A systematic evaluation of strategies for the management of religious freedom and LGBT+ rights requires a broad study across legislation, public discourse, institutions, worldviews and individual experience. The project consists of seven studies and a concluding comparative analysis of all the data and findings (Study 8). The combined studies  provide data that allows us to triangulate different sources of information to produce a sophisticated understanding of the various strategies for the negotiation of religious freedom and LGBT+ rights in the workplace. The research utilises documentary analysis of texts, qualitative case studies focused on meanings, and quantitative (i.e. statistical) methods to provide a reliable set of research findings. 

Studies 1, 2 and 3 provide a macro level overview of laws, public discourse, and national patterns associated with LGBT+ rights and religious freedoms. Studies 4, 5, 6, and 7 focus on the day to day negotiations and navigations of religion and sexual identities in the workplace. We examine how legislation and institutional policies are negotiated in practice by LGBT+ workers, their managers, colleagues, religious leaders, and members of religious communities. The concluding comparative publications and seminars are designed to inform stakeholders and policy makers about the range of policies, legislation, and managerial practices and their consequences.


Study 1. Legislation study

Simon Rice, in conjunction with Lori Beaman, is conducting a review of Australian federal and state government policy and legislation on religious exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation as they pertain to workplaces that provide education, social welfare, and health care. The review includes an international comparative analysis facilitated by Rice’s and Beaman’s international work. From a legal perspective, the study:

 1. reviews past and current law reform proposals and academic commentary on provisions relating to LGBT+ employees and religion, to track and compare actual federal state and territory legislative amendments;

 2. reviews the terms of the various federal state and territory laws relating to LGBT+ employees and religion to identify consistencies and differences in terminology, scope and likely effect; and

 3. analyses case law (decisions of tribunals and courts) relating to LGBT+ employees and religion to map patterns and inconsistencies in the application of the various federal state and territory laws to different fact scenarios.

From a sociological perspective, we are conducting a discourse analysis of key legal texts such as anti-discrimination legislation, and court and tribunal decisions. We are examining the impact of this legislation on the negotiation of religious freedom and LGBT+ rights for both religious and LGBT+ actors. We pay particular attention to the varying state-based exemptions and their impact on both LGBT+ employees and members of religious communities.

Study 2: National survey

 We are conducting a national online survey with two arms. One arm focuses on the experience of LGBT+ employees in government funded religiously affiliated social service providers. A second arm focuses on the attitudes and experiences of religiously identified people regarding LGBT+ issues. These online surveys are designed to identify the dimensions and differences across states, employment sectors, and religious traditions (Callegaro et. al. 2015). The surveys are not aimed to be representative at a national level, which would be a very resource intensive undertaking. Rather, they aim to provide a broad overview of the range of experiences and attitudes that can be used to guide the qualitative studies (Studies 4, 5, 6, & 7).

 Recruitment for participants in the surveys is through online forums, community groups (such as LGBT+ associations), and national and local religious bodies. We  have ensured that we recruit in all the States and Territories of Australia to gain a national overview. We have included demographic variables to enable weighting of the data against ABS data to reduce distortions due to online distribution of the survey. We will also monitor the responses to ensure adequate representations from targeted groups and actively seek to recruit under-represented groups through online and other forums. We are using targeted online advertising, such as that available through Facebook, to promote the surveys.


Study 3. Public discourse

 We are conducting an analysis of public discourse about human rights and religious freedom in relation to sexuality and gender identity.

 First, we are conducting a content and discourse analysis of the 15,500 submissions made to the Religious Freedom Review (Ruddock et. al. 2018), chaired by Philip Ruddock. We selectively focus on issues of LGBT+ sexuality in these submissions and are documenting and evaluating the normative commitments which underscore the final report.

 Second, we are analysing the submissions and report for the Australian Human Rights Commission (2014) consultation on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Intersex Rights.

 Third, we are analysing news media and social media articles and posts, and subsequent comments and discussion in the year leading up to the legalisation of marriage equality and the subsequent year.

 This analysis of public discourse allows us to offer an analysis of human rights as they pertain to this study: what does a right to religious freedom truly entail? What limits, if any, are justified on our rights claims? How are competing rights reconciled? Is it, in fact, the case that the right to non-discrimination and the right to religious freedom are inconsistent? If such rights are genuinely inconsistent, to what extent is ‘tolerance’ required? And what constitutes tolerance? Might we instead be normatively bound to alternative forms of encounter, such as respect or indifference? This study builds on Louise Richardson-Self and Lori Beaman’s research into theories of human rights, rights talk in the public sphere, and tolerance.

Study 4. LGBT+ workers

 We are interviewing 70 LGBT+ people who work in religiously-affiliated government funded social service providers, conducting 20 interviews in Tasmania, 20 in NSW, as two sites with contrasting state legislation.  Religious bodies have exemptions from anti-discrimination requirements under NSW legislation and can make “employment decisions on the grounds of sex, transgender status, marital or domestic status, disability and homosexuality” (Ruddock et. al. 2018: 60). The exemptions in Tasmanian legislation are much more restricted (Hilkemeijer 2018). A further 20 are being conducted with volunteers from Victoria and the remaining 10 interviews with categories of people with distinctive experiences as identified by the national survey.

For example, the survey might indicate distinctive experiences for LGBT+ people working in particular institutions or particular age groups. We will therefore seek to interview people from these categories. Thirty qualitative interviews are typically required to reach saturation in qualitative studies (Liamputtong and Ezzy 2005). In each state we will interview 7 people who work in education, 7 in social welfare, and 7 in health services. We will also purposively sample (Liamputtong and Ezzy 2005) to include both people who are out about their LGBT+ status, and those who have not disclosed their sexual and/or gender identity in the workplace. This study will build on Dwyer’s work on LGBT+ workplace discrimination (Barrett, Lewis, and Dwyer 2011; Hayes and Dwyer 2011), and the pilot study of this project. 

Recruitment for this study uses a multi-pronged strategy. We include an option to volunteer for an interview in the National Survey (study 2). We also are working to build relationships with community and advocacy groups. Previous experience recruiting LGBT+ people indicates that building relationships of trust is crucial to ensure adequate participation in the study. We are advertising specifically for this interview study in online forums and amongst LGBT+ networks.


Study 5. Managers

We are interviewing 60 individuals who manage, represent, or have oversight of religiously affiliated organisations that provide government funded social services. This sample  is stratified to include equal numbers from three types of organisations:

1) those who openly endorse diversity;

2) those who take a ‘middle path’; and

3) those who take a ‘stricter approach’ (Evans and Gaze 2010).

These interviews are focusing on management practices and the negotiation of the tension between LGBT+ rights to non-discrimination and the right to religious freedom. The Religious Freedom Review (Ruddock et. al. 2018) recommended religious schools adopt a “publicly available policy” in relation to hiring practices. This study will identify if such policies currently exist in all religiously affiliated social service providers. Recruitment for this study involves direct invitations by letter or email to those in publicly identified leadership positions in relevant organisations. This study of managerial practice is a focal point for broader sociological and philosophical debates about the relationship between the law and religion.


Study 6. Workplace colleagues

We are interviewing 30 workplace colleagues of LGBT+ workers (15 religious and 15 non-religious) including colleagues and members of relevant professional associations.  In some cases, workplace colleagues actively support the rights of LGBT+ workers against the claims of religious leaders.  We are also interviewing workplace colleagues from organisations that take a ‘middle path’ and a ‘stricter approach’ to LGBT+ employment. The interviews with religious workplace colleagues aim to understand the significance of LGBT+ issues for the religious ethos of everyday religious practitioners. We are interviewing religiously affiliated workers and volunteers at religious social service providers.


Study 7. Religious leaders

We are interviewing 30 religious leaders who have engagement with, or have publicly made comment about, religiously affiliated organisations that provide government funded social services. The sample includes a range of positions including conservative leaning and progressive leaning religious leaders. The conservative/progressive divide is a key division, often cutting across denominational boundaries (Maddox 2005). As Shipley (2017) observes, it is crucial to capture religious voices that are both opposed to, and supportive of, LGBT+ sexuality. We are including leaders of a variety of religious traditions.

This study is being conducted in conjunction with the arm of the National Survey (Study 2) that focuses on religiously identified people. We are examining the changing self-understandings of religious people who are opposed to same sex relationships and how this relates to broader changes in religious identification and the rise of the demographic and political significance of those identifying as not religious. This analysis is also relevant to international debates about the challenges created by the rise of the nonreligion and religious conservativism.


Study 8. Comparative analysis

A comparative analysis of the data and findings across studies one to seven evaluates the different laws, policies, and organisational practices for managing religious freedom and LGBT+ rights in the workplace. Each study focuses on a common set of questions about religious freedom and LGBT+ rights that is being utilised in this final comparative analysis. The combined data from all the studies includes 190 interviews that provides a strong evidence base against which to deliver the key aim of the project to provide evidence about the outcomes of a range of strategies for managing religious freedom and LGBT+ rights in the workplace.