No religious exemptions in education on intersex grounds in the Sex Discrimination Amendment

We’ve heard reports today that Alex Greenwich MP is to introduce legislation into the NSW state parliament to prevent discrimination against gay, or LGBT, or LGBTI students. The language varies from report to report, but we need to point out that the new federal Act will prevent discrimination against intersex students on religious grounds.

Here’s the Gay Star News report:

Greenwich said in a statement to GSN … “The threat of expulsion for being who you are has a hugely negative impact on vulnerable LGBTI high schools students.”

Greenwich said his electorate of Sydney has the highest number of same-sex couples in Australia and a thriving LGBT and intersex community, but no public high school to attend where LGBT and intersex youth were safe from the risk of expulsion.

Greenwich, a former spokesman for lobby group Australian Marriage Equality, said the national campaign for marriage equality had increased the acceptance and tolerance of LGBT and intersex Australians and it was time the law reflected this.

Religious exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act are facilitated in sections 37 and 3. Education is covered in section 38, and no exemption applies to intersex. From the Explanatory Memorandum:

The Bill will extend the exemption at section 38 of the SDA, so that otherwise discriminatory conduct on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity will not be prohibited for educational institutions established for religious purpose. Consequently, the Bill will not alter the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in respect of the new grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Bill will not extend the exemption to cover the new ground of intersex status. During consultation, religious bodies raised doctrinal concerns about the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, no such concerns were raised in relation to ‘intersex status’. As a physical characteristic, intersex status is seen as conceptually different. No religious organisation identified how intersex status could cause injury to the religious susceptibilities of its adherents. Consequently, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of intersex status will not limit the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.

Intersex organisations support moves to end discrimination against all people who suffer homophobia – but there are clear risks for us if people are either unaware of the legislation, or some lesser, less appropriate or less accurate form of protection is pursued at a state level.

More information

More information by OII Australia on the Sex Discrimination Amendment