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Australian LGBT organisations have been urged by veterans of the successful Dutch campaign 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 70% 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 “sure that in Australia full equality has not yet been reached”, citing the fact the Netherlands still has a “long way to go on trans and intersex rights”.

“Since marriage equality, we’ve had to work on equal rights for rainbow families,” he said. “And we still have to do a lot of work on social acceptance.”

Van Dijk said the movement in the Netherlands had pushed for “compulsory gender and sexuality education in schools” and mobilised LGBT youth to improve safety 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.

We’ve seen a strong mobilisation and increased financing in religious movements to oppose the LGBTI movement

Koen 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 “all bullying is bad” 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.

“It’s very intrusive, it directly attacks people where they feel very vulnerable, just as they are starting to recognise their own identity,” he said.

He said that in the Netherlands LGBT children are aware they are “not straight” on average at age 11, but wait three years before telling anyone, meaning “for the better part of high school they walk around lonely with a very big secret they feel vulnerable about”.

Van Dijk said the Netherlands had largely escaped backlash against marriage equality and other attempts to reduce LGBT people’s rights, which he attributed to the fact it was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage and opposition was not yet organised.

“We’ve seen a strong mobilisation and increased financing in religious movements to oppose the LGBTI movement around the world since then,” he said.

While legalising same-sex marriage in Australia in 2017 was a watershed, the focus is now on education.Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

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 – a former MP who first proposed marriage equality in the Dutch parliament 1994 – said the campaign had concentrated on marriage equality because it was “seen as the ultimate form of equality and non-discrimination”.

There needs to be a new priority on anti-bullying programs for LGBTI youth

Alex 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 “people got used to a same-sex couple celebrating their marriage”, which “helped make LGBT people visible in a positive way”. But he noted the same statistics that show the overwhelming majority of people now support marriage equality also show “the figures drop when people are asked if it is OK for two men to be seen kissing each other in public”.

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, rejecting one of the central arguments for further protection for “religious freedom” made by conservatives in Australia.

Asked how Australia should help strike the balance between religious freedom and the right to non-discrimination, Dittrich said “data collection is very important”.

Related: Most Australians oppose religious schools' right to fire staff based on sexuality

“My suggestion would be to frequently collect cases of discrimination based on religious freedom and based on sexual orientation/gender identity and debate these results,” he said.

The NSW MP and Australian Marriage Equality co-chair, Alex Greenwich, said this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was “a 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 – to the law, in their workplaces and local communities”.

“There needs to be a new priority on anti-bullying programs for LGBTI youth,” he said.

Greenwich said Safe Schools had sought to support LGBT young people and the children of same-sex parents – two groups “targeted by the no campaign” during the postal survey.

“The damage of that is still very much real,” he said. “Governments, state and federal, need to have a renewed focus on what support can be given in schools, especially after the bruising postal survey.”

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 conservatives’ 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 “applied in different states and some of it already exists”.

“The way I approach Safe Schools programs, and indeed other anti-bullying programs, is keeping our kids safe should be paramount,” he said. “I hear from parents every day their kids are getting bullied at school.”

The Greens’ federal LGBT spokeswoman, Janet Rice, said Safe Schools was “an incredible example of how education, support and acceptance can positively impact the lives of LGBTIQ young people, and whole school communities”.

Related: IDAHOBIT: time to reflect on impact negative reporting has on trans kids | Hannah Mouncey

“We 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,” she said.

In the 2018 budget the Turnbull government extended $247m of funding to the school chaplaincy program over four years, committing to give the program “an enhanced focus on addressing bullying in schools”.

Rice warned that the Ruddock review is a “Trojan horse to entrench discrimination” that was set up by the far right of the Liberal party intent on “attacking LGBTI people in their schools and workplaces”.

“This IDAHOBIT, I’m 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,” she said. “Australia needs to strengthen anti-discrimination laws, not weaken them.”

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Source : https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/full-equality-how-netherlands-is-pointing-the-way-for-australia-on-lgbt-rights/ar-AAxoDsq

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