Terri M. Kelleher
The Victorian Andrew’s Government has announced a “whole-of-government LGBTIQ strategy”. Minister for Equality Martin Foley issued a media release dated June 12 saying that Victorians will have the opportunity to shape the state’s equality agenda for years to come with the opening of “public consultation on the Victorian Government’s first ever whole-of-government LGBTIQ strategy”.
During the covid19 restrictions, Parliament had not been sitting as it normally would. This move – or strategy – has largely gone on under the radar. Who does the minister want to consult with? The public as a whole or just groups who demand LGBTIQ rights be promoted above those of anyone else?
The Government LGBTIQ Taskforce has released a Discussion Paper and people are invited to “submit ideas” on the policy directions indicated.
Just a few highlights.
What about the rights of parents to decide on the education of their children in these private and intimate matters that go to moral values and character formation? The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) says in Article 18.4: “The states parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents … to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
These matters should not be part of school curricula as it means some children will be taught things that are opposed to their parents’ convictions.
The Discussion Paper lists as a challenge in education that LGBTIQ experiences and LGBTIQ-inclusive information is often lacking in sexuality education. It is noted that the Safe Schools program seeks to ensure schools are safe places for all students, including LGBTIQ students, and awareness and visibility of LGBTIQ students has increased.
However, the Safe Schools Program and similar gender fluid sexuality-education resources and curricula don’t just tell children that some people can feel they are out of sync with their natal sex. It is designed to and invites children to question their own sexual identity or gender. It also invites students to think and talk about sexual relationships.
Sexual activity and sexual feelings and sexual pleasure should not be part of sex education.
The Discussion Paper sounds a warning bell for religious freedom. It proposes that the law prohibit discrimination on the basis of LGBTIQ status without religious exceptions, saying the Equal Opportunity Act currently includes “privileges for religious bodies to discriminate”, which it views as an impediment to equality.
The exemptions for faith-based organisations are to protect the right to freedom of religion by protecting acts done in accordance with the tenets, beliefs or teachings of the religion of the organisation. This is so as to preserve the religious ethos of the organisation.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the ICCPR. It is an inherent right and cannot be abrogated. Australia is a signatory to the ICCPR and has ratified it.
A religious organisation should have the right to ask an employee not to live openly in conflict with the teachings of its religion or to desist from activist pursuit of ideas or values that conflict with the teachings of that religion. If the employee is not willing to do so, then the organisation should have the protection of the “exemptions” to decline to continue to offer employment.
The “exemptions” are not an exception to discrimination but rather a positive acknowledgement that freedom of religion must be acknowledged and protected by the law.
The Discussion Paper notes that the Victorian Government has begun work to ban conversion practices.
What exactly are “conversion practices”? What exactly is to be banned? No one would oppose banning electroconvulsive shock therapy, or aversion therapy, or cold baths, or sleep deprivation. But is counselling that allows a person to explore their concerns about or desire to be rid of unwanted sexual attractions or to understand why they are feeling distress with their natal sex be a banned “conversion practice”?
Why should people not be free to make their own choices? Isn’t gender identity fluid? “Fluid” means it can change. Why should any person have to remain locked in an identity or lifestyle they may no longer want by a legally imposed ban on the treatment or counselling they may want to access?
The right of individuals to choose must not be legislated away. Otherwise, we are no longer a modern democracy.
Covid19 restrictions are necessarily forcing a new norm on all of us. Through this whole-of-government LGBTIQ strategy, the Victorian Government seems hell bent on imposing a new norm of what human rights Victorian citizens will enjoy.