'Full equality': how Netherlands is pointing the way for Australia on LGBT rights
LGBT rights 'Full equality': how Netherlands is pointing the way for Australia on LGBT rights
Fight for social acceptance moves from nuptials to classrooms as world marks IDAHOBIT â" the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia
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Australian LGBT organisations have been urged by veterans of the successful Dutch ca mpaign for marriage equality to focus their efforts on achieving social acceptance through better gender and sexuality education.
Campaigners from the Netherlands, the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, interviewed to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on Thursday, suggested marriage equality increases social acceptance, but more targeted action is needed to protect LGBT youth.
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The director of LGBT rights group COC Nederland, Koen van Dijk, told Guardian Australia that according to official statistics in the Netherlands some 90% of people now have a positive attitude of LGBT people, up from 53% in 2006. In that time the proportion of people who wanted to repeal marriage equality fell from 22% to just 6%.
Asked what Australian LGBT organisations should do after marriage equality was legalised in December, Van Dijk said he was âsure tha t in Australia full equality has not yet been reachedâ, citing the fact the Netherlands still has a âlong way to go on trans and intersex rightsâ.
âSince marriage equality, weâve had to work on equal rights for rainbow families,â he said. âAnd we still have to do a lot of work on social acceptance.â
Van Dijk said the movement in the Netherlands had pushed for âcompulsory gender and sexuality education in schoolsâ and mobilised LGBT youth to improve safety in schools and combat bullying.
In Australia the Safe Schools anti-bullying program has struggled, with federal funding lapsing in mid-2017 and New South Wales replacing it with a new anti-bullying program. Although the Victorian government still runs Safe Schools through its education department, the Liberal opposition has vowed to scrap it.
Weâve seen a strong mobilisation and increased financing in religious movements to oppose the LGBTI movementKoen van Dijk
Debate was sparked this week by former prime minister John Howard suggesting the federal government should defund any schools that did not allow parents to remove their children from classes that clashed with their values. The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, brushed off the concern by arguing it was a right parents already possess.
Van Dijk said âall bullying is badâ but LGBT-specific programs are needed because bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is the most common form in the Netherlands and around the world.
âItâs very intrusive, it directly attacks people where they feel very vulnerable, just as they are starting to recognise their own identity,â he said.
He said that in the Netherlands LGB children are aware they are ânot straightâ on average at age 11, but wait three years before telling anyone, meaning âfor the better part of high school they walk around lonely with a very big se cret they feel vulnerable aboutâ.
Van Dijk said the Netherlands had largely escaped backlash against marriage equality and other attempts to reduce LGBT peopleâs rights, which he attributed to the fact it was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage and opposition was not yet organised.
âWeâve seen a strong mobilisation and increased financing in religious movements to oppose the LGBTI movement around the world since then,â he said.
Discrimination and the Ruddock review
Although same-sex marriage was legalised in 2001, it took until 2012 before discrimination laws were tightened in the Netherlands to prevent civil celebrants from refusing to conduct same-sex weddings and to remove the right of religious schools to expel students or fire teachers if they expressed that they were of a different sexual orientation.
In Australia exemptions to discrimination law that allow religious schools to do this are a central ground of contention in the Ruddock religious freedom review, due to be handed to the government on Friday.
Religious groups, including the Catholic church, the Anglican diocese of Sydney and Christian Schools Australia, have fought to retain these powers, while submissions from LGBT rights groups have called for them to be repealed.
The Human Rights Watch LGBT advocacy director, Boris Dittrich â" a former MP who first proposed marriage equality in t he Dutch parliament 1994 â" said the campaign had concentrated on marriage equality because it was âseen as the ultimate form of equality and non-discriminationâ.
There needs to be a new priority on anti-bullying programs for LGBTI youthAlex Greenwich
After that, they moved to issues such as the legal status of the female partner of a woman who gives birth to a child.
Dittrich said âpeople got used to a same-sex couple celebrating their marriageâ, which âhelped make LGBT people visible in a positive wayâ. But he noted the same statistics that show the overwhelming majority of people now support marriage equality also show âthe figures drop when people are asked if it is OK for two men to be seen kissing each other in publicâ.
Both Van Dijk and Dittrich said cases of private service providers, like bakers and florists, being sued for refusing to serve same-sex weddings had not materialised, rejec ting one of the central arguments for further protection for âreligious freedomâ made by conservatives in Australia.
Asked how Australia should help strike the balance between religious freedom and the right to non-discrimination, Dittrich said âdata collection is very importantâ.Most Australians oppose religious schools' right to fire staff based on sexuality Read more
âMy suggestion would be to frequently collect cases of discrimination based on religious freedom and based on sexual orientation/gender identity and debate these results,â he said.
The NSW MP and Australian Marriage Equality co-chair, Alex Greenwich, said this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was âa really important one because on the back of achieving marriage equality, it again shows how effective the LGBTI community are in making positive change happen â" to the law, in their workplaces and local communitiesâ.
âThere needs to be a new priority on anti-bullying programs for LGBTI youth,â he said.
Greenwich said Safe Schools had sought to support LGBT young people and the children of same-sex parents â" two groups âtargeted by the no campaignâ during the postal survey.
âThe damage of that is still very much real,â he said. âGovernments, state and federal, need to have a renewed focus on what support can be given in schools, especially after the bruising postal survey.â
The battle for LGBT protections
Under Bill Shorten, federal Labor has taken a strong stand against watering down discrimination laws in a way that would allow discrimination against LGBT people, including voting against all the conservativesâ substantive amendments to the marriage law.
But it has not committed to removing existing religious exemptions that allow the firing of LGBT staff or expulsion of students.
On Tuesday Shorten equivocated on the future of Safe Schools, noting that the program âapplied in different states and some of it already existsâ.
âThe way I approach Safe Schools programs, and indeed other anti-bullying programs, is keeping our kids safe should be paramount,â he said. âI hear from parents every day their kids are getting bullied at school.â
The Greensâ federal LGBT spokeswoman, Janet Rice, said Safe Schools was âan incredible example of how education, support and acceptance can positively impact the lives of LGBTIQ young people, and whole school communitiesâ.IDAHOBIT: time to reflect on impact negative reporting has on trans kids | Hannah Mouncey Read more
âWe need programs like this to provide secular and inclusive support for students, rather than the current chaplains program, which denies LGBTIQ students access to meaningful, unbiased support,â she said.
In the 2018 budget the Turnbull government extended $247m of funding to the school chaplaincy program o ver four years, committing to give the program âan enhanced focus on addressing bullying in schoolsâ.
Rice warned that the Ruddock review is a âTrojan horse to entrench discriminationâ that was set up by the far right of the Liberal party intent on âattacking LGBTI people in their schools and workplacesâ.
âThis IDAHOBIT, Iâm calling on my parliamentary colleagues in the government and the Labor opposition to commit to standing by all LGBTIQ people, and reject any further watering down of protections against discrimination,â she said. âAustralia needs to strengthen anti-discrimination laws, not weaken them.âTopics
- LGBT rights
- Safe Schools
- Marriage equality
- Australian education
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