Over 60 LGBTIQA+ community members and leaders from diverse religions have jointly written to the federal government about its religious discrimination bill.
Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims have voiced their concerns in an open letter to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash.
United in their apprehension about the legislation’s potential negative impact, the group wanted to ensure that LGBTIQA+ people of faith are heard and their experiences are considered before the legislation is tabled to Parliament.
“Our LGBTIQA+ identities and our faith cannot be separated,” the letter said.
“However, too frequently we are forced to choose between these aspects of ourselves
“The LGBTIQA+ community is exposed to prejudice, bullying, verbal and physical abuse, as well as the threat of rejection from our families, schools, and spiritual communities.
“We are best placed to advise you of the potential for further harm that may occur if your legislation grants religious bodies and individuals further powers to discriminate against our community.”
The joint statement urged the Attorney-General to reconsider elements of the bill, saying it should not override existing discrimination protections for LGBTIQA+ people, women, people with disabilities, and people with different or no religious beliefs.
“Exceptions allowing faith-based schools and organisations to discriminate against others with different religious beliefs should be narrow in scope and based on genuine religious purpose only,” the community members wrote.
They highlighted the need for access to non-discriminatory and non-judgemental healthcare and the abolition of coercive ‘conversion’ practices.
Bhante Akāliko, Buddhist monk and founder of Rainbodhi LGBTQIA+ Buddhist Community, said that the LGBTIQA+ community already experiences significant religious discrimination through legal exceptions.
“Increasingly, there is little public appetite for even more religious prejudice in Australian society,” said Akāliko.
“Our faith should be a source of connection and wisdom in our lives. No religion should preach hate or harm others.”
Pastor Karen Pack, Co-pastor at New City Church and Director of UNPACKED International, said she was concerned that the bill “goes beyond protecting against discrimination on the basis of religion” to protect individual harmful views.
“In 2020, I experienced religious discrimination firsthand when I was fired from my role as a lecturer at a Christian theological college because I became engaged to my same-sex partner,” said Pack.
“Since that time, dozens of LGBTIQ+ staff and students at faith-based schools have contacted me to disclose the mistreatment, abuse, and ‘soft conversion therapy’ they experienced in these schools and colleges.”
Peta Fitzpatrick, Queensland representative of Uniting Network Australia, called the bill “dangerous for too many vulnerable people”.
“This bill gives licence for bigotry to damage our LGBTQIA+ community, particularly our young people and those with additional vulnerabilities,” said Fitzpatrick.
Reverend Dr Josephine Inkpin, Chair of Equal Voices, said the bill “sows discord where there should be reconciling action to break down the false divisions between people”.
Sidd Sharma, founder of South Asian community network FOBGAYS, said that ‘religious freedoms’ cannot justify “the exclusion of queer people from living welcome and fulfilling lives in our society”.
“The Government’s proposed bill lays the groundwork for bigotry and will only do harm,” said Sharma.
“This bill doesn’t represent Australia in 2021.”