An Adelaide council investigated church groups for anti-LGBTI sentiments, including whether they opposed the flying of the rainbow flag, amid a push to overhaul a popular community grants program to ensure only “gay and lesbian-friendly organisations” could access funding.

In a move criticised as discriminatory and totalitarian, the City of Marion was asked to review criteria for youth development grants, which could see applicants quizzed on attitudes to gender and sexual “diversity.”

It follows questions from independent councillor Bruce Hull about whether church group-aligned applicants “had an aversion to the gay and lesbian community”.

“I’d like to know whether the staff ascertained from the organisations whether they are gay friendly organisations?” Mr Hull asked at council last week.

City of Marion community and cultural services manager Liz Byrne confirmed an investigation, specifically to find out whether any church group had lodged complaints over the council’s decision to fly the rainbow flag outside its chambers.

In 2015 the City of Marion became the first council in Australia to permanently fly the flag — a public sign of support for the LGBTI community. The decision split the community.

“It wasn’t obvious that any of the church groups had put in complaints,” Ms Byrne told the July 25 council meeting. “We obviously don’t know if any of the attendees of the churches put in complaints as individuals. We couldn’t determine that.”

Of the 11 successful applicants for the youth grants, two were aligned with religious groups. In total $110,000 was up for grabs.

While Mr Hull has requested that LGBTI inclusiveness be factored in to the eligibility criteria for future funding rounds, such a move is likely to spark fierce debate within the council and opposition from Christian groups.

Fellow councillor Jerome Appleby, who has tried unsuccessfully to have the flag taken down, said it was “staggering” the council would even consider “punishing” certain groups over their views. “Since when is it business of council to be policing … political opinions,” Mr Appleby said. “People in the community should be able to have dissenting views; dissenters shouldn’t be punished.’’

Centre for Independent studies research fellow Peter Kurti said the City of Marion’s move was a significant concern as it threatened to sideline groups just because they did not align with a particular ideology.

“The council made a decision to fly the rainbow flag and in making that decision … it seems everyone now has to agree with not just the flying of the flag but with anything else that extends from that,” Reverend Kurti said.

“It smacks of totalitarianism — and children and young people are being used as the weapons.”

Family Voice Australia director Ashley Saunders said any ­attempt to withdraw local government funding from church groups would be “extraordinarily detrimental and contrary to the best interests of communities”.

Mr Hull said he expected a backlash but defended his stance, telling The Australianthat the rainbow flag decision had stirred up some “abhorrent sentiments” in the community.

He said he had received many complaints, including one from a deputy principal who was “silly enough to send from the church school email account”.

Pastor Toh Ng, whose Marion Vineyard Christian Fellowship was successful in receiving a $3000 grant for a youth ­leadership program, said he had no concerns over the proposed changes.

Source: The Australian


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