Rachel Evans & Farida Iqbal, Sydney
On March 14, the NSW Greens launched a campaign to win public support to remove loopholes from the 1977 NSW Anti-Discrimination (Equality in Education and Employment) Act, with a meeting at the Mori Gallery attended by 35 people.
"At present, a student at a private school in New South Wales can legally be expelled for coming out as gay or lesbian", NSW upper-house MP Lee Rhiannon told the meeting. The meeting was also addressed by transgender activist Julia Dolman, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights representative Hannah Roberts and Natalie Ross from Inner City Legal Services.
On March 22, Rhiannon presented a private member's bill to the NSW parliament to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act to remove loopholes that enable certain employers, such as religious institutions, to discriminate against queers (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex people).
Introducing the bill, Rhiannon said: "Since 1977, some workplaces have not been required to comply with the Anti-Discrimination Act. These are private and religious schools, and small businesses that employ fewer than six people. So side by side with the advances achieved by the Anti-Discrimination Act, we have allowed — and if anything codified — discrimination against people in private schools and small businesses."
She also observed that in "the areas of sex discrimination, transgender discrimination, marital status discrimination, disability discrimination, and homosexual discrimination the act explicitly states in respect to the employment of teachers that the act does 'not apply to employment by a private educational authority'.
"Similarly, in accepting the enrolment of students, these sections of the Anti-Discrimination Act do not apply 'to, or in respect of, a private educational authority'.
"Private and religious schools have used their exemption from the Anti-Discrimination Act to adopt discriminatory employment practices. The exemption has been used by the Catholic Education Office to sack teachers who live in de-facto relationships or who are gay or lesbian. We know of private schools that have declined to enrol disabled students."
The March 14 meeting was told about some horrific cases of discrimination against queer teachers, workers and students that the Greens will use as examples in parliament to support their bill. One participant spoke on behalf of his friend who attended a boys' private boarding school and was caught having sex with another boy on school grounds. The friend was forced to stand in front of an assembly and apologise for his act to avoid expulsion (the punishment meted out to his sexual partner). "His life was made a living hell. He was bullied until he left the school voluntarily", explained his friend to the meeting.
The Greens' bill will be debated in the NSW parliament in mid-April. Further public meetings and rallies are planned to coincide with the debate. The Labor and Coalition parties have indicated they will not support the bill.
Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) activist Simon Margan told Green Left Weekly: "We should mobilise the community to support this bill and let the politicians know that this kind of discrimination is unacceptable."
NSW Queer Student Network female convener Karlee Jones told GLW: "Students have had a great history of direct action to combat blatantly homophobic laws. NSW was the last state to have discriminatory age of consent laws on its books. Students helped repeal them. We will use direct action and unite students against this bill."
For more information about actions CAAH is planning in support of the Greens' bill, phone Simon on 0438 637 037.
From Green Left Weekly, March 22, 2006.
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