A federal Labor MP has delivered an impassioned and heartbreaking speech on the floor of Parliament House, revealing his gay nephew took his own life earlier this year.
Speaking during debate on the government's proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, which seeks to govern the ability of religious schools and institutions to discriminate against gay and gender diverse people, Stephen Jones spoke about the deep anguish of his family, as well as fears for his own teenage son.
The speech has since gone viral, being described as "visceral", "powerful" and "moving", with a clip shared on Twitter by Mr Jones clocking up more than 220,000 views since Tuesday night.
Labor has not yet revealed its position on the contentious bill, but Mr Jones lamented the fact the government was spending its final sitting days on "a bill that pleases no-one", rather than issues of corruption, supply chain disruptions and the economy.
Here's what he said:
"I support freedom of religion. I understand many in our community who want to see the existing laws strengthened to protect their freedom of religious expression. I support that too. Although we are a long way from the days when employers could lawfully place ads in newspapers that say Catholics need not apply – I understand the desire for a greater recognition and rights for people of faith.
"The sometimes toxic debate that has been unleashed by the prime minister has put a spotlight on the fact that no rights are unlimited. Where the exercise of one person’s rights comes crashing up against another person’s freedoms we need to find a solution. It can be done. It is the role of this parliament to do that.
"The contest of ideas and ways of life is dealt with by social norms, civility and human decency – or not. Unfortunately, the law has a very blunt way of doing it.
"If we are to do this ... Then we must do it properly. If we are to believe the reports in today’s paper, the government has failed to bring forward a law which protects children.
"For me, this is not an academic issue."
MP reveals nephew's suicide, fears for 'beautiful' teenage son
In a poignant moment, Mr Jones spoke of saying goodbye to his nephew who struggled with his sexual identity and constantly worrying about his own son who wears high heels, owns handbags and "swims against the tide".
"Last week my family said farewell to my nephew Ollie. He was just 15 when he took his own life. He was a beautiful, creative, courageous young man. He was loved and accepted by his parents, brothers and friends. His mum and dad are in anguish. We all are. He was gay. He was uncertain about his gender and struggled with his mental health. Now he is gone and we will no longer be able to love him and support him on his journey throughout life. Clearly the love and acceptance of his family and friends was not enough.
"My own son is also a beautiful, creative, intelligent 14-year-old. He designs and makes clothes, is a gifted makeup artist, moves seamlessly between the wardrobes of men and women. He wears heels that give me vertigo and has more handbags than his sister.
"He has more courage than any boy I have met. He swims against the tide.
— Stephen Jones MP (@StephenJonesMP) February 8, 2022
"I love and support him unconditionally and brag about his talents to whoever will listen ... or stop to look at his Instagram page.
"But I worry myself sick every time he leaves the house. I know that the love and protection that he enjoys with his mother, with his friends and family is very different to the reception he may receive in the world outside.
"Could this be the day when we get a call telling us that something has happened? That he has been attacked just for being who he is?
"This is about my kids, but it’s not … this is about the families and every child who has the courage to swim against the tide just to be themselves."
Moderate government MPs unhappy with the bill
Moderates among the federal government are unhappy with or outright opposed to a compromise agreement to protect gay students, but not trans children, as part of religious discrimination changes.
The coalition partyroom has agreed to amendments to the legislative package, including adding a clause to the Sex Discrimination Act banning religious institutions from expelling students based on their sexuality.
But schools would retain the right to exclude students on other grounds, including gender diversity, "to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison appealed on Tuesday for his partyroom to "think about our team" and support the bills that would shield people expressing their beliefs, even if they are offensive or insulting, from discrimination claims.
The laws would also override state anti-discrimination laws as well as limits on when religious schools could preference hiring people of the same faith.
"Whether this goes through (parliament) or not, no child will be expelled because that's the experience - that children are not being expelled," Mr Morrison assured his partyroom.
But Liberal MP Bridget Archer – who has already shown a willingness to cross the floor against the government to support an anti-corruption commission – refused to offer her support on the grounds the legislation eroded Tasmania's anti-discrimination laws and failed to protect transgender students.
"I'm horrified to see protections don't extend to students who identify as transgender," she told parliament.
"In 2022 I can't believe we're even having this conversation … This bill is an overreach. In its current form I cannot support the bill."
Fellow Liberal moderate Dave Sharma canvassed his concerns, including the way statements of religious beliefs would be protected.
"The clause gives religious types of speech special consideration which other types of speech lack," he said.
He cited an attempt by Brisbane's Citipointe Christian College to enforce a gender and sexuality contract, abandoned after a public backlash.
"This is discrimination that is happening right now in our schools in particular and it needs to be fixed," Mr Sharma said.
"We should not be making young people's lives harder by allowing them to be discriminated against or vilified on account of attributes over which they have no choice."
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