Rodney Croome is a long-time LGBTI equality advocate. As a strategist in numerous campaigns for equality, Rodney says our community can still make change and meet threats under the re-elected coalition government.
I won’t sugar coat the election result: Australia has the most socially and religious conservative government in a generation. Many leading Liberal moderates quit thinking the election was lost. Religious conservatives are in the ascendant under our first ever evangelical Prime Minister.
Worse, many Government members wrongly believe the religious right helped them get re-elected. They feel they now have a mandate to roll back discrimination protections, oppose hate speech laws, block transgender rights and clamp down on LGBTI school inclusion programs under cover of “freedom of speech”, “freedom of religion”, “parental rights” and “protecting children”.
But despite all this, I have no time for despair, resignation or talk about “moving to New Zealand”.
I urge you to stay put, pull yourself together and join the battle against inequality. Here’s why…
Making positive change
I am optimistic we can make progress on those key issues facing the LGBTI community. We need a comprehensive ban on conversion therapy, to end discrimination in faith-linked schools and to achieve equality for transgender people.
Before the election, the new Government promised $3 million for LGBTI mental health and funding boosts to key LGBTI support organisations. They promised to work with the states on conversion therapy. That’s great, but I think we should continue to aim much higher.
I take hope from Tasmania just passing some of the most progressive laws recognising and protecting transgender people in the world. That happened despite a state government that stridently opposed the reform at every step.
MPs across the political spectrum listened to the moving personal stories of transgender and gender diverse Tasmanians. Those MPs put their old loyalties aside in order to work together. That reform will make a real difference to the quality of life of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
With numbers in the House of Representatives so close, there’s every reason to hope we can do the same thing nationally.
Where the Morrison Government agrees with us, we can work with it. Where it does not, we look for ways around it.
After all, it is the Parliament that makes laws, not the Government.
And if that doesn’t work, we return to our state capitals and work on reform there.
The states led the push for LGBTI discrimination laws, same-sex relationship and parenting laws, and same-sex marriage. The Commonwealth followed along behind at every point.
If we must take the same path on trans rights, conversion therapy, and discrimination and hate speech laws, so be it.
In the 1990s, the Tasmanian Parliament refused to decriminalise homosexuality. So, we took our campaign to the UN and the federal parliament.
In the 2000s, when the federal parliament refused to allow same-sex couples to marry, we took our campaign to state parliaments and local councils.
There is always another way forward, always.
Facing down threats to LGBTI Equality
I’m not so optimistic that I don’t see the threats we face.
I fear the federal government will seek to override state discrimination and hate speech laws by enacting a stand-alone federal right to religious freedom.
I fear it will seek to override trans rights, assert the gender binary and clamp down on LGBTI inclusion in schools. They will do it under cover of everything from “protecting children” to “accurate statistic gathering”.
I am especially fearful for my home state because we have the strongest discrimination, hate speech and transgender rights laws in Australia.
Some religious conservatives still hold a grudge from the mid-90s when the Federal Government overrode Tasmania’s former anti-gay laws.
They will relish the opportunity to take revenge by overriding the progressive laws Tasmania adopted in the years since.
I take hope from the fact we have faced down these threats before.
The current Tasmanian Government has repeatedly sought to water down our discrimination and hate speech laws. As I said, it strongly opposed our trans rights laws.
But each time it failed because we were able to show most MPs how vulnerable people would be further disadvantaged by weaker legislative protections.
We took the debate out of the realm of abstract ideas and empty slogans and made it about real people.
We can do the same nationally. If we fail, we can challenge the Government in court with forward-thinking state governments on our side. If we fail in court, we can raise awareness sufficiently that equality will be re-instated by a future government.
Like I said, there is always another way forward, always.
Bolder is better for LGBTI Equality, says Rodney Croome
If we are to grasp the opportunities before us, and face down the threats, we must organise better and act more boldly.
For years, now right wingers in the Liberal Party, churches and the media have talked loudly about protecting religious freedom and the gender binary.
Some of the LGBTI community’s defenders failed to respond with the courage the challenge requires.
Too few of our defenders called out “religious freedom” as a way to make anti-LGBTI discrimination respectable and “free speech” to do the same for hate speech.
Too few stood up for those reforms. Reforms, particularly of birth certificates, would so much improve the lives of transgender and gender diverse people.
Advocates looked away from the far right’s attacks during the postal survey so as not to scare the horses.
They did the same for the same reason during the election just gone.
And what has this small-target approach delivered?
A community ignorant of the human reality behind the far right’s talking points.
The far right empowered to move beyond talking points to legislation limiting our rights.
A nation stuck in self-congratulations over marriage equality, yet unable to fulfil the promise of that reform by moving beyond it.
The renewal we want for Australia begins with the honest assessment that compromising with prejudice hasn’t worked.
We must foster new national policies, voices and visions that are bolder, nimbler, and up to the challenges ahead.
As a community, we must take our destiny into our hands. We must not rely on others to do the job for us.
The future is ours. I look forward to seeing you there.
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