Labor government weakness calls for a strong response


Labor government

The new Labor government should be trying to revive support from the LGBTIQA+ communities, especially after it voted for the Religious Discrimination Bill earlier this year. But it’s doing exactly the opposite, going soft on our issues, including the Census. The mainstream media has also demonstrated a worrying coyness about LGBTIQA+ issues and public figures.

It’s time to stand strong against discrimination and reject the small-target approach to LGBTIQA+ equality. Centre-left governments should do something, not waste their term placating people who will never vote for them anyway.

Silence and disregard

Under the Morrison Coalition Government and its predecessors, LGBTIQA+ Australians faced a cruel and very overt backlash to marriage equality.

Attacks on:

  •  discrimination protections in the name of ‘religious freedom’.
  • trans and gender diverse inclusion in the name of ‘women’s safety’.
  • school inclusion programs in the name of ‘parental rights.

Under the new Albanese Labor Government, those attacks have been replaced by silence and disregard that is seeping out into the media and beyond.

The Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit pointedly excluded LGBTIQA+ community reps and organisations, despite commitments from Treasurer, Jim Chalmers.

The Government failed to commit to an LGBTIQA+ Human Rights Commissioner, despite supporting such a position in the lead-up to past elections.

It ignores calls to lift the gay blood ban and replace it with individual risk assessment. Meanwhile, a growing number of countries, including Canada and Britain, successfully followed this path.

Our government says nothing about when it intends to protect LGBTIQA+ students from discrimination by faith-based schools. Nor is it clear whether it intends to properly protect teachers.

About all it has done is express opposition to transgender-inclusive language.

Census cop-out

Most frustratingly of all is the Labor Government’s vacillation on its single pre-election commitment to the LGBTIQA+ community. Labor committed to count us in the Census.

In recent weeks, the Government has told a number of community advocates that it is concerned Census questions about sexuality and gender identity may put extra pressure on teenagers to come out to their parents when they’re not ready.

It wants further consultation on the issue.

That is nonsense.

The ABS already incorporates questions on sexuality and gender identity in its regular household surveys without any problems. So why not the Census?

Some young people may not wish to come out to their parents on Census night. Others might want to be affirmed in the Census. That is for them to decide, not the Government.

LGBTIQA+ young people are experts on when to come out and when not to. I am sure they’ll decide themselves whether or not to out themselves on the Census form.

No Australian LGBTIQA+ group has raised this as a problem.  Nor has it been a problem in the other countries which count us in their national Census.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has done plenty of consultation already. It’s time to get on with it!

Why?

So why has this government gone soft on its election commitment?

I can only assume to avoid tabloid headlines along the lines of ‘Albanese wants to know if your child is trans’.

Equality Australia has lodged a discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission about LGBTIQA+ people not being counted in 2021.

The respondent to this case will not be the last Government, but the current one.

Clearly, the case is aimed at obtaining a solid commitment from the current Government to include us in the 2026 Census.

Think about that for a moment. The Labor Government is so reluctant to do anything positive for the LGBTIQA+ community that our representatives have to take legal action to force it to commit to its own election promise.

To be clear, I say this not to revel in the failure of the current Government. But because, for the sake of the LGBTIQA+ community, I want it to succeed.

The first step towards success is to acknowledge and prepare ourselves for how long the journey will be.

Jack Charles was gay

Federal Labor’s disregard for our community seems to reflect a wider retreat from affirming LGBTIQA+ people, especially in the media.

It has become much harder than it was immediately after marriage equality to focus media attention on important and emerging LGBTIQA+ issues.

Banning unnecessary and non-consenting medical interventions on intersex children is a good example of an issue that should be in the news consistently. However, it seems to have dropped from public attention.

Then there’s the growing body of research showing that our community’s mental health outcomes are not improving. We also have lower standards of living than other Australians.

There is very little public discussion about either of these issues.

For me, the problem was thrown into sharp relief by the Australian media’s almost complete failure to acknowledge the homosexuality of the late Jack Charles, First Nations elder, theatre star and LGBTIQA+ icon.

The only mainstream journalist to mention it was Patricia Karvelas. But that just underlined the problem.

It shouldn’t be up to gay journos to acknowledge the contribution of other gay people. It should be up to the nation as a whole.

The Jack Charles episode felt like a return to the 1990s. A time when the same-sex attraction of public figures only received acknowledgement if they did something wrong.

If they were beloved national icons, barely a word was said.

The failure to acknowledge Jack Charles’ sexuality was particularly disillusioning for me.

I campaigned for marriage equality believing it would free the nation from its damaging prejudices and painful post-colonial silences about same-sex attracted people.

Even though most Australians voted Yes in 2017 it seems opponents of LGBTIQA+ equality have successfully frustrated that vision, at least in part and at least for now.

A return to old-style campaigning

We have a problem, a big one.

The backlash to marriage equality is taking a new and even more insidious form.

It threatens to take Australia back to a time when there was barely any acknowledgement of the hurdles LGBTIQA+ people face, the important contributions we make, and the government action we need.

The answer is a return to the louder, more fulsome, more persistent advocacy from before the marriage equality postal survey.

In the lead-up to the postal survey, the Equality Campaign took a small-target approach to marriage equality. It did not make a fulsome case for that reform. Nor defend trans people, LGBTIQA+ students, Western Sydney and other targets of the No case. The campaign did not stand up to the bogus ‘religious freedom’ narrative and was generally bland and uninspiring.

The 61.6% Yes vote gave that small-target approach a legitimacy it did not deserve.

The fact is, majority support for marriage equality, both in the general public and in parliament, had been won years earlier by advocacy that was fulsome, firm, relentless and that didn’t leave some people behind.

If anything, the small-target approach resulted in a lower Yes vote than we could have achieved if we had stuck to the previous winning strategy.

We need to throw out the failed and damaging Equality Campaign model and return to the kind of campaigning that preceded it.

That model prompted change. It moved Australia forward to greater equality.

It will do the same again.

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.

Rodney Croome

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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