Olympic champion Ian Thorpe fronts campaign against Religious Discrimination Bill

8 February 2022 – Ian Thorpe AM has teamed up with Equality Australia today to launch a renewed push to oppose the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill, fronting an advertising campaign across broadcast and digital services nationally. 

“I believe in equality for all. But the Religious Discrimination Bill privileges the rights of one group over another, and it’s just not on,”, said Ian Thorpe AM.  

“I was brought up in a Christian home and believe that people of faith should be able to live according to their beliefs and be protected from discrimination, but this Bill goes further, allowing discrimination against not just LGBTIQ+ people, but women, people with disability and other people of faith. It amounts to state-sponsored discrimination.” 

“The Parliament must come together to oppose this Bill, and the government must go back to the drawing board to deliver laws that protect all of us, equally.” 

The Olympic champion, LGBTIQ+ advocate and patron and board member of mental health charity ReachOut Australia today leads a delegation of people from affected communities that will be negatively impacted by the Bill to address the media and meet with MPs.

The effort coincides with reports that the government is preparing an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to prevent the expulsion of gay students, but which allows discrimination against both gay and trans students to remain lawful. The amendments also reportedly fail to address discrimination against LGBTQ+ teachers and other staff.  

“Discrimination against any child is always wrong. This government’s reported proposal fails to protect gay students from discrimination. By narrowly focussing on expulsion, gay kids can still be punished or harmed at school by being suspended, given detention or told they need to change or suppress their sexuality,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.  

“The proposal also leaves trans and gender diverse students behind completely, a particularly vulnerable group of young people with high rates of self-harm and suicide. This is a promise the Prime Minister made in 2018, and it’s completely unacceptable that the government would consider further delaying this reform to protect such a vulnerable group of young people, who deserve to be safe when they go to school, and respected for who they are.”

Olivia Stewart, a transgender Year 12 student who was asked to leave her Sydney Anglican school when she informed her school of her transition in Year 8 said:  
“When my parents told the school I would begin Year 8 as a girl, they made it clear that they would never accept me transitioning at their school. They said that me and my brother would be bullied and that if I just left the school, my parents would not have to pay the next term’s fees.  
“I felt rejected and unwanted. In such a difficult time of change, I would have to also deal with starting a new school on top of that.” 

“All young people deserve to be respected and safe at school, and I call on the Prime Minster to ensure that any changes to the law protect all LGBTQ+ students. They must not leave trans kids behind.” 

Karen Pack, a Pastor and well-regarded teacher who lost her job at a Sydney Christian college after announcing her engagement to her partner, Bronte, said:  

“I’ve been a Christian my whole life, but in 2020 I was fired for getting engaged to my wife, Bronte. As someone who has personally experienced the pain and trauma of discrimination from my faith community, I fear the impact of this Bill on young, queer people of faith who will be told to choose between their faith and their sexuality as a condition of belonging.  

“These young people are watching; they see what happens to people like us. What they need to see is their Parliament standing up for them.” 

Equality Australia’s campaign features examples of offensive, degrading and demeaning statements currently considered discrimination, that would be allowed under the Religious Discrimination Bill, illustrating the impact the so-called Statements of Belief clauses would have on LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disability and people of minority faith.  

“This Bill prioritises good intentions over the real life needs of people with disabilities”, said Sam Drummond, lawyer, author and disability advocate.  

 “I don’t want to be in a workplace where someone could feasibly get away with saying I’ve been punished by God just for being born the way I am.  

“I don’t want to see carers refuse something as simple as dressing a person because of the carer’s beliefs about their life choices. But that’s the signal this Bill sends.” 

Prakash Mehta, President, Hindu Council of Australia, said the Bill would expose Hindu Australians to discrimination in education, employment and religious conversion:  

“A large number of Hindus work in schools, hospitals, aged care and other charities run by other faiths. If this bill is passed, there is a potential that people of other faiths than their faith-based employer, school or hospital could be actively discriminated against because they are of another faith. People could lose their jobs or remain under stress by working there.” 

Australian Council of Social Services CEO Cassandra Goldie said: 

“This Bill is unnecessary and unjustified. We need laws to protect equality and human rights and stop discrimination in its tracks. 

“ACOSS is deeply committed to fostering a culture across our sector and the Australian community which is safe, respectful and inclusive. Our services are vital to save lives, to support people in times of need, and to work with people in a supportive and ethical way.  

“It is vital that everyone feels safe to access essential services, whoever provides them. No one should be excluded nor demeaned by another using this Bill as a justification. This Bill does not protect people from discrimination; it would create a licence for a small but sometimes very vocal majority to hurt others and create an environment that excludes them. The Bill must be rejected.”