Protest the Religious Discrimination Bill Before It’s Too Late, Says CARR’s April Holcombe

by Paul Gregoire
Protest discrimination

Morrison’s term in office has done a lot of harm to this country. However, possibly the greatest setback the current government poses to the nation is yet to come, with its potential to see the Religious Discrimination Act 2021 (RD Bill) passed in parliament.

With a few lines tapped out on a keyboard in the attorney general’s office, this legislation overrides all antidiscrimination law nationwide to allow the religious to speak and act in ways that are right now outlawed due to their discriminatory nature.

Removing these legislated protections designed to shield the vulnerable against the prejudice of the powerful will open the way for a society where overt bigotry and intolerance become the norm. And this is especially so for LGBTIQ people, whom the bill chiefly targets.

A sign of things to come

The general public was outraged last week, when it came to light that Brisbane’s Citipointe Christian College had sent out a contract to parents stipulating that it reserves the right to expel their children on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite the PM going on to criticise the school for doing this, the educational institution was basically following Scott Morrison’s lead on these issues, and the nation can expect more of these instances of sanctioned public bigotry if the RD Bill passes.

This week, Sydney’s Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) is holding another rally against the bill, and the group is warning that it’s time to get out on the street and express opposition before it’s too late, especially as Labor has now stated it will likely support the passage of the laws.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to CARR co-convenor April Holcombe about why the Christian college has come out with this contract now, the lack of a true opposition in this country, and the impact the religious laws will have if they’re not stopped.

Community Action for Rainbow Rights co-convenor April Holcombe

Last week, it came to light that Brisbane’s Citipointe Christian College had sent out a contract to parents stipulating that the school reserves the right to expel students due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

April, what are your thoughts on this development?

It’s shocking. But it’s not surprising. This is basically the first shot of religious institutions that want to be in the vanguard of discrimination.

They want to be in the front row of forces that are trying to test the boundaries of discriminatory powers.

That’s both those that already exist, like the exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act – which, unfortunately, already allow this sort of discrimination in our schools – as well as the anticipated powers they’re expecting from the government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.

It’s absolutely no surprise to me, or anyone else, that this contract has been produced a week before federal parliament debates this bill, which is set to do what this school has done. That is to make discrimination legal, more accessible and widespread.

The Citipointe contract is an absolute disgrace. It’s about trying to test the waters of what they will be able to achieve and it sends a message to other religious schools to try it as well.

The contract is connected to the Religious Discrimination Bill. It’s both a warning sign of what will come if it passes, and it’s also a sign of what these schools are already capable of.

It’s a sign of how broad the forces arranged against us are. They aren’t just the individual parliamentarians in the Liberal Party, as their efforts to pass this bill represent a broader layer of powerful interests in our society.

On all these fronts, what we are looking at is organisations that are determined to make discrimination – particularly against LGBTI teachers and students – completely normal, acceptable and legal.

The RD Bill isn’t the only such legislation under consideration. The NSW government has endorsed similar laws within two One Nation bills before state parliament.

One of these Mark Latham bills seeks to ban mention of gender diversity in NSW schools, while in the US state of Florida, laws that would ban the mention of diverse sexualities in schools are under consideration.

So, how do we account for these sorts of laws appearing not only in differing Australian jurisdictions at the same time, but further over in the States as well?

In countries like Australia and the US, a similar dynamic has occurred, where left-wing activists have successfully won over the majority to support LGBTI people’s rights for complete equality, whether that’s young people in schools and, especially, with equal marriage rights.

But also, it’s aimed at transgender issues which have progressed dramatically over the last few years.

What we know about the system we live under is that the rich and powerful don’t simply resign themselves to whatever we manage to win and claw out of their hands, because they then try to find ways to drag it back.

That’s what these bills represent. The Religious Discrimination Bill is presented under the guise of simply upholding people’s religious beliefs – or whatever nonsense – because they know they can’t outline what they’re actually doing front on.

But once those laws are in place, they will encourage and embolden more overt discrimination and more discriminatory bills, such as Mark Latham’s Parental Rights Bill, which very explicitly stipulates that no school in NSW, public or private, will be allowed to even mention gender diversity.

What you see around this issue is that if you let the religious right have an inch, they will take a mile.

Despite the gains, the battle is still ongoing, because we haven’t defeated these forces politically or completely. So, they’re always going to be looking at a way to claw it back.

Our approach to defeating them cannot only be to demonstrate just one time this week or this month and then rely on the pure arithmetic of parliament to block the bill.

It has to be that we build a political movement capable of defeating these people in the social sphere, in the broader political sphere and in everyday life.

We have to defeat them as an organised force, not just via legal documents in parliament.

The Liberal Nationals are pushing this agenda, and we have a chance to see a change of government coming up.

However, on Friday, Labor stepped up to say that it’s offering conditional backing of the Religious Discrimination Bill.

In your opinion, why is the opposition looking to back such regressive and divisive laws?

They’re not an opposition. They’re a bunch of spineless hacks who have been playing “me too” with the Liberal government for years now.

It’s a rerun of the years of the marriage equality campaign, which saw both major parties vote to ban it in the first place, then drag their heels and deny us our rights for 13 years.

But it’s an absolute disgrace that the Labor Party supports this, when a new poll has come out to show that three-quarters of people oppose the key attacks in the bill.

They’re basically supporting it and covering their arses with a few murmurs of concern, which will not prevent them from passing it.

For them, they’ve got it in their heads, as most parliamentarians do, that the more right-wing they are, the better.

This also helps them avoid standing up and saying that LGBTI rights are nonnegotiable. Labor doesn’t want to do that, because they think the Liberal Party will get an advantage in the election if they vote this legislation down.

But what the hell is the point of politics if all major parties are going to support what a minority of the most bigoted, right-wing and powerful people want?

This is a disgrace. But it’s in keeping with the Labor Party’s recent policies around things like climate change, with little divergence on what the Liberals are offering.

They’re one inch to the left, but no further.

And lastly, April, CARR’s Protest the Religious Discrimination Bill rally is meeting this Saturday. If people don’t get out on the streets and challenge these laws, what sort of society are we looking at following the successful passing of them?

We’re looking at a society where Citipointe doesn’t even have to retract the contract. And yet, in the last couple of days, it has been revealed that a school in Penrith did the same thing in September, which wasn’t even reported.

You can imagine how much of this is already happening in secret, and this bill is going to say, “Come on out and do it in the open, you’ll be legally protected.”

From there, you have to think about every LGBTI employee at every religious hospital, at every religious aged care facility or school or charity.

Every single LGBTI person who wants to access any of these services is going to be forced to hide who they are at best, or lose their livelihoods, their jobs or their education at worst.

This is going to give the conservatives the ability to make this sort of discrimination normal again. They’ll be able to say these are legitimate concerns, and they have the right to be bigots and to discriminate.

That is the kind of society that we are going to be dealing with if we don’t stop this bill. And the Labor Party is going to pass it through unless we kick up a fuss.

This just shows that it is us and them. It’s the ordinary people who support equality against a minority of elites who want to sow division and oppression.

So, it’s really important that everybody comes out to the protest this Saturday 12 February because we’re the only people who are going to be able to stop a bill like this.

CARR’s Protest the Religious Discrimination Bill: Defend LGBTI Rights rally is meeting at 1 pm Saturday 12 February at Sydney Town Hall

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Author

Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on social justice issues and encroachments upon civil liberties. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub. Paul is the winner of the 2021 NSW Council of Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism.

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