Long overdue legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people have been welcomed by leading human rights organisations and LGBTI community groups.
The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy, Anna Brown, said the passage of the Sex Discrimination (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Amendment Bill 2013 was an historic advance for the rights of LGBTI people and their families.
“These laws finally deliver legal protections from discrimination at a national level, filling important gaps in protection and setting a new national standard for the protection of transgender, intersex and gender diverse people," Ms Brown said.
The Sex Discrimination (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Amendment Bill 2013 achieved passage through the Australian Parliament on Tuesday evening when the House of Representatives approved the Bill, including amendments opposed by the Opposition in the Senate.
The Bill extends protections under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to the new attributes of ‘gender identity’, ‘sexual orientation’, ‘intersex status’ and ‘relationship status’. The Bill also ensures that Commonwealth funded aged-care providers are not able to discrimination in the delivery of services to elderly LGBTI people.
Ms Brown welcomed the limitation on discrimination in aged care, an important first step in the removal of the broad exemptions for religious organisations, which are unjustified and inconsistent with Australia's obligations under international human rights law.
"Contrary to recent public statements by the Coalition, freedom of religion does not supersede or 'trump' other rights, and must be balanced with the right to equality, particularly when public funds and vulnerable people are involved," said Ms Brown.
The Coalition's lack of support for the Government's amendment to limit discrimination in aged care has been met with disappointment and surprise, considering that large faith based aged care providers such as Catholic Health Australia, UnitingCare, Anglicare Australia and Mission Australia, have publicly supported the reforms.
"These laws help ensure that LGBTI Australians, many of whom lived through years of criminalisation, stigmatisation and exclusion, are treated with dignity and respect as they age," added Ms Brown.
The Human Rights Law Centre has been closely involved in the development and passage of the SDA Bill. This culminated in intensive work in the weeks and days the Bill was debated in the parliament, including important advocacy work on the ground in Canberra. Working closely with key LGBTI advocates and the offices of the responsible Ministers, we briefed and met with members of the Coalition and Government, as well the independents and the Greens, to secure support for the passage of the legislation through both houses of parliament.
"Nationally, 33 per cent of aged care providers are religiously run. In some geographical areas this can equate to between 70 to 100 per cent of available places in their area. The luxury of choice is simply not available for many people,'' said Ms Brown.
“LGBTI Australians continue to suffer significant levels of violence, harassment, and discrimination in Australian society due to long held prejudices. The HRLC welcomes the advances in this important legislation, but a lot of work still lies ahead to achieve true equality for LGBTI communities and their families,” Ms Brown said.
The SDA Bill was introduced after the Government shelved its Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill which would have consolidated federal anti-discrimination legislation — a decision met with extreme disappointment from the HRLC and other rights organisations.
A copy of the HRLC’s submission on the SDA Bill is available here.
For further information or comments, please contact: Anna Brown on 0422 235 522 or Anna.Brown@hrlc.org.au