The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 4: Discrimination in Education

This post is the fourth in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

 

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

 

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to four questions, asking whether they have experienced discrimination in education, whether this discrimination occurred in the past 12 months, whether this discrimination related to religious schools or colleges and to provide an example of the discrimination that they experienced.

 

The responses to these questions confirm that discrimination in education remains far-too-common for far-too-many LGBTIQ Australians – instead of learning about maths and science and English, and above all about the world around them, young LGBTIQ people are learning what it feels like to encounter discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

 

The question about whether any of this discrimination occurred in relation to a religious school or college is important because, as we have seen previously[ii], exceptions to anti-discrimination laws mean these bodies can lawfully discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers in the vast majority of states and territories[iii].

 

I also encourage you to read the full range of examples provided in response to question four, which demonstrate just how widespread anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education is, and just how much work is needed to make sure places of learning are not places of prejudice.

 

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia-11

 

Question 1: Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to education (including as a student, teacher or parent)?

 

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

 

&

 

Question 3: Did any of this education-related discrimination occur at a religious school or college?

 

The overall results to these three questions make for sobering reading.

 

Of the 1,636 people who answered the first question, 663 – or 41% – said they had experienced education-related discrimination at some point in their lives.

 

Disturbingly, 236 survey respondents[iv] reported experiencing anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education in the past 12 months alone. That is 14.4% of the total, or 1 in every 7 people who completed the survey.

 

Perhaps most concerning of all, 242 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people, or 14.8% of the entire survey cohort, reported being discriminated against at a religious school or college[v] – for most of these people, that discrimination would have been permissible under Australian law.

 

It is clear that, in 2017, there is still too much anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in Australian educational institutions. As we shall see below, this discrimination also affects some demographic groups within the LGBTIQ community more than others.

 

LGBTIQ Status

 

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

 

Lesbian

 

  • 41.9%[vi] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.9%[vii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 10.9%[viii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Gay

 

  • 37.6%[ix] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 9.4%[x] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 13.8%[xi] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Bisexual

 

  • 39.8%[xii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.6%[xiii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 16.6% experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Transgender

 

  • 52%[xiv] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 25.2%[xv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 16.8%[xvi] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Intersex

 

  • 73.3%[xvii] reported education-relation discrimination at some point
  • 33.3%[xviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 26.7%[xix] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Queer

 

  • 46.6%[xx] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 22.2%[xxi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 17%[xxii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

In terms of sexual orientation, the results were fairly similar – approximately 2 in every 5 lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents reported discrimination in education at some point in their lives.

 

Gay people were the least likely – out of all groups – to report education-related discrimination in the past year (less than 1 in 10), with lesbians reporting rates about the overall average (14.9%) and bisexuals slightly higher again. In contrast, gay people were more likely than lesbians to report discrimination at religious schools or colleges (although once again, both were lower than bisexuals at 16.6%).

 

As with previous survey results, however, the biggest consequences of education-related discrimination were felt by trans, intersex and queer survey respondents. The intersex responses are particularly high, with almost three-quarters experiencing education-related discrimination at some point in their lives (while noting the small sample size, n=15).

 

Queer respondents were also more likely than average to report education-related discrimination at some point in their lives, and also during the past 12 months (in respect to the latter, more than 50% more likely than non-queer respondents), although their reported rates of discrimination at religious schools was only slightly above average.

 

The trans responses warrant particular attention, especially given the large sample size (n=369) featured in this study. More than half had experienced education-related discrimination at some point in their lives, while more than a quarter had experienced such discrimination in the past 12 months alone – these rates are simply extraordinary (and, of course, appalling)[xxiii].

 

There was also some divergence within the trans community, depending on whether the respondent was also lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer:

 

Trans and lesbian: 41.9% reporting discrimination ever, 16.3% in the last year[xxiv]

 

Trans and gay: 59.6% reporting discrimination ever, 24.6% in the last year[xxv]

 

Trans and bisexual: 53.7% reporting discrimination ever, 28.5% in the last year[xxvi]

 

Trans and queer: 52.7% reporting discrimination ever, 27.4% in the last year[xxvii].

 

Survey respondents who were both trans and gay therefore reported much higher rates of discrimination during their lives, although trans and bisexual and trans and queer respondents were more likely to have been discriminated against in the last 12 months. Interestingly, trans and lesbian respondents reported lower rates for both answers.

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

 

Depressingly, the rates of discrimination for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were higher for all three questions than for their non-Indigenous counterparts:

 

  • 50%[xxviii] experienced education-related discrimination at some point (compared to 40.2% of non-Indigenous people)
  • 19%[xxix] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months (compared to 14.3% of non-Indigenous people) and
  • 22.4%[xxx] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college (compared to 14.5% of non-Indigenous people).

 

The high rates of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people reporting discrimination in 2016, and also at religious institutions (which, for the most part, are free to discriminate against them), are particularly worrying.

 

Age

 

Given younger people are more likely to have been engaged in education in the past 12 months, and therefore more likely to have experienced recent education-related discrimination, this analysis will exclude answers to the second question.

 

What is most noticeable about the answers to questions 1 and 3 is that discrimination in this context appears to be getting worse for younger LGBTIQ people, rather than getting better:

 

Aged 24 and under

 

  • 43.3%[xxxi] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 17.4%[xxxii] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

25 to 44

 

  • 39.4%[xxxiii] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.2%[xxxiv] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

45 to 64

 

  • 37.1%[xxxv] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 9.1%[xxxvi] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

65 and over

 

  • 17.1%[xxxvii] experienced education-related discrimination at some point
  • 5.7%[xxxviii] reported discrimination at a religious school or college

 

In short, people aged 24 and under are more likely to have already experienced discrimination in relation to education than their older LGBTIQ counterparts[xxxix] – even including many who are currently engaged in school, university or TAFE and may still confront homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia prior to completing their studies.

 

This statistic is frankly unacceptable (and alone demonstrates the need for nation-wide anti-bullying programs like Safe Schools).

 

Young people were also far more likely to report anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in religious schools or colleges than LGBTIQ people aged 25 to 44, or 45 to 64. There are a few possible explanations for this, including the growing trend towards parent(s) sending their children to private (and predominantly religious) schools.

 

Irrespective of the causes, however, we must not forget that for many of these students they are left without any recourse to legal protections, because the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, as well as the anti-discrimination laws in most states and territories, explicitly allows religious schools to actively mistreat LGBTIQ students. Such legislation is also unacceptable.

 

State or Territory of Residence

 

The final demographic category according to which I have analysed the survey results is the state or territory of residence:

 

New South Wales

 

  • 37.4%[xl] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 12.8%[xli] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 13.4%[xlii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Victoria

 

  • 42.2%[xliii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 12.5%[xliv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 14.3%[xlv] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Queensland

 

  • 43.1%[xlvi] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 13.7%[xlvii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 16.9%[xlviii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Western Australia

 

  • 41.7%[xlix] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.6%[l] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 11.3%[li] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

South Australia

 

  • 35.8%[lii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 16.4%[liii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 14.9%[liv] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Tasmania

 

  • 47.2%[lv] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 24.1%[lvi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 18.5%[lvii] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

  • 35.7%[lviii] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.3%[lix] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 21.4%[lx] experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

Northern Territory

 

  • 38.1%[lxi] reported education-related discrimination at some point
  • 14.3%[lxii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
  • 14.3% experienced discrimination at a religious school or college

 

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

 

Interestingly, Tasmania reported the highest rates for both lifetime education-related discrimination, and discrimination in education in the last 12 months (the latter figure by a considerable margin). Despite the great strides made by the Apple Isle in the past 20 years, further progress is still needed.

 

On the other hand, and despite recording the lowest rate of life-time education-related discrimination (slightly less than South Australia), ACT respondents reported the highest rate of discrimination at a religious school or college. This is likely due to high rates of religious school enrolments in the ACT (noting that these schools are legally ‘entitled’ to discriminate against LGBTI students).

 

**********

 

Question 4: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of the discrimination you experienced in relation to education [Optional]:

 

This question allowed respondents to provide examples of the anti-LGBTIQ discrimination they had experienced and, once again, these comments are often confronting to read.

 

They are also depressing, considering the influential role that education plays in everyone’s lives – for far-too-many LGBTIQ people, that impact has been overwhelmingly negative rather than positive.

 

A lightly-edited[lxiii] version of the answers to this question – providing examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in relation to education, including school, TAFE and university – can be found at the following link:

 

question 4 examples of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education

 

From my perspective, a number of key themes emerge in these examples. One of the most common stories described a lack of relevant sexual health education, including:

 

“I asked my sexual education teacher in year 9 or 10 (can’t remember which), if we were going to be covering more than just heterosexual sex and relationships. And her response was something along the lines of “Well I don’t think those people deserve to exist.”

 

“Not being provided with education on same-sex safety in PDHPE, even upon request. And being told to just ‘not try it’ because there’s no ‘safe way’ to have sex with a person of the same gender.”

 

“improper sex education (teaching as if there is only hetero-intercourse) being told intercourse must have ‘penetration’ to be counted.”

 

“My high school HPE teacher was teaching sex education and wouldn’t answer any of my questions about lesbian sex and told me things like to stop being rude and threatening to send me to the deputy principal’s office.”

 

“I was pretty closet[ed] at school, but I frequently got in trouble in sex ed for challenging hetero and cis normative assumptions being made by the teacher. That included being yelled at, sent out of class and threatened with physical violence. They didn’t want it talked about that’s for sure.”

The absence of information left some to rely on (potentially unreliable) sources, like the internet:

 

“The sex-ed at high school was minimal. But for anyone who was not straight or cis-gendered, myself included, it didn’t exist. The internet became my best (but not always reliable) friend.”

 

“Another thing though, I noticed as a young bisexual, I never learnt in health class how to have safe sex with people my gender. I had to google it.”

 

Several respondents also described differential treatment of same-sex relationships at school:

 

“I go to a Catholic school and the teachers were happy with relationship between straight people, but my ex girlfriend and I were not allowed to even hug.”

 

“being reported to teachers for holding hands with my partner, being called into the student support teacher’s office and having her tell me that I would be happier in life if I was ‘having sex with a man’ instead of my girlfriend.”

 

“I wasn’t allowed to see my friends or girlfriend at recess of lunch. The school also rang my mum and my ex’s dad up and told them they were getting complaints about us hugging in the park. They told us we weren’t allowed to see each other at school. They made my ex go to the school psychologist because of it.”

 

This heartbreaking example shows just how poorly some same-sex relationships were treated:

 

“I went to [redacted] Anglican School, someone found out about my girlfriend who was at another Anglican school, rumours were spread and eventually the PE Teacher asked me to start changing in the disabled bathroom instead of the girls change room because it made the other girls uncomfortable and they didn’t want to have an incident. So I just kept forgetting to bring my PE gear and sat out most of the lessons getting misbehaviour notes and Friday detentions for not having my PE gear rather than have people talk about why I couldn’t use the girls’ change room.”

 

A number of people complained that they were unable to take their partners to their school formals:

 

“Had the option of 2 months of detention for skipping my formal because my partner was same sex or conform and take an opposite sex partner (my friends out of protest all skipped which I was so happy for).”

 

“Was forced into taking a female partner to the school end of year celebration, where people took their relationship partners, me and my boyfriend were made to take other female partners because it was ‘against the school policy and religion.”

 

For trans and non-binary students, the enforcement of binary school uniforms presented particular problems:

 

“Teachers forcing binary clothing options (girls only allowed to wear skirts, not slacks, and boys opposite), once again, detention for months until they realised I wasn’t going to budge on the subject.”

 

“Had to push hard to be allowed to wear my chosen uniform despite unisex uniform policies being DET required in NSW.”

 

“I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom in which I identified as. And… I was told to not come into school wearing the clothes I would like to present in and was demoted in my school musical because ‘I did not dance and sound like the gender I identify as.”

 

The ‘policing’ of bathrooms affected students and teachers alike:

 

“I was banned from using either bathrooms at school because I was transgender. Whenever I needed to go to the bathroom, I’d have to go ask for a key for the staff toilets at the office.”

 

“No gender-neutral toilets and general lack of supporting facilities. Teachers felt as though it was appropriate to send an email to the whole staff about my gender identity (and got it wrong), and then all of them felt as though they could openly discuss my gender with me, which honestly made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and my privacy invaded…”

 

“While being interviewed for a school, I was told that for my ‘safety and comfort, as well as the other students and staff’, I should use the single-stall disabled toilet, rather than the male (my chosen gender) toilets.”

 

The discrimination experienced by trans students and staff extended well beyond uniforms and bathrooms, including misgendering:

 

“I had a teacher constantly misgender me and feminise my name, then when I complained about it, she refused to teach me…”

 

“It was prior to coming out as transgender but I was referred to as a ‘stain on society’ and that queers like me deserve to ‘burn in hell.’”

 

“Bullying, misgendering and being told I would have to go in the girls group for a gender split day at school.”

 

“A few boys were making fun of my gender in maths class and the teacher did nothing about it, also in PE they say you have to go to one side if you’re a female and the other if you’re a male, being transgender I sat out until everyone started yelling at me.”

 

“Forming assessment in a gender-split way which forces me (non-binary person) to participate as part of the gender group assigned to me at birth. My data being void in statistics class because I answered ‘other’ on the preliminary gender question. Transphobic comments in lectures.”

 

“Filling out forms and listing my preferred name, including being outed on my first day by the wrong name being called.”

 

Bisexual students also faced ostracism:

 

“As a student, religious high school, sex ed. The topic of my sexuality (known at that time, and not much cared about by the student body beyond ‘hey, that exists’) was brought up by another student in relation to something. The teacher expressed that bisexuality is not real. On homework, tests, assignments, class discussion etc from that point on he would reaffirm this belief anytime he thought someone was acknowledging bisexuality, and would take marks off if he suspected someone thought it was real.”

 

Some parents shared stories of discrimination they, or their children, experienced because of their sexual orientation:

 

“As a young mum, I and my kids suffered other parents’ homophobia, eye balls rolling and turned backs. My kids had parents keep friends away from them, for parties, sleep overs etc. My name was mud.”

 

“Actually happened from being a lesbian mother. My daughter has two mothers and we are excluded from all the other parental social gatherings and most people move away from us when picking my daughter from school.”

 

“My son was bullied in year 7 when it got around that I’m gay. I complained to the school but no visible action was taken. We ended up changing schools. Both schools are Qld public schools.”

 

“Was not recognised as my son’s parent at public school in 2009.”

 

Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in schools can affect teachers, too:

 

“I was asked to leave the school because they discovered I was gay and were uncomfortable with me being around children.”

 

“As a teacher I was transferred by my employer from a small mining town as a solution to ongoing harassment for being gay.”

 

“I was asked to keep my status as a lesbian secret because the parents at the school may become abusive towards not only myself and my family, but the school community as a whole.”

 

“I’m working through applications to teach and update my gender and names through the DET portals, it’s impossible to do without calling the department and requesting personally, which they were still unable to do until is was escalated over the course of several months so that I could even BEGIN my application…”

 

“When I was teaching, at my last school, I was constantly bullied and harassed for being an openly gay teacher. The abuse got so bad that I had a mental breakdown and had to resign from teaching. It has taken years of therapy, that is still ongoing, to begin to recover from it.”

 

Some teachers specifically cited discrimination from religious schools:

 

“I had a long phone conversation with a music teacher at a Christian college all about offering me a job teaching singing there (one-to-one). The teacher was very enthusiastic and said it would simply need to approval of the school principal (I was very well qualified and very experienced). However, his reply came back that they would definitely not employ a transgender person.”

 

“As a gay man who teaches in a Catholic school I have to be very discreet about my true self. I am out to my friends but have to be careful with parents and the students. It breaks my heart each and every time I have to be vague about my partner of 8 years.”

 

“I was bullied in a job I held in a christian organisation. I wasn’t protected under the anti discrimination law because my lifestyle didn’t fit in with their christian values. I took the bullying and harassment to as far as I could. I ended up leaving the job because I couldn’t win.”

 

The most common type of story shared by survey respondents overall was discrimination against LGBTIQ students at religious schools:

 

“Catholic school in the 90s. Told teachers and headmasters about homophobia me and my friend received. We were told to act less girly (by the female deputy headmaster) so we’d fit in better. My friend was so horrified, he quit school that day, never to complete his education. I pressed on to finish year 12, but without my only friend.”

 

“I was given detention and threatened with suspension for revealing I was attracted to girls at a Christian high school. I was forced to endure hands-on prayer to try to rid me of the homosexual demons.”

 

“I was at a Christian private school in north Sydney, we had lessons in religion that focused on why being gay is wrong and how you can change.”

 

“The religious boarding school that I attended had explicit rules against homosexual students, which carried the threat of expulsion (a sanction that was imposed on a fellow student).”

 

“I attended a religious high school (2003-2007). Discrimination was daily, from schoolchildren and staff, and ranged from forcing me to pretend that I was a girl, to physical abuse, threats of rape & murder, theft, exclusion & a lot of reinforcement that I wasn’t normal. I got a boyfriend and pretended that I was a cis-gendered female to make it stop. I also self-harmed hundreds of times and tried to kill myself twice.”

 

“My friend goes to a Catholic school and is bisexual. Her music teacher gives her shit about being bisexual and says that she is sinning and she will be going to hell.”

 

“I’m a trans boy who use[d] to go to an all girls catholic high school. I was told not to come out by the school counsellor and that there was nothing to be done that could help me. I wasn’t aloud [sic] to wear the sports uniform which was shorts and was forced to wear the dress. I had many teachers comment on my short hair in a negative way.”

 

“Christian [redacted] Brisbane, as it was known as at the time of my attendance, is a homophobia ridden school. If you were believed to be gay you had no chance of a good education. Students were allowed to bully you because you could not go to the teachers as the school had a tradition of informing parents and outing unprepared kids. Even when you had the support of good teachers, which was rare in that place, they could do only so much because they could only protect you so far. I was lucky where a few good teachers convinced me to leave and demand a change of schools. They are the ones who helped save my life. I would not have survived another two years in the homophobic discriminatory hell hole and my parents would not have been able to handle the school outing their daughter (even years later coming out to them had a major impact).”

 

“Took part in a public speaking competition, wrote a speech on equal rights for LGBTQIA individuals. Was told “that isn’t a very [school name] topic”. (The school was an Anglican school in Sydney’s eastern suburbs). When I came out at school, not only students but also some teachers made very inappropriate comments to me. One staff member interrogated me about what kinds of sexual feelings I was having; I was 13 and felt very pressured and uncomfortable, I started crying. The staff member didn’t seem to see anything wrong with the questions they were asking.”

 

“My 11yr old niece had a mufty day at her catholic school. I painted a pair of white shoes in rainbow pride colours. With PRIDE in black marker on them. She loved them, showed them off to her teachers who told her they were not appropriate school wear. And from more comments from her adult teachers she was so upset she had taken them off some time during the day and kept them off until we left the school. She told me her teachers would look angry at her and when I came to collect her I was told to pick her up from outside school grounds from now on (all other parents picked their children up from outside the classroom doors).”

 

Anti-LGBTIQ prejudice was reported via religious instruction:

 

“I was kicked out of a compulsory scripture class because a “friend” told the teacher I was gay.”

 

“Kicked out of religion class for being transgender.”

 

“My religious education teacher stopped speaking to me directly and began speaking to me via the person next to me when I came out as gay in year 10.”

 

“Comments made during the Christian Perspectives program at my school; that gays are the product of a dysfunctional family, that when the Lord comes all of the sinners and the gays will be swallowed into a black hole.”

 

“[redacted] High School was not exactly a safe space for an open homosexual-male student. Student culture was very homophobic. There were no educational support programs for LGBTIQ students at the School. Many teachers were homophobic, especially the scripture teachers from Hillsong…”

 

School chaplains were also a source of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia:

 

“I went to a public school and the school chaplain, who was obviously religious, was friendly towards me until she learned I was bisexual and pagan, then she avoided me and told people I was going around trying to “convert” people.”

 

“This is complicated because I was not out in high school, but I found addressing gender issues in counselling with a chaplain at a non-religious college to be soul-crushing and the chaplain was dismissive and ignorant.”

 

“At school we were taught that LGBT+ folk were diseased by our school chaplain. It was very isolating.”

 

Anti-LGBTIQ prejudice didn’t stop at school, with many respondents citing discrimination at university. This particularly affected trans people:

 

“I work as a lecturer/tutor, was asked not to reveal trans status to students for fear of a social media storm.”

 

“One of my university lecturers misgendered me in an assessment and accidentally outed me as trans to my supervisor. When I pulled her up on it she brushed it off as though it was nothing.”

 

“Uni won’t use my preferred name which I changed legally but since my deadname is still my legal first name they ignored my requests.”

 

“my more recent discrimination is not direct discrimination, it’s related to my uni using my legal name instead of my real name, and the thought of either getting called by my deadname or coming out freshly to every new person I met caused me tonnes of stress and meant I never went to an entire subjects tutorial sessions, and I failed that subject, probably as a result of that.”

 

“Asked my supervising tutor for a reference for an LGBT scholarship. She refused because she didn’t think it was appropriate.”

 

“At a more immediate, interpersonal level, discrimination against LGBTIQ students at [redacted] can be still more overt. In one instance, I and some friends were gathered in a common courtyard of the university celebrating ‘Wear It Purple’ day. A member of non-academic staff approached us and challenged our right to be there without University approval. For context, this was a large area in which some fifty students were gathered in small groups having lunch. When we refused to move on, the staff member sought out a priest on campus, who harangued us about the fact that the University is built on church land and we cannot be there. This instance is not uncommon to the University – at times, LGBTIQ students are at risk of being confronted and publicly policed for the slightest representation of their LGBTIQ identity in a common space.”

 

The following examples of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia seemed to sum up the experience of many:

 

when i was in grade 7 my teacher would tell the class about how he thought that gays were perverted and wrong. He did this on multiple occasions during lessons, including a time when he told us all that he wrote countless letters to the government to discourage them from legalising same-sex marriage. At the time I identified as a lesbian and he was one of the main reasons I developed a strong fear of being outed.”

 

“Rather than in-your-face discrimination, it is continually giving you messages that gay = bad or sinner. Plus all other people are included in daily conversation/engagement, but the queers are made invisible as though we do not even exist – e.g. no mention is made that we even exist, nor of our loving relationships, which are made out to not even exist. Promotion of invisibility and non-representation effectively invalidates and demoralises us. To be respected fully, you must be acknowledged as first existing, and secondly, to be of equal worth and standing to everyone else – this cannot happen if you are made to feel invisible.”

 

“…Not being allowed to mention sexuality or gender other than straight in assemblies or other mass school events. Sex education only catering for straight people. The assumption that everyone in the school is straight. Lack of support for queer people and the feeling that queer people should stay quiet about who they are and not mention love, whereas straight people are able to mention their love life and talk about it openly.”

 

And finally:

 

“There was an incident that occurred and my best friend at the time told my deputy principal that I was gay, so when I came in to be asked about what happened he asked if I was gay, I said yes and he replied with we can send you to the councillor [sic] to get that fixed.”

 

What really needs to be fixed is an education system that seems to foster anti-LGBTIQ discrimination rather than inclusion, and a love of learning – for everyone.

 

**********

 

Conclusion

 

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

 

This includes 2 in every 5 LGBTIQ people reporting lifetime experience of such discrimination, with a shocking 1 in 7 reporting at least one instance in the last 12 months.

 

It also includes almost 15% of respondents experiencing adverse treatment at a religious school or college, which is particularly concerning given most states and territories permit these institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, leaving LGBTIQ students and staff without any legal protections.

 

As with previous results, this survey has also found that the impact of education-related discrimination is particularly felt by trans, intersex and queer people, younger people, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Programs that are implemented to address anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in education should pay particular attention to the needs of these groups.

 

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

 

The remaining two articles, which will focus on discrimination in employment, and health and other areas, will be published later this month.

 

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

 

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)

 

Footnotes:

[i] The previous posts can be found here:

Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

Part 3: Where Discriminatory Comments Occur and Their Impact 

[ii] See: Back to School. Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers

[iii] Students cannot be discriminated against in Tasmania or Queensland. Teachers cannot be discriminated against in Tasmania, and operate under a ‘don’t ask’ don’t tell’ scheme in Queensland.

[iv] 655 people responded to question 2: 236 yes/419 no.

[v] 661 people responded to question 3: 242 yes/419 no.

[vi] 322 people responded to question 1: 135 yes/187 no.

[vii] 48 respondents.

[viii] 35 respondents.

[ix] 636 people responded to question 1: 239 yes/397 no.

[x] 60 respondents.

[xi] 88 respondents.

[xii] 517 people responded to question 1: 206 yes/311 no.

[xiii] 86 respondents (for both questions 2 and 3).

[xiv] 369 people responded to question 1: 192 yes/177 no.

[xv] 93 respondents.

[xvi] 62 respondents.

[xvii] 12 people responded to question 1: 11 yes/4 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xviii] 5 respondents.

[xix] 4 respondents.

[xx] 487 people responded to question 1: 227 yes/260 no.

[xxi] 108 respondents.

[xxii] 83 respondents.

[xxiii] The rates of trans people experiencing discrimination at religious schools or colleges was actually comparable to the overall cohort (16.8% versus 14.8%).

[xxiv] 43 respondents total, with 18 yes to question 1 and 7 yes to question 2.

[xxv] 57 respondents total, with 34 yes to question 1 and 14 yes to question 2.

[xxvi] 123 respondents total, with 66 yes to question 1 and 35 yes to question 2.

[xxvii] 186 respondents total, with 98 yes to question 1 and 51 yes to question 2.

[xxviii] 58 people responded to question 1: 29 yes/29 no.

[xxix] 11 respondents.

[xxx] 13 respondents.

[xxxi] 879 people responded to question 1: 381 yes/498 no.

[xxxii] 153 respondents.

[xxxiii] 431 people responded to question 1: 170 yes/261 no.

[xxxiv] 61 respondents.

[xxxv] 275 people responded to question 1: 102 yes/173 no.

[xxxvi] 25 respondents.

[xxxvii] 35 people responded to question 1: 6 yes/29 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[xxxviii] 2 respondents.

[xxxix] There may be a ‘recency effect’ in some of these answers, with people who left school decades previously potentially forgetting or downplaying anti-LGBTIQ they may have experienced. It is also possible that the increased openness of LGBTIQ in the school environment – which is obviously a positive overall – is also being met by an increased ‘backlash’ from people with homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic views.

[xl] 537 people responded to question 1: 201 yes/336 no.

[xli] 69 respondents.

[xlii] 72 respondents.

[xliii] 391 people responded to question 1: 165 yes/226 no.

[xliv] 49 respondents.

[xlv] 56 respondents.

[xlvi] 248 people responded to question 1: 107 yes/141 no.

[xlvii] 34 respondents.

[xlviii] 42 respondents.

[xlix] 151 people responded to question 1: 63 yes/88 no.

[l] 25 respondents.

[li] 17 respondents.

[lii] 134 people responded to question 1: 48 yes/86 no.

[liii] 22 respondents.

[liv] 20 respondents.

[lv] 108 people responded to question 1: 51 yes/57 no.

[lvi] 26 respondents.

[lvii] 20 respondents.

[lviii] 56 people responded to question 1: 20 yes/36 no.

[lix] 8 respondents.

[lx] 12 respondents.

[lxi] 21 people responded to question 1: 8 yes/13 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[lxii] 3 respondents for both question 2 and question 3.

[lxiii] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information

-Removing potentially defamatory comments and

-Removing offensive (for example, racist and even transphobic) remarks.

I have also corrected some spelling/grammatical mistakes for ease of reading.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 3: Where Discriminatory Comments Occur & Their Impact

This post is the third in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to two questions, which asked about the ‘location’ where they witnessed anti-LGBTIQ comments in 2016, and the impact that these comments had on them.

The results of the first may or may not be surprising (depending on whether you use social media or not), while the responses to the second are, as expected, often heartbreaking to read.

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia-11

Question 1: Over the past 12 months, have you witnessed homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic comments in any of the following (select as many as appropriate):

Media

Social Media

Politics

Religion

Public Space

None of the Above

1,645 people answered this question, and this was the overall response (ranked from highest to lowest):

  • Social Media 92% (1,506 responses)
  • Politics 83% (1,367)
  • Religion 81% (1,330)
  • Media 80% (1,308)
  • Public Space 67% (1,109)
  • None of the Above 3% (50).

It is clear that, in 2016, more LGBTIQ Australians witnessed homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic comments on social media than in any other category – and by a considerable margin.

There is an important caveat to this finding, because a significant proportion of these anti-LGBTIQ comments may in fact be posts incorporating homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia from politics, religion or the media (for example, sharing media stories about the joint Liberal-National Government/fundamentalist christian campaign against Safe Schools).

Even if we accept that, it is nevertheless apparent that the primary medium through which we receive anti-LGBTIQ comments, of any kind, is via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram (or, for people younger than me, Snapchat and other apps I probably haven’t even heard of).

The next three highest-ranked answers – politics, religion and the media – were all very close together.

But, it should also be noted that a higher proportion of LGBTIQ people reported witnessing religious homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia than the proportion of Australians who identify as religious[ii]. That is a pretty impressive effort by the Australian Christian Lobby, Catholic Church and others.

Thankfully, the proportion of respondents who indicated they witnessed anti-LGBTIQ comments in a public space was lower than for other categories – although, at two-thirds of all respondents, it is still depressingly high.

However, the most depressing statistic of all is that just 3% of LGBTIQ people who answered this question – or 50 people in total – reported that they had not witnessed homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia via social media, politics, religion, media or in a public space during the past 12 months.

The next time a conservative politician – or NewsCorp columnist or Christian Lobby spokesperson for that matter – tries to claim that anti-LGBTIQ prejudice no longer exists, or isn’t a problem in contemporary Australia, simply show them these findings.

LGBTIQ Status

There was remarkable consistency across the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities in their respective answers to this question[iii]:

  • Lesbian: Social media 91.4%; Politics 82.4%; Media 78.6%; Religion 77.7%; Public space 69.3% and None of the above 1.8%
  • Gay: Social media 85%; Religion 78.6%; Politics 78.2%; Media 72.8%; Public space 58.8% and None of the above 3.6%
  • Bisexual: Social media 89%; Politics 80.6%; Media 79.9%; Religion 76.6%; Public space 70% and None of the above 3.3%
  • Transgender: Social media 92.7%; Media 87%; Politics 85.4%; Religion 81.8%; Public space 75.5% and None of the above 1%
  • Intersex[iv]: Social media 75%; Religion 70%; Media & Public space both 65%; Politics 60% and None of the above 0%
  • Queer: Social media 90.4%; Politics 84.7%; Media 83.4%; Religion 79%; Public space 76.7% and None of the above 1.1%.

As can be seen, the highest-ranked response – for each category – was Social media, with percentages ranging from 75% to 92.7%, confirming the role of Facebook and other platforms as conduits for anti-LGBTIQ comments.

As with verbal harassment and abuse, analysed in Part 1, the figures reported by bisexual, and especially gay, respondents were significantly lower than for LTI or Q people.

This is particularly apparent in terms of the answer for ‘None of the Above’: 3.6% of gay people, and 3.3% of bisexuals, checked this answer, whereas the next highest rate for any group was lesbians at around half that (1.8%).

On the other hand, and again consistent with earlier figures for verbal harassment and abuse, transgender and to a slightly lesser extent queer respondents were most likely to witness homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments.

In fact, trans people reported the highest rates of anti-LGBTIQ comments in all of social media, politics, religion and media (which is perhaps not that surprising after 12 months of sustained attacks on safe schools and ‘gender fluidity’), while the highest rates for anti-LGBTIQ comments in public spaces were reported by queer people.

Meanwhile, only 1% of trans, and 1.1% of queer, respondents answered none of the above – just one-third of the rates for gay and bisexual people.

The answers to this question once again confirm two things:

  1. Rates of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are unacceptably high in Australia, and
  2. Anti-LGBTIQ prejudice disproportionately impacts trans, intersex and queer people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

In contrast to Parts 1 and 2 of the survey results, the figures for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were not significantly higher than for their non-Indigenous counterparts – although nor were they significantly lower (except for perhaps in relation to politics):

  • Social Media 90.3%
  • Religion 79%
  • Media 75.8%
  • Politics 72.6%
  • Public Space 67.7%
  • None of the Above 1.6% (or just 1 out of 62 respondents).

Age

The responses in terms of different age groups threw up a couple of surprises:

  • Aged 24 and under: Social media 91.5%; Politics 81.2%; Media 78.8%; Religion 78.1%; Public space 70.8% and None of the above 2.5%
  • 25 to 44: Social media 89%; Politics 85.7%; Religion 81.7%; Media 80.5%; Public space 67.3% and None of the above 2.5%
  • 45 to 64: Social media 85.8%; Religion 77.6%; Politics 75.8%; Media 71.9%; Public space 52% and None of the above 3.9%
  • Aged 65 and over[v]: Social media and Religion both 67.6%; Politics 59.4%; Media 54%; Public space 24.3% and None of the above 10.8%.

As expected, people aged 24 and under were more likely to report witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments in social media than any other cohort – although it was only slightly higher than for people aged 25-44, and social media remained the highest-ranked answer (either stand-alone, or equal) for all age groups.

Young people were also more likely to witness homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments in public spaces.

However, perhaps more surprisingly, it was their counterparts aged 25 to 44 who were actually most likely to witness anti-LGBTIQ comments in the contexts of politics, religion and the media.

Both groups also reported similar rates for ‘none of the above’: 2.5% or around 1 in every 40 people said they did not witness anti-LGBTIQ comments in these contexts in the last 12 months.

In short, people aged between 25 and 44 appear just as likely to have witnessed homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments in 2016 as their younger LGBTIQ equivalents (although people aged under 25 may nevertheless feel the impact more, particularly if they are yet to develop coping mechanisms to deal with encountering such prejudice).

Less surprisingly, the answers for the two older age cohorts show reduced exposure to anti-LGBTIQ comments, especially in public spaces (just 52% for people aged 45 to 64 and 24.3% for those aged 65 and over). The rates for none of the above also increased significantly for both groups.

[NB Unlike previous – and planned – posts, this article will not examine the different responses for each Australian state and territory because the results are not considered relevant.]

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Question 2: If you feel comfortable, please indicate the impact that these homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic comments had on you [Optional]

This question allowed respondents to describe, in their own words, the impact that witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments during 2016 had on them – and the answers provided are, to put it frankly, depressing.

As with Part 2 of the survey results, at this point I would recommend that you only read further if you are emotionally prepared to do so.

To help you decide whether to continue, please be aware that comments include descriptions of mental health issues, depression and suicide (including suicide ideation). Relevant help numbers are provided at the end of the article.

A lightly-edited[vi] version of the answers to this question – outlining the personal impact of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments – can be found at the following link:

question-2-the-impact-of-discriminatory-comments

From my perspective, a number of key themes emerge in these comments:

While a small number of respondents indicated that witnessing such comments had little or even no impact on them, the majority indicated that anti-LGBTIQ comments had caused major impacts, contributing to mental health issues, depression and even suicide ideation.

“Every day I consider suicide. My life looks normal on the surface, but why should I bother living when the majority hates me? I’m not wanted and seen as a freak. I just want to feel normal and safe, but straights will never allow that in my country (Australia). Homophobia makes me wish I was dead.”

“I feel like it raises the suicide rates and makes us feel less than human as [it] makes people feel homophobia is ok because we don’t have equality. In the last year I’ve had 4 friends commit suicide due to homophobia.”

“They make me feel worthless, like a freak, like I don’t deserve to live, like I don’t deserve anything, like I’ll be alone forever, like no one will love me, like I should just kill myself because it would be easier.”

The feeling of being ‘lesser’ than others was also common:

“It makes you feel separate. More like an oddity than a person. Like you’re… less”

“It just makes me feel like shit to be frank. Like I’m not a worthwhile human being. Like I’m a joke and not a living, breathing person with thoughts and feelings.”

“It hurts my self worth, makes me feel as though my identity is something negative and is something that I should be ashamed of.”

A sense of ‘hopelessness’ was also pervasive:

“It makes you feel that the world will never change & there is no place for you in it.”

“It is depressing to realise that, despite the progress that has been made on many fronts, just how widespread anti-LGBTI prejudice really is, including from our so-called political leaders.”

“Homophobia in media and everyday life is a constant reminder to the lgbtq community that they are and probably always will be seen as less than others.”

“It made me feel helpless, like nothing was ever going to change no matter how hard people work at being accepting.”

A number of commenters expressed despair at the level of anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in Australia, and associated alienation from their country:

“They made me feel as if my own country didn’t want me and that I wasn’t really a person.”

“I question whether Australian society is as accepting as I thought it was.”

“Disgust and shame at both myself and Australia. I feel marginalised, oppressed, fearful, frustrated and in some cases terrified of the country I live in.”

“If anything, these comments have disturbed me, and made me feel quite frightened for mine, my partner’s and Australia’s future moving forward…”

“These actions and comments make me feel like Australia is still leaving [sic] in the 1900s and I love my country and people, but sad that there a [sic] still so many closed minded people in this country.”

Or simply “Used to it. This is Australia after all.”

Another strong theme was modifying behaviour to avoid being subject to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia:

“Witnessing or hearing discriminatory acts/language makes me feel unsafe. It makes me modify my behaviour in certain situations to avoid potential violence.”

“They make me feel like I have to adjust my behaviour to make straight people feel comfortable. My partner of 5 years and I don’t hold hands or kiss in public because of this. I hate being a different person in public from the one I am at home. On our train line, it would simply not be safe to hold hands or kiss.”

“It makes me feel unsafe to walk down the street ever since embracing my sexuality. I would certainly not feel comfortable walking down the street hand in hand with my partner and I am careful not to make too much eye contact if I’m wearing something that might indicate my sexuality.”

For some, this even extended to an increased fear of disclosure/’coming out’:

“Increased anxiety about people finding out I’m gay. Less likely to come out.”

“It’s made me scared to come out to some people including my mother.”

“Scares me into not coming out to the people closest to me and makes me feel ashamed for being myself.”

“I feel sad and I actively hide my sexuality.”

“They made me ashamed and want to hide myself further in the closet.”

Some indicated anti-LGBTIQ comments had little impact – but only because they were ‘used to it’, ‘numb to it’, or had developed ‘thick skins’:

“I’m fine, I’m all grown up and used to it now. But if we can stop it happening to others in the future, that should be our primary focus.”

“I’m a lot more thick-skinned now but it really affected me as a kid and teenager growing up and I spent a lot of puberty feeling very suicidal. These days it mostly just makes me angry.”

“I have quite a thick skin and don’t care what other people say, however I am disappointed that more of society have not moved on.”

Or, even more pithily:

  • “I’m used to it, kind of just get number over the years.”
  • “Very little, I have a thick skin.”
  • “I am very used to hearing phobic comments.”
  • “I’m so used to it I just switch off.”

However, even for those who claimed to have learnt to ‘live with it’, there was still significant concern about its impact, on themselves and others:

“I usually end up numbing myself to the full effect of these comments because to truly engage with my feelings about it would mean constant pain, anger and disillusionment in humanity and I wouldn’t get through the day. But when it takes over, it’s a horrible experience.”

“It bothers me, but I learn to live with it. If someone is rude to me or if I find something rude, I can’t waste my emotional energy getting caught up in it anymore. But it is a problem, because I know these statements have a much stronger impact on others who are lgbt, who have suffered a lot more because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Some respondents ‘turned lemons into lemonade’, and used homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments as motivation:

“They make me annoyed or angry. They make me more determined to help pro-lgbt causes or keep active.”

“In general, abuse makes me feel both unwanted and even more determined to promote equality so that future generations of LGBTQI people do not have to endure the abuse and discrimination that some people have received.”

“The current attitude towards the LGBTIQ community makes me angry and ever more passionate to step up and attempt to make a change.”

“It gets me fired up! I can’t help it – I have to respond. I’ve been fighting this fight for over twenty years, so I can’t let it go unchecked… I stick it to them.”

“Makes me more determined to work against the hate.”

“Makes me stronger in my resolve to educate people about LGBTIQ issues – eg being gay is not a choice, it is not a disease that other people can catch from me, I am not sick, disordered or mentally unbalanced; I don’t need to be cured or changed, I am not any more a ‘sinner’ than any other human being etc. I am perfectly happy and content.”

One of the most common type of comment was an expression of care, and concern, for younger and/or more vulnerable members of the LGBTIQ community:

“I’m fairly resilient, so these things tend not to affect me. However, they do cause me great concern for those who may not be resilient, or the young in our community.”

“They don’t worry me now because I am fully accepting of myself but I hate to think of the effect they would have on younger people.”

“I feel angry about the impact it would have on younger people (I’m older now and I’m more concerned about protecting the younger ones).”

“Mostly it’s really deflating and makes me concerned for younger lgbtiq+ people who don’t have support networks.”

“Made me feel sad for the younger ones, still coming to terms with who they are, fighting depression.”

“It’s hurtful and worrying. I’m old enough now to not let it bother me but it concerns me to think about how this affects teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. Hatred in the public sphere is only continuing this.”

“While I’m at a point in my life where I realise that the people who publicly express these negative points of view often in a negative way are ignorant and their negativity is their problem, not mine, I feel sad and angry thinking that less secure, particularly younger LGBTIQ+ individuals, may be impacted extremely detrimentally by these comments.”

“I fear for young LGBTQ people who don’t have the support or self awareness to know that there is nothing wrong with them and that they will find their place one day, if not today.”

“Made me feel unsafe and also made me feel sad for all the young kids who’s health would be more majorly impacted by this, almost every LGBT+ person I know has attempted suicide or suffered from trauma as a response to abuse and I feel this.”

“I have witnessed friends being vilified and the victims of homophobic rants. The psychological toll as a result of the constant barrage from all forms of media, politics, religion & the public confirms the reasoning behind the high mortality rate for young LGBTI members of our community.”

These two comments probably best sum up this view:

“It really distresses me that people still act this way. I worry for the younger youth who this could have a greater impact on. Whoever says homophobia doesn’t exist in today’s society is very wrong.”

“It upsets me that young LGBTIQ children are being constantly reminded that they are not treated the same as others in this society when they watch out-of-touch, backward-thinking politicians who do not see how hurtful their words against same-sex marriage and the safe schools program are. It is so upsetting that they cannot see the damage they are doing.”

The parents in rainbow families also expressed concern for the potential harm anti-LGBTIQ comments cause to their children:

“I don’t feel homophobia has an impact on me but I often wonder if it’s upsetting to my son. He tells me it bother him sometimes.”

“I feel confident in my personal relationship however when in public spaces with my children I worry about negative reactions to my lesbian relationship if I show any form of public affection towards my partner. It is better sometimes to ‘pass’ as a parent rather than show we are a family, purely because I do not want my children to observe homophobic reactions or hear homophobic comments about their parents or family.”

The care shown by LGBTIQ people for their children, and for younger members of the community, stands in marked contrast to the ‘christian’ values too-often on display by religious fundamentalists, with some respondents nominating religious intolerance as the source of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia:

“Especially the comments from people representing my religion are really painful and I find myself often thinking if I can even be part of such a community that should be about mercy and love and is often just full of hate.”

“The Tasmanian Archbishop’s attempts to change the anti-discrimination act have resulted in me moving school despite having a supportive school I think it is no longer appropriate for me to attend a school that is overseen by someone who has openly proclaimed his dislike of homosexuals, and is attempting to change laws to discriminate against them.”

“I went to catholic school and the church felt it right to give a pamphlet to each child outlining what a marriage is and making sure to discourage anyone who was in the LGBTQI community.”

“It’s everywhere. Every time someone mentions gay marriage or trans health there is always a rebuttal speaker from some religious group.”

“all these churchie people… they preach and say we are sinning… Yet they are being the judgmental ones. I don’t know any LGBTIQ people that go around with fliers etc saying join our church etc. So why do they try [to] pressure us to change who we are?”

“Christian people on Facebook posting anti-gay marriage and safe schools program under the guise of love the sinner not the sin…”

That last comment was typical of many that raised homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments in the context of last year’s dual anti-LGBTIQ campaigns – against Safe Schools and for a plebiscite:

“well I hear all the hate-filled rhetoric from the religious alt right that sadly have too much of a voice in gov from groups like the christian lobby and other politicians. the whole gay marriage plebiscite seemed to give every anti-gay hate group a paid advertisement on social media…”

“Made me feel unsafe being out in my work space ie political discussions about safe schools and queer people corrupting children made me feel I might lose my job at a school.”

“The same sex marriage debate and the vilification of the safe schools program has allowed homophobia to run rife in politics and in the media leading to public aping of homophobic beliefs.”

“Particularly the discussion in the media regarding the plebiscite had a huge effect on my emotional well being. I found myself harbouring a lot of stress, feeling less safe, and often feeling emotional and being brought to tears.”

“plebiscite! The very idea that our government (the same one that is apparently working for the Australian people) can legislate hate speech (or an entire campaign) against a minority under the guise of politics disgusts me and makes me ashamed to call myself Australian.”

“A feeling of being lesser than anyone else. Worry for young people, especially when the plebiscite about equal marriage was being threatened. This also gave other homophobes permission to be expressive about their hatred.”

“The constant negativity and blatant homophobia present in the political and mainstream media spheres, especially over Safe Schools and on marriage equality, has left me emotionally wrung out and uneasy, including making me less likely to decide to announce, share or defend my position on these issues in places I feel comfortable in, including my workplace in a secondary school.”

A number of commenters also highlighted the Trump factor, and the fear of Australia importing US-style anti-trans bathroom laws:

“Trump supporters have also gotten on the anti-LGBTQ movement and all over social media if you tag anything with one of those, you are instantly trolled. Trump hired people to set up fake accounts and constantly go out and attack our community so a by-product of the US election was the LGBTQ community all around the world was attacked and criminalised and marginalised.”

“While I’m not trans, I have friends who are, and even in a relatively tolerant country like Australia they still encounter discrimination every day. We hear about the horrendous bathroom law debates raging in the US and think, there’s one more place we aren’t safe. The same intolerance exists in Australia; it’s just quieter.”

In fact, the existing high-levels of transphobic comments generally was raised by several respondents:

“I only recently began to take steps to transition socially, and it feels like every other day there’s a new reminder of how much hate and harassment still exist. The thought of coming out and having to face this regularly terrifies me.”

“I see constant transphobia in people’s reactions towards trans/non binary/queer people.”

“A trans* friend of mine died and majority of the comments were transphobic of nature and it hurt me to witness how my peers felt about individuals being transgender.”

“Lyle Shelton has made incredibly transphobic remarks that have had me on the verge of tears.”

(At least) 2 people highlighted the failure of Victorian birth certificate reform late last year as a particular source of transphobic comments:

“Shocking. I am significantly affected by the ongoing ceaseless abuse we experience at the hands of media and parliament. The recent comments in the Victorian parliament voiced by the opposition were appalling. The constant transphobia lends itself to a constant low level of depression only countered by actual interaction with mainstream people who seem to be much more accepting…”

“It’s a kick in the guts every time I see the media misrepresent trans people. In politics it’s worse though – that they didn’t change the law about birth certificates last year has made my life harder at a practical level.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given both its popularity and the high share of respondents indicating social media as a source of anti-LGBTIQ comments, at least a dozen respondents specifically cited prejudice on Facebook:

“Facebook is covered with homophobic comments and pictures that don’t get removed.”

“Homophobic/transphobic comments from people on posts on Facebook…”

“I follow a large amount of people on social media where I almost daily see harassment to multitudes of people in the queer community.”

“Found them rather disturbing particularly on Facebook where posters ‘go for it’ with their opinions from the safety of a keyboard. I found it scary and rather confronting the amount of homophobia in the community in Australia, and doubly scary in other parts of the world. I think if a person is secure in their sexuality then they don’t feel the need to hate whereas (in my experience) if a person has issues, either consciously or unconsciously then they ‘project’ this through homophobia onto GLBT people.”

This commenter raised particularly concerning issues with Facebook:

“I don’t feel mentally capable of reading comments on social media posts about LGBTQI issues for fear of harassment and homophobic/transphobic comments. I don’t comment at all because I’m harassed. Someone reported my name on Facebook and I was forced to provide legal identification and change my account to my birth name or my account would be shut down. I now cannot change my name on Facebook until I legally pay (220$) to have my name changed. Seeing my birthname daily causes me huge amounts of distress and dysphoria.”

Given the prevalence of anti-LGBTIQ comments on social media, it is unsurprising some survey respondents are resorting to ‘switching off’:

“Frankly, makes me not want to live, but I don’t tell anyone that because I think that’s what these people actually want. They want me to hate myself and take care of ‘the issue’ (ie me) for them. So I’ve unplugged from it for the most part and focus on loving myself.”

“Lesbians have copped it a bit this year and it’s made me more stressed than usual. Thinking of cutting myself off from media outlets.”

“I had to block people on social media. I choose what I read in the media and its source.”

“I considered seeking counselling to deal with my mental health regarding [anti-LGBTIQ comments] specifically, as well as removing myself from social media and avoiding news articles.”

“I found them disturbing, misleading & hurtful. I was closely following the plebiscite debate and also had clients at my work being affected by the comments in the media. After a while of hearing the same negativity about LGBTIQ people it starts to get to me. I have to take a break from reading things because they are saying ignorant and nasty things about me and my family. I have found it quite stressful and depressing.”

“I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can use my experiences to hopefully discourage this kind of behaviour. It still makes me livid to hear or read LGBTI-phobic comments because they touch on the very essence of who I am and the people I love. I have also noticed that particularly political LGBTI-phobia has a real impact on my mental health. In the interest of my own sanity I often choose to disengage, which then subsequently makes me feel guilty because surely someone has to speak up to change people’s minds.”

Overall, these responses highlight the profound impact that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments – in social media, politics, religion, media and public spaces – had on LGBTIQ Australians over the past 12 months.

The following two quotes, for me, summarise just how important it is to push back against this rising, and hurtful, wave of prejudice:

“This behaviour creates a cage for all members of the LGBTAQI+ community. Any negative act towards someone from this community pushes us back into the cage of fear we’re all trying so hard to destroy.”

“I feel like there is a war on gender and sexuality and everywhere is a battleground of some sort and I’m a civilian trying to just live and explore myself but it’s not ‘safe’. Having friends who are accepting and part of the community helps but it still feels like a war…”

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Conclusion

The results of these two questions have confirmed not only that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments are rife in Australia, but also that they are having a terrible impact on many – too many – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.

These comments are being observed in a wide range of areas, including politics, religion and the media – but are especially prevalent on social media, with 92% of respondents witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments in this medium in 2016.

In fact, social media was the highest-ranked (or equal highest), for all categories of LGBTI and Q, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ respondents and irrespective of age cohort.

On the other hand, just 3% of survey respondents – or about 1 in every 33 people – had not witnessed homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia on media, social media, politics, religion or public space in the past 12 months.

This is nothing less than shocking, as were the quotes highlighted above (and in the linked document) where people explained in their own words the impact that witnessing anti-LGBTIQ comments has had on their lives. If you are mentally prepared, I encourage you to read them at length.

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

The remaining three articles, which will focus on discrimination in education, employment and health and other areas, will be published during May[vii].

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)

Footnotes:

[i] The previous posts can be found here:

Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

[ii] According to the ABS, 22% of respondents to the 2011 census indicated they had ‘no religion’, although this figure is expected to rise dramatically in the 2016 census following a change in how this question was asked.

[iii] Note that the percentages for each of these groups will be reduced compared to the overall rates described above, because they are calculated based on the total number of people from that group completing the survey rather than the (lesser) number of people from that group who answered this question.

[iv] Noting that there was a small sample size for intersex respondents (n=20) meaning these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[v] Noting that there was a small sample size for respondents aged 65 and over (n=37) meaning these percentages should be treated with some caution.

[vi] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information

-Removing potentially defamatory comments and

-Removing offensive (for example, transphobic) remarks.

I have also corrected some spelling/grammatical mistakes for ease of reading.

[vii] These posts were originally scheduled for April, but have been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances.

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

Update 29 April 2017:

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

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

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

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

Section 28A

Meaning of sexual harassment

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

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

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

(2) In this section:

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

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

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

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

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

27 April 2017

Dear Mr Lawrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely

[Name withheld]

Director, Human Rights

Civil Law Unit

 

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Original Post:

 

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Monday 3 April 2017

Dear Prime Minister

Commonwealth Anti-Vilification Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Cc Senator the Hon George Brandis

Attorney-General

PO Box 6100

Senate

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Malcolm Turnbull Hands

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

Footnotes:

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

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 2: Physical Abuse or Violence

This post is the second in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].

In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.

In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to three questions about experiences of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence, including publishing their personal stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic violence.

It makes for particularly tough reading – not only are the reported rates of physical abuse, both over their lifetimes and specifically during the last 12 months, far too high, many of the examples of violence that were provided are, frankly, brutal reminders of the unacceptable state of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australia today.

If the topics covered in this post raise any issues for you, contact details of relevant support services are provided at the end of the article.

the-state-of-homophobia-biphobia-transphobia-6

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

&

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

Overall, 26% of survey respondents – 431 people out of the 1,647 who answered question 1 – indicated they had experienced physical abuse or violence because of their LGBTIQ status at some point in their life.

128 people – or 30% of respondents who answered yes to question 1[ii] – then answered question 2 by stating that at least one instance of this anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence had occurred during the last 12 months.

Including those who answered no to question 1, that means approximately 7.8% of all respondents reported experiencing physical abuse or violence in the past year alone.

It should be noted that these rates are significantly lower than the numbers who had previously reported receiving anti-LGBTIQ verbal harassment or abuse. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence in Australia is unacceptably high:

  • 1 in 4 LGBTIQ people have been physically assaulted simply because of who they are, and
  • 1 in every 13 LGBTIQ respondents has experienced such abuse or violence in the last 12 months alone.

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

LGBTIQ Status

There were some potentially surprising results in reported rates of lifetime anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence. However, the respective answers of different groups to question 2 were more predictable – and more depressing for that reason. The results for both questions were as follows:

Lesbian: 24.1% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[iii]

Gay: 34.4% ever, and of those 23.6% during the past 12 months[iv]

Bisexual: 14.6% ever, of those 44.2% in last 12 months[v]

Transgender: 33.6% ever, of those 47.2% in last 12 months[vi]

Intersex: 46.7% ever, of those 71.4% in last 12 months[vii], and

Queer: 27.1% ever, of those 44% in last 12 months[viii].

The rates for intersex respondents were clearly the highest – on both measures – although the small sample size (n=15) should be remembered at this point. Of the remaining LGBTQ groups, the category reporting the highest lifetime rates of physical abuse or violence were people identifying as gay, followed closely by transgender people.

There are a range of possible explanations for this, including physical bullying of gay students during school, and ‘historical’ incidents of anti-gay violence that may have happened many years ago (and there is some evidence for both factors in the personal stories of violence detailed below)

Sadly, the relatively high rates reported by transgender respondents were largely predictable. Disturbingly, they were higher again where a person indicated they were both transgender and gay – with 45.6% reporting lifetime physical abuse or violence. These numbers are obviously horrific [ix].

It is equally worrying to look at the proportion of each group overall who reported an instance of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse or violence in the past 12 months:

  • Lesbian: 6.5%
  • Gay: 8.1%
  • Bisexual: 6.5%
  • Transgender: 15.6%
  • Intersex: 33.3%
  • Queer: 12%

On this measure, the proportion of gay respondents reporting physical abuse or violence is much lower, and is in fact similar to both lesbian and bisexual survey respondents.

However, this finding demonstrates the disproportionate impact of recent anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse and violence on transgender (including people who identified as both transgender and gay, where the figure was 24.6%, on 1 in 4 people reporting abuse in the last year alone), intersex and queer members of the community.

Therefore, while there have historically been high rates of homophobic (and specifically anti-gay), transphobic and intersexphobic violence in Australia, there appears to be comparatively far higher rates of transphobic, intersexphobic and anti-queer physical abuse during the last 12 months.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

As with verbal harassment and abuse, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported higher rates of physical abuse or violence than their non-Indigenous LGBTIQ counterparts.

36.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents reported anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse at some point during their lifetime[x], which is higher than both gay and transgender people, discussed above. Of those, 40.9% indicated at least one instance of such violence had occurred in the past 12 months[xi].

Taken together, this means that 15% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people reported homophobic, biphobic or transphobic physical abuse or violence during the past year – double the rate of non-Indigenous LGBTIQ Australians (7.5%).

Age

There were some significant differences in terms of experiences of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence depending on the age cohort of the respondent:

24 and under: 18.7% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 47.6% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xii]

25 to 44: 33.1% ever, and of those 27.2% in the last 12 months[xiii]

45 to 64: 39.9% ever, and of those 16.4% in the last 12 months[xiv], and

65 and over: 30.1% ever, and of those 9.1% in the last 12 months[xv].

Thankfully, the proportion of LGBTIQ people aged 24 or under reporting lifetime physical abuse or violence was lower than their counterparts in other age cohorts. Of course, this result should be expected given their lesser ‘life experience’ (ie fewer years in which abuse may have occurred), but that was not the case for verbal harassment or abuse which was reported at similar rates to older groups.

Rates of lifetime homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse or violence then increased for people aged 25 to 44, and again for people aged 45 to 64, before declining for people aged 65 and over.

One possible explanation for this is the age at which these groups ‘came of age’: people aged 65+ turned 18 before 1970, and lower visibility of LGBTIQ people (and especially some communities within this umbrella term) may have lessened their experiences of direct physical violence (while exacerbating other problems, including social exclusion and mental health issues).

On the other hand, people aged 45 to 64 generally turned 18 in the 1970s and 1980s, and likely bore the brunt of societal backlash to increased visibility of non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual Australians, including via physical assaults.

It is however worrying that for those people who turned 18 in the supposedly more accepting 1990s and 2000s (who are now aged 25 to 44), the rates of physical abuse or violence remained relatively high – with 1 in 3 survey respondents in this demographic affected.

Turning to anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse in the past 12 months, the results were very different:

  • 8.8% of all respondents aged 24 or under reported abuse in the last year, compared to
  • 7.1% of people aged 25 to 44
  • 6.5% of people aged 45 to 64, and
  • 2.8% of people aged 65 and over.

Once again, we see that current homophobic, biphobic and transphobic physical abuse and violence is disproportionately affecting younger LGBTIQ Australians – who are 35.4% more likely to report such abuse than people aged 45 to 64.

Despite all of the progress that we have made, on so many fronts, the fact that 1 in 12 LGBTIQ people aged under 25 reported physical abuse or violence in the last year alone is a confronting, and in many ways, devastating, statistic.

State or Territory of Residence

The rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic violence did not differ greatly between most states and territories:

NSW: 26% of respondents have ever experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, and of those 27.3% indicated at least one instance during the past 12 months[xvi]

Victoria: 29.5% ever, and of those 29% in the last 12 months[xvii]

Queensland: 26.4% ever, and of those 21.2% in the last 12 months[xviii]

Western Australia: 28.1% ever, and 45.2% in the last 12 months[xix]

South Australia: 25.2% ever, and of those 29.4% in the last 12 months[xx]

Tasmania: 19.8% ever, and of those 45.4% in the last 12 months[xxi]

ACT: 14.3% ever, and of those 37.5% in the last 12 months[xxii], and

Northern Territory: 23.8% ever, and of those 20% in the last 12 months[xxiii].

Despite the similarity between jurisdictions, there are three things here worth noting:

  • Western Australia had by far the highest overall proportion of LGBTIQ people reporting physical abuse or violence in the last year, at 12.4%[xxiv]
  • The ACT has reported significantly lower levels of physical abuse than the national average (5.4% in the past 12 months), and was also significantly lower in terms of verbal harassment or abuse, and
  • Despite having the second lowest lifetime rates of anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse, Tasmania actually reported the second highest rates in the past 12 months (9%), repeating a similar pattern for verbal abuse.

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

This question allowed respondents to provide an example of the physical abuse or violence they had experienced, irrespective of when it had occurred.

As anticipated, many of the stories that have been shared are both incredibly powerful, and profoundly upsetting.

At this point, I would recommend that you only read further if you are emotionally and mentally prepared to do so. To help you decide whether to continue, please be aware that some stories involve details of physical violence and injury, as well as sexual and child sexual assault.

A lightly-edited[xxv] version of the stories of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse or violence that were shared can be found at the following link:

question 3 physical abuse or violence comments

From my perspective, several consistent themes emerge from these stories, including:

The most common type of story shared involved anti-LGBTIQ abuse in the school environment (at least 38 respondents mentioned school). For example:

“Other kids would throw food at me at school and threaten to kill me. One time a group of bigger boys held me down and drew penises on my face at school. Teachers did nothing. People just laughed. I wanted to die.”

“During the HSC, the day of my last exam. A group of guys waited for me around the corner of the hall. They grabbed me by the neck and dragged me around the corner whilst beating me.”

“I was violently assaulted during high school. A boy at my school also stalked me and threatened to rape me to ‘make me straight.’”

A number of respondents explicitly indicated that the homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse occurred some time ago:

“Many years ago at high school. Managed to steer clear of physically violent homophobic behaviour since then.”[xxvi]

“I was bullied relentlessly when I was at school. It was a long time ago (in the 70s) and it included physical abuse. I’m one of the lucky ones, I survived. Many other young LGBTI Australian youth didn’t… and this is still continuing today, validated by politicians and religious ‘leaders’ who have no concern about the harm they are doing by imposing their hetero-normative agendas.”

“I have been punched in the street a few times in the 1990s and once had a bottle broken over my head and was stabbed in the face with the broken bottle (year 2000).”

Several stories involved anti-lesbian violence, including attempts of ‘corrective rape’ and sexual assault:

“I have been bashed in the street for holding my partner’s hand, I have been threatened with rape for dancing with another woman, I have had the police stand in my lounge room making threatening gestures when my partner and I reported a crime, refusing to do anything because ‘some people just don’t like dykes’ and we’d ‘just have to get used to that.’”

“Men grope me, stick their hands down my pants in public places and try to force me to kiss them. When I say I’m a lesbian it’s always either ‘that’s okay I don’t mind’, ‘I can change that’, ‘you’ve just never had a good fuck’.”

“When I lived in Queensland (not where I currently reside) I had strangers at parties come up to my girlfriend and I and forcibly try to dance with us and grope us and insist that we should have sex with them/have a threesome because we need ‘some real fucking’.”

Another common theme was anti-trans violence, such as the ‘policing’ of gender appearance or behaviour, and again including sexual assault:

“Was physically abused by a middle-aged woman who was confused by my gender presentation and took it upon herself to check + feel my chest for the presence of breast tissue (which was underneath my binder).”

“I’ve been sexually assaulted by partners because of my gender non-conforming behaviour, to try and ‘correct’ me into being femme.”

“When I wasn’t out about being a trans man, this bi girl that also knew I was bi thought it was ok and appropriate to sexually assault me and grab my vagina.”

“I was sexually assaulted when a group of young men found out I was transgender.”

A disturbing proportion of stories involved physical abuse and violence from parents, family members and partners in intimate relationships:

“My dad tried to beat the gay out of me a lot growing up.”

“As a child I was beaten at different times by both parents, one publicly, and being told to man up.”

“My mum hit/tried to strangle me when I came out to her as trans.”

“A boyfriend at the time – I told him I’m queer (pan, if you like) and he started grabbing me without my consent sexually in public.”

At least a dozen stories referred to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in spaces and places that the LGBTIQ community call ‘home’:

“I got king-hit/coward-punched whilst walking down Oxford Street in Sydney during Mardi Gras.”

“I have been poofter bashed – just off Oxford St – and was once assaulted by police officers (which I took action about).”

“When I lived in Sydney in the mid-1990s I was bashed by a group of ‘skin-heads’ on Darlinghurst Rd as I walked home after work.”

“Physically assaulted and knocked unconscious by men loitering at a McDonalds on a popular gay night strip in Melbourne.”

“Several years ago I was assaulted in Malvern Rd Prahran by 5 guys yelling death to fags – luckily for me as the group kicked me as I lay helpless a driver stopped and they got scared off.”

And then there were some stories that defied easy ‘categorisation’, but which were so powerful that I felt compelled to reproduce here:

“I’ve been verbally abused, threatened by men, chased by youths with knives and survived an attempted rape and murder by a straight man who saw me come out of a gay pub.”

“Attacked during lgbt rally, egged until I got welts, physically attacked, had people bang on the windows of my room + house and yell they’d kill me etc.”

“Glass bottles thrown at my head and at my lesbian friends because we needed to “get back to the Valley with the freaks” and “needed them to show us dick” so we would stop being into women; guy holding up my girlfriend by her throat because we kissed in a pub; sexual assaults to me (several) partly because they knew I was bisexual so I was “automatically up for sex”. I wasn’t. There was no consent. I even said no and they said I was lying because I am bi.”

“I, my partner and her elderly father were all bashed by a bunch of teenage boys who chased us from the train station to our home kicking us, hitting us, spitting at us, throwing things at us and verbally abusing us. They then attacked my father-in-law when he attempted to come to our aid. He was in his mid-60s at the time of the attack.”

Some shorter comments were nevertheless shocking:

“Being beaten by 3 older men who had followed me home after I left my boyfriend on public transport. I was 16.”

“My partner and I were assaulted whilst kissing to say good bye.”

“My partner and I had glass beer bottles thrown at us walking down the street while holding hands.”

“I was last assaulted for my sexuality in early 2013, and dozens of times before that.”

Finally, and disturbingly, there were at least three stories in which the person who experienced anti-LGBTIQ physical abuse tried to downplay the extent of the violence:

“Bashed (not badly) numerous times by strangers, usually with onlookers. Extreme harassment and threats from police on several occasions.”

“Mild beatings by groups of boys in late high school.”

“Just being punched in the face.”

Describing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence in this way is likely part of a psychological coping strategy for these respondents – but, from this author’s perspective, there is no circumstance in which the word ‘just’ ought to appear in front of the phrase being punched in the face.

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Conclusion

The results of this survey suggest that 1 out of every 4 LGBTIQ Australians have experienced homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse or violence at some point in their lives.

30% of that group – or 1 in 13 out of all survey respondents – reported anti-LGBTIQ physical violence in the past 12 months alone, confirming once again that 2016 was an awful year for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.

These proportions were even higher for some sections within the community. While the overall rate was 7.8% reporting abuse in the last year, the equivalent figure was:

  • 15.6% of transgender people
  • 33% of intersex people
  • 12% of queer people
  • 15% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people.

LGBTIQ respondents age 24 and under were also 35.4% more likely to report recent homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic physical abuse than people aged 45 to 64.

Some of our political leaders like to espouse the idea that Australia is an inclusive and tolerant country, welcoming of differences in sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. That may be the case for some people – but these figures reveal a different, harsher, reality for many LGBTIQ Australians.

And, if anyone doubts the impact of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic physical abuse and violence in this nation, I encourage them to read the personal stories from survey respondents, detailed above. If they do, they will come away with a better understanding of what life is like for far too many people.

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

The next four will be published over the remainder of March and April, with part 3 – which focuses on the places where prejudice occurs – to be published in a couple of weeks.

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au

Footnotes:

[i] The first was published two weeks ago: The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Survey Results, Part 1: Verbal Harassment and Abuse

[ii] Only people who answered yes to question 1 were provided with an opportunity to answer question 2, with 430 people completing the second question and 302 (70%) indicating they had not experienced physical abuse or violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the past 12 months.

[iii] Question 1: 78 yes/246 no. Question 2: 21 yes/56 no.

[iv] Question 1: 220 yes/419 no. Question 2: 52 yes/168 no.

[v] Question 1: 76 yes/445 no. Question 2: 34 yes/43 no.

[vi] Question 1: 125 yes/247 no. Question 2: 58 yes/65 no.

[vii] Question 1: 7 yes/8 no. Question 2: 5 yes/2 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re intersex status must be treated with caution. For this reason, intersex status is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[viii] Question 1: 133 yes/358 no. Question 2: 59 yes/75 no.

[ix] Other figures for people who identified as both transgender and another category:

-Transgender and lesbian: 30.2% lifetime abuse, including 14% of all trans and lesbian respondents experiencing such abuse in the last 12 months alone

-Transgender and bisexual: 26.6% lifetime abuse, 15.3% in the last 12 months, and

-Transgender and queer: 33.5% lifetime abuse, 18.1% in the last 12 months.

[x] Question 1: 22 yes/38 no.

[xi] Question 2: 9 yes/13 no.

[xii] Question 1: 165 yes/719 no. Question 2: 78 yes/86 no.

[xiii] Question 1: 144 yes/291 no. Question 2: 31 yes/114 no.

[xiv] Question 1: 110 yes/166 no. Question 2: 18 yes/91 no.

[xv] Question 1: 11 yes/25 no. Question 2: 1 yes/10 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re people aged 65 and over must be treated with caution. For this reason, this group is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[xvi] Question 1: 140 yes/399 no. Question 2: 38 yes/101 no.

[xvii] Question 1: 113 yes/270 no. Question 2: 33 yes/81 no.

[xviii] Question 1: 66 yes/184 no. Question 2: 14 yes/52 no.

[xix] Question 1: 43 yes/90 no. Question 2: 19 yes/23 no.

[xx] Question 1: 34 yes/101 no. Question 2: 10 yes/24 no.

[xxi] Question 1: 22 yes/89 no. Question 2: 10 yes/12 no.

[xxii] Question 1: 8 yes/48 no. Question 2: 3 yes/5 no.

[xxiii] Question 1: 5 yes/16 no. Question 2: 1 yes/4 no. Note that, given the low number of respondents, the proportions re the Northern Territory must be treated with caution. For this reason, the NT is also omitted from some of the discussion/analysis throughout the article.

[xxiv] Full results: NSW 7.1%, Victoria 8.6%, Queensland 5.6%, WA 12.4%, SA 7.4%, Tasmania 9%, ACT 5.4%, NT 4.8%.

[xxv] In this context, lightly-edited includes:

-Removing identifying information, and

-Removing offensive (for example, racist) remarks.

I have also chosen to exclude a couple of stories where the connection between the physical abuse or violence experienced and anti-LGBTIQ motivation was not clear, and one longer story which could not be edited to retain key points without also potentially disclosing the identity of the person concerned.

[xxvi] It seems one of the lessons many learned at school was to hide or minimise visible displays of same-sex behaviour, to avoid future abuse or violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia (4)

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

&

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

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

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

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

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

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

LGBTIQ Status

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

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

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

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

Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State or Territory of Residence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

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If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:

  • QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)

Footnotes:

[i] See 2016: Annus Homophobicus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xiii] 627 yes/261 no.

[xiv] 341 yes/95 no.

[xv] 221 yes/57 no.

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

[xvii] 485 yes/141 no.

[xviii] 201 yes/140 no.

[xix] 101 yes/118 no.

[xx] 8 yes/16 no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Remove identifying information

-Remove defamatory comments, and

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

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

Submission to Inquiry into Freedom of Speech in Australia

Update 1 March 2017:

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

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

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

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

 

Original post:

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

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

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

 

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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

18Cinquiry@aph.gov.au

 

Dear Committee Members

Submission to Inquiry into Freedom of Speech in Australia

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

There are three main arguments that support this conclusion.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I went on to write:

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

That remains my opinion today.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Friday 9 December 2016

 

Footnotes:

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

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

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

Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers

Every year, millions of students, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and other staff, start at Australian schools excited by the possibilities of the following 12 months – of the opportunities to learn (or teach) about the world around them, and about themselves.

 

However, for far too many students – and teachers and other staff – in schools around the country it will be another year in which they have to worry about being discriminated against, lawfully, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

That’s because, under the anti-discrimination laws of five out of nine Australian jurisdictions, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students can legally be treated adversely by religious schools[i]. Six jurisdictions allow discrimination against LGBT teachers and other staff – plus one state which has a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach.

 

To find out what the law is in your jurisdiction, see below. And to find out just how many students, teachers and other staff are potentially affected by these discriminatory provisions, please read to the end of the article.

 

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Commonwealth

 

While LGBT students, teachers and other staff are protected against discrimination under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, these protections are fundamentally undermined by the inclusion of two excessively broad exceptions for religious organisations.

 

The first is contained in sub-section 37(1)(d), which states that:

 

“Nothing in Division 1 or 2 affects… any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

It is highly likely that this provision allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and staff. But, just in case there was any doubt, the Act includes an additional ‘right to discriminate’ just for religious schools:

 

“Section 38

Educational institutions established for religious purposes

(1) Nothing in paragraph 14(1)(a) or (b) or (14)(2)(c) renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Sub-section 38(2) establishes a similar ‘right to discriminate’ against contract workers, while sub-section 38(3) reiterates the ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students.

 

In short, instead of protecting LGBT students and teachers at religious schools against discrimination, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 authorises their mistreatment (a pattern that, as we shall below, is sadly replicated in most states and territories).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Commonwealth law? Yes.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Commonwealth law? Yes.

 

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New South Wales

 

As I have written elsewhere[ii], despite being the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce gay anti-discrimination laws, NSW now has perhaps the worst LGBT anti-discrimination legislation in the country. A key reason for that is the extremely generous exceptions provided to religious (and other non-government) schools.

 

As with the Commonwealth, it is likely NSW religious schools have the ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT students, teachers and other staff[iii] as part of the general religious exception provided by sub-section 56(d):

 

“Nothing in this Act affects… any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

 

And, just like the Commonwealth, there is also a specific exception applying only to schools – however, in what is a unique approach, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 actually allows all non-government schools to discriminate against students on the grounds of homosexuality or transgender status, even where they are not religious:

 

“Section 49ZO Education

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by refusing or failing to accept the person’s application for admission as a student, or

(b) in the terms on which it is prepared to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of homosexuality:

(a) by denying the student access, or limiting the student’s access, to any benefit provided by the educational authority, or

(b) by expelling the student or subjecting the student to any other detriment.

(3) Nothing in this section applies to or in respect of a private educational authority” (emphasis added).

 

Section 38K establishes a similar right for NSW non-government schools (religious and not-religious alike) to discriminate against transgender students.

 

There are also equivalent sections regarding lesbian, gay and transgender teachers and other staff at non-government schools (religious and not-religious alike): section 49ZH and 38C respectively.

 

Therefore, all NSW non-government schools are able to fire (or not hire) LGT teachers and other staff under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and to refuse to admit, treat adversely and even expel students merely for being lesbian, gay or transgender. That is, in a word, appalling.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under NSW law? Yes – and that includes non-government schools that are not religious, too.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under NSW law? Yes, including non-government schools that are not religious.

 

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Victoria

 

Victoria is another jurisdiction that has adopted the ‘two-fold’ approach to permitting discrimination by religious schools against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

First up, sub-section 82(2) of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 states that:

 

“Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a religious body that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

This is then supplemented by section 83, which is entirely concerned with providing religious schools with an explicit ‘right to discriminate’:

 

Religious schools

(1) This section applies to a person or body, including a religious body, that establishes, directs, controls, administers or is an educational institution that is, or is to be, conducted in accordance with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.

(2) Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a person or body to which this section applies in the course of establishing, directing, controlling or administering the educational institution that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

 

In 2016, there were two attempts to limit the impact of these sections – the first, by the Andrews Labor Government, would have compelled religious schools (and other religious employers) to demonstrate that discrimination against LGBT employees was an ‘inherent requirement’ of the respective position[iv]. The second, by the Victorian Greens, would have prohibited discrimination against LGBT students.

 

Unfortunately, both Bills were voted down by the Upper House (and specifically by Liberal and National Party MLCs) leaving LGBT students, teachers and other staff in Victorian religious schools exposed to mistreatment solely because of who they are.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Victorian law? Yes.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Victorian law? Yes.

 

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Queensland

 

It may be surprising for some (especially given they only equalised the age of consent in 2016), but Queensland is one of four jurisdictions that does not provide carte blanche for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

That is because they have adopted a more limited version of the broad general exception enacted elsewhere. Section 109 of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provides:

 

Religious bodies

(1) The Act does not apply in relation to-

(d) unless section 90 (Accommodation with religious purposes) applies – an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is –

(i) in accordance with the doctrine of the religion concerned; and

(ii) necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the religion.

(2) An exemption under subsection (1)(d) does not apply in the work or work-related area or in the education area (emphasis added).

 

LGBT students are protected from discrimination as a result of this provision.

 

Prima facie, it would appear that LGBT teachers and other staff should be too – after all, sub-section (2) says the religious exception does not apply to work.

 

However, there is an additional section of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 that does authorise discrimination against LGBT employees of religious schools in certain circumstances. Section 25 states:

 

“25 Genuine occupational requirements

(1) A person may impose genuine occupational requirements for a position.

Example 4- employing persons of a particular religion to teach in a school established for students of the particular religion

(2) Subsection (3) applies in relation to-

(a) work for an educational institution (an employer) under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes…

(3) It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

Example for paragraph (a)- A staff member openly acts in a way contrary to a requirement imposed by the staff member’s employer in his or her contract of employment, that the staff member abstain from acting in a way openly contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs in the course of, or in connection with the staff member’s employment.

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.

(4) Subsection (3) does not authorise the seeking of information contrary to section 124.

(5) For subsection (3), whether the discrimination is not unreasonable depends on all the circumstances of the case, including, for example, the following-

(a) whether the action taken or proposed to be taken by the employer is harsh or unjust or disproportionate to the person’s actions;

(b) the consequences for both the person and the employer should the discrimination happen or not happen.”

 

Summarising the above, religious schools in Queensland can discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff if:

  • the employee acts in a way contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs during the selection process, at work or in connection with work, and
  • the employer can show it was a genuine occupational requirement that the employee act in accordance with those religious beliefs.

 

But, if the teacher or staff member does not act in such a way (which presumably includes the mere acknowledgement of having a same-sex partner, for example), they cannot be punished simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Further, the religious school cannot ask whether the employee is LGBT.

 

In short, Queensland allows a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to LGBT teachers and staff in religious schools – but they can still be fired for being ‘out’ at work. Of course, more than two decades of US military policy demonstrated the folly of DADT – and it says a lot about the terrible state of Australian LGBT anti-discrimination laws that the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 remains the second-best law in this particular area.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Queensland law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Queensland law? Yes, in some circumstances (including where it is a genuine occupational requirement, and the employee is ‘out’ at work). No, when the employee is not ‘out’ – and a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies.

 

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Western Australia

 

The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 is far less complex – and far less positive – in terms of its approach to LGBT anti-discrimination protections for students, teachers and staff in religious schools.

 

Just like the Commonwealth, NSW and Victoria, Western Australia provides ‘dual’ exceptions to religious schools granting them the ‘right to discriminate’. Sub-section 72(d) notes:

 

Religious bodies

Nothing in this Act affects… any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

Section 73 then sets out specific, additional exceptions with respect to teachers:

 

(1) “Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed”

 

And students:

 

(3) “Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act, other than the grounds of race, impairment or age, in connection with the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in favour of adherents of that religion or creed generally, but not in a manner that discriminates against a particular class or group of persons who are not adherents of that religion or creed.”

 

Prima facie, that means Western Australian religious schools can only discriminate against students on the basis of their religion, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, unlike Queensland’s section 109(2), there is no equivalent limitation on the general religious exception in WA, meaning religious schools still (probably) retain the right to discriminate against LGBT students under section 72(d).

 

Overall, then, Western Australia provides multiple grounds for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, and likely one ground to discriminate against LGBT students.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Western Australian law? Yes (probably).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Western Australian law? Yes.

 

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South Australia

 

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 makes it clear that religious schools in South Australia can discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, as a result of a specific exception in section 34. However, it imposes strict procedural requirements if a religious school wishes to utilise such exceptions:

 

(3)         This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to employment or engagement for the purposes of an educational institution if— 
(a)         the educational institution is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion; and (b)         the educational authority administering the institution has a written policy stating its position in relation to the matter; and 
(c)         a copy of the policy is given to a person who is to be interviewed for or offered employment with the authority or a teacher who is to be offered engagement as a contractor by the authority; and 
(d)         a copy of the policy is provided on request, free of charge— 
(i)         to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors of the authority to whom it relates or may relate; and 
(ii)         to students, prospective students and parents and guardians of students and prospective students of the institution; and 
(iii)         to other members of the public.

 

The situation for LGBT students is slightly less clear-cut, with sub-sections 37(1) and (2) providing that:

 

Discrimination by educational authorities

(1) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) by refusing or failing to accept an application for admission as a student; or

(b) in the terms or conditions on which it offers to admit the person as a student.

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) in the terms or conditions on which it provides the student with training or education; or

(b) by denying or limiting access to a benefit provided by the authority; or

(c) by expelling the student; or

(d) by subjecting the student to other detriment.”[v]

 

These protections, for LGBT students, appear to be quite strong – however, it should be noted that the general religious exceptions featured in section 50 may still apply to this situation. Again, unlike Queensland’s section 109(2), there is no equivalent limitation on the Act’s general religious exceptions, meaning religious schools still (probably) retain the right to discriminate against LGBT students under sub-sections 50(ba) and (c).

 

This also appears to be the view of the Equal Opportunity Commission, as expressed in its submissions to the Law Reform Institute review of LGBTI laws in South Australia[vi].

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under South Australian law? Probably.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under South Australian law? Yes, although procedural requirements apply.

 

**********

 

Tasmania

 

Despite being the last Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality, Tasmania was the first – and, to date, remains one of only two – states or territories to ensure that all LGBT students, teachers and staff cannot be discriminated against solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

That is because the religious exceptions offered under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 are narrowly drafted. In terms of employment, section 51 states that:

 

Employment based on religion

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

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

 

In short, a Tasmanian religious school can discriminate against a teacher or staff member because of their religion – but there is no equivalent right to discriminate on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

The protection in relation to LGBT students is even more unambiguous. Section 51A provides:

 

Admission of person as student based on religion

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

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

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

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

 

Not only does this section only apply to admission (and therefore does not authorise discrimination once a student is enrolled, including potential expulsion), it also only applies to the grounds of religious belief or affiliation, and religious activity.

 

Once again, a religious school can only discriminate against students on the basis of their (or their parents’/grandparents’) religion – they cannot legally mistreat students on the basis of their, or their family’s, sexual orientation or gender identity. In this way, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 provides a model to which other Australian jurisdictions should aspire (and which the ACT Government has recently emulated).

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Tasmanian law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Tasmanian law? No.

 

**********

 

Australian Capital Territory

 

The ACT Government recently passed the Discrimination Amendment Act 2018 which has successfully adopted the best-practice approach of Tasmania in this area.

 

The previous specific exceptions for religious schools (in section 33) were abolished, and the general religious exception (in section 32) has been limited, and now does not allow religious schools to discriminate against students, teachers and other staff on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

Like Tasmania, they do allow schools to preference students and teachers in admission and employment, respectively – although have gone even further than Tasmania by requiring schools that want to discriminate in this way to publish their policies.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under ACT law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under ACT law? No.

 

**********

 

Northern Territory

 

The Northern Territory allows discrimination by religious schools against LGBT teachers and other staff. Arguably, it does so only once (instead of providing two separate ‘rights to discriminate’, like the Commonwealth and some other states) – although once is still one time too many.

 

While the ‘general religious exception’ in the NT’s Anti-Discrimination Act is comparatively constrained (covering “an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is done as part of any religious observance or practice”: sub-section 51(d)), there is an additional special ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT teachers and staff. Section 37A provides that:

 

“An educational authority that operates or proposes to operate an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may discriminate against a person in the area of work in the institution if the discrimination:

(a) is on the grounds of:

(i) religious belief or activity; or

(ii) sexuality; and

(b) is in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.”

 

However, there is no equivalent right to discriminate against LGBT students – indeed, like the current Tasmanian legislation, the NT only allows religious schools to discriminate on the basis of the student’s faith (sub-section 30(2) provides that “[a]n educational authority that operates, or proposes to operate, an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may exclude applicants who are not of that religion.”)

 

Combined with the more limited general religious exception outlined above, that means NT religious schools probably cannot discriminate against LGBT students. Consequently, the Northern Territory actually has the fourth-best LGBT anti-discrimination laws in Australia on this issue.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT students under Northern Territory law? No.

 

Can religious schools discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff under Northern Territory law? Yes.

 

**********

 

Summary

 

In conclusion, then, far too many LGBT students, teachers and other staff members will start the 2019 school year in a vulnerable position – they can be lawfully discriminated against simply because of who they are.

 

In terms of students, such discrimination is permitted in religious schools under the anti-discrimination laws of:

  • Commonwealth
  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia (probably), and
  • South Australia (probably).

 

Only Queensland, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory have chosen to protect students in religious schools from homophobic, biphobic and transphobic discrimination.

 

As we have seen, the situation for teachers and other staff members is even worse – they can be legally mistreated under anti-discrimination legislation in:

  • Commonwealth
  • New South Wales
  • Victoria
  • Western Australia
  • South Australia (although procedural requirements apply), and
  • Northern Territory.

 

In Queensland, LGBT teachers at religious schools can be discriminated against if they are ‘out’ – otherwise a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies. Only Tasmania and the ACT refuse to provide religious schools with an explicit ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBT teachers and other staff.

 

Up to this point, this discussion has been very ‘legal’, and somewhat technical. But it is important to remember that the impact of these religious exceptions is significant in practical terms.

 

Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics[vii], in 2015 there were more than 1 million students enrolled at Australian schools where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students could be discriminated against simply because of who they are.

 

In fact, the exact number was 1,007,864[viii]. With the number of students in non-government schools rising by 1.4% per year, this has likely risen to above 1,040,000 at the start of 2019 (despite recent changes meaning LGBT students in Canberra are now protected).

 

The number of teachers and other staff that can be lawfully discriminated against is just as confronting.

 

In 2015, 110,073.8 Full Time Equivalent positions[ix] were at religious schools that could legally discriminate against teachers and other staff members who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

 

An additional 28,944.1 FTE positions – employees at religious schools in Queensland – could be adversely treated if they were ‘out’ at work.

 

In fact, of the 141,806.1 FTE positions at religious schools nationally, only the 2,788.2 FTE positions in Tasmania were fully protected against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity – or less than 2% of teachers and staff members at religious schools nationally. Although, from the 2019 school year, they will be joined by teachers and other staff at religious schools in the ACT (2,690.8 FTE positions in 2015).

 

The numbers of students, teachers and staff who can legally be discriminated against if they happen to be LGBT are almost too large to comprehend. They remain so even when broken down by jurisdiction.

 

For example, in my (adopted) home state of NSW, 409,728 students[x] attend, and 41,487.8 FTE[xi] teachers and other staff members are employed at, religious schools that can practice this (abhorrent) discrimination.

 

Of course, not all religious schools engage in the mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, teachers and staff. I’m sure there are many that refuse to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and aspire to be genuinely inclusive learning environments.

 

But the fact remains that these schools retain the legal ability to exclude LGBT students and employees simply because of who they are – and, in my opinion at least, I do not believe they can be fully inclusive until this ‘right to discriminate’ is removed.

 

And so, with the school year commencing, and parliamentary sittings set to resume around the country shortly, I would argue that Commonwealth, state and territory MPs (outside Tasmania and the ACT) should educate themselves about this unacceptable discrimination.

 

If they do, they might finally take action to ensure that all students can learn in classrooms that are free from anti-LGBT discrimination – and are taught by the best teachers available, including LGBT teachers, and not just the best cisgender heterosexual teachers.

 

If they don’t – if Members of Parliament continue to allow more than 1 million students to attend, and more than 110,000 teachers and staff to be employed at, religious schools that can lawfully discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – then those MPs deserve to receive an ‘F’, in 2019, and for every year until this unacceptable situation is fixed.

 

theres-no-place-for-discrimination-in-the-classroom

And there’s no place for discrimination in the school staffroom, either.

 

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Footnotes:

[i] Intersex students (and teachers and other staff) are not included in this article because, irrespective of their jurisdiction, they should be protected by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and, according to major religious groupings during the development of that legislation, the religious exceptions contained therein do not apply to intersex status.

[ii] What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[iii] It should be noted that the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of bisexuality, at all – it is included as part of the LGBT acronym here for the sake of consistency across the article.

[iv] For more, see Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016.

[v] Note that these provisions only apply to students – there is no equivalent section for teachers and other staff.

[vi] This would also reflect judicial interpretation of the general religious exception in NSW (including in cases like OW & OV v Members of the Board of the Wesley Mission Council [2010] NSWADT 293 (10 December 2010)).

[vii] Australian Bureau of Statistics – 4221.0 Schools, Australia, 2015, released 04/02/2016

[viii] This calculation is based on the total number of students attending Catholic and Independent schools nationally (1,305,843) minus the number of similar students in those jurisdictions where they are protected from discrimination: Queensland (262,166); Tasmania (24,142) and Northern Territory (11,671). Unfortunately, the dataset provided does not identify Independent schools as religious versus non-religious, although the proportion that are non-religious is considered to be extremely small. Therefore, for the purposes of calculating this estimate, all Independent schools have been allocated as ‘religious’.

[ix] As with the previous calculation, this figure is based on the number of FTE positions at Catholic and Independent schools Australia-wide (141,806.1) minus the 28.944.1 in Queensland where the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy applies, and 2,788.2 in Tasmania, where LGBT teachers and staff are protected against anti-LGBT discrimination. Once again, the dataset provided does not identify Independent schools as religious versus non-religious, although the proportion that are non-religious is considered to be extremely small. Therefore, for the purposes of calculating this estimate, all Independent schools have been allocated as ‘religious’.

[x] Noting that the caveat that applies to national figures (about the treatment of religious versus non-religious Independent schools) does not apply here – all non-government schools in NSW can discriminate against LGBT students, including non-religious schools.

[xi] The caveat – about the treatment of religious versus non-religious schools – does apply here however, because non-religious Independent schools in NSW cannot discriminate against LGBT teachers and staff, only LGBT students.