LGBT community welcomes NT anti-discrimination law overhaul, but religious groups still have concerns
The Northern Territory’s LGBT community is celebrating the most comprehensive overhaul of anti-discrimination laws in three decades as a “huge step” towards equality.
- New anti-discrimination legislation was passed by the Northern Territories Parliament on Tuesday
- LGBT advocates and sex work industry say changes will better protect their community
- But religious groups remain concerned about possible impacts on faith-based schools
A bill to amend the territory’s anti-discrimination law passed parliament just before midnight on Tuesday, although members of the territory’s Liberal Party (CLP) voted against it.
The changes include the removal of a clause that previously allowed religious groups to discriminate against a person based on their religious beliefs or sexuality and an expansion of protected personal attributes.
LGBT lawyer Paige Horrigan said the passage of the bill was an exciting time for the community and marked a “huge change” in the territory.
“This will increase the protections that will benefit so many diverse groups in the Northern Territory, LGBTQI+ people, people of diverse genders, [and] even victims of domestic violence,” they said.
“It will mean that they cannot be discriminated against in the workplace even more solidly now.”
Rainbow Territory spokesman Ahmad Syahir Mohd Soffi said the passage of the bill was the product of a more than 30-year struggle by LGBT advocates and their allies and a “significant progress” for the members of the community.
“This legislation means that no workplace, including schools and religious organizations, can discriminate against LGBTQI+ Territories,” they said.
“Everyone deserves to live without discrimination.”
Kamahi Djordan King – the Katherine-based performer behind cabaret queen Constantina Bush – said the changes meant he had to worry less about discrimination in the hiring process.
“If I wanted to be a teacher, the fact that I was a gay man might be questionable in their eyes and they might have the power to discriminate against me – but now that’s not the case,” he said.
“We all have a chance to be equal.”
Sex work industry wants extra protection
The National Association of Sex Workers also welcomed the overhaul, which included the addition of sex work – past and present – as a personal attribute protected from discrimination under the law.
Sex work is fully decriminalized in the territory, but Scarlet Alliance chief executive Jules Kim said discrimination and stigma were still a “daily occurrence” for workers.
She said the reforms would give sex workers an extra level of protection and empower them to act if needed.
“We now have explicit protections, for the first time,” Ms. Kim said.
“Not only does this send an important message that discrimination is unacceptable, it also means that when we experience it, we have a way to resolve it.”
Religious groups still have concerns
Ahead of the vote, a handful of religious groups staged protests against the bill, warning that it could harm the faith-based foundation of religious schools.
On Wednesday, they vowed to continue fighting some of the amendments.
The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Darwin, Charles Gauci, said he was getting legal advice on what the legislation could mean for the ability of Catholic schools to hire people of the same faith without legal challenge.
“I want to make sure our schools stay authentic,” he said.
“I’ve had a lot of parents, teachers and community members worried about this – a lot.”
NT Islamic Council chairman Chowdhury Sadaruddin said his organization was also concerned that Darwin’s only Islamic school could face prosecution for “unnecessary reasons”.
“In our opinion, this should have been left to the authority of the schools, rather than putting it in the anti-discrimination law and making it more complicated, because we can be sued for unnecessary reasons,” he said. he declares.
He said members of the Islamic community felt they had been ignored by the government.
Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said on Wednesday she believed religious schools were unlikely to face wrongful prosecution under the law.
“I feel comfortable that many faith-based schools are already enforcing the operation of the legislation,” she said.
The new legislation will come into force from mid-2023.