Australia’s LGBTIQ communities head into the year 2020 with huge achievements in our immediate past. There are also massive challenges in our immediate future. Is it time for a national representative body for Australia’s LGBTIQ communities?
Over the last half-century, our communities achieved decriminalisation of homosexuality, some discrimination protections, and marriage equality. We achieved that in spite of bitter opposition from extreme religious and political opponents. They opposed every reform. Take, for example, the individuals and organisations who fought marriage equality. Many of those previously opposed the end of long jail terms for consenting, private, adult sex acts.
Our opponents lose nothing when Australia awards LGBTIQ people equal rights. Well… nothing except their entitlement to dictate how other people live. Even now in modern democracies, some wannabe ayatollahs and inquisitors still believe religious freedom means the right to impose their personal religious dictates on others.
Activism in Australia’s LGBTIQ communities
None of the progress made by our communities came easily. Activists worked tirelessly for decades to achieve reform.
In Sydney, the 78ers put themselves on a collision course with police violence to initiate pubic consideration of reform.
In Tasmania, 130 brave people crossed a yellow line in 1988 to demand reform. They did so fully cognizant that crossing that line would result in their arrest. Their battle continued right up to the High Court of Australia and on to the United Nations before justice prevailed.
In Queensland, activist Ted Kelk chained himself up outside his local paper every time the Cairns Post vilified his community. He eventually co-founded the Queensland Association for Gay Law Reform and moved to Brisbane to fight for decriminalisation.
Reform does not just happen. No Australian parliament suddenly decides — hey, let’s do the right thing. Even our most supportive political allies often needed years of lobbying and cajoling to take legislative action on our behalf.
The first Australian same-sex marriages resulted from years of activism. Rodney Croome, long at the forefront of LGBTIQ activism in Australia, became one of the first advocates of same-sex marriage way back in 2004. Shelley Argent held the first Queensland meetings on the reform over her kitchen table soon after.
Why does it matter?
Opponents of LGBTIQ rights never give up.
After the YES campaign triumphed in the marriage equality postal vote, Lyle Shelton who spearheaded the NO campaign told the Sydney Morning Herald the fight would continue.
“In a democracy no question is ever completely closed”.
He stated an intent to “win this back over time.”
“That could take years or decades but I think there are millions of Australians who still believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and that is a public good, and there may be a time in the future when we can persuade our fellow Australians to that position once again.”
And that is the course our opponents then embarked on, using as their vehicle, the ‘religious freedoms’ debate.
A bargain with the devil
Most people never noticed in their exhilaration after the win, but in legislating to effect the will of the Australian people, some of our allies caved in and offered compensation to the losing side.
In return for losing their entitlement to decide other people’s marriages, our opponents sought an avenue for undermining the people’s vote.
Thus, in one of the world’s most successful and tolerant democracies, a country with freedom of religion enshrined in the constitution, we now face legislation that will again allow some people to wield their religion as a weapon against non-believers.
The determination of those who would turn back time means this will be a long battle. Yet our LGBTIQ communities have no representative national body to argue authoritatively on their behalf.
Our advocates speak constantly about the difficulty lining up meetings with politicians. Yet, the Australian Christian Lobby with a claimed following of 150,000 people apparently has no problem. On the Religious Freedoms legislation, aimed squarely at LGBTIQ communities, the government planned no meetings with our advocates but plenty with religious leaders.
A national representative body
A national representative body for LGBTIQ communities would be no easy task. Our communities are very diverse, not only in sexuality and identity but in opinion.
However, a body representative of all our communities, dedicated to achieving basic rights on which we all agree, could argue authoritatively for us in coming debates.
It could be dedicated to a simple proposition.
Everyone is equal before the law and is entitled to the equal protection of the law without discrimination.
And that body could fight for the most marginalised of our communities. Trans, Intersex and First Nations LGBTIQ people are small minorities in Australia. They need allies to achieve equality. Their LGBTIQ communities are their natural allies.
None of us truly fight for freedom if we only fight for ourselves.
A national representative body for Australia’s LGBTIQ communities could make a lasting contribution to true equality for all Australians.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.