By Jordan Hirst
Two thousand people took to the streets on Wednesday night to demonstrate the amount of opposition to the Newman Government's sudden defunding of QAHC and ongoing threats to repeal civil partnership laws.
One of the largest Queensland gay rights rallies in recent memory, the group of protesters included people who had travelled from regional Queensland specifically for the event.
The crowd chanted as they marched from King George Square to state Parliament.
Equal Love Brisbane organised the "emergency" rally in anticipation of an announcement on the repeal of civil unions, which they believe would be a drastic step backwards for Queensland.
"There is no justification for repealing the civil partnerships legislation," Jess Payne from Equal Love said. "A majority in Parliament does not give any government the mandate to take away people’s rights."
At the rally, PFLAG spokesperson Shelley Argent read to the crowd a letter she received from the Attorney-General's office, confirming that it wasn't a matter of "if, it's when" the Government will move against the civil partnerships legislation.
"'I confirm that this Government will be reviewing the Act, and considering all possible actions for change, including a full or partial repeal of the Act,'" she read.
Argent said PFLAG have set up a webform allowing supporters of civil unions to easily send a message to Queensland LNP members asking civil unions be left untouched.
"Let [the LNP politicians] know that you are not happy," she said. "Everybody here has worked too hard and too long to now just let the rights be gone."
John Ebert and John Stafford, a couple of 42 years, addressed the rally to speak highly of their civil union.
"We went in to register our partnership on the first day," John Ebert said. "I thought it was just a legal thing, that's it. How wrong I was. We arrived to a sea of smiling, happy people."
The couple also spoke of the importance of keeping pressure on politicians on gay rights issues.
"We're now facing attacks on our civil rights, the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1980s," Ebert said. "No person or group in our society has the right to discriminate against me, or my relationship. The denial of our rights is the unwritten but complicit approval to treat us poorly or as second-class citizens, which we are not."
South Brisbane MP Jackie Trad addressed the crowd outside Parliament, pledging support from Queensland Labor for the LGBTI community. She accused the LNP of failing to be inclusive towards all people in Queensland on the civil partnerships issue.
"This government does not understand that all Queenslanders deserve the same rights as everybody else," Trad said. "This is not a policy agenda, this is a political agenda. A political agenda that says that unless you are churchgoing, unless you are bible reading, unless you are straight, you do not belong in our world order."
A candlelight vigil and minute of silence was held outside Parliament in remembrance of everyone who has died of AIDS.
All speakers at the rally passionately defended QAHC's achievements and the positive impact the organisation has had on the LGBTI community.
Although declining to appear before the crowd, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg addressed the Parliament earlier in the day on the issue of HIV prevention. He said he believed the issue had disappeared off the radar of the general community and the Newman Government was taking urgent action to address that.
"This is not just an issue for gay men; this is an issue for people in the community at large," he said. "Even though predominantly there is still a diagnosis rate of 80 per cent for those in the gay population, there is the other 20 per cent of the population where it is a serious problem."
The Health Minister announced he was accepting nomations for people wishing to sit on the ministerial advisory committee to replace QAHC for a three-year term beginning on July 1 this year.
"We will be seeking nominations from people who have a range of skills and who can represent people living with AIDS such as gay men--that is, public health practitioners with experience in HIV prevention, HIV treatment and so on," he said. "I am keen to ensure that we never see this important health issue go off the radar in Queensland or Australia again."
Shelley Argent called on the Government to refund QAHC, and said the organisation had grown from humble beginnings to a "streamlined, well-organised, well-run group."
"[QAHC] may go back to the grassroots for a while, but that doesn't mean that we can't build up again, and everybody here can be part of that," she told the rally.
By Jordan Hirst