Sunday, 22 August 2010

Whither same sex law reform?

Now that it appears that we have a hung Parliament, let's see if the issue of removal of discrimination against same sex people, and in particular the topic of same sex marriage, gets any traction.

During the course of the campaign, from recollection the first town hall meeting, Julia Gillard made plain her and the ALP's position  of being opposed to same sex marriage. On the other side of the chamber, probably the most notable statement was made by Tony Abbot's religious mentor, Cardinal George Pell, in opposition to the Greens and how their election would give legitimacy to homosexual relationships.

But the question may need to be faced- will the tail wag the dog? Will the Greens policy on this topic be enough to persuade the ALP to change its mind? It is clear that the Greens seek same sex marriage. Senator Hanson-Young made plain this morning that she saw part of the attraction by voters to the highest vote ever to the Greens being to the policy on same sex marriage.

As current predictions go, either side needs 76 seats to govern, but Labor on the current count appears likely to get 71 and the coalition 72, with 3 outstanding. Then there is the disparate group of the five other members: 4 independents and 1 Green:

  • The first Green member of the House of Representatives, Adam Bandt, will be pushing for same sex marriage.
  • Tony Windsor, Bob Katter Jr and Rob Oakeshott are all ex National Party members, before taking the less travelled road of being independents.
  • Andrew Wilkie is likely to be elected as an independent MP from Tasmania. A former Office of National Assessments officer who resigned in 2003 over the war in Iraq, and a former Greens candidate, he has pledged his position in favour of same sex marriage.

Then there is the question of the Senate. There was a half Senate election this time around. The old Senate remains in place until July. Until then, the Greens plus Nick Xenophon and Family First's Steve Fielding have had the balance of power. Or to put it correctly, for Labor to have legislation passed it needs all 3 minor players, but for the Coalition, it only needs one.

It seems clear now that Steve Fielding will be gone (by July), but it would appear to be replaced by a member from the DLP. For those who don't know, the Democratic Labor Party was born of the split in the ALP in the 50's. Its members tended to be conservative and Catholic. The last DLP Senator was during the Whitlam government.

However, the prediction of noted election pundit Malcolm Mackerras was that Labor and the Greens will control the Senate.

These are interesting times. Whether they lead to the removal of discrimination is another matter entirely.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Disgusting and despicable

Having been overseas (and away from the web), I missed the beginning of the furore about the comments by Wendy Francis, the Queendland Family First Senate candidate. I don't usually venture into party political comments on my blog, but this one was beyond the pale.

In case you were wondering what the fuss was about, here is what she tweeted:

"Children in homosexual relationships are subject to emotional abuse.  Legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse''.

This comment is simply disgusting and despicable. Some of my best friends are in same sex relationships.It is bizarre to suggest that they are potentially child abusers.  The comments may well amount to vilification, a criminal offence. It is outrageous to suggest that those who have a desire to have their relationship recognised in law as are other relationships are committing child abuse.

The comment is also ignorant. I am privileged that some of my best friends live in same sex relationships and have children. Those kids are like any others- with all the faults and foibles that all kids have. All the published research indicates that children raised in same sex relationships are not disadvantaged by being raised in those households, and are not more likely to turn out gay or lesbian than any other kids.
I have also acted for child abusers and paedofiles over the years. Some of these have committed terrible, terrible crimes against children. Disgusting crimes. It is beyond belief that the old ignorant statement that gays = perverts = paedofiles still exists, especially when all the evidence points to those committing the vast bulk of child abuse are heterosexual men.

Wendy Francis has since clarified what she said. This is part of her opening statement:

Headlines are designed to create attention and unfortunately many of the sensational headlines that included words like “gay slur” and “homophobic” distorted the truth of both what was said and my actual views.

Wendy- I did not read the sensational headlines, but your tweet is a gay slur, you may have committed a criminal offence, and is homophobic.

She then goes on to say, after saying that the form of the tweet was a mixup, but that she was ultimatelty responsible:

I hold no personal animosity against homosexuals. The way people choose to conduct their lives is up to them and I will defend the right of every Australian to live according to their personal beliefs as long as their choices do not infringe upon the rights and choices of other Australians or the nation as a whole....
I do not believe that upholding marriage or preventing children being raised in homosexual families is discrimination. We can’t govern Australia by legislation based on pleasing each group who wants things their way.
Well, actually, Wendy, here is a basic lesson. You are running for political office, in a democracy. Australia is one of the world's oldest democracies. People are entitled to be "pleased" with the candidates as they think fit and vote them in and out accordingly. Legislation ultimately in the words of Michael Kirby is the common sense of the nation. Ultimately the legislative process involves compromise, often on pleasing certain groups who want things their way, whether those groups are called the Liberal Party, ALP, Greens or Family First. That is particularly the case in the house of review- the Senate- to which you seek election.

Showing her underlying beliefs, Wendy stated:

Having an opinion is not homophobic. Having an opinion is not discriminatory. Having an opinion is a part of democracy and by standing for the senate I am a part of the democratic process that gives every Queenslander the chance to agree with me or not.
I reach out to those within the homosexual community and ask them to understand the thoughts and feelings of the many Australians that believe as I do.

Finally, what is this rot about "upholding marriage"? Is the institution of marriage in such a  parlous state that to allow homosexual couples to marry will destroy the institution of marriage for heterosexual couples?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

"Gays will come second - again"

Whatever the outcome of next week’s federal election, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups say that they and their families will come second – again.

“LGBT Australians are sick of being taken for granted by the ALP and Coalition,” Russell Flynn, spokesperson for the Queensland Queer Coalition said today.

“At this late stage of the election campaign, neither has produced a proactive or comprehensive policy response to our needs. They have no policies to address homophobia and discrimination, no policies to prevent and respond to crime and violence against us, no commitment to promote the capacity and resilience of our communities, or to provide access to the health and community services we need”, he said.

“The very first thing they could do is stand up to Queensland Families First candidate Wendy Francis’ inflammatory and uninformed opinions”, he went on. “Her weekend tweets betray not only her own divisive and hate-fueled ignorance, but highlight the very community education and other reforms necessary to ensure a cohesive, inclusive and supportive Australian community for all”.

The Qld Queer Coalition believes that to stand silent on Francis’ statements is to stand in support of them.

“The Democrats and Greens have policies which address the longstanding legislative, human rights, community and health issues that impact on us,” Flynn said, “But the only commitment coming from the Coalition and ALP, is to stand firm on their own out-of-step pledges to continue to deny LGBT Australians full citizenship and valued status in our 21st Century democracy”.

In the lead-up to “Queer the Vote!”, the much anticipated Queensland LGBT Federal Election Forum this Friday night, the statewide Queensland Queer Coalition of community groups has called on both the ALP and Coalition to catch-up with the rest of Australia, and to “get over themselves” on LGBT issues.

“It’s time they all showed some backbone and put up, or shut up on queer rights”, Flynn said. “Every election the ALP and Coalition placate us with sympathetic treaties to, “Be patient; the community isn’t ready”. At least Ms Francis is honest and clearly doesn’t want our votes”.

Independent surveys show that 65% of Australians support law reforms, including marriage. The ALP and Coalition choose to ignore this data. Instead scapegoating the communities they represent; communities which are far more socially progressive than the ALP, Coalition, and especially Families First.

“It’s time they either made firm commitments on issues that affect us, our families and our citizenship, or stop trying to pretend to us they’ll do this in some yet to be determined, distant future”, Flynn said.

“Despite the Government’s morally overstated social security and superannuation reforms, there is no commitment to government funding for community education campaigns to break down stigma or marginilisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Australians and our families, or to combat the significantly disproportionate violence reported against us”, Mr. Flynn said. “Violence which we believe is fueled by statements such as those of Ms Francis”.

“In stark lack-of-contrast, the Coalition has sent a very loud message to our communities by being completely silent on community supports and services, consultation and engagement, as well as the strengthening of anti-discrimination legislation and responses”.

“Neither political force has promised to deliver any new initiatives to combat violence against us, bullying in schools, or to promote our valued place in all Australian communities”, he went on.

“On marriage however, they each have acted decisively and stated that they WILL deny us access to that particular legal institution, despite us being citizens of this democracy”, Flynn said.

As 10% of the electorate, the LGBT vote is important – it can have a large impact, especially in the senate.

Today the Queensland Queer Coalition called on the ALP and Coalition to woo the votes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians.

By committing to:
1. Acting on discrimination through removal of all legislation and language in government which discriminates against people with alternative sexualities and gender identities; this would include consistent age of consent laws across the nation;
2. Strengthening our communities by funding LGBT community organizations to promote LGBT community identity, capacity and resilience;
3. Committing to consultation and engagement by imbedding resourced consultative mechanisms within government to inform policy, planning and funding initiatives, as exist for other equity groups;
4. Promote our valued place in our communities, wherever we live by working with us to develop resourced, long-term community education and capacity building organizations and campaigns to combat discrimination, marginalization and violence against LGBT Australians. This would include a focus on school-yard bullying of children and young people, abuse and family breakdown;
5. Acting on community services and supports by funding targeted LGBT community services across life stages, as well as sector development for other “generic” service providers which promotes our access and increases their understanding and cultural competence;
6. Committing to advocacy by consulting with us to develop a national, funded, framework for LGBT advocacy;
7. Remove all legal discrimination by delivering equal access to the laws of Australia (including marriage);
8. Support our families by ensuring equal access to family and child related benefits and programmes provided or funded by the Commonwealth Government, to LGBT families;
9. Provide a health system which meets our needs by engaging with us to ensure any reforms of the health and hospital system increases LGBT access to the culturally competent and medically skilled primary, secondary and tertiary health care we need;
10. Protect us from violence by working with us and the wider community to develop responses which prevent crime and violence against us, and respond to it appropriately, when it occurs.

“In all of this we remember our rural, regional and remote community members and those with additional disadvantage: those of us from indigenous or non-anglo Australian backgrounds; those with disabilities, who are elderly; those who experience homelessness, abuse or poor mental health; those of us without strong support networks.

In places and at times in our lives when community is difficult to find and maintain, there is a need for innovation, community education, health and community services which are accessible to us, meet our needs and address our vulnerabilities.

Therefore, we call on the 2 major forces in Australian politics to commit to working with us to identify and meet the needs of those LGBT Australians who don’t live in the CBD or on the East Coast and most importantly, our most vulnerable members; those who experience isolation from family and community, homelessness and other disadvantage”, Flynn said.

Source: Qld Queer Coalition media release

Qld LGBTI election forum tomorrow night

A Federal election forum will be held tomorrow night for LGBTI voters by the Queensland Queer Coalition, organisers of last year's successful State election forum.

Date: Friday 13 August

Place: Sportsman Hotel, 130 Leichhardt St, Spring Hill
Time: 6.30 to 8.30

Full bar and dining facilities will be available at the Sporties.
Auslan interpreter provided.

Speakers attending include:

Paul Stevenson (Dems); Larissa Waters (Greens), Clare Moore (ALP), and yet to confirm are George Brandis (LNP) and Wendy Francis (Families First).

Enquiries to:
Russell Flynn
0424 541 084

Paul Martin
07 3017 1777

Brisbane's LGBTI legal service starts

Brisbane's LGBTI legal service has started operations. It provides free legal advice on a walk in basis from 6pm each Wednesday night at the offices of QAHC, 30 Helen St, Teneriffe.

Caelli Lovell from Archibald and Brown and I were privileged to be the first two legal volunteers on the first night of operations.

No appointment is required as it is a drop-in service, and the sessions are usually 20 minutes in duration, however sessions will not be taken after 7:30pm. For people who live in rural, regional or remote Queensland areas, a phone appointment may be organised for the next evening session. For more information, please contact Julie on 0401 936 232 or email .

Blogging again...

At last, back from the USA trip. Standouts were going to the NCADV and NOMAS conferences in LA, and going on patrol with police in Phoenix.