Push for dress code tattoo bans to be included in Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act

A Queensland businessman wants anti-discrimination laws changed to stop pubs, clubs and restaurants from barring people with face and neck tattoos from entry.

His push has gained the support of civil libertarians and tattooists, with lawyers saying venue owners with discriminatory dress codes are already breaching existing human rights laws — but the issue is yet to be tested in court. 

Daniel Lowry, 34, has a large rose tattoo on his neck and other visible body art.

“I’m a young Australian, I’m a business owner, I’m a musician,” he said.

A close up of a rose tattoo on a man's neck
Mr Lowry has been denied entry to restaurants because of his tattoos.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

Over the years he has been denied entry from venues on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane — including a family birthday dinner at Blackbird at Brisbane’s Eagle St Pier, and the popular Burleigh Pavilion when he was visiting Burleigh Heads on his honeymoon.

“Times like that, it’s very frustrating because the reasoning makes absolutely zero sense to me. I should be able to dine at a restaurant with my family.”

Submission to change laws

With the Queensland Human Rights Commission currently reviewing the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act, Mr Lowry filed a submission to law-makers asking them to make anti-tattoo dress codes illegal.

At the moment, they are not covered by Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act — which was drafted 30 years ago.

A report will be handed to the Attorney-General next month, detailing proposed changes to the laws after submissions on a diverse range of issues.

A man with tattoos walks his dog in a suburban street
Mr Lowry says he feels like he’s lumped in with “extremists” and “criminals” because of his body art.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

In Mr Lowry’s submission, he asked for tattoos to be classified as “physical features” and “bodily characteristics” that cannot be discriminated against.

“The subtext of what they’re saying is that you belong to a group, and there are criminals or extremists in that group, and we’re going to exclude all of you because of that.”

Tattooists want change

Gold Coast tattooist Tim Ebbles, who has owned Borderline Tattoos in Burleigh Heads for more than two decades, said many clients with visible tattoos no longer went out to pubs and clubs because they knew they would not get in.

“I think tattooed people are very persecuted or looked upon,” he said.

A man stands behind art at a tattoo shop
Mr Ebbles says many customers with face and neck tattoos no longer go out to licensed venues.(ABC News: Alexandria Utting)

“Everyone should be allowed to go anywhere they like and have a beer and relax and enjoy themselves.”

Fellow tattooist Jayden Moles said many people got body art to mark significant events or remember loved ones.

“There are people in good jobs who are well-covered in tattoos from, say, wrist to feet, but at the same time, they’re also not looked upon in a good way.

“It’s 2022, we’re up in the new age. Everyone’s got tattoos, unfortunately.”

Freedom of expression protected

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) vice president Terry O’Gorman believed that while there were no protective provisions in the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act, the Queensland Human Rights Act protected “freedom of expression, including by way of art”.

“There’s a wide range of people in the community who wear tattoos. I have come across a number of police officers, including police prosecutors, tradies and people right across the spectrum … and an increasing number of women.”

A man in a pink shirt with a red tie sits at a desk looking at papers and into the camera
Mr O’Gorman says the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties will write to relevant authorties about the dress code practice.(ABC News: Marton Dobras)

He said dress codes that sought to ban patrons with certain tattoos were holding onto “old fashioned” views, and the QCCL was expected to write to the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) to draw attention to what he described as “quite illegal practice”.

Mr O’Gorman said the dress codes harked back to hard-line laws introduced as part of the Newman government’s controversial crackdown on bikie gangs.

“Some licensees of licensed premises were leant on by the police to stop people who were wearing tattoos from coming in because they were thought to be associated with bikers,” he said.

Venue owners’ right to choose

Glen Day is a Queensland Council member of the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association of Australia.

The Gold Coast businessman said restaurants, clubs and pubs should have the right to enforce dress codes.

“They’ve got to make that decision themselves and they should have the right,” Mr Day said.

A man stands in front of a pancakes in paradise sign
Gold Coast restaurant owner Mr Day says business owners have the right to choose who comes in.(ABC News: Alexandria Utting)

The restaurateur said he did not have a dress code that banned tattoos at his restaurants because they were family establishments, but high-end restaurants often disallowed face and neck tattoos for good reasons.

“Not everyone with tattoos is a violent person,” he said.

“But there are some that do look very aggressive with their tattoos and they do that deliberately.

“You can pick them out a mile away, usually they’ve got some sort of chip on their shoulder and they want to be a big person and you can see that.

Posted , updated 

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