The City of Sydney held its Rainbow Flag/Crossing public consultation on Tuesday night (July 16th) at Paddington Town Hall.
While I am not the world’s biggest fan of a Rainbow Flag (I think that it would be a ‘nice’ thing for Sydney to have to commemorate the LGBTI history of the city, but there might be better options to do that as well – see discussion below), I went along because the forum also included a panel looking at the most important issues confronting Sydney’s LGBTI community today.
The following are my four main observations about the forum:
1. Who knew that butcher’s paper, hastily scrawled ideas and scribes reporting back to the broader group was still a thing, especially in a room full of more than 100 people? It was certainly not what I expected when I walked in the door (and I still don’t know whether it worked or not).
2. The forum, including a presentation from the person who ‘led’ the Rainbow Crossing movement, probably demonstrated the limitations of that particular form of activism. While chalking is/was a great opportunity to engage different people from across the wider community (and extend the message of acceptance to straight allies), its moment may have passed. And showing photos of Chinese children chalking a rainbow outside rubble, or Vietnamese orphans living with HIV jumping behind a rainbow, might not be as inspiring as you think – it might instead lead audience members to wonder about the much bigger problems which these people face, and which will not be overcome with temporary distractions.
3. There are probably better, although admittedly more expensive, ideas for celebrating the LGBTI community of Sydney than either a Rainbow Flag or Rainbow Crossings. Our table’s (entirely unoriginal) idea was to provide for a permanent LGBTI museum, which could provide an ongoing reflection on the history of LGBTI Sydney, and Australia. I think something might have been lost in the translation of our notes to what ended up on the City of Sydney website on this – whereas we wrote ‘permanent LGBTI museum’ the website describes it merely as ‘permanent space for a museum and exhibitions’. To put it bluntly, we don’t just want the space, we want the funding to help make a museum happen (link to Have Your Say consultation here: http://sydneyyoursay.com.au/GLBTI?module=news#tool)
4. The discussion of the issues confronting the LGBTI community in Sydney today was probably the most interesting part of the night. A lot of worthy ideas were raised (including youth suicide and mental health, discrimination in schools, religious exceptions, transgender services etc). But one issue which was apparently not raised outside our table, and which certainly wasn’t reported on by anybody back to the group (we weren’t asked) was the issue of rising HIV notifications. Less than 2 weeks since the release of figures showing a 24% rise of HIV notifications in NSW in 2012, and an 18% rise in notifications resulting from sex between men (which still accounts for 81% of transmissions in the state), it seemed that HIV notifications, and the enormous challenges which lie beneath it, wasn’t worth much of a mention. I was a little bit shocked by that result (although some older, more cynical heads around the table described it as disappointing but not surprising).
In any event, the failure of rising HIV notifications to register at a community event like this, and especially less than 2 weeks since the data was released, means that there is a lot of work for groups like ACON to do. But just as importantly, I think it means there is a collective responsibility for the gay male community of Sydney to consider why we don’t think increasing HIV notifications is a major issue for our community in 2013.