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Gay support group gets straight 'no' from Brethren

Thanks to Mick Pepler for the link.

Gay support group gets straight 'no' from Brethren

A GAY youth support group trying to meet to talk about homophobia has had its booking at a Phillip Island camp ground blocked because the resort owners, the Christian Brethren church, deplore their lifestyle.

The rejection by the Phillip Island Adventure Resort so angered the rural gay people's support group, Way Out, that they have challenged it in the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission, and now the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

But the law is stacked against the young people: religious groups in Victoria are allowed to discriminate against anyone as long as it is done due to "genuine religious beliefs or principles".

The general manager of Christian Youth Camps, Glyn Mahon, told The Sunday Age that the church business had not been able to agree on the group's booking for safety reasons.

"Our definition of safety, because of our Christian faith, does not support or include the promotion of homosexuality," he said.

Christian Youth Camps said it "desires all guests to experience Christian life and values, and it was the aims of the Way Out group in promoting a lifestyle to young people contrary to those values that was in question".

The resort is exempt from paying taxes because it is run by a church.

"I was very angry when I found out about it," says gay 17-year-old student Jake Quilligan. "It was immoral. To stop us booking the camp because of the sexuality of the group is pretty wrong."

Way Out's co-ordinator, Sue Hackney, said her clients were from country areas, and suffered terrible, sometimes violent, homophobia and high rates of suicide. The weekend camp, scheduled for the middle of last year, was intended to give them a break by the beach, where they could seek support and discuss how to combat homophobia in their towns.

"It's a bitter irony that the very first thing we experienced when we set out to book the camp was a case of blatant discrimination," Ms Hackney said.

"The manager asked about the nature and purposes of our group, and the conversation started to turn. He said, 'We are a Christian organisation and it wouldn't be possible for a group such as yours to use the facilities'."

She said she believed that, particularly when running a commercial operation, church groups should not be exempt from the law. "If they can discriminate against us on religious grounds, they can discriminate against anyone," she said. "People who use contraception, people who have sex before marriage, people of any other faith, agnostics, atheists, you name it."

Way Out ended up meeting at the camp of another Christian group, the YMCA.

Mr Quilligan felt the sting of a gay-hate attack last month in his small home town of Wedderburn, north-west of Bendigo, when somebody broke into his house and trashed it.

"They went through the entire house, and anything of value was stolen," he said. "I had the mattress and pillows on my bed ripped and doused in accelerant. The nastiest thing was that there were messages spray-painted on the bedroom door and wardrobe — 'fag' on the door.

"Violating is the best way to describe it. I felt dirty, just that someone even wanted to do this.It was crushing."

There is no suggestion that the Christian Brethren were in any way involved in the attack, but La Trobe university researcher Lynne Hillier said that discriminatory beliefs often turned into homophobic abuse, causing "terrible damage" to young people.

"This case is just another example of a really strong institution saying that these young people are so odious that we don't want them on our property," Dr Hillier said.

The Department of Justice is six months into a review of the exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act, to see if they are compatible with the Human Rights Charter. It has received 500 submissions. A spokesman for acting Attorney-General John Lenders would not comment further.

The Christian Brethren church is historically linked to the infamous Exclusive Brethren, but broke away in the mid-1800s.

The Christian Brethren is now contemplating a name change because of the "negative connotations" of the Brethren "brand". But it remains a very conservative, evangelical church.



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