Today 50 organisations called on the Morrison Government to amend outdated anti-discrimination laws to ensure all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are treated with fairness and equality.
Last week, following leaks of the 20 recommendations from the Religious Freedom Review, many Australians were outraged to learn that under current anti-discrimination laws, schools and other services run by religious bodies are legally able to discriminate against LGBTI children, clients and workers.
The Government has committed to repealing discrimination law exemptions that allow religious schools to turn away and expel gay students, however there has been no commitment to protect trans and gender diverse children, or workers in schools.
Jo Hirst, author, advocate and mother of a trans child, said:
“We know that trans and gender diverse students achieve their best academic and mental health outcomes when they are supported by both their families and their school environment. Every student should have the right to be safe and accepted in their school community.”
“Our trans and gender diverse students just want to be able to attend school with their friends like every other student without fear and discrimination.”
Anna Brown, director of legal advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre and co-chair of the Equality Campaign, said:
“Australians voted for fairness and equality this time last year, not discrimination against LGBT people. Kids in schools should be worrying about classes and their homework, not living in fear of mistreatment because of who they are.”
“All children should be accepted for who they are at school. Every person should be able to do their job without having to hide who they are. Every school should be inclusive of all types of families. We should all be able to access publicly available services free from discrimination.”
“The very genesis of this inquiry was the deeply flawed idea that equality for LGBTIQ people somehow poses a threat to religious freedom. We reject this utterly, and remain concerned that conservative religious forces within the Coalition will be extracting their ‘price’ for marriage equality. There should be no price paid for equality,” said Ms Brown.
Felicity Marlowe from Rainbow Families Victoria said:
“We applaud the efforts of our parliamentarians to move to introduce legislation to address the discrimination faced by LGBTQ young people in our religious schools. We ask you keep in mind that our children, and in fact no child, should ever be discriminated against because of who they are or what kind of family they come from.”
“Being gay or lesbian or transgender does not mean we give up our faith and religion. For many of us this is not about either/or. I know rainbow families who really want their children to receive an education in a religious setting but worry that these laws make that hard or even impossible.”
“My message to politicians today is let’s not lose the momentum from the past week – act now to make schools welcome of all LGBTQ children, young people, staff and our rainbow families.”
The Equality Campaign, Rainbow Families Victoria and Alex Greenwich MP have been collecting stories from LGBTIQ people who had experienced discrimination or exclusion at religious schools to be presented to MPs in Canberra today. Over 48 hours, more than 800 people wrote to the Equality Campaign sharing their support for removing discrimination against LGBTIQ people in schools and sharing their stories of discrimination.
“No one should be mistreated because of who they are or who they love. Kids in schools should be focusing on classes, homework and building friendships, not living in fear,” said Ms Brown.
A former student from a Catholic Marist college has shared his story of discrimination at school:
“My peers' reaction to my sexuality was expected, losing friends, everyone hating me, girls feeling weird around me in the PE change rooms, people pointing and laughing at me, teachers on duty doing nothing and telling me "kids will be kids", but when my English Teacher also discriminated against me for my sexuality, I was shocked.
She had asked the class to write an essay on anything we felt passionate about as practice for our year 10 certificate, I chose a topic about equality for gay people. Before I even put pen to paper she asked me what I was doing and I told her. She called me up to her and told me that I was disgusting and that I will never be allowed to write anything like that in her classroom. She looked me in the eyes and told me that not only was I disgusting but I was a disgrace to the school and to my Catholic religion.
I said nothing while she was yelling at me, but when she was done I said "I believe love is love, regardless of gender". She instantly yelled at me to get out. She took me outside and screamed at me further until she got my year coordinator's attention, she told him what happened and he took me to his office where he told me, "You're skating on thin ice, and I don't know if we should let you into Senior School".
In my religion class shortly after, we each had to write a speech on bullying. I chose to not do my speech on statistics and how bad it is like everyone else, my speech was about my peers, what it's like to go from getting A's to being depressed and getting E's and I spoke about my experience with my English teacher. Three quarters of the way through I broke out into tears in front of my class and by the end of that term I had left the school. I'd had enough. I now work in retail and have no shot at becoming the psychologist that I wanted to be.
That school was a constant hell from year eight when my sexuality got out until the day I left, and now the rest of my life will reflect that school's actions, or should I say lack of actions to help me.
I know that it is too late for me to do anything; I know that I am now stuck in retail, but I am not writing this for myself ... The laws need to be changed; I wouldn't wish this on anyone.”
For interviews and media enquiries please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519