On May 19 2016, Tony Cripps, CEO of HSBC Australia hosted the first Out Leadership Summit in Australia, convening a standing-room only crowd of more than 140 senior LGBTI and Ally executives to discuss important issues at the intersection of LGBTI and business impact.

Tiernan Brady, Executive Director (Campaigns) CEO, Australian Marriage Equality, introduced and moderated the second panel discussion: “Religion, Business and LGBTI Equality: Learnings from the Faith and Business Communities.”

The Venerable Rod Bower, Archdeacon of the Central Coast, noted: “Arguments don’t convince people. What convinces people is personal stories.  They need to see a person who weeps and bleeds, and all of a sudden, things change. It’s not an argument, it’s a story.”

Bower continued, “When you’re part of the system of domination – when you’re white, male, straight, nominally Christian – it can be really easy to fall into the trap of feeling that you’re being persecuted when someone gets the nod as a result of efforts to be more equitable. I got bumped off a panel show on TV for gender equity reasons, and for a moment I was really upset. But then I had a real look at it. And government needs to have a sustained process of education along these lines.”

Anthony Venn-Brown, CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, argued that campaigners for LGBTI equality need to work harder to engage with believers: “There’s a perception in Australian society that anyone who is a Christian is anti-gay. This is not the case. There are people who are anti-gay, but they are very loud voices. Many people are on a journey. I rarely work with someone who is completely anti-gay. But the thing that makes a difference is sitting down and talking. There are ways of building a bridge. Engaging people with dialogue, and finding ways to educate them, can break down barriers. No one likes to be attacked.”

Peta Granger, Director, LUSH Australasia noted that marriage equality is far from the only LGBTI equality issue relevant to Australians, or to Australian businesses: “We’re a company that was founded on animal and environmental issues. And for us, LGBTI issues have also always been important. We really try to show what couples look like – to present a broader view of what love and couples look like. But when the controversy over Safe Schools broke out, the average age of our staff was 23. Our employees contacted us, and they said ‘this is more important to us than marriage equality because we’re living through it.’ Lush wrote a strongly worded press release, and we directly engaged the issue on social media. And we even took it up in with the broader retail industry groups.”

Zalman Kastel, National Director, Together for Humanity, emphasized the importance of Safe Schools: “I have been involved in many conversations around tolerance for different beliefs in schools. If any intolerance is allowed, then it’s not safe for anyone. Some people say that the Safe Schools program, as it’s currently written, doesn’t meet the needs of their community – but then, what does a decent, inclusive school look like in our society?”