Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) held a rally today outside Town Hall protesting against the religious vilification bill, demanding that trans rights be defended and extended and that there is no discrimination in schools and workplaces.
Green spokesperson for LGBTQI+ policy in NSW’s Parliament, Amanda Cohn, explained the Labor State Government’s recent bill that made amendments to the Anti Discrimination Act by adding protection against religious vilification.
“Their definition of religious activity was so broad that it accidentally included religious activity that is unlawful under other acts. So what they’ve done is if religious people protest outside an abortion clinic, which is illegal under the Public Health Act, and they’re asked to move on, they can now make a complaint about religious vilification,” Cohn said.
“We’ve had a promise from the Labor Party to ban so-called conversion practices. And there’s a risk that [conversion protections are] going to be protected”.
Due to these broad legislative definitions, Cohn stressed the importance of continued pressure that people need to keep on the government, as the entire Act has been promised to go to the Law Reform Commission.
“Now it’s more important than ever to stay loud, to stay united, to keep the pressure on so that the Law Reform Commission will make those changes that we need,” Cohn said.
The rally was endorsed by Australian Services Union NSW & ACT Branch, with secretary Angus McFarland similarly adding that he “welcomes that the new government has committed to do a review of discrimination law, but to first make adjustments for one group while others have to wait is just not good enough.”
McFarland added an anecdote about the Coalition government eight years ago when they decimated women’s refuges across New South Wales, with many being taken over by the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army had attempted to force members to sign employment contracts that required the upholding of teaching of their church. Without action and criticism, the contract would not have been withdrawn. McFarland notes that “the religious vilification laws that have passed are so broad that they could threaten campaigns against contracts like that again.”
“Because anti discrimination law should liberate, it should not discriminate. We need an end to religious exemptions, we need equality without exceptions, we need equality without compromise.”
First Mardi Gras Incorporated and People with Disabilities Australia (PWDA) spokesperson David Abello spoke to lessons that he’d learnt in his confrontation with the religious right, “that it’s okay to mock them, and it’s okay to use other devices like allegory, or irony, or juxtaposition. And I recall, of course, they tried to do the same thing to us once, when they marched up Oxford Street in 1989 with mops and brooms to do a cleansing of the street.”
Abello was the first openly queer president elected in PWDA in 2018 and 2019, noting different but similar concerns with the Religious Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act.
“We don’t support religious exceptions and statements of belief to be exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act. In fact, it brings us back to the religious model of disability by allowing people to believe certain things about disability based on their religious beliefs.
“The DDA is our best defence against ableism and a key way of ensuring that LGBTIQ people with disability have access to safe and accessible support. Religious exceptions will limit further the number of safe and accessible supports, but an even better defence than the DDA would be a National Human Rights Charter with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities enshrined in it,” Abello said.
National Union of Students Queer Officer Damien Nguyen highlighted the reality that existed before the passing of the bill where preferential hiring “had been a real political battle that queer workers had to fight against. That even before this bill in NSW right now exists a system that allows schools to not hire a queer teacher because of who they are.”
Nguyen noted the upcoming introduction of Alex Greenwich’s Equality Bill, which “the community have to welcome… [but] we must fight for more, and we must address the bill’s shortcomings.
“The bill failed to address the reality that sex workers on the street right now are denied housing. The bill at this moment failed to address the reality that for being a sex worker, you can have your bank account frozen. And furthermore, the bill failed to address religious exemption. That is a shame.”
Lannen Stapleton, from Parents for Trans Youth Equity, noted that the Equality Bill would enable trans people to amend the gender marker on their certificate without having surgery, but only if you are 16 years and over. “This bill does not support trans youth under 16 years of age that are in out of home care, that are homeless, and trans youth that have a parent listed on their birth certificate that does not support them.
“At age 14 kids can, quite rightly, have their own Medicare card, see a doctor without their parents, undergo treatment, unless the child is transgender.”
As a proud parent of two kids, Stapleton states three requests, “we demand new legislation that prohibits conversion therapy for trans youth. We demand fully funded, multidisciplinary, accessible gender care for all youth across New South Wales. And three, we demand inclusive, age appropriate education in all schools across New South Wales that let trans kids know they are open.”
Another rally will be held on September 2nd at 9pm on Oxford street hosted by Pride in Protest. To reclaim space after an increased presence of organised street harassment and assault.