LGBTIQ+ groups welcome Victorian bill aiming to tighten anti-discrimination laws

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As it currently stands, religious organisations have the freedom to make employment decisions on staff and applicants based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or parental status. 

It also means that any Victorian organisation can refuse to provide their services to LGBTIQ+ people who seek assistance, including safety refuges or food banks. 

Equality Australia says this has left people from the LGBTIQ+ community turned away from jobs or sacked from their existing roles at faith-based services, irrespective of whether their roles relate to the respective religious beliefs.

“What happens is that LGBTIQ+ people who don’t have funds don’t disclose their relationships or their gender identity, their sexuality and it means they miss out on accessing services that actually meet their needs,” CEO of Equality Australia Anna Brown told SBS News. 

“Because the law says that these organisations can discriminate, people are too scared to come out and be themselves and stay living in the closet. And not being able to be who you are is incredibly damaging,” she said. 

But Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) says the bill places unfair strain on religious schools which provided a commitment to its fee-paying parents that their staff would act as ambassadors for the religion’s values. 

“A Christian school should be able to insist their staff are advocates for the value of the schools and the parents expect that of the school,” ACL deputy director Dan Flynn said.

“It’s an extraordinary attack on religious freedom in Christian schools – right when schools are doing it tough, just out of lockdown … the government should not be dictating to a Christian school who it can employ or in what roles,” he said.

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Ms Brown highlighted the intersectionality of the issue, saying “there are people out there who are gay, or bisexual or transgender, and they could be devoutly Christian and it shouldn’t have to be a choice.”

While the bill is celebrated by Equality Australia, it still allows non-government funded organisations to refuse their services to LGBTIQ+ people – something the group is lobbying to change.

The proposed reforms are set to be debated in parliament in November, where advocacy groups like Equality Australia hope it will be met with bipartisan support.

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