Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Equality Bill and "just cross-dressing part-time"

The House of Commons has heard evidence on the Equality Bill yesterday from groups sympathetic to the bill, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Stonewall, and the British Humanist Association. This Bill will potentially make it illegal for Churches and other Christian groups to refuse to employ practising homosexuals, or "gender reassigned" people except where roles mainly involve teaching, promoting, or leading worship. The explanatory notes to the Bill make it clear that
"This exception would not apply to a requirement that a church youth worker or accountant be heterosexual."
Practical measures? Make sure that any youthworkers are primarily involved in teaching and "leading worship" (e.g. leading the rosary or other devotional prayers.) Get a volunteer accountant? This Bill, if passed, would prevent many genuinely christian organisations from offering more general youthwork such as sports clubs or social groups.

Here are links to yesterday's session of the Public Bills Committee: Part 1 (morning) and Part 2 (afternoon). Here is one exchange during the afternoon session. Professor Stephen Whittle was representing Press for Change ("Campaigning for respect and equality for ALL trans people")
Stephen Whittle [...] The fact is that trans people, who might be in a stage of life where they just cross-dress part-time, get harassed, thrown out of shops, told that they are not able to come into pubs or whatever. That goes right through to people who have undergone gender reassignment and also face those same difficulties.

Q 70Lynne Featherstone: Are you saying that there is a whole spectrum in terms of transgender identity and that people should be protected against discrimination wherever they are on that spectrum?

Stephen Whittle: Absolutely. In fact, we would argue strongly that we experience discrimination because other people think that we look different. It is what those other people do, not what we do, that creates that discrimination. Therefore, the Bill needs to refocus upon what it is those other people see and react to.

Lynne Featherstone: I am persuaded by your argument.
So if a teacher (or your Church accountant) decides to come in some days dressed as a man but is presently at the stage of having a part-time inclination to come in wearing a skirt and stilettos, they'll be protected by law against any "harrassment" on your part. Remember - its what you do, not what they do that creates the discrimination.

In a further exchange between Evan Harris and Ben Summerskill, it was made clear that the exemption for Churches not to let their hall out for (for example) a Gay Pride parade, would not apply if the Church was letting out its premises in general.

The effect of this is to force Churches only to use their Hall for Church-related activities. If you hire to the general public, you must hire out to the Gay Pride event (or to people who "just cross-dress part-time.")

Christian Concern for Our Nation has an article with more information on the bill. They also give links to stories on the Teacher suspended for Christian beliefs (he objected to the presenter asking the teachers "What makes you think that heterosexuality is natural?" and telling them to sort out their prejudices); and the Homeless Charity Suspended for Answering Questions about His Faith from a colleague ("gross misconduct".)

In other legal news, Neil Addison has a good article today on the Catholic Adoption Agencies losing their case before the Charities Tribunal.

We are used to the phrase "brick by brick" in relation to the restoration of the Sacred Liturgy. It is also appropriate, in a sinister way, as a description of the erosion of the freedom of Christianity in the UK and the gradual tightening of legal provisions to make it impossible for christian groups to contribute to continue their historically effective work to improve society. For the Government to promote this agenda in the extreme form it is taking in the Equality Bill at a time when the political system is suffering unparalleled contempt, and the far-right groups have their best opportunity for years, is stupid beyond belief.

Perhaps someone could make this point when evidence is taken next Tuesday from various religious bodies: and I hope to goodness they get a good briefing from the lawyers at CCON and other groups who have been keeping up with this crazy legislation.
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