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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8447

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:24): A year ago today, Australia celebrated that we as a community had voted yes to marriage equality. It was a huge celebration because it was getting rid of the biggest state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people in this country. In the year that's passed, we have seen that the sun has kept shining; the sky has not fallen in. In fact, all that's happened is that some 5,000 couples—some 10,000 people that love each other—have been able to get married. We had a celebration here in the Senate courtyard today to celebrate this year of people who loved each other being able to getting married. It was not to celebrate the way that we achieved that. Today is a day to celebrate that resounding statement of Australians' support for marriage equality; it was to note the fact that the resounding vote for marriage equality was the beginning of the legislative process that finally ended with marriage equality being legislated in this parliament on 6 December last year.

Our celebrations today, and our huge celebrations a year ago, were of the fact that, yes, marriage equality is something that the Australian community wants. But the hoops we had to go through to achieve that are not to be celebrated. The postal survey which was imposed was harmful to LGBTIQ people. It was expensive. It was unnecessary. It did massive harm to the LGBTIQ community, and there were repercussions in terms of mental health. In fact, the trauma that people faced in having their human rights put to a public vote is something that some people are still going through today. There are people who did not make it—who, because of the vilification and the persecution and the attacks upon them and their very identity, took their own lives over the last year. They are consequences of our community being put through that public vote on our human rights. So, yes, we achieved marriage equality, but achieving it through the postal survey was not the way it should have been done.

The silver lining is that we did have that resounding show of support from the Australian community—in spite of this government. This government claims it achieved marriage equality. No, marriage equality was achieved by the Australian community in spite of this government, in spite of all the hurdles that were put in the way. It was achieved by our community. It's something that is a huge achievement and probably the biggest achievement yet in my time in this Senate.

A year on, the other thing that we can reflect upon is that, like most social change achievements, the journey is not finished. We achieved the huge social change of marriage equality for LGBTI people, but there is discrimination that still needs to be tackled. We have made many steps forward, but there are many things still to be done. In particular, the ongoing vilification of transgender people is something that this parliament needs to address. We need to make sure that that is not allowed to continue.

The inquiry that we have initiated this week, a short inquiry into ending discrimination in schools, is a case in point of the level of discrimination that is still in our community. Religious schools have still got the ability to expel students who are same-sex attracted, transgender or gender diverse; and they've still got the ability to fire teachers who are same-sex attracted, transgender or gender diverse. Transgender people are still being vilified in our community. Their whole identity is being challenged. There are still assertions in the community that biological sex equals gender, which is absolutely not the case and which strikes at the heart of transgender people's complete identity.

I am hopeful, with the level of support that was shown for the LGBTI community by the Australian community a year ago, that we can harness that level of support again. I know that support is there. We know that, when it comes to discrimination in schools, three-quarters of those in Australian society want to end those harmful exemptions in our antidiscrimination laws. They do not think that it's appropriate that same-sex-attracted or gender-diverse young people should be able to be expelled from schools or that same-sex-attracted and gender-diverse teachers should be fired. So, a year on, I think we need to take stock and to recognise how far we have come, yes, but also how far we've still got to go.

As part of the preparations for putting together the case on how discrimination in schools is still real and still harmful, I have put a call out to people to share with me their stories about the discrimination that is ongoing in schools. I wanted to share with you the story that a woman, Genevieve, shared with me yesterday on my Facebook page, and her experience. She said:

I am a 51yo transwoman who was effectively forced into resignation by a Catholic Diocese. This happened in July 2018.

In Dec 2017 I asked for support to stay in my job as I transition. I was placed on paid leave immediately, I was excluded from teaching, and it was announced at my school that I had left, and would never return.

I was repeatedly told that I was contrary to church teaching, yet no detail was ever offered. As far as I know, there is no defensible theology against trans people.

…   …   …

I was eventually told that I would not be returning to the classroom, and that I would not be welcome in ANY school in the entire Diocese.

She said:

I remained a supportive believer, but religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law were used to pressure me into resigning.

…   …   …

My resignation was accepted, and some payout was made,

What I am now faced with is that I am a 51yo woman with 5 dependents looking for a job that is completely different. It's now November and I haven't even had one interview.

I am now terrified that my savings will disappear and my chance of ever getting gender confirming surgery will disappear as well.

I firmly believe that a religious exemption was used against me when in fact I simply disturbed their conservative sensibilities.

So, as we celebrate achieving marriage equality a year ago today, I think Genevieve's story tells us about the challenges that still lie ahead and the discrimination that is still out there against LBGTI people and particularly transgender, gender-diverse and non-binary people.

So I call upon everyone, as they are celebrating marriage equality and recognising that huge achievement, to vow to work together to get rid of all discrimination in Australian society against LBGTI people. We can achieve it in schools. We can achieve it this year. As the Prime Minister himself said, it's urgent that we end discrimination in schools against students. In fact, the legislation that we have been debating here in this parliament, our Greens private senator's bill, showed how we can easily change our laws to end discrimination against students and against teachers. That's what we need to do, because there is still hurt. There is still pain. There is still suffering from the unfair discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in our community, and we need to work together to harness the community's support to end all of that discrimination once and for all.

Senate adjourned at 19:34