At the beginning of the year, the Liberal Party tried passing a despicable bill that would allow religious institutions to fire workers, and for religious schools to expel students just for being queer. The Religious Discrimination bill is a bigoted bill, that arose from the right-wing backlash to marriage equality. The larger general public was made aware of the bill when the Citipointe Christian College tried to add a clause to their enrolment contract saying that students attending would only be recognised by their birth gender, and that being gay was a sin akin to bestiality and paedophilia.
This sparked a huge amount of righteous anger and public outpouring of solidarity for LGBTQIA+ students and staff. It was due to protests nationwide and mounting public pressure that an amendment was passed on the bill stating that religious schools could not expel queer students. As a result, most of its right-wing backers chose to remove their support and the bill was shelved. However, the bill isn’t dead yet.
The Liberal Party may have been kicked from parliament, but the Labor Party has said they still have plans to reintroduce a religious freedoms bill. It must be made clear that this bill, from its conception, is a right-wing attack on LGBT rights. No amendments to the bill can make it redeemable – especially coming from the Labor Party, who actively voted down Rebekha Sharkie’s amendment to include protections for queer teachers.
The Labor Party have always been terrible on the question of queer rights, especially marriage equality. They supported the Howard government’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. Julia Gillard in 2011, supposedly on the ‘left’ of the party and an athiest, declared herself to be “on the conservative side of the question,” and that exclusively heterosexual marriage was a “cultural institution of long-standing importance to Australian society.” Only after over a decade of fighting and ongoing pressure from below,did Labor switch their stance on the question.
After the loss of the election in 2019, Labor found themselves losing the support of the conservative, first-generation migrant Christian voter base and have since been campaigning on an even more right-wing basis in order to win back support. To the Labor Party, winning the favour of conservative voters is more important than the equal rights of queer people – that includes supporting active attacks to turn back the rights we have relentlessly fought for.
Time and time again, queer activists have had to fight tooth and nail against attacks from the political establishment. Stonewall, Mardi Gras and the fight for Marriage Equality were all instances where masses of people fought against our oppressive system for the rights we deserve. Every step of the way, the right have tried to push back against us, trying to introduce bills that would revoke our rights. The religious discrimination bill is not a dead letter. There is a very real chance that the Labor Party will bring it back, and when that happens we need to rally.
The Labor party isn’t going to offer protections for LGBTQIA+ people. If we want to continue to prevent ongoing attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights then we need to be prepared to continue the fight against the Labor government, just as we did the Liberals. Join Equal Love Brisbane in protesting against the Religious Discrimination Bill Saturday, June 25, 12pm at King George Square.