LGBTI youth win discrimination case against Christian group

LGBTI youth win discrimination case against Christian group

LAST UPDATED // Wednesday, 16 April 2014 19:38 Written by // Rachel Cook

LGBTI activists have welcomed a verdict by the Supreme Court of Victoria that has upheld a decision that a youth group was discriminated against.

In 2007 Cobaw Community Health Services, an organisation that aims to prevent youth suicide, particularly among same sex-attracted young people, was refused accommodation at a Christian run youth camp in Phillip Island.

The camp, run by Christian Youth Camps (CYC) owned by the Christian Brethren church, was taken to the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal (VCAT) by Cobaw on the grounds that the CYC had refused access to due to the sexual orientation of its attendees.

Cobaw had wanted to use the camp site for a weekend retreat for LGBTI youth to tackle issues of homophobia. On the refusal of the request for accommodation the resort manager, Mr Rowe, said it was due to the fact that the group would ‘promote the homosexual lifestyle’.

On Thursday the Supreme Court ruled against an appeal by the CYC.

The majority of the Court of Appeal held that there was no error in VCAT’s finding and that there was discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and furthermore that exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 that allow religious groups to discriminate in certain circumstances did not apply.

Anne McLennan, Chief Executive Officer of Cobaw Community Health said: “I think this is a terrific outcome for the young people who were discriminated against and the decision vindicates their feeling that what happened to them was wrong.

“It’s been a long haul over six years but it has been worth the time and energy to get such a significant decision that clarifies the operation of equal opportunity law,” McLennan added.  

Kat Ettwell, one of the young people involved in the case, said: “This makes me feel proud. There was a lot involved personally for everyone who contributed to the complaint and it’s really heartening to have the Court say today that standing up for ourselves was the right thing to do.”   

Anna Brown, co-convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL), said:

“This is a fantastic outcome for these young people who have suffered through six years of litigation, which represents an investment of time and energy but would also take a significant emotional toll.”

“It was a split decision, with Chief Justice Maxwell and Justice Neave forming the majority in favour of Cobaw, while Justice Redlich found in favour of the Christian Youth Camps.”

Brown went on to say that while the VGLRL welcomed the Court’s decision the move has sparked calls for reform to limit discrimination by religious groups.  

“What the lobby is calling for is further narrowing of the religious exemptions to allow greater freedom from discrimination for LGBTI people, and greater transparency in how these exemptions are applied. At the very least, LGBTI consumers should be able to confidently make a choice with full knowledge of whether the organisations in question intend to discriminate against them.”

"Religious businesses who only want customers and employees who conform to their religious doctrine should clearly state on their website that they do not employ or provide services to gay and lesbian people. It’s clear to men that Fernwood Fitness is a womens only gym, why shouldn't that apply to religious business who want to discriminate as well?”  Brown said.
Brown went on to say:

“If we introduce a requirement for religious organisations to publish their intention to discriminate  it will have a positive impact for religious businesses and organisations that want to do the right thing. "Some religious businesses discriminate, many don't. If Joe Gay and Jane Lesbian knew up front which businesses intended to discriminate against them, they would in almost all cases simply go to the business next door. This transparency proposal is a sensible balanced solution where everyone wins," Brown said.


Rachel Cook

Rachel Cook

Rachel Cook has worked in both the queer and mainstream media for over a decade. She wrote the syndicated column, ‘Who’s Afraid of Cheeky Biscuit’, and has written numerous articles and features for the queer press. She has also written for The Age and the ABC. Before becoming editor of Melbourne Community Voice, she was a producer for ABC radio. Between 2008 and 2012, Rachel was the editor of CHERRIE. In 2010 her book, A History of Queer Australia, was published and is currently in use in high schools across Australia.

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