ALP National Conference a cause for optimism

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WORDS Rodney Croome

Earlier this year the prospect of Labor emerging from its 2023 National Conference with a stronger LGBTIQA+ platform did not look good.

Under Bill Shorten, Labor adopted its broadest LGBTIQA+ platform ever, but after that election loss the platform was cut back.

Even the Equality portfolio was dropped by Labor.

Labor apologists said too many policies had made Labor appear unfocussed and that being too queer-friendly had cost them in Western Sydney.

Alarm bells rang when the draft platform for the 2023 National Conference lost even more LGBTIQA+ policy commitments.

Labor’s commitment to act against LGBTIQA+ discrimination, vilification and harassment were dropped, despite a commitment to religious vilification laws staying.

Also out the door were commitments around affordable trans health care and bodily autonomy for people with variations of sex characteristics.

There was no mention of other overdue commitments like the appointment of a LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner or dropping the gay blood donation ban.

But this sparked a fight back. Advocates, unionists and grassroots Labor members began speaking out and organising against Labor’s queer policy purge.

The message was received and some policies were reinstated.

The revised platform included commitments to:

-Strengthen discrimination and vilification laws.

-Counting us in the 2026 Census and an end to arbitrarily assigning non-binary or intersex people as male or female.

-Bringing the HIV epidemic to an end.

-Involving LGBTIQA+ people in aged care reform.

-Clarifying that criminalisation of LGBTIQA+ people is sufficient for them to claim asylum in Australia and training the officers who deal with them.

But there were more voices seeking to be heard from the floor of the conference and a range of LGBTIQA+ motions were passed including:

-Changing references from conversion therapies to conversion practices to clarify that religious conversion practices as well as conversion practices in health settings should be covered by legislation.

-Ending the ban on whole blood donation by gay and bisexual men and trans women who have sex with men, and instead adopting individual risk assessment.

-Reinstating a commitment to the bodily autonomy of people with variations of sex characteristics, including in medical settings.

-Decriminalising sex work, an issue Rainbow Labor and Scarlet Alliance had been working on together.

-Entrenching the role of Rainbow Labor as an LGBTIQA+ community voice in Labor’s Constitution.

Labor seems to have turned the corner, or at least the top-level strategists who want to hide our issues no longer have everything their own way.

In the words of one trans unionist I spoke to, “The government worked with us collaboratively and in good faith. We made huge strides.”

But there is still a long way to go before full LGBTIQA+ justice and equality is embodied in Labor’s platform:

-Labor must make it clear that its commitment to strengthen discrimination laws means removing exemptions that allow discrimination by faith-based schools and services.

-It must reinstate its support for affordable trans health care, and make its support for trans and gender diverse Australians much clearer and bolder.

-It must commit to an LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner and to not rolling back our rights as part of any Religious Discrimination Bill.

It must do not just what will draw our approval, but what will draw the disapproval of those who oppose our rights.

Labor must tackle those reforms – usually to do with either religious privilege or trans folk – that have wrongly been made culture battlegrounds.

If it doesn’t, the defection of LGBTIQA+ voters to the Greens and Teals may continue.

But seeing grassroots advocates turn the tide on Labor’s LGBTIQA+ platform, I am optimistic Labor can be persuaded to keep moving forward.

-Rodney Croome is a spokesperson for Just.Equal Australia and a long time LGBTIQA+ rights advocate

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