘we are well-advanced on the drafting of [the Bill] and which we would have out early next year [2019], so that people can see it.’ Yet the Liberal-National Government did not reveal any details of the Bill until after the May 2019 federal election, leaving voters in the dark about a central plank of their platform (perhaps some voters may have voted differently had they known their human rights would later come under sustained attack).

In August, the Guardian Australia reported that:

Christian Porter has sought to allay concerns that a federal religious discrimination bill could water down protections for LGBT people in state legislation. The attorney general told Guardian Australia the bill “is not intended to displace state law…”’[ii]

But when the First Exposure Draft Bill was released on 29 August it did exactly that, with clause 41 directly over-riding Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination legislation, and specifically over-riding Tasmania’s best practice protections against ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults of ridicules’[iii] others, including women, LGBTI people and others.

At no point between December 2018 and August 2019 did the Morrison Government consult with anyone other than the religious organisations who would benefit from the Bill. There was no engagement with any of the people who stood to lose the most, from women, to LGBTI people, single parents, divorced people and people in de facto relationships, and people with disability.

Even when the Attorney-General released the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill for public comment – and received a deluge of criticism from representatives of those groups, as well as the vast majority of civil society organisations, and even the Australian Human Rights Commission, the independent body who would be responsible for overseeing any legislation once passed – Porter, and the Government, have chosen to ignore that feedback.

In fact, the only major substantive change to the Bill was something demanded by religious organisations – to expand its religious exceptions even further, allowing religious hospitals and aged care services to discriminate on the basis of religious belief in employment. Even when receiving taxpayers money to deliver public services.

It is completely unsurprising that, having undertaken a bad faith process to develop its legislation, the Government has produced what is essentially a ‘bad faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill. A Bill that prioritises and privileges the rights of religious individuals and organisations over and above everyone else.

This can be seen in how the Second Exposure Draft[iv] differs from the First in relation to its four major problems[v] – or, rather, in how there is nothing to separate the two Bills, meaning the Government has not addressed these flaws.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it easier to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ minorities

Clause 42 (which was previously clause 41) continues to exempt ‘statements of belief’ from discrimination complaints under all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination legislation, including the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and Tasmania’s best practice Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.

Indeed, multiple changes to the Bill will actually ensure more discriminatory statements of belief are protected from legal consequences. This includes expanding the definition of statements of belief (so that they do not need to align with the mainstream views of any religion, but can be from the extreme fringes of faith), as well as providing that comments will be protected even where they are ‘moderately’ intimidating towards the victim.[vi]

Nor has the Government addressed the constitutional flaws of this provision. Because the Bill would introduce a Commonwealth defence to state laws, state tribunals would legally be unable to determine whether the defence was valid. So where a person makes a complaint of discrimination, and a respondent claims it was a ‘statement of belief’, it would need to be referred from the tribunal to a court to hear that particular issue, and then referred back to the tribunal to determine the remainder of the complaint – massively increasing the costs and time involved, with the likely outcome that many discrimination complaints will be withdrawn no matter how valid they are.

Overall, clause 42 will still encourage degrading and demeaning comments about women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disability, and even people from minority faiths,[vii] in all areas of public life, from workplaces to schools and universities, health care, aged care and other community services, to cafes, restaurants and even shops.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it easier for health practitioners to refuse to serve minorities

There have been some minor improvements to the ‘conscientious objection’ provisions in the Second Exposure Draft (previously clauses 8(5) and (6), now clauses 8(6) and (7) of the Bill). This includes narrowing the list of health practitioners who will be able to take advantage of these sections, as well as including a note that they are not intended to allow practitioners to refuse to provide a service to a category of people.

But, in practice, these changes are superficial rather than substantive. The list of practitioners who remain covered:

  • Doctors
  • Midwives
  • Nurses
  • Pharmacists, and
  • Psychologists

means the vast majority of interactions between patients and the health system are nevertheless potentially jeopardised via ‘conscientious objection’.

Meanwhile, the distinction between refusing to provide a service to a category of people (which would not be permitted) and refusing to provide a category of service to people (which would be) is so blurry as to be meaningless.

As Attorney-General Porter himself confirmed when releasing the Second Exposure Draft, it is designed to protect ‘a GP who did not want to “engage in hormone therapies” for a trans person. “That’s fine, but you have to exercise that in a consistent way, so you don’t engage in the procedure at all.”’[viii]

The net effect is that GPs and pharmacists will be empowered to:

  • Refuse to provide reproductive health services, even where this disproportionately affects women
  • Refuse to provide PEP and/or PrEP, even there this disproportionately affects gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and
  • Refuse to provide hormone therapy (including puberty blockers), even where this disproportionately affects trans and gender diverse people.

Overall, clauses 8(6) and (7) will still encourage practitioners to refuse to provide vital health care services to some of the most vulnerable members of the Australian community.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it easier for religious bodies to discriminate against others

In fact, as hinted at earlier, the religious exceptions contained in the Second Exposure Draft will make it even easier for even more religious organisations to discriminate in even more circumstances.

Clause 11 (which was previously clause 10), provides an exception to all religious schools and universities, as well as ‘registered public benevolent institutions’ (even where providing commercial services to members of the public), as well as ‘any other body that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion (other than a body that engages solely or primarily in commercial activities)’.

This exception allows these bodies to discriminate on the ground of religion in both employment, and who they provide services to (or withhold services from).

The test for determining whether the organisation can (ab)use these special privileges is also much easier to satisfy in the Second Exposure Draft. In fact, there are now two alternative tests, and the organisation need only satisfy one:

  • Clause 11(3) is already a lower standard than the existing religious exception in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), because the organisation can simply act, ‘in good faith, in conduct to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of the same religion’ – unlike section 37(1)(d) of the SDA, these acts do not need to be ‘necessary’.
  • Clause 11(1) sets an even lower standard again. It provides that a ‘religious body does not discriminate against a person under this Act by engaging, in good faith, in conduct that a person of the same religion as the religious body could reasonably consider to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion.’

This second test is entirely subjective. A religious body is only required to demonstrate that one other person considers their discrimination is in accordance with their faith. They don’t even have to agree with the discrimination itself! This hurdle is so easy to clear that it is almost impossible to imagine any scenario where a court or tribunal will disallow religious discrimination by these organisations.

Which is particularly devastating because the Second Exposure Draft also expands the types of organisations that can take advantage of these privileges.

Clauses 32(8) and (10) allow religious hospitals, aged care services and accommodation providers to discriminate in employment on the ground of religion. And clauses 33(2) and (4) permit religious camps and conference sites to discriminate in who they provide services to (even where these are facilities run on a commercial basis and otherwise open to the public).

As I have written previously, these religious exceptions will mean that:

  • A professor can be denied a job because they are Jewish.
  • A doctor can be refused employment at a hospital because they are Muslim.
  • A school student can be expelled because they are atheist.
  • A homeless person can miss out on a bed in a shelter because they are Hindu.
  • A charity worker can be rejected for promotion because they are Buddhist.
  • An aged care employee can lose shifts because they are agnostic.

Overall, clause 11 (and related clauses) will fundamentally divide Australia, by empowering religious organisations to discriminate both in employment, and in who they provide services to, on the grounds of religion. And they will be able to do so while using taxpayers’ money. Your money. My money, Our money.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it more difficult for big business to promote diversity and inclusion

Clauses 8(3) and (5) (which were previously 8(3) and (4)) are the provisions which were created in response to the circumstances of a certain ex-footballer – by making it incredibly difficult for organisations with revenue of at least $50 million per annum to impose codes of conduct that prevent an employee from making discriminatory comments outside their ordinary hours of employment.

These clauses have been slightly improved in the Second Exposure Draft. By clarifying they only protect employees in conduct ‘other than in the course of the employee’s employment’, it actually applies to a reduced set of circumstances.

But Attorney-General Porter has also included a new clause 8(4), which makes things much worse again – by preventing qualifying bodies (like legal admission or medical registration bodies) from taking into account degrading or demeaning public comments which applicants may have made ‘unless compliance with the rule by the person is an essential requirement of the profession, trade or occupation’.

Previously, these bodies may have denied admission or registration on the basis that the applicant was not a ‘fit and proper person’ – instead, homophobes, biphobes and transphobes will be encouraged to discriminate with little or no professional consequences.


Any of these problems should be sufficient in and of itself for anyone interested in human rights for all Australians, and not just for some, to oppose the Bill. All of them together should be enough for Labor, the Greens and Senate Cross-Bench to vote against it – although only the Greens’ opposition is secure at this stage.

And that’s not even including some of the other ‘lesser’ problems in the package of ‘religious freedom’ laws the Government is seeking to pass, which are each significant in their own right:[ix]

  • Creating a ‘Religious Freedom Commissioner’ within the Australian Human Rights Commission, to advance the ‘religious freedom’ agenda, even though such a position was not recommended by the Government’s own Ruddock Review, and while LGBTI Australians continue to be denied a Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics Commissioner.
  • Amending the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) to reinforce the ability of religious educational institutions to reject same-sex weddings, even where they provide those services to the public on a commercial basis – and despite the fact such a ban was not previously required to reject divorced people remarrying (meaning this is essentially an anti-marriage equality provision),[x] and
  • Amending the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) to ‘protect’ charities advocating against an inclusive definition of marriage, even though the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) explicitly stated such a clause was not needed, and despite the fact no other type of advocacy (from Indigenous, to environmental or LGBTI) is protected in this way.

Unfortunately, there are even more problems in the Religious Discrimination Bill, and its two related Bills (the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill, and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill), although it would take too long to describe them all in detail here.

In short, these are deeply flawed Bills, developed through a bad faith process, that will have a terrible impact on women, LGBTI people, people with disability and others. If passed, they would lead to increased division between different communities, changing our country for the worse. They must be blocked.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this debate is that a genuine Religious Discrimination Bill, one that protected people of faith and no faith against discrimination on the basis of who they are, would have been a welcome development.

If the Government had prepared the Religious Discrimination Bill in good faith, it would have been met with substantial community goodwill. Instead, they listened to religious fundamentalists, and have now released two slightly different versions of legislation containing the same fundamental flaw – it increases discrimination rather than reducing it.

Significantly, the victims of the Government’s Bill will not only be women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, and people with disability. People from minority faiths, atheists and agnostics all stand to lose under Attorney-General Porter’s, and Prime Minister Morrison’s, disingenuous and disastrous Second Exposure Draft ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills.

Anti-discrimination legislation should reduce discrimination, not increase it. It should unite us, rather than divide us. The Religious Discrimination Bill fails on those most fundamental criteria. It is a bad faith Bill, and the only possible good outcome from here would be for it to be rejected in its entirety.

Take Action

One of my main objectives for the blog this year is to include practical information on as many posts as possible about actions readers can take. In this instance, there are at least three things you can do:

  1. Write a submission on the Second Exposure Draft Bills

The Second Exposure Draft ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills are open for public consultation until Friday 31 January 2020. Details of the Bills are here, and you can send written submissions via email to

You don’t have to be a lawyer to make a submission, nor do you need to comment on all of the Bills’ many problems. Instead, you can simply describe your general concerns about the proposed legislation, as well as any specific fears about its impact on you and your community. Some suggested points include:

  • All Australians deserve to be protected against discrimination.
  • This includes people of faith, and no faith. But it must also include women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disability and others.
  • Unfortunately, the Second Exposure Draft Religious Freedom Bill will increase discrimination against many groups, including people from minority faiths, rather than reduce it.
  • It will encourage people to make ‘statements of belief’ that degrade and demean others just because of who they are, in workplaces, schools and universities, health care, aged care and community services, cafes, restaurants, shops and other public places.
  • It will encourage doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners to refuse to provide vital health services to vulnerable Australians.
  • It will encourage religious organisations to discriminate against people on the basis of their faith, in schools and universities, hospitals, aged care and other community services, even where they are delivering essential public services using public funding.
  • The Government should scrap the current version of the Religious Discrimination Bill, and prepare a new Bill that reduces discrimination rather than increasing it.
  • If the Government fails to do so, the Parliament must reject the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill, and associated ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills.
  1. Write to MPs and Senators expressing your concerns

While submissions about the Exposure Draft Bills are valuable, it is essential you also convey your concerns directly to your elected representatives.

It is especially important to write to the following:

  • ALP MPs and Senators
  • Greens MP and Senators
  • Centre Alliance Senators (if you’re in South Australia)
  • Senator Jacqui Lambie (if you’re in Tasmania), and
  • Liberate moderate/gay and lesbian MPs (including Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson, Angie Bell, Warren Entsch, Senator Dean Smith).

PFLAG Australia has made this process easy, using the website Equality, Not Discrimination.

You can also access a range of materials from Equality Australia here, including a submission-writing toolkit.

  1. Attend a public rally against the Bills

For those who prefer their activism to be on the streets, there will also be a number of public rallies around the country in coming weeks, including:

Sydney: Saturday 8 February at 1pm, Sydney Town Hall

Melbourne: Sunday 9 February at 1pm, State Library of Victoria

Brisbane: Saturday 1 February at 5pm, King George Square, and

Perth: Saturday 8 February at 1pm, Forrest Chase

The bad faith Religious Discrimination Bill, and the two other proposed ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills, can be blocked, but only if we all take action together.

Christian Porter

Attorney-General Christian Porter, author of the ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill.

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


[i] Attorney-General Media Conference, 13 December 2018.

[ii]Christian Porter says religious freedom bill won’t erode state LGBT protections’ 12 July 2019.

[iii] Section 17(1) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[iv] The complete Religious Freedom Bills – Second Exposure Drafts (which includes the updated Religious Discrimination Bill) can be found here.

[v] See The Growing List of Problems with the Religious Discrimination Bill.

[vi] Clause 42(2) provides that statements of belief will not be protected if it is:

  • malicious
  • that would, or is likely to, harass, threaten, seriously intimidate or vilify another person or group of persons; or
  • would be considered ‘counselling, promoting, encouraging or urging conduct that would constitute a serious offence.’

[vii] See The Internal Contradiction of the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.

[viii] ‘Rules for doctors, pharmacists tightened in new religious discrimination bill’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 2019.

[ix] For more detail, see The Growing List of Problems with the Religious Discrimination Bill.

[x] Unfortunately, it would not be the only provision in the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) which discriminated against same-sex couples, despite the postal survey result. For more see: No, We Don’t Have Marriage Equality Yet.

The longest five years

[Content warning: homophobia; violence; suicidal ideation]

Those eyelashes.

He had beautiful blue eyes, scruffy blond hair and a mischievous smile, but it’s his eyelashes I remember most more than a quarter of a century later.

The day before, my Mum had driven me the eight hours from the farm west of Rockhampton where I was raised, to this boarding school in Brisbane’s inner-west. The day after I would start year 8, and what would be the longest five years of my life.

But that January afternoon, as the new boarders got to know each other down at the pool, I was transfixed by his eyelashes, droplets of water on them glistening in the Queensland summer sun.

That moment crystallised the feelings of difference that had slowly accumulated over the previous few years. At 10 and 11, I had grown increasingly bewildered as the other boys and girls at Blackwater primary began to express interest in each other.

At 12, in this unfamiliar environment, a long, long way from home, I finally understood why.

I liked boys.


It took me another month or so to learn the right language to describe who I was. But I realised quickly afterwards that being gay was unlikely to be welcomed. Not by my National Party-voting parents (my Dad had actually nominated for federal pre-selection the year before). Not by my classmates. And definitely not by my school.

This was 1991. Homosexuality in Queensland had only just been decriminalised – and even then, the Parliament had imposed an unequal age of consent for anal intercourse (to ‘protect’ boys from being recruited to the homosexual lifestyle), something that would not be repealed until 2016.

Social attitudes were changing, but at a glacial pace. Many parts of the state were still firmly stuck in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era. My school was one of them.

Based on the Lutheran faith, it enforced both religious indoctrination, and homophobia, with steely German efficiency.

We had chapel five times a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and an hour-plus every Sunday), and bible studies another two or three times.

The school rules, which were printed in the student diary, were based on supposedly ‘christian’ principles, and included the statement that homosexuality would not be tolerated because it was not in accordance with god’s will.

The sex education that was provided was a superficial, hetero-normative joke. While the jokes made by my classmates, often within earshot of unresponsive staff, were frequently homophobic.

If I was going to survive here, I would have to suppress my burgeoning same-sex attraction with all my might.


It is hard, even now, especially now, to find the words to describe the utter loneliness of what followed.

Being surrounded 24/7 by 180 other boys, at a school of 1600 students overall, but having absolutely no-one to talk to, or confide in.

Needless to say there were no ‘out’ role models to look up to.

So, I quickly cut myself off, socially and emotionally, rather than risk the ostracism – or worse – of letting slip my secret.

Looking back, it was probably the only rational course of action. But it would slowly erode, and corrode, my self-esteem.


I became so withdrawn that the rest of year 8, and most of year 9, was a numb blur.

As an academic child – some (well, if I’m being honest, most) might say nerd – I concentrated on my schoolwork.

The only snippets I learnt about what it meant to be gay came from pop-culture.

Sneaking peaks at Outrage magazine at the newsagent between school and the local shopping centre.

Scanning newspapers for any gay references I could find. One article about homosexuality from The Australian, back when it actually did journalism, sticks out in my mind, at least in part because of the scantily clad male torso it featured.

Trying to stay up late in the dorm to watch Sex with Sophie Lee, and Melrose Place featuring Matt the (largely-sexless) gay social worker.

Not exactly the most well-rounded education on ‘gayness’, but I devoured any morsel I could get.


My clearest memory of year 9 came one evening during our allocated study period, during which each boarding house year group was supervised by a year 12 student.

This particular night our allocated ‘senior’ was joined by his twin brother and their friend, and they proceeded to discuss, in front of us, what they had got up to during the previous weekend.

On the Saturday night they and some others had apparently gone to a major bridge in Brisbane, found a toilet block where ‘faggots’ (their word, not mine) congregated, and ‘rolled’ them.

They were confessing to gay-bashing. Except this was no ordinary confession. They were smiling. Joking. Laughing. They were bragging.

Long before the term ‘toxic masculinity’ was popularised, I was learning what it meant, face-to-face.

I could not be 100 per cent certain whether what they were saying was true, or just teenage ‘bravado’ (even if it was the opposite of real bravery).

But I was now absolutely sure of one thing. Being gay at this school would not just lead to social exclusion, and possible expulsion. Being gay here was physically dangerous too.

I retreated even further into my closet. It became my whole world.


Unsurprisingly, denying who I was, and isolating myself from my surrounds, was profoundly damaging to my mental health.

I suffered what I would later understand was major depression.

By the second term of year 8, I was already contemplating what seemed like the only way out: ending my life.

At first these thoughts came weekly. Then every few days.

By the start of year 10, I was thinking of killing myself upwards of a dozen times every 24 hours.

There wasn’t a day from then until after I finished year 12 that I didn’t think of committing suicide.


Amidst the gloom, year 10 provided the one enjoyable term of my entire five-year stint of boarding school.

That was an eight-week ‘outdoor education’ program, where each class of about 30 lived in spartan accommodation in the hills north of Toowoomba.

By spartan, I really mean it. No flushing toilets. No running water full stop. To have a hot shower you had to build the fire, and boil the water, yourself. And after all that it only lasted for a total of about 30 seconds.

Still, there was something enjoyable about having no classes, and being immersed in an environment where kids could just be kids for a bit. I finally managed to make a few friends, mostly among the female students, something that would come in handy during the remaining two and a half years of hell in that school.


Even out there, however, we couldn’t fully escape the religious inculcation the school was so expert in. We still had group daily prayer. And church every Sunday.

As part of its stereotypically ‘protestant’ emphasis on self-reliance, towards the end of the eight weeks we were also made to do a 24- or 48-hour ‘solo’, where we were left in the middle of the bush, with little other than a flashlight and a bible for company.

So I read it, cover to cover, in the desperate hope I might find something in there to help me overcome my predicament.

Which began a period of about 6 months where I would engage in an individual nightly prayer, wishing I would wake up as something other than myself. Each morning I was profoundly disappointed.

I was more lost than ever.


The nadir of this search for ‘redemption’ came late in year 10, when I sought the assistance of one of the pastors to be baptised.

For a couple of months that involved spending an hour each week with him, discussing faith and what it meant to me.

We didn’t discuss homosexuality. I wasn’t going to raise it, and he certainly didn’t ask.

But it must been have clear to this kind old man (and that is still how I remember him) that the young boy in front of him was drowning.

If it was, then he himself was too far out of his depth to help.

My strongest memory of that entire process was sitting in his office, listening to – but not really hearing – his words, as it felt like my whole body dissolved into the couch, until I wasn’t there anymore.

It was clear that religion was not going to be my life-raft.


Perhaps surprisingly, by year 11, things had slowly started to improve.

The friendships I had made with a few of the female day students strengthened. Even if I felt I couldn’t disclose my secret to them, just having someone, anyone, to talk to, even about random, meaningless stuff, made the days seem not so long, and the nights not quite so terrifyingly alone.

I was also learning more about this whole ‘gay’ thing.

One of the advantages of being a nerd meant I was free to visit, unsupervised, the University of Queensland Social Sciences Library, ostensibly to undertake research for my school assessments. In fact, I was becoming closely acquainted with the work of Alfred Kinsey and his ‘Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male’.

I surreptitiously picked up a few copies of Brother-Sister (the 90s, Brisbane equivalent of the Star Observer), reading them cover-to-cover and then throwing them away before heading back to campus.

It was reassuring to know that a gay world did exist out there, somewhere – a suburb, and a galaxy, removed from where I was.

Pop-culture was also steadily expanding its, and my, gayze. Tales of the City (the TV series) was an eye-opener, with its heady depiction of gay life in 70s San Francisco. It even made being gay look like it could be fun.

And I distinctly recall the moment I first saw the photos of Ian Roberts in Blue Magazine (images that were committed to memory for several years after that).

Life in the dorms even got slightly easier with the installation of shower curtains. Which, unless you’ve lived in a boarding house, may not seem like a big deal, but finally provided enough privacy to do what teenage boys do… A lot…

It felt like the invisible but ever-present weight I had been carrying was slowly lifting. There was much less ‘praying the gay away’, replaced with the almost imperceptibly small beginnings of self-acceptance.


Any progress I had made was stopped in its tracks by a moment of brutality.

Well, two moments.

Physically, I had matured faster than some of my peers, and at 15 had a nascent patch of hair on my chest (which, I’ll be honest, I was a little bit chuffed about).

One evening early in year 11, after study a group of about half-a-dozen boys from my year ambushed me between two buildings, pinned me down and removed my shirt.

I struggled to break free, but there were too many of them.

I called out for help, which was then muffled by one of their hands across my mouth.

No-one came.

I didn’t comprehend what was going on, until one of them took out a razor and shaved my chest.

I think the whole thing was all over in about three minutes.

Looking back, I don’t know how but I somehow managed to compartmentalise this un-provoked attack. Pretending it didn’t mean anything. That it was ‘just’ some harmless hazing. That this kind of thing happened to everyone. Didn’t it?

Perversely, the dissociation of more than three years in the closet helped me to detach myself from this incident.

I tried to move on. I was even partially successful. Until it happened again.


The second assault, towards the end of year 11, was much, much worse.

The modus operandi was similar – the shaving of my by-then slightly thicker thatch.

There were more people involved, this time at least a dozen, maybe 15 (including, sadly, my year 8 crush, the one with those ‘eyelashes’).

It happened in the dorm cubicle I shared with three other students, on the floor right next to my bed, stripping away any sense of safety it had previously provided.

The fact they came prepared with shaving cream, in addition to a razor, revealed just how pre-meditated it was.

I didn’t struggle. Or call out for help. The first attack had shown there was no point.

In fact, what sticks with me is just how quiet it was.

The sound of squeaky sneakers on the wooden floor. The whirr of the shaving cream. That’s all.

They didn’t even need to talk to each other. They knew what they were doing, having taken the school’s German efficiency and applied it to brutalising another student.

This was an act of dominance, and humiliation. I was confronted by my sheer powerlessness in comparison.

But the biggest psychological damage was inflicted by its mere repetition.

This was not, could not, be written off as simple ‘hazing’, lazily picking on outward physical difference.

Even if they didn’t express it – and I couldn’t say the words out loud – I knew they had worked out I was different in an inward, and far more significant way.

They were going to make me pay for it. I did. They had broken me.


I didn’t report them. How could I? They constituted about a third of all the year 11 students in the boarding house. The popular boys. The rugby players. People who I continued to share a ‘home’ with, and see every morning, afternoon and evening of every single day.

I knew, without qualification, that if I complained, and any of them (or all of them) were punished as a result, the following 12 months would be living hell. The violence wouldn’t stop; it would escalate.

So I lowered my head.

I did confide in a couple of my female friends, Jo and Cindy. Who were rightly horrified and who, unbeknownst to me, reported the second incident to the school.

The school’s response was, to put it mildly, shocking.

They knew what had happened. And they knew exactly who had been involved. Nevertheless, they refused to take action unless I made a formal complaint – something which they must also have realised I couldn’t do, based on an entirely legitimate fear for my own safety.

We reached a stand-off.

The boarding house’s improvised approach was to take me out of study one night, and sit me alone on an uncomfortable chair in a fluorescently-lit corridor. They forced all of the boys who had been involved (thus conceding they knew exactly who did it) to come and apologise to me, one after another.

I don’t remember much of that experience. I certainly don’t recall any genuine contrition on their parts for the actual attack. Although I do remember several of them thanking me for not ‘dobbing’, and others apologising to me because they incorrectly thought that I had complained but now knew I hadn’t. Such were the warped moral priorities of the teenage male boarding student.


About a week after those ‘nonpologies’, the school announced the student body leaders for the following year.

One of the boys who had assaulted me was named school captain.

Another was made head boarder.

If that wasn’t enough of a sick joke, because of my grades I was also named a prefect – and so would have to spend even more time alongside them.


The icing on the cake of that almost unbelievably horrible year came a couple of weeks later.

As was the style at the time – but probably also as a reaction to what had happened to me – I had clippered my hair in a buzz cut.

Sitting in the back row of my Economics class, the teacher, who was also the ‘dean of student welfare’ for year 11, joked to the class, “didn’t you get enough of having your hair shaved in the boarding house, Alastair?”


It was clear the school would never give a shit about me.

After four years in the closet, and beatings both physical and psychological, I barely cared about myself.

Which meant that year 12, for me, was simply a battle for survival.

The lowest point arrived in chapel one morning when, in front of years 11 and 12, a new pastor gave a sermon about a teenager from his previous parish.

The boy had come to see him, ‘confused’ about life and his place in it. The pastor claimed he had tried to help, but the boy ultimately took his life.

The pastor described how he was now in a better place, in a way that suggested this was not the worst thing the boy could have done in those circumstances.

That pastor had effectively ‘dog-whistled’ his insidious homophobia to a room full of 600 impressionable 15, 16 and 17 year-olds, intimating that they should consider killing themselves if they were confused.

Fortunately, my contrarian nature meant my immediate reaction was to think, “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”. It was possibly even the first day I believed I might eventually outlive that school.

But I often think about how the other 40 or 50 queer kids who were in chapel that morning reacted to his hate.


The highest point of senior year came one August afternoon, as I sat in the office of my favourite English teacher, and the dean of student welfare for year 12, crying.

Yes, crying. Why was that a highlight? Because I had just committed the ultimate act of defiance in a school that was intent on erasing any student who happened to be gay or lesbian.

I had come out.

It almost goes without saying that it was the most difficult thing I had ever done. I was so emotionally spent afterwards that, even though Gayle was supportive (and wanted to help me attend a support group outside of school), I did not have sufficient energy left to take the next step. Or any steps.

Indeed, it would be another two years before I told another soul.

But it was enough that someone finally knew my secret.

It was also a pre-emptive act of remembrance. If I took my life in the weeks or months that followed, someone would know why. And they might be able to address the set of circumstances that contributed to it.


The final term of year 12 was like the home straight of a marathon, as I limped and staggered towards the end. I literally had nothing left of myself to give.

Even my grades started to suffer (although I suspect Gayle encouraged some of the other teachers to give me special consideration).

But as I fell through the finish line tape, and started to maybe hope that the future could have something, anything, better to offer than the previous five years had mercilessly dispensed, the school had one last insult to add to my many injuries.

At the conclusion of each year in the boarding house, the senior students handed out ‘awards’ to the year 8, 9, 10 and 11 kids, while the year 11 students were given responsibility to dole out awards to the seniors.

Mine? In front of the entire boarding house, including staff, I had to walk up and collect the ‘Big Fat Poof’ award.

None of the staff intervened. All of the other kids laughed.

Those students had found the language to describe what the year 11s the year before – my classmates – had suspected. They saw right through me.

It almost seems appropriate my time at that wretched institution ended in one final act of humiliation before I walked out of its unwelcoming gates.


A couple of days after final exams, my Dad drove me that same eight hour-trip back to my childhood farm in Central Queensland for the final time.

Sitting in the passenger seat, I was, in many ways, the same kid I had been five years prior. My physical age might have been 17, but emotionally I was only 12; specifically, that 12 year-old boy transfixed by those eyelashes, experiencing the exciting and confusing first throes of a teenage crush.

Except those subsequent years had stripped away any optimism I might have once held about the future, as my school and classmates collectively drummed into me that who I was was something to be ashamed of.

My teenage years had been stolen from me by religious indoctrination, and homophobia – which, at least in that environment, were very closely inter-twined.

I would have to ‘do over’ my adolescence, in the months and years to come. To make stupid mistakes, and learn from them. To grow up. To fall in – and out – of love.

Fortunately, the world outside would prove a far more accepting, and interesting, place than my boarding school had been.

It’s hard to imagine how it could have been any worse.


Ten years later I found myself attending my school reunion on a rainy night in a dingy function room in the Valley.

You may ask why I would subject myself to that (and I certainly am as I write this) but, at the time, I felt like I had something to prove.

Unlike Romy, it wasn’t to show how successful or popular I was, merely to demonstrate that they hadn’t broken me. After everything they had put me through, I was still standing.

It wasn’t necessarily true. My personal life was basically a mess, and would be for another few years, right up until I met my fiancé Steve. But that wasn’t going to stop me from faking it.

Nevertheless, I am thankful I went for one reason. Early in the evening, one of the boys who had been involved in the second assault on me saw me through the crowd, made a beeline straight toward me, and unprompted offered me his apology for what he, and the others, had done.

Not only was it sincere, it was obvious the incident had weighed heavily on him in the decade since.

Nothing was going to take back what had happened. But it was comforting to hear the wrong acknowledged, and to know at least one of the perpetrators was genuinely remorseful.


Another decade later I went to my school’s 20-year reunion on a sunny afternoon at a bowling club down by the Brisbane River.

This time I didn’t have anything to prove, but I did have something to gain – to reconnect with some of the friends I had made during my time there. Which I did, although once again the highlight was a pleasant surprise.

Mid-afternoon I found myself having a chat with the boy (well, now middle-aged man) with those ‘eyelashes’, as well as another student with whom I had shared a dorm cubicle all the way back in 1991.

The crush was long gone (what had I been thinking?). Instead, we had a lovely conversation about our lives and what we were up to. They offered their heart-felt congratulations on my engagement to Steve, even remarking that he was a ‘good-looking fella’ (well, I certainly think so).

It was all incredibly natural, and showed how much they had evolved in the intervening decades.

Indeed, we had all changed.


Well, nearly all. While it had eventually got better for me, I was soon reminded that it didn’t get better for everyone.

I sat outside on the wooden steps leading down to the green chatting with another student from my year. After I told him about my relationship, he volunteered that he had been out on the gay scene during his twenties, but that he had since rediscovered Jesus and was now straight.

Worse still, he was employed by a faith-based organisation working with troubled youth on the streets. He was likely perpetuating the same harmful messages we had received, and subsequently contributed to him becoming ‘ex-gay’, inflicting them on another generation.

While I had somehow managed to survive that horrific school, and was living a beautiful life teenage Alastair scarcely would have dreamed possible, for him those same five years seemed to be stuck on repeat.


For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat:

Or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Untitled design (1)

At my grandma’s house, during a break between school terms.

Postscript: 19 April 2019

It is now just over a month since I shared this story. It’s fair to say it is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. But choosing to press publish was even harder. The response has been overwhelming. From friends who offered their love and support. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

From others who shared their own, similar experiences. The countless tweets, and messages, saying that if you simply changed the date or location, their story mirrored mine. I thank you for your honesty, and honour your courage.

From people who I went to school with. Many of whom who wrote to say they wish they had known at the time, and could have done something to help (that’s one of the worst things about ‘the closet’, it isolates you from people who could be allies). I thank you for your support.

I have also received messages from other students who attended the same school, who’ve detailed their own shocking experiences of abuse and discrimination. Except for them the cause wasn’t homophobia, but racism. Which is not at all surprising – if an environment is toxic for one group, it’s highly likely to be toxic for others too. But it was still depressing to learn the horrors they endured. I thank you for your strength.

Just this week I received a message from one of the teachers at the school. Who expressed her sincerest sympathy about what had happened to me. In doing so, she confirmed one of the worst elements of the story: the pastor’s sermon. And she informed me that multiple teachers had told the school afterwards that it was unacceptable.

I’m thankful for that as well. Not just to know some of the teachers had tried to stand up for teenage me, and all the other queer kids who were there. But also because it was the part I had most trouble writing, and publishing. Ultimately, the version I included in the story was toned down from the reality – in truth, the pastor was much more explicit that gay kids should consider killing themselves.

While my recollection of what had happened was extremely vivid, the possibility that anyone would tell a chapel full of several hundred 15, 16 and 17 year olds that ending their life was a better outcome than being homosexual was so horrific that I doubted myself. I shouldn’t have.

Several people have asked why I wrote this story. The answer to that is complex. In part, it is an act of preservation, of making sure stories like mine are not forgotten. In another sense it has been about catharsis – it has been genuinely liberating to share these experiences publicly, and let go of them privately.

It is also an act of defiance. To let schools like mine know that mistreating kids just because they are gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or trans, was not acceptable in Queensland in the 1990s. It’s not acceptable in Australia in 2019. And it won’t be acceptable in the future. Your religion has never been, is not, and will never be, justification for homophobia, transphobia or any other kind of prejudice.

That message is especially important now, as religious organisations desperately fight to retain their special privileges that allow them to discriminate against students, teachers and other staff solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

We must not let them get away with it. Because if we do, we’ll be reading stories like mine in 2043. And, most importantly, let’s never forget those stories we will never get to hear.


Finally, if you have appreciated 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

Treasurer Frydenberg, Please Abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program

This post is part of a series looking at the unfinished business of LGBTI equality in Australia. You can see the rest of the posts here


The Morrison Liberal-National Government is currently calling for Pre-Budget Submissions for the 2019-20 Commonwealth Budget. Submissions close 1 February 2019 – for more details click here.


Please see my submission below, which I have also sent to the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen.




Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP



Monday 28 January 2019


Dear Treasurer


Please Abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program


Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission ahead of the upcoming 2019-20 Commonwealth Budget.


In this submission I will make the case for what should be the easiest Budget decision of them all – to save $247 million over four years by abolishing the National School Chaplaincy Program.


There are multiple reasons why this entirely unjustified program should be axed, with most stemming from the requirement that any person who acts as a school chaplain must be religious. This requirement is completely inappropriate in a contemporary society.


In theory, these positions are supposed to be about improving student welfare. In practice, they are about promoting Christian theology, including in supposedly secular public schools.


As the Guardian Australia reported, in 2015 the Education Department revealed that of 2,336 chaplains funded by the Commonwealth Government, 2,312 (or 99%) were Christian, with the negligible remainder split between Islam (13), Judaism (eight) and one each from Bahai, Buddhism and Aboriginal traditional religions.


As a program it has already been found to be unconstitutional on multiple occasions (thanks to the ongoing efforts of the courageous Ron Williams). Successive Commonwealth Governments have responded by resorting to increasingly intricate arrangements to circumvent these findings.


Indeed, on a prima facie reading, the program is clearly in breach of section 116 of the Constitution, which provides that:


‘Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.’


The only reason the program has not been found unlawful because of section 116 is because the money to fund it is now funnelled through grants to state and territory governments.


Instead of engaging in this intellectual dishonesty, the Commonwealth Government should instead honour the spirit of the Constitution. As Treasurer, you should acknowledge that the National School Chaplaincy Program imposes a religious test on positions that are paid for with taxpayers’ monies – and consequently abolish it.


The religious requirement for chaplaincy positions presents another legal problem, and that is it is potentially in breach of state and territory anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws,[i] because it actively discriminates against people with different religions, or who have no religion.


This is currently being tested in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, with a complaint against Access Ministries by a person who was barred from applying for a position with them because she was not Christian. As noted in that complaint:


‘The discrimination is not reasonably necessary for Access Ministries to comply with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion associated with Access Ministries, because the work of a school chaplain takes place in a non-religious context and workplace, namely a government school, with a student population made up of students with a variety of religious affiliations and with no religious affiliation.’


Hopefully, that challenge is successful. Even if it fails, it is likely that the lawfulness of the National School Chaplaincy Program will come under fresh scrutiny as the Commonwealth Government establishes a new Religious Discrimination Act, as part of its response to the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review.


It is impossible to argue the program does not discriminate on the basis of religious belief (or lack thereof), when such discrimination lies at its heart. There must be no special loopholes as part of any new Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Act merely to allow discrimination against non-Christians, agnostics and atheists alike to continue. Nor should there be taxpayer funding for this discrimination in the Commonwealth Budget.


A third reason why the National School Chaplaincy Program should be abolished is because of its internal contradiction, with people hired as school chaplains because they are religious then required not to ‘proselytise’ their beliefs as part of their role.


There have been multiple reports, over many years, of chaplains in public schools completely disregarding this prohibition.


From 2011The United Christian Education Foundation is the chaplaincy provider at Ulladulla High School on the New South Wales South Coast.


A newsletter on its website reads: “There is much to be thankful for as we look back on another year of bringing the great news of Jesus to the precious young people at Ulladulla High School. The other week a Year 7 boy put up his hand and said, ‘I asked Jesus into my life the other day’.


“A Year 8 girl told me about the peace she now has since becoming a Christian,” the newsletter continues.


Proselytising is against the federal Education Department’s guidelines on chaplaincy, but some students at the Ulladulla school believe the chaplain is there to convert them.


“[It is] basically to make people become of his religion. That’s it really. To convert people to their religion,” said Max, a Year 8 student.


Nick, a maths teacher at the primary school nearby, was shocked when the chaplain came to his school and invited the children to pray.


“The chaplain was addressing the Year 6 children, a majority of those children would be going to the local high school and he did say that he was available for children there, and they can come to him and pray with him, or if not, he would pray for them,” he said.


And from just last year: Generate Ministries, the largest provider of school chaplains in NSW, has begun offering a “faith building” course to students and told them their chaplain is one way of accessing the program.


The subject, called Veta Morpheous, is a certificate III course for HSC students developed by the Victorian-based Veta Youth which says the studies enable students to “really invest in your spiritual growth and to explore your faith with adult mentors” and “grow in your Christian life.”


“It’s a space… to discover who you are in Christ, and to test your faith in real life,” Veta Youth says.


In a now-amended statement on its website Generate Ministries said: “The key to the program is the local ministry supervisor and the peer group supervisor… this is often the local minister, Chaplain.”


When contact about the possible breach, Generate Ministries said it only intended for chaplains funded under a separate NSW wellbeing program to offer the course. However that program also forbids chaplains from proselytising.


There are countless other examples of chaplains engaged in proselytising behaviour. Perhaps just as concerning is what is not considered proselytising, and therefore deemed acceptable, with then-Education Minister Simon Birmingham telling Senate Estimates that proselytising is only ‘attempt[ing] to convert someone to a particular religion or belief’ and that quoting the Bible is not necessarily proselytising.


I am sure many parents with children attending public schools would be horrified by that distinction.


To some extent, it is difficult to blame chaplains for engaging in this behaviour. Telling them not to proselytise – when that activity forms such a central part of their identity, their ‘mission’ – is like telling News Corp columnists not to engage in culture wars. It is their raison d’etre, and they will continue to do so for as long as they draw breath (and expel hot air).


The fault instead lies with the Howard Liberal-National Government who first funded this program, and all subsequent Governments who have extended it, knowing that employing chaplains in schools will inevitably lead to proselytising to children, irrespective of what any guideline might say.


You will own your share of that blame if you do not abolish the National School Chaplaincy Program in your first Budget as Treasurer, expected in April 2019.


The fourth problem is a much more fundamental one, and that is, if the aim of the program is to promote student welfare, the National School Chaplaincy Program is a poorly-designed, and ineffective, approach.


It is an opt-in program, and even then the funding provided does not pay for a full-time position (with schools expected to fundraise to supplement the Government’s grant). Given the people hired must satisfy a religious test, it is also not open to all of the best-qualified people for the role,[ii] meaning some students will inevitably end up with second-rate support.


In short, it is a half-hearted attempt to address what is a genuine challenge.


If the Morrison Liberal-National Government was actually serious about student welfare, it would provide funding for school counsellors in all schools, and employ people based on their qualifications not their religious beliefs. If you are not prepared to do that, it is clear student welfare is not the primary focus of the program, and it must therefore be abolished.


My fifth and final concern is a much more personal one and that is, as a long-term advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, the National School Chaplaincy Program is inherently dangerous for LGBTI students.


This is not to say that all chaplains are homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic. I am sure there are many who are genuinely inclusive and respectful of all students irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.


However, I am saying there have been too many examples, over too many years, of people employed under the National School Chaplaincy Program being harmful to young LGBTI people. In some cases, the organisations providing chaplains across different schools are themselves explicitly homophobic and transphobic.


For example, from 2014: ‘Citing a survey from gay rights organisation All Out, Senator [Lousie] Pratt said “students described chaplains helping them to ‘pray the gay away’ and advising them to sleep with a member of the opposite sex to ‘correct’ their same sex attraction”.’


And this, from 2015‘The school chaplaincy program in NSW is dominated by Generate Ministries, which lodged a submission to an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into religious freedom stating homosexuality is “a serious sin”.’


How could any LGBT student attending a school with a Generate Ministries chaplain ever feel comfortable seeking support from their supposed school welfare officer when that person thinks they are intrinsically sinful?


Meanwhile, from last year‘In one disturbing case, a transgender child was forced into seven sessions of chaplaincy counselling at her religious school – without her parents’ knowledge – in a bid to stop her from transitioning…


Canberra’s response [not to take action against gay conversion therapy] belies the fact that gay conversion ideology has been quietly pushed in schools as part of the federal government’s chaplaincy program.’


There are plenty of other examples of the National School Chaplaincy Program being the source of homophobia and transphobia. This is shameful, but not nearly as shameful as the fact taxpayers’ money – money from people like me – is being used to inflict these harms on young LGBTI people.


It is your moral responsibility, as Treasurer, to cease funding for a program that, rather than improving student welfare, contributes to the mistreatment of some of the most vulnerable members of society.




As I have outlined above, the only reason the National School Chaplaincy Program remains constitutional is because successive Commonwealth Governments have chosen to circumvent decisions of the High Court.


It is possible the program is unlawful under state and territory anti-discrimination laws, because it actively discriminates on the basis of religious belief, and it would likely fall foul of any new Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Act.


The National School Chaplaincy Program also suffers from an insurmountable internal contradiction, where people whose primary purpose is to proselytise are politely asked not to. It is unsurprising that many fail to obey this direction.


It is a poorly-designed, and ineffective, student welfare program; if Governments were actually serious about student welfare they would fund qualified counsellors in all schools. The National School Chaplaincy Program is also dangerous, and harmful, to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.


While these may sound like challenges, they also represent an opportunity for you, as Treasurer, to make perhaps the easiest saving of a quarter of a billion dollars that anyone could ever make. The only question is whether you are up to the task.


Thank you in advance for taking this submission into consideration.



Alastair Lawrie





Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who could save $247 million – or continue to fund the discriminatory, harmful and wasteful National School Chaplaincy Program.


Update: 12 April 2019

Treasurer Frydenberg handed down the Commonwealth Budget on Tuesday 2 April 2019. Unfortunately, although perhaps not unexpectedly, the Treasurer and the Morrison Liberal-National Government have decided to continue funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program, with $61.4 million committed for each of the next four years.

However, while not unexpected, it remains a disgraceful decision, and an unjustifiable waste of $245.6 million in taxpayers money, on a scheme that is discriminatory against people who are not christian, and inherently harmful for LGBTI students in particular.

With a federal election now scheduled for Saturday 18 May 2019, it is up to the Australian public to vote out a Government that prefers to subsidise the religious indoctrination of children rather than genuinely support student welfare.


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



[i] In the states and territories where religious belief is a protected attribute, noting that New South Wales and South Australia currently do not prohibit religious discrimination in their anti-discrimination laws.

[ii] I am not suggesting that all people currently hired as chaplains do not have appropriate student welfare qualifications, but I am saying that, by excluding a large proportion of people because of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) the talent pool of people hired must inevitably be significantly diminished.

Submission on Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012

I am very happy that my submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into the exposure draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 was published this afternoon


The full text of my submission is reproduced below:

Exposure Draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012

Inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Submission by Alastair Lawrie

Friday 21 December 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on the exposure draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. This submission reflects my personal views on the Bill, and makes a number of recommendations for improvements to the draft legislation to ensure that it provides adequate protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians from – what will hopefully be – unlawful discrimination. Nevertheless, these recommendations for improvements do not change my primary recommendation; namely, that the Parliament should pass this Bill as a matter of priority in 2013.


  1. The Parliament should pass the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 as a matter of priority in 2013.
  2. The Bill should retain the exposure draft definitions of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘relationship status’ so that discrimination on these grounds is prohibited under Commonwealth law.
  3. The Bill should amend the definition of ‘gender identity’ to reflect the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 definition, so that it removes the phrase ‘genuine basis’ and includes gender expression and presentation.
  4. The Bill should include the definition of ‘intersex’ as used in the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, so that anti-discrimination protections adequately cover this protected attribute.
  5. Exceptions from anti-discrimination requirements should only be provided to religious organisations where it relates to religious appointments or celebrations (for example, appointment of ministers of religion, admission to membership of the religion or celebrating sacraments within the religion).
  6. Religious organisations should not be provided with exceptions in terms of service-delivery, including service delivery in schools and education, healthcare, aged care and other community services.
  7. If Recommendation 6 is not agreed, the existing provisions of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 which preclude the application of exceptions with respect to aged care service delivery by religious organisations should be retained.
  8. Religious organisations should not be provided with exceptions in terms of employment, in any area outside appointment of ministers of religion or other appointments which are essentially religious in nature.
  9. If either or both recommendations 6 or 8 are not accepted, or if recommendation 7 is accepted, then wherever religious organisations are provided with exceptions with respect to either service delivery or employment, they must publish a statement outlining their intention to discriminate in position descriptions and job advertisements, on their website and in any brochures or advertisements of their service.
  10. The Bill should expand anti-vilification protections to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex.
  11. The Bill should provide for the appointment of a dedicated Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Commissioner.

The draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 covers subject matter which is close to my heart, and which is also an important issue of public policy; namely, providing legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians against unjust discrimination, harassment and abuse.

These legal protections are long overdue. By the time this legislation is (hopefully) passed in 2013, it will be 38 years since the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, 29 years since the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, more than two decades since the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and almost a decade since the Age Discrimination Act 2004. These Acts were passed to address major problems of discrimination within society on each of these grounds.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex is no less offensive, and tackling this discrimination is no less urgent. It is a failing of successive Commonwealth Governments that they have not introduced anti-discrimination legislation covering these attributes before now, but happily this is something that the current Parliament can address in this term.

There is abundant evidence that discrimination against LGBTI Australians is both serious and widespread. The 2003 NSW Attorney-General’s Department report You Shouldn’t Have to Hide to be Safe, found that 56% of respondents had been the victims of homophobic abuse, violence or harassment in the previous 12 months. 85% of respondents had experienced abuse, violence or harassment at some point in their life. That fact alone is sickening: 5 out of every 6 LGBTI Australians have suffered some form of homophobic abuse, violence or harassment simply for being themselves.

This discrimination can particularly target, and have the most damaging effects on, young people. The Writing Themselves In 3 report found that 60% of young same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people had experienced some form of physical or verbal abuse. Homophobic, bi-phobic and trans-phobic discrimination, and discrimination against intersex people, can have a lasting, negative impact on their mental health, and limit their ability to fully participate in society. LGBTI youth should not have to suffer because of the prejudices of others.

But you do not need to consult these reports to understand that discrimination against LGBTI people is rife. Instinctively, we all know, simply as ordinary members of Australian society, that homophobia is an unacceptably widespread phenomenon, and that it has the potential to affect almost every facet of life. As individuals, we have likely seen it, heard about it, felt its impact on family members or friends.

For those of us who are LGBTI, we have been on the receiving end of this abuse, this violence, this harassment. As a gay man, I have been the victim of numerous counts of homophobic discrimination. I have been ‘moved on’ by police officers simply for kissing another man. I have been yelled at on the street for holding my boyfriend’s hand, and called ‘faggot’ more times than I care to remember. I have been subjected to multiple instances of prejudice and exclusion by my school. And I have probably been discriminated against in other ways which I didn’t even know at the time, because discrimination can be insidious.

My fiancé Steve has similar stories. His lesbian sister and her partner have been discriminated against too, both as individuals, and as mothers in a rainbow family. Steve’s best friends, another lesbian couple, have their own stories of prejudice, as do many of our other gay and lesbian friends. Sadly, each and everyone one of us has our own story of how discrimination has affected our everyday lives, in so many different situations.

What we have not had, until now, is any protection under Commonwealth law against this discrimination. Federal anti-discrimination legislation, covering LGBTI Australians, is essential to complement existing protections under state and territory law, and ensure that there are no holes or gaps in this coverage.

Even more importantly, the passage of this bill would be a statement by our elected leaders that prejudice and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex will no longer be tolerated. I urge the Commonwealth parliament to pass this law, and do so as quickly as possible.

Recommendation 1: The Parliament should pass the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 as a matter of priority in 2013.


The exposure draft Bill already features a useful and inclusive definition for ‘sexual orientation’ which will ensure that lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are afforded anti-discrimination protection. The amendment of the previously protected ground of ‘marital status’ to ‘relationship status’ will also ensure that all relationships are covered, irrespective of the sex or gender of the participants. Both of these definitions should be retained in the final Bill.

Recommendation 2: The Bill should retain the exposure draft definitions of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘relationship status’ so that discrimination on these grounds is prohibited under Commonwealth law.

I am also supportive of the inclusion of anti-discrimination protection for transgender people. However, I understand that the definition of ‘gender identity’ in the exposure draft Bill requires significant improvement. In particular, it is unclear why the definition includes the additional test of living on a “genuine basis” for transgender people. The definition also does not appear to adequately capture and protect gender expression, including mannerisms and appearance. A much better definition is contained in the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, which is currently before their state parliament. That definition should be used in the Commonwealth’s Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

Recommendation 3: The Bill should amend the definition of ‘gender identity’ to reflect the 2012 Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Bill definition, so that it removes the test of ‘genuine basis’ and includes gender expression and presentation.

An even larger drafting problem concerns the definition of, and therefore protection for, intersex people. The exposure draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 appears to try to include intersex under part (b) of gender identity. This is incorrect, because intersex is not a matter of identity, instead it is a biological fact.

It should also be noted that similar definitions which have been included previously under state and territory laws have either operated to provide only limited protection from discrimination to intersex people, or provided no protection at all.

It would be tragic if, 38 years after the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Commonwealth parliament finally acted to extend anti-discrimination protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, but, at the same time, failed to cover intersex people and instead further entrenched rather than remedied discrimination on this ground.

Once again, the definition of intersex which has been used in the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 appears to offer a better and more inclusive basis for this protected attribute, and one that should be included in the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 as a stand-alone attribute, rather than inappropriately subsumed within gender identity.

Recommendation 4: The Bill should include the definition of ‘intersex’ as used in the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Bill, so that anti-discrimination protections adequately cover this protected attribute.

One of the most controversial elements of any anti-discrimination regime, and the one that regularly receives the most attention, is the topic of exceptions. In particular, there is usually significant focus on the question of whether religious organisations should be granted exceptions from the obligation not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex (and, it must also be noted, on the basis of sex and relationship status). As a result, I will devote the largest section of this submission to addressing these questions, firstly on a philosophical basis and, secondly, on a more personal level.

To begin with, I think it is important to remember the justification for implementing anti-discrimination protections in the first place. These laws are designed to publicly state that some forms of prejudice are not acceptable and to prohibit discrimination on illegitimate grounds (such as race, sex or religion), thereby protecting people from these groups against discrimination in a range of public areas, such as employment, education, healthcare and other forms of service delivery.

By introducing anti-discrimination protections covering sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex in this Bill, parliament would be effectively saying that discrimination on these grounds is no longer acceptable, and that all LGBTI people should be protected from discrimination in all areas of public life. Exceptions from this principle, if they are to be introduced, must therefore have a clear rationale and must be adopted only where it furthers the public interest.

The argument for providing exceptions to religious organisations from obligations under anti-discrimination law is based on the separation of church and state, and respect for religious freedoms for people of all faiths. That is, religious exceptions are intended to allow the free celebration of religious beliefs, even if these beliefs include discrimination against other groups that would not otherwise be acceptable.

This argument potentially has some merit in terms of public policy. Religion is an intensely personal matter, and something which individuals and groups should be allowed to pursue however they so choose. This would apply to all matters within that religion which have no impact on the rest of society – such as determining who may join that religion, who may be a minister within that religion, and how the religion is celebrated.

As a result, philosophically, this approach would allow anything which occurs entirely within that religion to be free from anti-discrimination obligations – so, for example, the religious exception would allow religions to discriminate when determining who to employ as ministers, who is admitted as a member of the religious community, who is provided with a funeral, even who is married within that religion (although obviously not who can marry through a civil ceremony).

As a consequence, if religions wanted to discriminate against any group in any of these areas (for example, by excluding LGBTI people) then that right would be allowed through a religious exception in these narrow or confined circumstances. [Of course, it should be noted at this point that state and territory parliaments have in fact legislated to restrict this right – so that, while religions can discriminate on sex, relationship status and LGBTI grounds, they are not allowed to discriminate on race. But that inconsistency is an argument for another day.]

The problem comes when religious organisations seek to broaden that exception to cover a wide range of scenarios which are not primarily based on the celebration of that religion. So, for example, some religions seek to use the religious exception to cover anything that is done in connection with a school where it is run by a religious organisation. They argue that they should be able to discriminate in terms of what may be taught within that school, who may be employed (including not employing LGBTI staff) and even being able to directly discriminate against LGBTI students.

This is an inappropriate extension of the principle of respecting religious freedom. The main function of a school is to provide education. This is a service or transaction which occurs primarily in the ‘public sphere’, which is why it is subject to many levels of government regulation, in terms of teacher qualifications, starting and finishing ages, and agreed state and territory (and soon to be federal) curricula. Even home-schooling by a parent is strictly regulated by the state because the provision of education services is in and of itself a ‘public good’.

Just because a school is run by a religious organisation, does not automatically mean that school education suddenly becomes primarily concerned with ‘celebrating religious freedom’ and thereby removed from the public sphere. The day-to-day provision of classes, by teachers to students, is not in its very nature or essence a religious sacrament. Even where there is direct religious instruction offered by a religious-run school, it is usually only a very small component of their curriculum, the vast majority of which is the same no matter who is offering it, religious or non-religious.

As a result, I submit that providing education services is not at its core about ‘celebrating religious freedom’ but, rather mundanely, is actually mostly just about providing education services. The service provision within those schools, and the employment contracts which they enter into, are not fundamentally religious in nature, meaning that the state has a legitimate interest in regulating both areas. Consequently, it is not an inappropriate restriction of fundamental religious freedom to rule that a religious school cannot discriminate against LGBTI teachers, and cannot exclude LGBTI students.

In short, the rationale of respecting religious freedom is not sufficient to allow a religious-run school to be granted an exception from lawful obligations with which it would otherwise have to comply, including anti-discrimination obligations. The proposition put forward by religious organisations, to exclude religious-run schools from anti-discrimination law, does not have sufficient weight to pass the public interest test.

I am aware that I have chosen what is perhaps the most hotly-contested area of service-delivery to make my case. The basic argument is even clearer if we examine other services which may be provided by a religious-run organisation. Take, for example, the case of a ‘for-profit’ business, which is purchased by a religious organisation to make money to divert back into its religious activities. In this example, it doesn’t actually matter what the business makes, sells or provides, just that the process involved is not religious, and that the product or service is not religious.

Philosophically, there is no justification to allow the for-profit business to discriminate against employees on the basis of their LGBTI status because the business at its core is not religious – and this applies irrespective of the fact it is owned by a religious organisation. Further, people would be outraged, quite legitimately, if the business was allowed to discriminate in its service-provision (for example, by not serving certain people because of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex, or even sex or relationship status) simply because it was owned by the religion involved.

The same arguments can in fact be made with respect to all employment contracts and service-provision which is not inherently about religious celebration. This would include healthcare services, education services, other community services, and employment as anything other than religious ministers or religious office-holders. In each of these cases, the service provision or employment contract is part of the public sphere and the fact that it merely involves a religious organisation is not enough to justify the transaction being excluded from the operation of the law.

There is another popular argument why religious-run schools, and other religious-run services, should not be provided with exceptions from anti-discrimination obligations. This is the fact that nearly all of these services are in receipt of public funding, and often significant sums. As a matter of fairness, everyday taxpayers – including, it must be highlighted, LGBTI taxpayers – should not be subsidising the religious freedoms of others, especially the so-called religious ‘freedom’ to not hire a gay doctor in a religious hospital, to fire a lesbian teacher, or to expel a transgender student from a high school. If religious organisations want to exercise these ‘rights’, then they should not be using public funding to do so.

While this argument is morally attractive, I do not think it goes far enough in practice. That is, even if a religious-run high school received no public funding, the fact that it is a high school, which is primarily concerned with providing education services and is firmly in the ‘public sphere’, is sufficient to attract government intervention, including the requirement to comply with anti-discrimination legislation.

After all, an LGBTI student who might be discriminated against by the school should, philosophically, have the same right to be treated fairly irrespective of the funding breakdown for that particular school. The discrimination is no less egregious, and the homophobia no more acceptable, where no money comes from public funding, rather than if 10, 40 or even 70 % of the school’s funding is provided by the government. It genuinely doesn’t matter who funds the discrimination against that student, only that the student has a legitimate public interest in being protected from it.

Which brings me to the much more ‘personal’ argument for why exceptions for religious organisations should be narrow in scope. I mentioned earlier that, like most LGBTI Australians, I have been subjected to numerous instances of homophobic discrimination and harassment over the course of my life (I am now 34 years old). Well, I experienced the vast, vast majority of that prejudice during my time as a boarding student at a religious school in Queensland in the early to mid-1990s.

I have chosen not to include the name of the school here because I don’t think it actually matters – only the instances of homophobic discrimination which I experienced matter for the purposes of this inquiry. And, sadly, I don’t think what I experienced sets me apart from what many other students have experienced over the years, at many different schools.

During my time at his particular school, being gay was either not mentioned at all, or was mentioned in a negative context. This tyranny of silence extended to sex education, which, over the course of five years, made not one mention of same-sex attraction, or even of anal intercourse.

Imagine that, at the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, while it was still very much a matter of life and death (before protease inhibitors and combination therapies), actively ignoring a major risk factor of HIV transmission simply because it didn’t fit within the religious philosophy of the school. That is not a celebration of religious freedom; that is criminal negligence.

Homophobic bullying was also common – including regular taunts of ‘faggot’, ‘poofter’, graffiti-ing of those words on books and bags, physical confrontations such as pushing and shoving – and was never actively discouraged by the school. In fact, at one end of year boarding house awards ceremony, I was given the ‘big fat poof’ award, which I was expected to get up and accept in front of everyone, including in the presence of school authorities, and to take in good humour (but, of course, which caused great personal anguish and distress).

An even worse example: in year 11, I was twice held down by a large group of students and had my chest hair shaved off. This was done because I was academic, non-sporting, basically an outsider who was not interested in girls – and, I suspect, because some of the students had correctly assumed I was gay (based on the award described above, some obviously had). The school was aware of both of these assaults and yet, within a few days of the second attack, appointed one the boys responsible school captain, and another as boarding house captain.

But the worst example of homophobic bullying at the school came during a speech by a pastor. He talked about a student at a former parish, who had struggled with his ‘identity’ for some time, and how it did not fit within god’s plan. Ultimately, he said, the student had committed suicide. The pastor made it clear that this was not the worst thing which could have happened (the former student was now at ‘peace’ and no longer struggling).

This pastor was clever – he did not use the exact words, but through his intimations he made it clear that killing yourself could be a better option than growing up and adopting a ‘homosexual lifestyle’. To be honest, I am not even sure that the heterosexual students who were present would have known the full import of what was being said – but the LGBTI students certainly would have, and they were the real ‘target’ of his hate speech.

And that is the fundamental nature of homophobic (and bi-phobic, trans-phobic and anti-intersex) discrimination. It can be insidious, and subtly but harmfully pervade everyday life. At a religious school like mine, these instances do not happen in isolation either – they are allowed to happen, cultivated and even nurtured, because the school adopts an active policy of not tolerating homosexuality or bisexuality (I am not sure they would have even understood transgender or intersex – if they did, I am sure they would have been actively against those too – but through their silence they would have seriously harmed any transgender or intersex student there as well).

Of course, I am not saying that my experience of discrimination at school is unique. There are thousands, probably tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of other people with horror stories of their own from their school days, and their accounts relate to both government and religious schools. You just have to ask your LGBTI family members and friends about what their experiences were like to begin to understand.

But, in doing so, always remember that these stories are just from the adults who have survived their ordeals – sadly, some LGBTI students do not survive, and instead take their own lives along the way. Sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex-related youth suicide in Australia remains disproportionately high, and it is fair to point the finger at school-based silence, exclusion and prejudice as one of the key factors involved.

Unfortunately, the evidence is clear that discrimination against LGBTI students is still occurring in our schools today. As indicated earlier, the 2010 Writing Themselves In 3 report found that 60% of same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people had experienced some form of physical or verbal abuse. More pertinently here, the same report found that 80% of all harassment, discrimination and abuse actually happened in school settings.

This is a major national scandal. Anti-LGBTI prejudice in schools is something which all levels of government should address, in all states and territories, and in all types of school, government, non-government, religious and non-religious. There is indeed some work which is being done in different jurisdictions, such as the NSW Proud Schools initiative, and the efforts of Daniel Witthaus through his ‘Beyond That’s So Gay’ projects ( But this work, without the support of every government and every school system, will never reach each and every student who needs support and protection.

More importantly, any campaign to address prejudice based on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex is fatally undermined if we provide religious schools with exceptions from anti-discrimination obligations. We cannot in good conscience say that we support the rights of LGBTI students if, at the same time, we allow schools which are run by religious organisations to continue to actively discriminate against or marginalise students because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex.

To apply this to my own experiences, providing that school with an exception under anti-discrimination legislation would mean that everything they did (with the exception of the chest shaving incidents, because, after all, assault is still assault) would have been legally protected. Not including homosexuality in sex education would be acceptable because they would claim they have a religious objection to teaching about ‘sinful’ activities.

Allowing students to denigrate other students because of their apparent homosexuality would be fine because the abusers would simply be following the teachings of their religion. And a pastor implying that killing yourself rather than lead a ‘gay lifestyle’ would be protected because they would argue that their religion included proclamations against the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality.

This situation – allowing religious schools to hide behind religious exceptions to commit acts which essentially amount to child abuse – is no longer acceptable in 2013 (if it ever was).

Thus, for both philosophical and intensely personal reasons, I submit that if the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 is to include exceptions for religious organisations, these exceptions should only apply to religious appointments or celebrations.

Recommendation 5: Exceptions from anti-discrimination requirements should only be provided to religious organisations where it relates to religious appointments or celebrations (for example, appointment of ministers of religion, admission to membership of the religion or celebrating sacraments within the religion).

This means that, in practice, these exceptions should not apply to any other area of service-delivery where it is provided by a religious organisation, including service delivery in schools and education, healthcare, aged care and other community services.

Of course, I am realistic enough to know that campaigning by religious organisations to maintain their ‘religious freedom’ (or, in other words, to retain their right to exercise prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex) will be successful, and that, shamefully, religious schools will continue to be able to discriminate against and marginalise LGBTI people for a long time to come.

In this case, I would submit that, at a minimum, the existing provisions of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 which remove the ability of religious organisations from discriminating in aged care service delivery should be retained.

This is a positive move by the federal government, and complements their work in releasing the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy on 20 December 2012. The removal of the exception from this area also recognises the very personal nature of aged care services, and the fact that LGBTI people, and their families and carers, should not be discriminated against in accessing these services.

Recommendation 6: Religious organisations should not be provided with exceptions in terms of service-delivery, including service delivery in schools and education, healthcare, aged care and other community services.

Recommendation 7: If Recommendation 6 is not agreed, the existing provisions of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 which preclude the application of exceptions with respect to aged care service delivery by religious organisations should be retained.

The same arguments which dictate that religious organisations should not be able to discriminate in terms of service delivery, also mean that the religious exception should not apply to employment. After all, employment as anything other than a minister of religion (or other internal religious appointments), is a contract or transaction undertaken in the ‘public sphere’, and is not something which is so fundamental to the ‘celebration of religious freedom’ that it should be excluded from lawful obligations not to discriminate.

In practical terms, there is nothing fundamentally religious about the role of a doctor in a public hospital, meaning a religious hospital should not be able to sack someone from this role simply for being gay. Nor is there anything inherently religious about teaching maths in a secondary school, hence a lesbian teacher should not be able to be dismissed on that basis. And an employee in an aged care facility is there to provide services to the elderly – provided they do their job well, it is irrelevant that the employee may be transgender or intersex.

Recommendation 8: Religious organisations should not be provided with exceptions in terms of employment, in any area outside appointment of ministers of religion or other appointments which are essentially religious in nature.

Once again, I am realistic enough to know that it is highly likely at least some of the exceptions which are currently provided to religious organisations – in either or both service delivery and employment – will be retained when the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 is eventually passed.

In this case, I submit that religious organisations should be required to actively disclose any and all situations where they intend to use their ‘religious freedoms’ in ways which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex. This disclosure should be included in positions descriptions and part of job advertisements, should be included in the organisation’s websites (including at individual school or healthcare service level), and in brochures advertising the services which they provide.

This is a minimum level of public accountability and transparency, and is not a significant regulatory burden if we are allowing an organisation to evade what are otherwise lawful obligations. It will also mean that everyone is clear on the situations in which a religious organisation intends to exercise its prejudice against LGBTI people.

For example, a gay teacher would be able to take into consideration the fact that the school could reject him for no other reason than his sexuality. Parents of a lesbian daughter would be able to choose an alternative and more inclusive environment for their child. And citizens who do not support homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia and anti-intersex discrimination will be able to boycott discriminatory services if they so desire.

Obviously, this is not an ideal situation – and clearly it is far removed from my preferred model. But if we are to allow religious organisations the ‘right’ to be excepted from their obligations under anti-discrimination legislation, at the very least the potential victims of this discrimination equally have the right to know and be forewarned.

Recommendation 9: If either or both recommendations 6 or 8 are not accepted, or if recommendation 7 is accepted, then wherever religious organisations are provided with exceptions with respect to either service delivery or employment, they must publish a statement outlining their intention to discriminate in position descriptions and job advertisements, on their website and in any brochures or advertisements of their service.

There is one area which the Bill has essentially ignored – despite reproducing the existing ban on racial vilification, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 does not extend these protections to the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex.

This is a significant shortcoming in the exposure draft legislation. As outlined earlier, the majority of LGBTI Australians have experienced homophobic, bi-phobic, trans-phobic and anti-intersex abuse, violence or harassment.

The level of this abuse – and its corollary, the legitimate fear of it – means that I am not at all surprised by the findings of the Private Lives survey, which showed that 67% of participants’ fear of prejudice or discrimination caused them, at least sometimes, to modify their daily activities in particular environments. This same survey revealed that 90% of participants had at some time avoided expressions of public affections and disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

My fiancé Steve and I have made the conscious decision to ignore the abuse which we might receive and behave in exactly the way we choose – including kissing, holding hands and expressing our affection in public. This is a right which every couple should have. As a result of merely exercising our ‘rights’, we have been yelled at, with ‘faggot’ an all-too-common word in the bigot’s vocabulary. We are also aware that in a couple of situations things have had the potential to turn violent, with an unspoken level of threat present. And we have had nails put through all four tyres on our car, we suspect simply because we were the neighbours of someone who disagreed with our sexual orientation, and our relationship.

Of course, others do not have the ability to make a conscious decision – they may be more easily identifiable as LGBTI simply because of how they appear, or certain sex or gender characteristics which they may have. This means they are exposed to the risk of violence, abuse or harassment irrespective of how they behave, solely for having the temerity of being in a public space.

It shouldn’t be this way. LGBTI people should not be forced to accept a threat of verbal and sometimes physical violence simply for being themselves in a public space. Commonwealth law should embrace the approach already adopted by some states and territories and prohibit vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex.

This could be based on anti-vilification measures contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, which outlaws public acts which “[i]ncite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group.”

Such anti-vilification measures should also be adopted because there is no intellectual distinction between vilification on the basis of race, and vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex. Both are abhorrent, and both should be banned – as such both should be included in the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

Recommendation 10: The Bill should expand anti-vilification protections to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex.

The final recommendation of this submission relates back to the justification for the Commonwealth legislating to protect LGBTI Australians in the first place: and that is, to address the significant problems of homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia and anti-intersex discrimination which exist across our society.

If that is our goal, then simply providing a legal remedy for some individuals to take action against the individual or organisation that has directly discriminated against them will not be sufficient to achieve it. That is why the existing Commonwealth Acts which have prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability and age, have also created specific commissioners within the Australian Human Rights Commission to take primary responsibility for these issues (namely the Race, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Sex, Disability and Age Commissioners).

These Commissioners, in addition to overseeing the disputes which arise under their respective portfolio, can take on a wider role to redress discrimination more broadly across society. The appointment of a specific commissioner, together with proper resourcing, is also a powerful statement of the significance which the Government places on combating discrimination in a particular area. Conversely, not appointing a commissioner, and instead subsuming it within an existing, completely unrelated portfolio, would demonstrate that the Government does not believe these issues warrant any particular attention.

For all of these reasons, I believe that the Bill should provide for a dedicated or stand-alone Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Commissioner. This Commissioner would not only assist with implementation of the range of new attributes under Commonwealth legislation, but would also be able to take an active role in fighting the homophobia which I, my fiancé, and all of our LGBTI family members and friends know all-too-well.

Recommendation 11: The Bill should provide for the appointment of a dedicated Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Commissioner.