New inquiry must combat discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in religious organisations

4 November 2022 – National LGBTIQ+ group Equality Australia says a new inquiry into anti-discrimination protections must ensure Australian laws no longer allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in religious schools and organisations.

Justice Stephen Rothman will lead an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) review into religious exemptions for educational institutions under federal anti-discrimination and employment laws.

“Our laws should protect all of us, equally. Yet discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and the people who affirm us is happening today in religious schools right across the country because of gaps in our laws that make this discrimination lawful,” Ms Brown said.

“LGBTQ+ people and people who affirm us have told us about losing their jobs, having to hide who they are, and having experienced discrimination while working or studying in religious schools because of their sexuality or gender identity or beliefs about LGBTQ+ people.”

Under federal law, religious schools and other faith-based organisations have exemptions which allow them to discriminate against students, staff and people who rely on their services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, among other attributes.

“1 in 3 students and almost 2 in 5 school employees are employed in non-government schools, most of which are religiously affiliated. Everyone deserves the same legal protections from discrimination, no matter where they work or study.”

“It is not acceptable for a religious school – or any employer – to discriminate against a person because they are gay or transgender, or because they refuse to sign up to discriminatory beliefs about LGBTQ+ people.”

The terms of reference calls on the ALRC to make recommendations on laws that would prohibit discrimination against students and staff based on their sexuality or gender identity, but preserves the ability of religious schools to give preference to staff of the same religion.

“These discriminatory practises are not inadvertent or theoretical, they are happening in the real world to real people and their experiences must be central to this review process.”

Ms Brown said the law in Australia was out of step with 21st century community expectations and the day-to-day practices of many faith-based organisations.

“Every student should be able to go to school and feel free to be who they are, supported to learn and safe from discrimination, and no teacher should feel they might lose their job because of their sexuality or gender, or because they support a student who is gay or trans,” she said.

Ms Brown noted that that the ALRC review terms of reference did not include discrimination in broader religious organisations that provide services to the general public.

“The door should always be open to LGBTIQ+ people who need services, like healthcare, homelessness or disability support – no matter who is delivering that service. This review should consider closing gaps in our laws consistently so that all schools and organisations play by the same rules,” she said.

Equality Australia is currently conducting an online survey to hear first-hand from students, teachers and other community members about their encounters with religious schools or faith-based organisations.

“We welcome the Government’s commitment that any legislation it drafts will not remove existing legal protections and look forward to working constructively with Commissioner Rothman during the review process to ensure LGBTQ+ discrimination is never sanctioned by law,” said Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown.

“Our community now has the best chance in a generation to make the case for fixing unfair laws that allow religious schools and organisations to discriminate against us,” Ms Brown said.

To share your story and your views with us, community members are invited to complete the survey here.

Media Contact: Tara Ravens 0408 898 154. tara.ravens@equalityaustralia.org.au