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Protesters take to Town Hall against government’s Religious Discrimination Bill

In the wake of a chaotic parliamentary sitting week, hundreds of protestors condemning the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill converged upon Sydney’s Town Hall on Saturday.

The rally, organised by the Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR), was opened by April Holcombe, co-convenor of CARR. Holcombe decried the Bill as being “designed by the most disgusting bigots” and a threat that would set back queer rights decades. Unsatisfied with the Coalition’s claims that the contentious bill has been put on hold following the House of Representatives’ approval of multiple amendments, Holcombe claimed that the crowd was there to “make sure [the Bill] was killed and never comes back”.

Sumaya, a Year 10 student at Sydney Girls High School, offered her perspective as a queer Muslim student, someone who’s discrimination would be encouraged by the Bill. Citing statistics that LGBTQI youth were five times more likely to have attempted suicide compared with the general population, Sumaya acknowledged that queer children are already incredibly vulnerable without having to worry about discrimination by authority figures. 

The bill is not “only opening the door to bigotry” and “giving it a secure place in our society” Sumaya told the crowd, adding that it would force queer students, teachers and workers to “at best hide, or at worst lose everything”.

“The only thing on Scott Morrison’s to-do list is win the election, our safety is only a roadblock to his path,” Sumaya said.

NSW Greens Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) David Shoebridge turned his attention to the bill’s justification, and stressed the need to continue the work of decades of queer rights activists. Shoebridge said that “freedom is no green light to bigotry” and decried parliament’s attempt to prioritise the rights and freedoms of one group over those of others. He emphasised that the type of politics which created this Bill  “can never be the politics of our country”.

Skip Blofield, a nurse at Westmead Hospital and branch secretary of the NSW Nurses & Midwives Association, said that the Bill’s rationale sets a precedent to threaten religious and other protections. Blofield was critical of the state government’s “let it rip” approach to the COVID pandemic, describing it as ignorant to the plight of nurses. They spoke in support of the state-wide nurses strike that is set to occur on Tuesday. Blofield described the suicides that Sumaya had earlier referred to as “murders by this system of heteronormative patriarchy”.

Moira, who like Sumaya did not use their surname, was the rally’s final speaker. A high school teacher and unionist, they referred to the events at Citipointe Christian College earlier this month as “the stalking horse, a trial to see if they could get away with it”. Moira appealed to the queer community’s mass support for a “clear principled stance against the bigots” and a “fight for real equality and freedom”.

A focus of the rally was the Bill’s needlessness. While much attention was aimed at the Coalition, Labor was widely condemned by speakers. Moira labelled the party as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and expressed their distaste at the conclusion of Stephen Jones MP’s speech in parliament. Lofield’s description of Anthony Albanese’s political gymnastics was similarly dismissive.  Although rain intermittently threatened to deter the crowd, numbers remained strong through the action.

Following the speeches, protestors marched down George Street and Pitt Street Mall’s busy thoroughfares before arriving at Queen’s Square. A multitude of trans and other pride flags decorated the march with placards, including crowd favourites “Homos Against Scomo” and “If God hates queers why are we so cute”.

Protests for queer and trans liberation will continue with a protest organised along Oxford Street for the day of Mardi Gras. With the Religious Discrimination Bill not yet dead, Mark Latham’s similarly destructive bill still before state parliament, and trans and gender diverse people still facing widespread and worsening disadvantage, these actions remain important.