Beyond Religious Privilege and Segregation: Becoming Good Neighbours as LGBTIQA+ and religious Australians together
Sometimes Parliament is seen as a soap opera. If only it were! For though it remains so white and suburban, even TV’s Neighbours has just included a transgender character. It is a positive sign of the times but makes recent political developments all the more incongruous. For whilst the wonderful Georgie Stone enlivens Erinsborough High, in politics a green light is being given to repression. Why are we rushing towards religious discrimination laws when we’ve not yet even sorted our schools issues? So the question I want to pose is this: what kind of neighbours do we want to be as Australians together?
Current parliamentary discussion is failing trans people - not least those of faith - in both process and specific proposals. Hence Equal Voices calls for postponement, into at least the middle of next year, to enable genuine consultation with those who will bear the greatest cost. The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill is a move towards enshrining disturbing forms of religious privilege and segregation which can only corrode our pluralist culture...
Three aspects stand out.
Firstly, the Bill promises to exacerbate existing harm. Since the awful postal survey, trans people in particular have been under attack. More vulnerable than even our gay siblings, our stress levels rise further with the threat of legally backed transphobia. For, under the cover of religion, the Bill gives succour to those who would deny us our very identities, our health, even our lives. And this, absurdly, under a Prime Minister who rightly seeks to address mental health?!
repressing rainbow people of faith
Secondly, the Bill especially threatens rainbow people of faith. We are those who will suffer most - religious people damaged by something supposedly intended to help religious people. . For measures in it, notably clause 10, will consolidate the institutional power of queer-phobic religious groups over us. Even as they seek extra privileges, they hypocritically accelerate the denial of our own religious freedoms. So why, we must ask, is Government becoming an enabler of such repression, particularly after what Royal Commissioners have told us about the dynamics of institutional religious abuse?
For, thirdly, the Bill does damage to religion itself. Yes, religious people need rights of existence, worship and meaningful expression. Essentially however we already have those. What we don’t need are laws (such as clauses 8 and 41) which back up contested sectarian beliefs, at the cost to lives and an open society. Instead of falsely reifying religious belief, thereby licensing our religious demons, we need means to be true neighbours: building bridges not walls. Government should be encouraging religion’s better angels: love, reconciliation, and service. Jesus was explicit. ‘Love your neighbour’, they said, ‘as yourself’ - with no exceptions (read the book!): ‘serve others’; do not seek for privilege; ‘do as you would be done by.’
loving all our neighbours
We badly need constructive religious engagement not tribal paranoia. So let’s learn from Georgie Stone and Neighbours. Let’s explore fresh narratives with everyone included. Let’s stop the culture wars and re-emphasise Australian diversity together, loving all our neighbours. We can do this, as we rainbow religious folk, and some churches, already show. Indeed, I'm proud of what my Church, the Anglican Church in Southern Queensland has done to support transgender children in our religious schools. We show that respect for religion and rainbow people can work together. Privilege and segregation however, for whatever cause, are such disastrous dead ends.
from my input to the Parliamentary Friendship Group for LGBTIQA Australians and petition presentation by Equality Australia, in Parliament House Canberra, 9-10 September 2019
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.