On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), the Greens announced a suite of new gender and sexuality-focussed policies. Most notably, this included a commitment to remove the permanent exemptions to Federal anti-discrimination law. Currently, there exists a permanent exemption from the law for religious groups and organisations, meaning that they can legally discriminate against people on the basis of their gender, sexuality, or age. These exemptions exist in similar forms in most state legislation.
I work casually at a religious private school. I’m also queer. As a function of my job, I am required to stimulate the minds of my students, to encourage them to think critically about the world they live in and the structures which govern it. This, of course, in the time of the great marriage equality debate, and amongst the whirlwind of voices surrounding the Safe Schools Coalition, means speaking about queer issues, many of which are brought up by the students themselves. Some already identify as non-heterosexual and are looking for a supportive adult voice; some are confused by the issues and want to talk about how they affect them and their friends; and some are simply looking for more information.
I would love to talk to my students about these issues, because I know how important having a supportive and non-judgemental adult figure can be for teenagers just beginning to figure out their identity. However, in order to ensure I can keep my job, I have to speak about it in a way which does not align me with the queer community. Imagine having an extended conversation with someone about dogs, without ever revealing the fact that you own a dog.
This guise is particularly hard to hold when, for example, one of your students tells you the school wouldn’t let her set up a club for queer students. It is particularly hard to hold when you pass a rally in support of the Safe Schools program on your way to work. It is particularly hard to hold when you tell your students to watch the news for homework, only to have them hear members of the far right condemn people like you on a publicly funded broadcaster.
For most young people, especially those at university, who need to work casually and around an ever-changing schedule, employment is precarious at the best of times. The extra burden of navigating your way through a complicated series of unstated assumptions is jarring, particularly in comparison to the freedom of the university environment. The moral rigidity of the workplace is difficult enough to adjust to without having to erase yourself in order to fit into it. Where any exemptions to anti-discrimination laws exist, discrimination will inevitably take place, be it in the silences of things unsaid, or in the very real possibility of the loss of a job or stable income.
The permanent exemptions give religious organisations enormous power over not just the hiring and firing of employees, but over the rules and norms that guide our society.
Where discrimination is allowed to continue unchecked, it spills over into the attitudes of the general population and means that homophobia and transphobia can continue to wage their poisonous war on the queer community.