Reaching out and sharing stories under the cloud of ‘religious freedom’

OPINION: Colin Longworth is a psychologist in private practice and a long-term volunteer with Living Proud.

It seems like serendipity, how after reading parts of a book on experiences of positive gay identity” where the author wrote of the power of sharing our stories, (to fellow LGBTI people and others) I saw a TED Talk by Tina Selig on “The little risks you can take to increase your luck”.

All this as we are about to have more debates about these ridiculous “religious freedom” laws. I feel it’s time to “take risks” by speaking up about the potential risks if these laws are passed, as well as cases that have already happened without extending these special religious rights.

As I see it, these laws, if passed will create a situation like Gorge Orwell described in Animal Farm. He wrote about how all the animals were equal, but some were more equal than others.

In other words people who potentially could be discriminated against, namely, Women, people of colour, those with a disability and LGBTI Australians (broadly speaking discrimination categories not of the individual’s choice) will have less rights than those who choose to adopt a particular religious orientation and then try to use that as justification for discriminatory behaviour.

While there are any number of opponents to these proposed changes (e.g. the Human Rights Commission, PFLAG, an LGBT group within the Uniting Church) it seems strange to me that the Labor party is “sitting on the fence” – perhaps afraid to be seen to be “against” protection of those expressing their religious beliefs.

Rather than recognising it is an “over the top” reaction to a few high-profile cases and political payback for some right wing and conservative members of the Liberal party, who were the “losers” in the marriage equality plebiscite.

I can only hope that these politicians wanting us to not have equal rights, will suffer the same fate as two former Liberal Prime Ministers – Abbott and Howard, where people in their electorates did not re-elect them to parliament.

Experiences of alleged discrimination against a person based on their Religious beliefs are probably fairly rare. Exceptions being some high-profile cases like Israel Folau (which has still to be decided as I understand it) and the Tasmanian fellow who was fined for trying to use his religious beliefs to justify some hateful and wrong statements in the context of the Marriage Equality plebiscite.

Overriding the Tasmanian anti-discrimination laws, to allow “religious discrimination” seems like a case of overkill.

However, I am hardly likely to be the only person in the LGBTI community who has experienced discriminatory behaviour on the grounds of someone else’s religious beliefs or practices, in the context of my presumed homosexuality. These cases do not necessarily get any publicity. But are probably the sorts of experiences or stories that should be shared more widely.

You might recall the case of a gay teacher (in effect) sacked by his Christian school employer, reported in OUTinPerth previously.

Two of my experiences have been in employment settings. In one I applied for a job as a webmaster for one of the major churches, where I’d be updating info on their website. Having had similar experience in an LGB setting I included that in my CV. (Also so they couldn’t claim later they didn’t realise I’m gay.)

However after being offered the job, a woman “further up the food chain” decided further discussions were needed. All the talk was about how the organisation was very old and had lots of rules and the like. But the proverbial “elephant in the room” was that I’m gay and not mentioned by any of us. The job was later withdrawn.

In another example, (way before I was a registered psychologist,) I applied for a job as a career counsellor at a private (i.e. religious) girls school. Having done similar or related work in the public service and also having had decades of volunteer phone counselling experience in an LGB setting, I included those experiences in my CV, as both were relevant to the context of the job I was applying for. Also so they couldn’t claim later they didn’t realise, or I’d tried to hide that I’m gay.

When it came to the job interview, (apart from other, more job-related matters) I was asked about my domestic arrangements? When I asked how that was relevant to my ability to do the job of career counsellor, there was no legitimate (to me) explanation. When I suggested that it was not really different than them asking a married woman what form of contraception she used (with contraception being “not approved” by some churches). Both would be irrelevant to a person’s ability to do their job. My question had my interviewer getting a bit flustered and she couldn’t really answer.

So to sum up, I’d say it’s time to share our experiences of discrimination amongst our family, friends co-workers, colleagues and our federal politicians and or their staff, to show how our lives will potentially be negatively impacted by these “Special Religious Rights” laws if passed.

Colin Longworth


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