National and international LGBTI groups respond to Attorney-General on Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill

March 20, 2013
Press Contacts:
Hayley Conway (and Finn Shearer), All Out, 0415 314 293
Anna Brown, Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, 0422 235 522
Gina Wilson, Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia, 0148 290 336
Justin Koonin, NSW GLRL, 0414 269 339
Peter Hyndal, A Gender Agenda 0408 111 410

A historic step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians
LGBTI groups prepared to fight for progress on limitless, blanket religious exemptions

Canberra, Australia – Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex organisations across the country are today applauding the announcement by the Attorney-General to amend the Sex Discrimination act.

“This is a historic step forward. This legislation will provide for the first time national protection for all LGBTI people across Australia, and it is worthy of bipartisan support” said Hayley Conway, Australian Campaign Manager for All Out. “It is critical that these reforms are more than symbolic and that concrete steps are taken to bring unfair religious exemptions into line with all other reasonable exemptions to anti-discrimination laws”.

Finn Shearer, a 16 year old Queensland student who identifies as gay, said “Giving all Australians equal protection is a really important step forward that deserves the support of every political party. But to make the protection real, it should apply to every organisation equally, whether they are religious or not.”

Leading Australian intersex organisation OII Australia, and transgender organisation A Gender Agenda, welcomed the introduction of Intersex and Gender Identity attributes into the Sex Discrimination Act.

“We thank legislators for this significant move away from gender identity in law when considering intersex rights.” said Gina Wilson, OII Australia President. “Protection in anti-discrimination law will achieve many things intersex rights advocates have been seeking for some years. Apart from providing us with an avenue for recourse in the event that we are discriminated against we think that this bill, if enacted, might also raise public awareness of the existence of intersex people, how we are discriminated against, and how changes in attitudes and perceptions can make our lives considerably happier.”

“This is a welcome move that will, in part, resolve the patchwork of state discrimination protections that currently exist in Australia.” said Peter Hyndal, Executive Director of A Gender Agenda. “Importantly we understand the Government will use the Tasmanian definition we advocated for, which will ensure all transgender people will be covered including based on their appearance, mannerisms or their identity.”

The New South Wales and Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobbies welcomed the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, which aim to provide protections from discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Federal anti-discrimination law.

“These reforms are long overdue and have been the subject of intense lobbying over many years.” Said Mr Justin Koonin, Co-Convenor, NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby.

“They are fundamental in the struggle to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in Australia. Whilst we obviously would have liked to have seen the removal of religious exceptions in the context of service delivery, particularly in aged care, as recommended in a recent Senate Committee report, these reforms represent a welcome advancement for LGBTI rights in Australia.” Mr Koonin said.

“While this is a significant advance for LGBTI people, we need to ensure that that a Commissioner is given responsibility for dealing with our concerns and that broad exemptions for religious bodies do not undermine the effectiveness of these new legal protections, including the risk of watering down the rights of people in States where religious organisations are not permitted to discriminate to the same extent.” Said Anna Brown, Convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

Despite the policy stated by the Attorney-General at his media conference that the government remains committed to not allowing religious aged care organisations to discriminate, it is understood that this protection will not be included in the government’s legislation to be introduced in the Parliament on Thursday.

“The decision to maintain protections for religious organisations delivering government funded services is particularly damaging, given the vulnerability of people in receipt of aged care, disability, homelessness and other social services”. Said Ms Brown

“There should be no exceptions for religious organisations, particularly when vital medical treatment such as hormones are needed by transgender Australians. The government needs to take quick action to deal with this, in this term, in the broader bill.” said Mr Hyndal

“We continue to call on the government to ensure that intersex Australians will not be included within religious exemptions, in recognition of the biological nature of their intersex status.” said Ms Wilson. “We will be reviewing the bill in detail to ensure this has occurred.”

All groups noted their disappointment that the Government is not guaranteeing introduction or passage of the broader Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 that would allow for recognition of discrimination on multiple protected attributes and improve the access to justice issues experienced with current anti-discrimination legislation.

“The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill would have strengthened protections for all vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people, and delivered a fairer and more accessible system for victims of discrimination. We encourage the government to do all it can to introduce the legislation before the parliament rises.” said Ms Brown.