A step forward
What is the value of the current proposal for a federal LGBTI anti-discrimination law, given the states already have similar laws?
On the downside, the federal law has exemptions that allow discrimination in precisely those places where it’s worst: faith-based schools and welfare agencies.
A federal law should improve on existing state laws by narrowing these exemptions, but instead it replicates them.
This is particularly alarming for me as a Tasmanian.
Our state Anti-Discrimination Act has no exemptions allowing anti-LGBTI discrimination by church-run agencies.
As well as protecting individuals from unfair treatment, our Act has helped create more inclusive faith-based schools and workplaces.
I fear a weak federal law will be used by churches as a precedent to water down the Tasmanian law.
On the upside, the federal proposal protects LGBTI residents in faith-based aged care which most state laws don’t.
This is an important if bitter-sweet development.
It highlights the other group of vulnerable people disregarded by this new law: LGBTI students in independent schools.
Also on the upside, the proposed law protects people employed by, or receiving services from, the Federal Government – something not properly covered by the states.
But again, that highlights the double standard of leaving out the LGBTI employees of faith-based agencies that are funded by the government to provide government services.
A clear plus is the inclusion of discrimination on the grounds of relationship status as well as sexual orientation and gender identity.
But an equally important minus is the failure to extend existing vilification protections to any of these grounds.
Then there’s the symbolism of the federal government taking action on LGBTI discrimination.
The message to the general community is that discrimination is unacceptable.
But arguably, this is a message they have already heeded.
The message to bigots is that they can continue to discriminate with impunity.
Worse, they may feel encouraged to.
I respect and support those LGBTI advocates who are working hard to steer a smooth course for the government’s proposed law, and improve it along the way if they can.
On balance the government’s proposal will be a step forward.
But it’s hard to be inspired by a reform which fails to meet its promise in so many ways.