The government’s draft religious freedom bill doesn’t address the real discrimination issue, writes LGBTQ+ advocate, Chris Csabs.
VIDEO: Hear more of Chris' story in the documentary above
As a person who straddles two communities, I've faced my fair share of difficulties. Believe me, being a gay Christian is not easy.
I'm often regarded by those of my own faith as someone who isn't really 'part of the club'. Many Christians have said that I have no right to call myself a Christian. Defending myself as a genuine Christian, who also happens to be gay, has taken up a lot of my emotional energy over the years.
On Thursday, the government released a draft of its 'religious freedom' legislation.
The first question about it that came to my mind is: Why?
I already have so much freedom as a person of faith in this country. I love that I enjoy religious freedom and I am ever grateful that I don't live in a country where I would face genuine persecution for my religious beliefs.
I read the draft legislation as soon as I got the chance. After reading it, I certainly don’t feel more ‘freedom’.
As a child, I learned that gay people were ‘broken’. People in church, freely and legally expressing their beliefs, taught me that lesbians were ‘abominations’. Anyone who didn’t identify with their assigned gender at birth were ‘oppressed by demons’.
These beliefs about LGBTIQ+ people were firmly cemented in me before I was even a teenager.
So, imagine what I thought and felt when, as a teenager, I realised that I was one of those ‘broken’ people.
I truly believed I was defective.
When I was still a teen, I started Christian counselling to change my sexual orientation. When that didn’t work, I ended up moving states to take part in an ‘ex-gay ministry’ to find ‘healing’.
All of the people in my life - the counsellors, youth pastors, volunteers at the ‘ex-gay ministry’, and all the others - were expressing their genuine religious beliefs, legally.
Often, they were doing so ‘in love’ and with honest-to-goodness interest in my wellbeing. They were expressing genuine religious beliefs that caused incalculable damage to my self-esteem, mental health and which, ultimately, left me wanting to die.
As a kid, it wasn’t my faith that made me cop the most ‘discrimination’.
Sure, I was known as ‘Christian Chris’ at school because of my innocent ignorance of anything outside of my Christian social bubble, but that wasn’t real discrimination.
Actually, I can’t think of a time I’ve ever been denied service or threatened because of my religion.
It was my identity as a gay person that lead me to experience the most discrimination and restriction of my freedom. Not my religious identity.
It wasn’t my religious identity that made bullies at school call me “poof”.
It wasn’t my religious identity that made older kids follow me in cars while I was walking home from school.
It wasn’t my religious identity that offended them enough to yell, “We’re gonna kill you, faggot!”
It wasn’t my religious identity that made a restaurant manager ask my boyfriend and I to leave when we held hands.
It wasn’t my religious identity that has had me threatened physically and verbally in a public street.
As a gay Christian, the discrimination I’ve copped has been due to homophobia, not my faith.
And if I’m very honest, it is the conservative religious ideologies of people around me that have been the cause of much of the discrimination I have faced in my life.
Indeed, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has been well documented, as has LGBTIQ+ mental health.
A survey by the National LGBTI Health Alliance showed that LGBTI people aged between 16 and 27 are five times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexuals. Transgender people aged 18 and over are more than ten times as likely.
I can honestly say that it frightens me to know that a bill has been drafted to protect my “religious freedom”, seemingly without consultation with or much thought for the impact on the LGBTIQ+ community.
It is the LGBTIQ+ community that needs protection and support.
The ‘ex-gay’ or conversion ideology that I was doused in from such a young age is not a sacred requirement of the Christian faith. Nor is Folau-style evangelism, which includes writing sweeping public messages condemning homosexuals and atheists to hell, arguably causing damage to vulnerable young people.
Folau and others who hold these beliefs about gay people are able to be practising Christians, retaining their faith in the same way as other sports stars and people of faith do around the country, without engaging in such behaviour.
Since such behaviour is not actually a requirement of the Christian faith, is it right that legislation is written specifically to protect it?
Perhaps, if a person’s version of evangelism is so bombastic that it needs legislation written specifically to protect them from its consequences, they are doing it wrong.
And maybe, it isn’t them that needs protection, but those targeted by their ‘evangelism’.
There are parts of Christianity that are sacred requirements of the faith. Things like communion, prayer and the call to love our neighbours.
Looking after refugees is even a biblical, Christian principal. But I don’t see any of these when I read this bill.
Instead, the draft bill seems to seek to protect a relatively recent brand of Evangelical Christianity, obsessed with control and conformity, rather than the truly sacred values of equality and justice that are supposed to have been at the core of Christianity for the last 2000 years.
Australians must speak out to condemn this draft bill. It is unnecessary and, in my view, won’t protect us at all.