Religious family violence services pledge not to discriminate

Religious family violence services pledge not to discriminate

Today, ten faith-based family violence services made a public pledge to provide inclusive and non-discriminatory services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex (LGBTI) people in Victoria.

The pledge – signed by large faith-based service providers including Anglicare Victoria, VincentCare Victoria, The Salvation Army, Sacred Heart Mission, Good Shepherd and JewishCare – reads:

We welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex (LGBTIQ) people at our services. We pledge to provide inclusive and non-discriminatory services to LGBTIQ clients.

Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, welcomed the pledge and its significance.

"All people escaping family violence or in desperate need of housing should be treated with dignity and respect. Today’s pledge is a pivotal step forward for LGBTI people to feel confident that they can seek support when they most need it."

In 2016, the Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended measures to encourage service providers to adopt inclusive practices to address the potential for discrimination against LGBTI people seeking assistance when fleeing family violence. 
In addition to the pledge, the ten religious organisations are also undergoing LGBTI inclusive accreditation and training, such as the 'Rainbow Tick'.

"Many LGBTI people fear they’ll be mistreated when they seek help because of the public positions of some religious organisations and existing laws which allow taxpayer-funded religious organisations to discriminate in service delivery. Today’s pledge draws a line in the sand. It says to LGBTI people – you will not be turned away because of who you are or who you love," said Ms Brown.

Anti-discrimination laws contain broad exemptions for religious bodies to refuse to provide facilities, goods and services to LGBTI people where this accords with religious doctrine or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of their followers. The 2016 Royal Commission report recommended reform to these exemptions but this is yet to lead to legal change.

"Religious exemptions in discrimination laws already act as a barrier to vulnerable and marginalised Australians trying to access the support services they need. Today, ten of the largest faith-based service providers said they don’t want these exemptions. It’s time for the law to catch up," said Ms Brown.

The scope of these exemptions was considered in the Religious Freedom Review, which is yet to be released publicly. As part of the review, the Human Rights Law Centre called for the exemptions that allow religious organisations to discriminate in the provision of facilities, goods and services to be removed, particularly for government funded services.

"It’s time for the Morrison Government to remove these blanket religious exemptions and end the harm they cause to vulnerable communities. Religious service providers and LGBTI people agree – we should all be able to access inclusive and non-discriminatory services, particularly when it comes to family violence, housing, health and other basic social support," said Ms Brown.

The HRLC Religious Freedom Review submission can be found here.

For interviews call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519