Recent weeks have been some of the hardest of my life in Christian ministry. Discussion of the Religious Discrimination Bill proposals fell into another debacle in the midst of concerted opposition and some brave Liberal backbenchers who stood out against the Bill's cruelty in the face of approaching election pressures. The political use and abuse of transgender people, especially school children, was particularly monstrous. Coming on top of several years of similar controversy and very slow positive changes in Churches, the pastoral burdens and spiritual impact was hard to bear. Thankfully, in the Uniting Church at least, opposition to the form of the Bill was expressed from the top clearly and positively. Particularly encouraging was the UCA President's Pastoral Letter which opens up possibilities for real progress, especially in addressing the deficit in transgender and non-binary care and celebration. In general however, there is such a long way to go and the 'gruesome week' demonstrated that amply. Media outlets, notably ABC's The Drum (see, for example, the clip on YouTube above) and the Guardian Australia (see article here) were kind enough to interview me and share some of my LGBTIQ+ faith perspectives, which I know are so vital to so many.
As leading organisations representing and advocating with LGBTIQ+ People of Faith and People of Faith who support LGBTIQ+ members of our communities, we urge that the current Religious Discrimination Bill be withdrawn from Federal Parliament and a genuine participative process be established to enable widely-agreed protective, not persecuting, rights for all. As it stands, the Bill can only enflame and enable further religious-based repression, without addressing the most pressing issues of religious concern, which impact upon marginalised people like ourselves.
So many of members of our religious communities are victims of religious-institution-based abuse and these experiences of abuse are a significant driver of our desire to see real safeguards for people of faith and all Australians, so that we are all able to live out our religious beliefs and other convictions without experiencing harm in our community places, where there should be safe places for all Australians.
We have seen (not least in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child
Abuse) how easily that safety can be lost - and how easily the true religious values of church or religious institutions are lost - when leaders exercise power without scrutiny and accountability. As LGBTIQ+ People of Faith, and People of Faith who support our LGBTIQ+ members, our participation in religious bodies takes many forms, but one central aspect is to challenge the self-serving actions of institutional leadership, and to create and push for checks and balances to the abuses of power and political influence in the hierarchies of religious bodies.
We are concerned that this Bill would further embolden those who currently wield so much institutional power, to use this power to the detriment of ordinary People of Faith in religious institutions and schools, who find themselves the target of harassment and bullying for their sex, ability/disability, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity - ordinary People of Faith who are there in every congregation and school, and who ask only to be accepted and supported in their faith journeys.. This Bill, as currently framed, would make it extraordinarily difficult for ordinary people of faith to experience this safety and acceptance; it would make it difficult for us to hold our leaders to account.
LGBTIQA+ people are to be found in every faith community, and have particular need for
understanding and support in contexts where they have historically been abused,
misunderstood and scapegoated. LGBTIQA+ People of Faith don’t just cease to exist
because a particular religious faction refuses to acknowledge their presence. LGBTIQ+
People of Faith and People of Faith who support LGBTIQ+ members of our communities
refuse to stop existing simply because an institution would prefer us not to exist. We are a part of our faith communities, and that we continue to offer service to our faith and our religious institutions. We ask that our basic human rights to be recognised and those of all other vulnerable people whose lives are at threat from this legislation.
Australian Catholics for Equality
Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Australia
Progressive Christian Voice
Rainbodhi LGBTQIA+ Buddhist Community
Rainbow Catholic InterAgency for Ministry
Sydney Queer Muslims
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...
Sadly the Australian Federal Government seems intent on once more causing trouble for its LGBTIQ+ citizens. For the recently released draft Religious Discrimination Bill again reflects the militant drive of the Religious (and wider) Right rather than a desire to find a pathway to recognise all Australians as equal in law, respect and value. After the pain of the unnecessary postal survey campaign on equal marriage, there has been little let up for LGBTIQ+ Australians as some others have pursued what often seems like a deliberate vendetta. Significant elements and figures in Australia's Christian community continue to be major offenders in this, obsessed with their own narrow sectarian agendas and preservation of power and privilege. The consequence is further understandable alienation of many from religious bodies. LGBTIQ+ people of faith consequently also find ourselves further marginalised, sometimes not always finding 'safe space' within the wider LGBTIQ+ community. The Right's drive to posit the nonsense of 'God v the Gays' and a repressive 'LGBTIQ+ agenda' thus currently bears fruit. Thank God therefore for the existence of bodies such as Equal Voices, the national network of LGBTIQA+ Christians and allies, together with other LGBTIQA+ people of other faith, and partnerships with some other key LGBTIQA+ groups and leaders. Together we seek genuine freedom for all. As a member of the Equal Voices national board, I thus felt myself impelled yesterday to speak out with others in our movement about the failings of the Federal Government's approach. This follows my participation in shared advocacy with other LGBTIQA+ people (as in my speech at the Brisbane rally recently). See here below further for the words of our media release...
I speak today as both a proud member of our LGBTIQA+ community, and also as a dedicated person of faith, indeed as an Anglican priest. I do so, because people like me are typically erased, our lives and voices ignored. Yet we queer people of faith do exist! - and we are increasingly seeking to be visible. For our very existence gives lie to the monstrous misuse of religion for political ends. We suffer particularly profoundly from religious discrimination. We do not want religious exemptions which hurt us and others, and betray the heart of who we are. We also know that the majority of our fellow Australians of faith agree with us, as we saw in that dreadful postal survey. So we’ve tried to lobby, spoken to Government inquiries, sought to be part of desperately needed change. Yet, as queer people of faith, our rights to religious expression are seldom recognised...
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.