In recent months, the highly contentious Religious Discrimination Bill was thrust back into the limelight. As we know, the momentum it picked up in January was due to the leaking of a discriminatory enrolment contract distributed by Brisbane’s Citipointe Christian College.
How did the Religious Discrimination Bill come to be?
Remember when the Australian government sent out that little survey to see if Australians were in favour of legalising same sex marriage (AKA in favour of letting us have the same rights as everyone else)?
Well, that was only in 2017… I guess time flies when you’re battling against an oppressive and homophobic power structure.
2017: As Australia mailed in their votes, unequivocally saying ‘YES’, concerns arose amongst some politicians, religious leaders and activists amongst the over 4 million people who voted ‘NO’, with many expressing fears that their way of life was under siege. They claimed the legalisation of same sex marriage would infringe on their ability to practice and express their religion freely, as public institutions like schools, places of worship and workplaces changed to conform to the new status quo.
The fierce debate prompted then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to commission a review of religious ‘freedoms’ in Australia.
2018: In December of 2018, the review of religious freedoms in Australia was released under the current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison…who we all know loves his ‘freedoms’. It found Australian law should better protect and promote ‘freedom’ of religion. So much for a secular society, huh?
2022: As news of Citipointe Christian College’s contract went viral on social media, and the firestorm of backlash from past students, staff and the public continued to grow, the Brisbane-based school was sent into crisis mode, reluctantly retracting their contract.
Fast forwarding to today, the Morrison government has passed the Religious Discrimination Bill, but with amendments made to the Human Rights Amendment Bill which now prevents the discrimination of students on gender and sexuality by religious schools.
As the fight against discrimination rages on, many in the LGBTQ+ community have spoken out.
A Modern Gay’s Guide reader shares their story, detailing just how impactful this bill has been to them.
“When the third draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill was introduced to the Australian Parliament by the Prime Minister, my body trembled, as it did with the previous two submissions.
The message I received from the highest office in Australia was the same I received for most my attuned life: the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people are up for debate; they are secondary to that of others; and that our lives are of lesser value. It is the same message I received throughout my youth, having attended a religious school.
Sleep was stolen fretting about the parliamentary outcome, my mind consumed by the ramifications of the law passing, and normal every-day activities progressed into marathons. It felt like the hard-fought freedom trajectory achieved after marriage equality was being hauled from beneath us.
Immediately I felt isolated, small and powerless listening to the Prime Minister advocate for the Bill. His words transported me back, and resurfaced the emotions when I was sitting alone across from my school’s Headmaster. I was in his office, pushing back against the religious teachings that fostered debilitating shame, and a crippling fear of social rejection if I ever ‘gave in’ to my gay calling. I optimistically believed I could change my school’s perspective in this modern era. I couldn’t. After an hour of circling conversation between the Headmaster and I, my seemingly blind courage retreated from my skin. Strength grinded to dust. Fear choked my words. An unruly tear trickled down my cheek. I stood up and pointed for the door.
‘I’m… breather,’ I sobbed; the only words I managed to form. I paced for the door and closed it behind me. My legs quivered and my back hit the hallway wall. Like a python slowly wrapping itself around its prey, overwhelming pain began to envelop me.
I was no longer able to withstand defending my sexuality, something I held so tightly inside for so many years. Especially in the place that fostered so much of the fear, I only then began to comprehend how deeply rooted. How powerfully internalised. My mental health proceeded to deteriorate. I felt broken and that there wasn’t a place for me in this world. I lost sight of the value of living, and I wanted it all to end. Love and acceptance of those around me struggled to heal the feeling of invalidity and shame ingrained into me in such formative years.
Unfortunately, these are not uncommon feelings in the LGBTIQ+ community. And only after regular counselling did I come to understand the truth after that meeting. I am not broken. I am perfectly me. And the shame I battled through didn’t originate from inside my heart. It was absorbed. It belongs at the feet of the institutions and people who persistently push back on equality.
In today’s society of online perfection and fitting in, probably one of the hardest things you can be is your authentic self. The tabled Religious Discrimination Bill would grant a select group of people a licence to discriminate. It endorses backward and unscientifically supported sexuality and gender teachings that foster unnecessary trauma, and seemingly fails to consider the human impact on society’s most vulnerable.
The message being sent is wrong, hurtful, and harmful.
Religious freedoms do have a place in our society. However, when one’s freedom negatively impacts the safety of others, it can be dangerous. Consider this analogy: smoking is legal here in Australia, however, you are unable to smoke in some public spaces as it can be dangerous to the health of others. Similarly, religious freedoms have the right to exist, but should be restricted to ensure they do not have a harmful effect on others.
The current exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act allowing taxpayer funded religious schools to expel a student or fire a teacher for being gay or trans present LGBTIQ+ people as lesser, and among other things, feeds a stigma that it is not okay to be who you are born to be. As a secular, diverse and inclusive nation, we have to do better than that.”