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Faith-based emergency relief services respond to report calling for LGBTI-friendly environments

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Crisis support: The Federal Government-funded National Gender and Emergency Management Guidelines discuss the need for people involved in emergency services responding to natural disasters to be educated on the “gender spectrum”.
Photo: CNS/Giovanni Portelli, The Catholic Weekly


Faith-based organisations say they have “a long tradition of … respectfully” providing emergency relief to people despite some negative claims in a discussion about disaster response.

The Federal Government-funded National Gender and Emergency Management Guidelines were developed by Victoria’s Women’s Health Goulburn North East Inc in response to major disasters such as the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and the 2010-11 Queensland floods.

The guidelines and supporting literature review, were the result of a $96,030 (excluding GST) funding grant, and suggest that emergency workers and volunteers be taught about the “gender spectrum”, that gender is a “social construction” and recommended that “gender specialists” be called upon to review state and territory emergency management protocols.

It’s a gender push that could have implications across Australia, particularly for faith-based services such as Centacare, St Vincent de Paul Society, the Salvation Army, Anglicare and Lifeline which currently deliver essential services in times of disaster.

Centacare Cairns executive director Anita Veivers said her organisation had “a long tradition of providing emergency relief and disaster relief services to the community and this is achieved respectfully, in a non-judgemental way”.

Centacare Cairns was “a great believer in respect and equity” Ms Veivers said.

“We implement these core values in everything we do.

“Our doors are open to everyone, particularly the most disadvantaged people in the community, no matter what their race, gender, religion or sexuality might be.”

Ms Veivers said even though the actual guidelines did not appear to suggest precluding faith-based organisations the associated literature review perpetuated the misconception that faith-based organisations were intrinsically discriminatory and had been referenced in the popular press.

The National Gender and Emergency Management Guidelines are set on the premise that the “dominant construction of gender privileges men over women … and some men over other men”, with the LGBTI community considered “disproportionately vulnerable during and after disaster”.

The guidelines suggest that specialist LGBTI services help in recovery efforts and recommend consideration of “facilities, such as bathrooms, toilets and showers beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’, and where possible, provide an option for transgender and intersex people to reduce fears and vulnerability”.

The associated literature review points to previous research that found LGBTI victims of the Queensland floods reported exacerbated anxiety resulting from having to hide their sexual or gender identity from emergency workers and volunteers, or staying with people who were not accepting of them.

Ms Veivers said the modern face of faith-based services was more accepting than the review seemed to imply.

“Our workforce is very diverse. We employ people right across the organisation from many different walks of life,” she said.

“In fact, our most effective model of service is through using peer support, for example employing people with a lived experience of mental illness to support others with a mental illness.

“Our multicultural support team is in fact multicultural itself.

“Pleasingly also our organisation is LGBTI-friendly, for employees and our service recipients.”

Ms Veivers agrees with some aspects of the National Gender and Emergency Management Guidelines, particularly the fact that women and members of the LGBTI community still face discrimination in many parts of their lives.

“Centacare Cairns and other faith-based services have put great effort into reducing stigma and discrimination by actively promoting and demonstrating respect and equity for all,” she said.

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