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MOI: LGBTIQ+ Discrimination

15 May 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:30): In a liberal democracy such as ours, our laws should protect all of us equally. Most South Australians would recognise and support that principle. Yet LGBTI people are discriminated against by some religious educational institutions and faith-based service providers across the country every day. These organisations do so because our laws allow it.

A groundbreaking report by Equality Australia, entitled 'Dismissed, Denied and Demeaned: a national report on LGBTQ+ discrimination in faith-based schools and organisations', has found that LGBTI discrimination is endemic in religious schools and organisations across our country. According to Equality Australia, Australian LGBTI students are more likely to attend an independent school that discriminates against them than one that supports them. Indeed, one in three students and almost two in five staff are enrolled or employed in private schools, most of which are religiously affiliated.

More than 70,000 students and 10,000 staff in non-government schools are estimated to be LGBTI, according to the report, which includes 26 personal accounts of discrimination in these environments. Included in these accounts are stories about students who have been forced out of school or teachers who have been fired from their jobs or denied promotions simply for being who they are. In other cases, children have been told that they could go to hell.

The report also found that Catholic school authorities maintain a damaging and oppressive culture of silence, with nine out of 10 of those reviewed—educating 70 per cent of all students in Australian Catholic schools—publishing so little information about LGBTI inclusion that prospective parents, students or employees cannot tell whether they will be welcomed or whether they will face discrimination. This is also the case for one in three independent schools.

This points to a systemic suppression of LGBTI identities and lives. For young people coming of age and exploring who they are, the silence about LGBTI people is deafening. Silence says to these young people that they must remain hidden and ashamed of who they are if they want to keep their jobs or if they want to remain in school.

The report also found that almost one in 10 of Australia's largest faith-based service providers publicly discriminate against LGBTI people, while almost four in 10 are silent on their positions on LGBTI inclusion. Four in 10 people work for an organisation that has an unclear position or discriminates against LGBTI people.

The door should always be open—open to LGBTI people who need health care, housing or disability support no matter who is delivering that service. Sitting on the fence is no longer good enough. Services must be inclusive and say so to ensure equal access for everybody who needs support.

When introducing the report, the Hon. Michael Kirby AC, former justice of the High Court of Australia, described the broad-based religious exemptions and anti-discrimination laws as neither principled nor just. Justice Kirby states:

There is increasing understanding, and broad acceptance in Australia, that the past overly broad religious exemptions go beyond what is essential and sometimes diminish the enjoyment of the dignity and rights of others.

It is important to note that these organisations rely on billions and billions of dollars of public funding, but they are not required to comply with the same laws as other organisations when it comes to employment, education and service delivery. It really is appalling that these organisations getting government funds are getting a 'get out of jail' card.

Successive federal governments have failed to address these gaps in the law, which directly impact on so many people in our community. Indeed, the law in Australia and at the commonwealth level—and in all states and territories—is out of step with 21st century community expectations. It needs to change. Everyone deserves the same protection from discrimination, and if you get public money like these schools do, like these organisations do, they do not have a right to deny service to people who need help. They do not have a right to threaten the employment of their staff in our 21st century Australia. It is appalling.

There was a push at a national level to reform this, but it seems to have stalled over in Canberra and the Albanese government has not taken the action needed. The Greens are calling for the Malinauskas Labor government to step up and change the law at a state level. Friday is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. What a powerful thing it would be if this state Labor government stepped up and said we are finally going to fix this problem with our law to ensure that all South Australians, irrespective of their sexuality or gender identity, are equal before the law and get the same protection under the laws of our state.