Maintaining the rage against political and religious conservatives

In the euphoria about finally getting marriage equality in Australia, readers of OUTinPerth may not have noticed (or forgotten) that the Prime Minister, (apparently as a way of trying to silence conservatives in his party and the broader community) has formed an expert panel to examine religious freedom in Australia – led by former MP Philip Ruddock.

To quote the Prime Ministerial media release; “In undertaking its review the panel will:

  • consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights;
  • have regard to any previous or ongoing reviews or inquiries that it considers relevant; and
  • consult as widely as it considers necessary”

As the 14th December press release labelled “Protecting freedom of religion in Australia” says “Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world. Right at the heart of our success as a free society is freedom of religion. It is a fundamental national value, recognised in the Constitution.”   

Submissions will be accepted till 31st January 2018. You can make a submission online here.

In my opinion, I believe we really need freedom FROM religion. Taking into consideration how religion can as LGBTI people impact on our lives, either directly or indirectly.

Here I am not talking about those who (uninvited) come knocking on your door, or try to stop you in the street trying to proselytise (or convert) you to their religious group. Here I am talking about denial of employment in church based schools, or other settings. Or alternatively faith based employers expecting their LGBTI employees to “stay in the closet” (notwithstanding the negative psychological impacts on that), or seeking to oppose Safe Schools initiatives.   

It is not as though they are like the old laws where having sex between consenting adults was illegal, which meant gay men had the risk of prosecution if they were “found out”. Here we have examples of people losing their jobs. This is about practices that impact on people now.

Regular readers of OUTInPerth will have seen the recent example of Craig Campbell and South Coast College. In the same article there was the report of a Mandurah school threatening to expel a student because the father was in a same sex relationship. (Talk about the “sins” of the father!)

When I was doing my research for my own submission to the enquiry, I found a 2015 research article by Tania Ferfolja and Efty Stavrou on the “WORKPLACE EXPERIENCES OF AUSTRALIAN LESBIAN AND GAY TEACHERS: FINDINGS FROM A NATIONAL SURVEY”.

The article says that “historically, lesbian and gay teachers working in schools have experienced silencing, invisibility, and discrimination. This paper reports on research that examined the experiences of self-identified lesbian and gay teachers working in a variety of school types and school systems across Australia. Specifically, it explores these teachers’ experiences of their sexuality in relation to factors associated with enabling or disabling a queer-positive culture and climate in the workplace.” 

A 2015 SBS news article I also found as part of my research, referred to experiences of teachers via a study with 14 lesbian and gay teachers working in metropolitan Sydney. Fairly clearly issues around LGBTI teachers in faith based schools are a problem.

In my submission I covered a range of aspects including; a.) The recent South Coast College case (as detailed in OIP and elsewhere); b.) Conflict between individual rights and beliefs versus expectations in a secular civil society where the incidence of religious practice and belief is declining; c.) Concerns about how “reparative therapists” (pray the gay away!) might claim religious freedom; d.) My own experience of having a job offer withdrawn by one of the major churches (using quotations from emails); e.) How the inquiry itself is (in my opinion) an attempt to placate the losers in the recent, unnecessary and expensive postal survey.

For those with the time and inclination to write submissions (e.g. perhaps students on leave from TAFE or university) it can be interesting looking at the sorts of information that can be found on the internet potentially worth quoting. As I said in my submission:

As the Australian Conservatives Party say on their website, under the heading ‘Personal Responsibility’:

“Personal responsibility is central to the idea of a free society.”

We believe that each individual is morally responsible for, and should bear responsibility for their actions.

In this context I would say that individuals or organisations should not seek to abrogate the responsibility for discriminatory actions by claiming some sort of higher authority.

I also noted how:

“I would tend to agree with the Australian Conservatives Party when they say on their website “…that sustaining freedom is not always easy, for there will always be some who seek to oppose and restrict it.”

I see proposals for special religious rights as such a restriction.

Bottom line: We need to continue to maintain the rage and “keep the bastards honest” by letting the government know that special religious rights have no place in human rights and equal opportunity laws in modern secular Australia.

Colin Longworth

(Colin is a long-time volunteer with Living Proud and its predecessor organisations, as well as being a Psychologist in private practice.)

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