OPINION: The Religious Discrimination Bill and its impact

OPINION: David Kernohan, CEO of the WA AIDS Council

The Religious Discrimination Bill is causing disquiet and unease amongst members of WA’s LGBTIQ community.  And even though the Bill is not, as yet, enacted as an Act of Parliament, there is considerable concern about its possible impact.

The concern is amplified when public figures can construe personally held views into public statements, in a callous and cruel manner that takes no responsibility for their impact or repercussions – and then hide behind the cloak of religious freedom.

Indeed, many members of our community experienced the animosity and cruelty of comments that were made in the months leading up to the change in the Marriage Act. And given these events are still in our memories, the concerns about what we may experience if the Religious Discrimination Bill comes into law are valid.  My concern lies not with the legalities of the Bill, but rather how it will impact on the mental health of our community.

I am familiar with the corrosive and negative impact religion can have on our identity and sense of safety as an LGBTIQ+ person.  In 1974, there was an Honorary Royal Commission appointed to inquire into and report on matters relating to homosexuality.  My father, a Fundamentalist Baptist Minister, presented at this Royal Commission and pronounced that gay men went to hell.  He went on to reiterate this view on 7.30, prophesising that all gay people were deviants.

So yes, I have experienced the hatred and bigotry of religion firsthand within my family of origin.  So I ask the question: How will the LGBTIQ survive, or more importantly, how will it thrive faced with intense religious discrimination and bigotry?

Unfortunately there is no easy answer.  Dealing with animosity, bigotry and discrimination is toxic to mental health.  All West Australians are entitled to live with a sense of safety – conversely living in a state of continual anxiety or feeling unsafe takes its toll.

And so how do we build our resilience?

My advice is to stay true to yourself.  In writing this, I am mindful that it took me nearly 50 years to finally be true to myself.  So, this is not a throwaway line or something that is easy to achieve.  I know the challenge of trying to be true to yourself when the world is against who you really are.  Yet, even in extreme situations, there are little things we can do to honour our own truth.

When we find that space within ourselves where we can honour and be true to ourselves, we can understand that people who make cruel comments – even in the name of religion – have a problem, not us.  People who are comfortable and at home in both their sexuality and religious belief demonstrate the qualities of compassion, understanding and grace.  Those who are uneasy or afraid of their sexuality are often, as the Apostle Paul says, a resounding gong or a noisy cymbal.

Build a sense of security for yourself.  Friendship is often a way to have a sense of security, a sense of belonging and to know that you’re not alone.  Our friends are important.  Remember, by friendship I am not talking of our Facebook or social media friends who we never meet up with.  I’m talking of those friends we have who we meet face to face and spend time with.  Friends who know us, who are there for us.

Have a counsellor.  The role of a counsellor is different to that of our friends.  A good counsellor will provide a safe space for us, but also hold us accountable when we want to descend into self-pity.  A good counsellor provides objectivity that often our friends don’t give us because of the very fact that they are our friends.

Remember, if you are feeling alone, if you are feeling concerned about the impact this Bill may have if it’s passed into legislation, WAAC does provide counselling services that are available for you.  Please just contact us on 9482 0000 – we want to help.

David Kernohan