Ruddock religious freedom review shows fight for LGBTI equality not over

The 14-year campaign for marriage equality convinced thousands of queers to come out of the closet and be proud of who they are.

A review into religious freedom, headed by former Coalition attorney-general Phillip Ruddock, turned into a political bombshell for the Coalition government, following the leaking of its recommendations on October 6.

The review was a sop to the right wing of the Liberal Party after the overwhelming result of last year’s marriage equality postal survey. The government had kept the final report under wraps since May.

Among the review’s recommendations was the passage of federal legislation allowing religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers on the basis of their sexuality, gender identity or relationship status.

The leak could not have come at a worse time for the Coalition government, having generated significant community backlash less than a fortnight out from a crucial byelection in former Coalition prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth. 

More than 80% of voters in Wentworth supported marriage equality in the postal survey. 

A Fairfax-Ipsos nationwide survey published on October 14 found that 74% of voters oppose laws to allow religious schools to select students and teachers based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

Only 30% of Coalition supporters back schools expelling queer kids. 

The content of the recommendations are a clear demonstration of the gulf that exists between the backward social views within the Coalition and those of the rest of society.

It is also a reminder that the far right within the Coalition will stop at nothing to undermine marriage equality, roll back anti-discrimination laws and prevent programs such as Safe Schools.

This latest attack targets some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

Almost one-in-two young trans people have attempted suicide, a rate six times higher than that of young Australians in general. Four out of five young trans people have self-harmed, compared to one in ten adolescents in the general population. 

Queer children also have up to 5 times higher rates of suicide and self-harm than their straight counterparts. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed a mixed response to the review recommendations on October 11, stating on 3AW that “religious schools should be able to run their schools based on their religious principles”, but that he was “not comfortable” with schools turning away gay children. 

Labor quickly came out against the recommendations. However it was a Labor government that enacted laws in 2013 that allows states to pass religious exemption legislation that discriminate against queer children and teachers.

No wonder support for the major parties continues to decline, as people become increasingly fed up with back room deals, spills and unprincipled attacks on minorities. 

The 14-year campaign for marriage equality convinced thousands of queers to come out of the closet and be proud of who they are.

The campaign organised the largest rainbow fight the country has seen, propelling millions of people to take an active stand for their LGBTI friends. 

The last few weeks have shown the fight is not over.

Schools should not be allowed to expel students because they are LGBTI. Nor should teachers be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. 

Instead, we need to ensure queer kids and queer teachers are free to come out of the closet, safe from the threat of being expelled or sacked.

The marriage equality campaign dealt a blow to homophobia and transphobia. Let’s continue the struggle until these ideas — and the bigoted parties that promote them —are swept into the dustbin of history. 

[Rachel Evans is an LGBTI activist and lead Socialist Alliance candidate for the March 2019 NSW Legislative Council elections.]