Dear Mr Ruddock, Professor Croucher, Dr Bennett, Fr Brennan, and Professor Aroney, or to whomever this may concern,
I’m writing this submission to you today in regard to the Inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief, as young gay man who wishes to share my experiences and insights with you, to hopefully persuade you that there is no need to create even more exemptions for private and religious organisations, and that many of the current exemptions go to far and allow for unjust discrimination; discrimination the majority of Australians do not support.
I attended high school at the conservative Hillcrest Christian college in Victoria. I never knew what the laws were regarding whether I could legally be expelled or not (which I recently discovered I lawfully could have been under current state law), and I could never find any online resource from any government website that clarified the issue for me, so I kept quiet. I faced a lot of uncertainty. The closest I ever got to a straight forward answer, was one day in Christian studies class. There was an opportunity to ask our Chaplin anonymous questions, so I asked if the school expelled gay students. In his answer, he beat around the bush a lot, but he basically said the school tries not to expel students. However, he did bring up a story about a gay year 10 student at Hillcrest from 2002. I had read about the story before. The student, Tim, was bullied relentlessly by his peers, and when the school asked him if he was gay, he admitted to it. The principle, Tony Ham, advised him to hide his sexuality, and that ‘invisibility’ and ‘discretion’ would protect him; a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy essentially. Tim refused, and was told “he didn’t want to hear anymore about this”, that he was “sinful” and he should just “shut my mouth about it”. Because he still admitted to being gay, they did not support him and the bulling from students continued, and even from a teacher who said he “had the devil in him”. He left the school a not too long after and studied using distance education, felling he had no choice. He did try to sue the school on the grounds of discrimination and neglecting their duty of care by not doing enough to prevent the bullying; but this is something hard to prove, turning into a “he said-he said” situation, and he lost the lawsuit. My Chaplin said he had essentially brought this all on himself, because his sexuality had made his straight peers “uncomfortable”. In the end, Hillcrest didn’t expel him, but by fostering and environment that was hostile to homosexuals and turning a blind-eye to the bullying, Tim was forced to leave.
As I went through high school, in my year level alone, I knew four other bisexual students who attended the school at one time or another. I also heard of a slightly older student who came out after he graduated, and a lesbian student in the year level bellow me. Those are just the ones I know of, around my age. The reason I am telling you this is to show you there are LGB students in religious schools; probably in all of them, and in greater numbers than you may think. Under the current laws in Victoria, and in many other states such as NSW, what Tim faced, is what all these students potentially must endure, just for being honest about who they are. In this situation, these students are the victims, not the religious schools; they’re not the ones that suffer, or have their education and safety neglected. They are the ones the government should be protecting, not the religious institutions. It is no way infringes on anybody’s religious freedom nor causes injury nor victimises them to be educated alongside a LGB peer, or to simply do the job you chose and be a math, or English, or science teacher to a gay student. They don’t need protecting, as there is nothing to protect them from. We are not some kind of threat. The schools and institutions are the ones with all the power over their student, and the students are the vulnerable ones to discrimination. The laws should be changed to protect us, because we are the ones that are need protection, from those who run religious schools and wish to expel us just for our sexuality. Nobody said you had to like your sexual orientation, but we shouldn’t be punished for it. As I’m sure you know, LGB people typically have much poorer mental health statistically than the rest of the straight population. However, no research has ever indicated religious people have poorer mental health outcomes than the rest of the population. Clearly, we are the ones in need of protection.
I have also heard of other stories in the news out of Western Australia. A primary school aged girl was shunned until she was forced to leave hear school, not even for here sexuality, but just because her father was in a relationship with another man. Who could possibly consider this fair? A relief teacher was also fired for being gay. Just like having a gay student doesn’t victimise you nor infringe on any bodies freedom to partake in whatever religion they should choose, neither does having a gay colleague or employee. Nobody should be out of the job for an aspect of themselves that’s completely out of their control, and it doesn’t impact on anybody else. Everybody deserves job security, and no other group of people, e.g. Aboriginals, must worry about being fired for how they were born, and LGB people deserve that same security.
A survey conducted by the Australian Institute in 2004 found 90% of participants agreed, LGB students shouldn’t be expelled for their sexual orientation, even form religious schools. 2004 was long before the marriage survey where 62% of Australians voted for marriage equality. Clearly, Australians don’t want students to have to suffer for their sexual orientation. For twenty years, Tasmania has had some of the best anti-discrimination laws in the country, and because of this, LGB students attending private schools in the state have been safe from discrimination and expulsion. In those twenty years, no private school has ever complained they wanted to expel a LGB student. Clearly, this is not as big of an issue as some are currently claiming it to be. Therefore, for these reasons, I believe there is no mandate for the government to continue to allow (or in the case of sates like Tasmania where it is already illegal, change the law to allow) students to be expelled for their sexual ordination.
Not only should we not be expelled or fired from jobs just for our sexuality, but neither should be denied service for our weddings. I have heard arguments that same sex marriage is against the Bible or Quran, so they should be allowed to turn away gay customers if the product or service they seek will be used at their wedding. Both religions also prohibit sex before marriage and divorce, but straight couples cannot legally be held to these religious standards in the public domain, so neither should gay couples. There are some people who would claim that their religion also prohibits interracial unions, but the law recognises this is unreasonable and unfair, so refusing service to interracial couples is outlawed, and so to should it be for same sex couples. Consider if there was only one bridal store in a small rural town, who refused to serve same sex couples for their wedding. Is it fair they - unlike heterosexual couples - would be burdened with the extra cost of having to travel far to purchase something that could easily be provided for them locally? I doubt anybody would be willing to compensate them, meaning they would unjustly be out of pocket because of their sexual orientation, just because somebody doesn’t like their relationship. I’m sure many wedding service providers see couples all the time they may dislike for a many number of reasons, but if the relationship is legal, they serve them. This should also extend to same sex couples.
Everybody is entitled to religious freedom and be able to worship whomever they wish, but religious freedom is not being above the law and able to unfairly discriminate against anybody you wish just because a religious passage looks down at some people. I remember during the senate debate on the marriage act, George Brandis proposed an amendment that would insert a line from article 18 of the ICCPR that states:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
What he left out though, was the next part that says:
Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
This part explicitly says while everybody is entitled to religious freedom, it cannot be used as an excuse to negate the rights of others, and I would argue that includes the right for people not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
Recently there has been much debate in Australia about Sharia law, and how non-Muslims do not wish to be subject to it. Well likewise how they do no wish to conform to the religious beliefs of others, LGB people do not wish to be forced to follow the rules of religion that ignore their rights. Just as a Christian would feel it to be unjust, for example, should they be forced wear a burqa because that’s what sharia says, we feel it is just as unjust to be expelled or fired because of what Leviticus laws says. Why should anybody have to suffer for somebody else’s religious belief? They shouldn’t – that’s their right.
We are not asking for special rights nor privileges nor to stop somebody from observing and following their religion… We just want to be treated fairly, the same ways as heterosexuals.
Thank you for your time