Michaelia Cash’s office, site for Religious Discrimination bill protest

A small group of protestors voiced their views on the government’s approach to establishing a religious discrimination bill outside the office of Attorney-General Michaelia Cash on Friday afternoon.

Filling the pavement outside the Liberal senator’s West Perth office a series of speakers spoke of their frustration that the bill and its lack of protections for minorities including LGBTIQA+ people.

Speakers described the push to introduce the legislation as an attempt to drag on the debate over LGBTIQA+ people’s relationships that was fired up by same-sex marriage debate in 2017, saying the queer communities were being set up as  election debate fodder once again.

“I think it’s really clear, watered-down or not, inquiry or not, we know what this bill represents. What it represents really is revenge from the most right-wing sections of Australian society to the gains of equal marriage, of trans rights and for all LGBTI rights over the last five or so years.” said JJ Blackburn from Rainbow Rebellion, the organisers of the protest.

“They hate that we won in 2017 and they want to repeal our victory, they want to make it harder for gay students, for gay teachers, for trans students and trans teachers, and for LGBTI people across the country, so we need to oppose that.”

Kate Salinger from Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) echoed the view that the Religious Discrimination bill was a drawn out extension of the marriage equality debate.

“Conservative politicians like to talk about ‘what about the children?’ but I don’t know whose children they are talking about, because they are not talking about my children. They’re not talking about indigenous children, they are not talking about our children who have a disability. They’re not talking about female children.” Salinger said.

“Let’s be clear it’s called the Religious Discrimination bill, but they’re not talking about all religions, they’re talking about a very select few conservative religions, who are upset from when we won marriage equality – that is what this bill is about.”

“There are already rights for freedom of religion in our laws, we don’t need any more.” Salinger said recounting an experience her own child recently had in a state based school.

“They had a conversation with a chaplain who is in a state run school. That Chaplain said to them ‘I’ve deliberately misgendered you to see how you react.’ If that Chaplain, and I think it was just pure ignorance, but if that Chaplain had any knowledge whatsoever, then they would know how our young LGBTI people react when we invalidate them. They react with self-harm and suicide, and most of us present know those statistics.”

“He then followed up by saying that another trans student had allowed him to misgender them, and forgave him for misgendering them, because he allowed them to get away with taking the Lord’s name in vain. Like there is no power dynamic there.” Salinger recounted.

“Other people’s religion is not something the rest of us have to practice. Religious rights are already enshrined in laws. Laws that protect our children, my children, there aren’t enough by far.” Salinger said.

Police intervened when a man interacted with the protesters, asking to take take over the microphone and present the crowd with an alternative viewpoint. After a discussion with police he moved away from the protestors.

Also speaking at the event were teachers and nurses who voiced concerned about how the bill may affect their professions.  Rachel, who is a registered nurse, said the bill reeked of homophobia.

Highlighting that religious organisations run many hospitals she argued that the bill opened the doorway for thousand of health workers employed in the future to faced the prospect of being fired from their employment if they did not live up to the standards of the religious body behind the facilities.

“These institutions will be able to fire anyone in the LGBTI+ community, people who practice other faiths, women who support abortion or advocate for safe-sex and many many more marginalised communities.

“It means that a nurse will be able to say to a HIV positive person that they are going to hell for their sins.” she said.

“We’re taught in nursing that a patient needs to be educated about their health before their commence treatment or it’s not proper consent, will patients and residents that they care for, will they get the right information about birth control, or options about a unplanned pregnancy, or STI information?”

Petrina Harley, who is a teacher by profession, said it was shocking that with all the problems in the world our parliament was spending time trying to discriminate against members of the community.

“How ridiculous and how desperate are they. They always assume that they can use our lives and our issues for election fodder. Our lives are something people in government only care about when there is an election. It’s outrageous.”

“Christians are not discriminated against in our society. They are not discriminated in employment, housing, health care, education, as where we all know our people are. So why is our government passing laws that will allow discrimination against people who were already discriminated against?” Harley asked.

Isabella Tripp who will stand as a candidate for The Greens at the next federal election. Tripp said the bill put forward by the Morrison government would allow for discrimination.

“Discrimination will be sanctioned against people at schools, university campus, workplaces and on public transport. There will be no limits to which violent and harmful discrimination take place, shame on this government.” Tripp said.

“This bill is a direct attack on our freedom, a legally enshrined tool that will allow bigots to discriminate against queer and diverse people, women, people with disabilities, people of minority faiths, and first nations people. This bill would override the protections that exist at a federal and state level, it’s completely unacceptable and must be voted down.”

Following the speeches protestors broke out the chalk and left messages for the Attorney-General on the pavement and walls outside her office.

The police moved in quickly though to remove messages from the wall.

Graeme Watson

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