Rainbow Crossings? What else have you got?

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.

5 Quick Thoughts on the 2013 GLORIAs

On Wednesday night (May 8), Steve and I attended this year’s GLORIAs Awards at NSW Parliament House. The GLORIAs literally stand for the Gay & Lesbian Outrageous, Ridiculous and Ignorant comments Awards, and are an opportunity for the LGBTI community to get one back on the bigots who say offensive things about us throughout the year, but to do so in a humorous way. The winners of this year’s awards are reproduced at the end of this post. But before we get to that that I thought I might share my five quick observations about the GLORIAs.

1. I think that this is a great event. NSW Upper House Labor MP, Penny Sharpe – who is also one of Australia’s small (but slowly growing) number of out parliamentarians – ‘borrowed’ the idea from the already established Ernies, which themselves ‘celebrate’ sexist and misogynist public comments. It makes for a fun night for those who attend, while also reinforcing the serious point that homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia and anti-intersex prejudice remain ongoing issues, requiring our continuing attention. This is especially important to remember when so much effort can go into legal reforms, like marriage equality, which won’t in and of themselves permanently remove the blight of discrimination from our society.

2. David Marr really is a very funny host. His dry wit certainly adds to the occasion, as does the relish which he brings to announcing the well-deserving recipients of each award. This year, I nominated the winner in one of the categories – Andrew Bolt for his absolutely ridiculous comments about marriage equality (which leads me to wonder what he thinks about his lesbian sister’s own marriage?). Somehow I suspect David took a fair bit of delight in reading that one out. I also had the chance to have a chat with David during the evening – he seems raring to go for the Guardian Australia as they launch ahead of this year’s Federal Election.

3. The courage of Ian Roberts in coming out while at the height of his rugby league career, back in 1995, should not be under-estimated. Ian Roberts was, maybe surprisingly, at this year’s GLORIAs, and this was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to meet him. We chatted about Jason Collins and the impact which his recent coming out will have on other players in the NBA, and indeed other major US codes. Hopefully Collins’ announcement will inspire other people to follow in his footsteps – but then again, that is something many people said after Roberts’ came out EIGHTEEN whole years ago (and no other male Australian football player has done so since). The fact that he did that way back then deserves nothing but respect. [I was also a little bit of a ‘fanboy’ and let him know that him coming out meant a lot to this particular writer, especially given I was a 17 year old closeted student at a religious boarding school at the time – but I don’t think that sentiment would be uncommon amongst gay guys who grew up in Australia in the 1990s.]

4. Duncan Gay has good media advisers. After winning this year’s Golden GLORIA, for the completely unjustifiable decision to rip up the Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square earlier this year, the Roads Minister mitigated the damage somewhat by coming down from his Ministerial offices to collect the award in person. This led to him receiving a certain level of begrudging respect from some people in the crowd (for being able to face those who had given him the gong), as well as some not unfavourable media coverage afterwards http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/local-news/new-south-wales-news/2013/05/09/glorias-get-gay/103590 . All in all, it was very well-handled by the ironically-named Minister.

5. Tim Campbell, on the other hand, needs some media advice. In ‘defending the honour’ of his partner, Anthony Callea, who won the Silliest comment from someone within the LGBTI community award, Tim took to twitter to make some comments about the ‘sensational’ and ‘biased’ article from which the quotes came. What wasn’t disputed was that the quotes were actually made in the first place. [The relevant tweets: So @TheGLORIAs read a sensational and biased article and decided they can define Callea’s integrity. A shameful and pathetic game you play. Anthony does more to further GLBTI issues in the wider community than your narrow minded group will ever do. @TheGLORIAs]. There was also a now-apparently-deleted tweet direct to Penny Sharpe on the topic. What Tim should have realised is that, in these situations, it is best to ignore and move on, rather than taking umbrage and potentially making a bigger issue out of something that it would otherwise have been. I might be forgetting a lot about what I learnt in politics, but that lesson will stay with me for a long time [PS I am not disputing the content of Tim’s tweets – Anthony may well do a lot for the LGBTI community – just that with something like this, it is always best to be the bigger person.]

And so here they are, the ‘winners’ for 2013…

Golden GLORIA: Duncan Gay, the NSW Roads Minister, won this year’s golden gong for tearing up the Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square. As is tradition, this was decided by a ‘boo-off’ by attendees at this year’s event.

Category Winners:
Politics / Law

Tess Corbett, Katter’s Australia Party Candidate who said in interview with The Hamilton Spectator that considered gay people to be in the same category as paedophiles: “Paedophiles will be next in line to be recognised in the same way as gays and lesbians and get rights,” she said.

International
John Sullivan, a councillor candidate for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) for a series of Facebook posts that said gay activists were like termites; claimed homosexuality could be prevented by regular exercise in schools; congratulated Russia for banning gay pride; and said that although feminism was evil, being gay was even worse.

Media
Andrew Bolt: “But same-sex activists don’t want marriage equality — because they already have it. A gay man is as free as a straight man to marry a woman. A lesbian is as free as any other woman to marry a man. That’s equality…. And if we are to change what marriage means, we have a duty to consider not just the good such a huge change to such a critical social bond could bring, but the evil, too.”

Religion
Southern Baptist Convention President Rev. Fred Luter thinks that support of same-sex marriage and gay rights could be linked to North Korea’s most recent threats against the United States: “I’m not that strong in prophecy but I would not be surprised that there’s not a connection there simply because of the fact we’ve seen it happen in scripture before. I would not be surprised that at the time when we are debating same-sex marriage, at a time when we are debating whether or not we should have gays leading the Boy Scout movement, I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that we have a mad man in Asia who is saying some of the things that he’s saying.”

Sport
Former Major League Baseball player Mark Knudson writing about gay players in team sports: “No one has said that gays should not be allowed to play in the NFL. What has been said is that having a gay teammate would make some players uncomfortable… Nothing that infringes on the cohesiveness of the locker room can be tolerated. If a player who is not an irreplaceable superstar becomes any sort of distraction, he’s going to get released… That’s why it remains the best option for any homosexual athlete in a team sport to keep his orientation private. He’s doing what’s best for himself by doing what’s best for the team.”

Silliest GLBTI comment from within the GLBTI community
Anthony Callea says he’s not interested in activism “I have a great relationship, I live in normal house, I have a dog, I live a normal lifestyle, it’s just part of who I am – it’s not who I am. My friends and family don’t treat us like that either. I think if you make something an issue, then it becomes an issue [in] society.”

The organiser of the GLORIAs, Penny Sharpe, and my beautiful fiance.

The organiser of the GLORIAs, Penny Sharpe, and my beautiful fiance.

My Top 12 of 2012

On the last day of 2012, I thought it might be an opportune time to reflect on the major achievements, and disappointments, for the LGBTI community over the past 12 months. The following list of 12 highlights (or indeed ‘lowlights’ for a few) include a mix of domestic, and international, developments, as well as a couple which are not directly LGBTI-related, but which indirectly could have a major impact on LGBTI people. Of course, any ‘list-making exercise’ involves inherently subjective judgments about what is important, and I would be interested to hear your views about what should have made the list but is not included (and vice versa).

And so, in no particular order, here are my 12 highs and lows of 2012.

Gardasil Vaccine Image

1. Boys to get free Gardasil vaccine

On 12 July, Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced that, from next year, boys aged 12 and 13 would be provided with three free doses of the Gardasil vaccine, which protects against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This is a massive long-term win for the LGBTI community – and in particular gay and bisexual men – and finally overturns the homophobic decision of the previous Government to exclude teenage boys from the National Immunisation Program.

The then Health Minister, Tony Abbott, who initially resisted listing Gardasil for anyone, eventually chose to restrict free access to Gardasil to school-age girls on the basis that this would protect these girls from HPV, and the boys who would in future sleep with them, thereby reducing the prevalence of HPV across the ‘broader community’. Except that, obviously, it would do little to reduce HPV prevalence amongst men who have sex with men, who would not be immunised.

This is significant because, while most people understand that HPV causes cervical cancer, it also causes penile, anal, and mouth and throat cancers. So, as a result of Tony Abbott excluding boys from accessing this vaccine from its commencement in 2007, there will be a six year cohort of gay and bisexual men who could have been protected against the cause of many types of cancer, but will instead potentially suffer long-term serious health consequences. To me, that is the epitome of the phrase blood on his hands.

Still, this is not to detract from the announcement by Minister Plibersek, and the amazing achievement that all gay and bisexual men born in Australia from the year 2000 onwards will have a dramatically reduced risk of developing cancer. Well done, Tanya.

2. National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy

Another major achievement by the Federal Government this year was the release of the National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy by the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler. This strategy, released on 20 December, is absolutely essential to help end the stigma of silence surrounding, and the direct and indirect discrimination confronted by, older LGBTI people as they engage with aged care services and enter aged care facilities.

The fact that it was released at all is a testament to the hard work, over many years, by people such as academic Jo Harrison, and the National LGBTI Health Alliance, and of course to a Minister and Government that was willing to both listen to, and work with, the community on this issue. The strategy is also backed up with a commitment of funding (at least $2.5 million), which will help aged care service providers to learn how to be inclusive of LGBTI individuals, couples, carers and their families.

However, this is funding that must also be protected from a Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, who has already identified this bucket of money as a potential saving should the Coalition win Government next year. So, well done Mark, and hands off, Joe.

3. Government MPs, including PM Gillard, join with Coalition to vote down marriage equality

Of course, when it comes to assessing the record of the Federal Government on LGBTI rights in 2012, most people will (quite understandably) not be able to look past the failure of the parliament to pass marriage equality. Dozens of ALP MPs, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, joined with all but one member of the Coalition (Liberal Senator Sue Boyce, who notably abstained), to vote against legislation which would have finally granted genuine equality to same-sex relationships.

This defeat was inevitable because of the decision by the ALP national conference in December 2011 to grant a conscience vote to its parliamentarians, rather than enforce a binding vote in favour of marriage equality. But just because defeat was inevitable, and expected, does not mean it was any less devastating for those of us longing to be acknowledged as first-class citizens.

Indeed, the scale of the defeat – 98 votes against and 42 in favour in the House of Representatives, and a somewhat closer 41 votes against and 26 in favour in the Senate – was particularly disheartening, especially as it shows the fight for equal marriage is likely ten or more years away from success.

The fact that the Prime Minister was one of those who stood intransigently against LGBTI Australians is something that will never be forgotten. This is someone who is able to identify and eloquently denounce sexism and misogyny ‘wherever she sees it’, but who either has a blind spot when it comes to homophobia, or who warmly embraces it. Shame, Julia, shame.

*The one positive development when it comes to marriage equality under federal law came in January when the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon implemented another ALP national conference decision, which was to allow same-sex couples marrying overseas to be issued with Certificates of No Impediment (CNI). As well as overturning the homophobic policy of previous Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, this decision means that many more Australian couples – like Steve and I – will at least be able to marry elsewhere, even if our own country doesn’t recognise it.

4. Campbell Newman rolls back the clock

One of the most disappointing developments of 2012, especially for someone who grew up in Queensland during the 1980s and early 1990s, was the speed and scale of the newly-elected Liberal-National Party Government’s ‘crusade’ against LGBTI rights. Elected with a huge majority (78 seats out of a parliament of 89), Campbell Newman and his colleagues wasted no time in identifying the number one issue which they needed to address – the fact that LGBTI Queenslanders had come dangerously close to being accepted as equal.

In their first 9 months in office, the Newman LNP Government has:

  • Removed funding for the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC), the only HIV/AIDS peak body in the state which services the men who have sex with men (MSM) community. The Health Minister Lawrence Springborg attempted to justify this decision on the basis that HIV rates were rising faster in Queensland than in the rest of the country – but the figures released later in 2012 showed that HIV rates have actually declined in Queensland, counter to a national rise. Which leaves just one possible explanation for why QAHC was defunded – the homophobia of the LNP and Minister Springborg.
  • Amended the civil union laws, which had been introduced by the Bligh Government at the end of its term, to remove the ability of same-sex couples to have a legally-binding ceremony. Apparently having any ceremony at all was ‘mimicking’ marriage and needed to be outlawed as a matter of priority.
  • Announced that it will remove the ability of same-sex couples (as well as single people) to access surrogacy. It is still unclear what the penalty will be for couples who break this proposed law, although at various times during the year it appeared the Newman Government would introduce gaol terms for people whose only crime was attempting to found a family.
  • Introduced a new ‘student protection’ policy which will require school staff, including counsellors, to report to the principal any sexual activity between a student under 16 with someone over 16 (irrespective of their actual age difference), and of any student between the ages of 16 and 18 who has engaged in ‘sodomy’. This policy further entrenches the discriminatory age of consent provisions in Queensland (which has a higher age of consent for anal intercourse), and poses a danger to the health and safety of students who are simply seeking counselling and advice. At this stage it appears that school nurses – who are employed by Queensland Health rather than the Education Department – are exempt from this policy, although how long that exemption lasts remains to be seen.

The christian fundamentalist war against LGBTI people being waged north of the Tweed is a possible blueprint for a newly-elected Abbott Liberal-National Government to implement federally. Which makes the federal election to be held sometime during 2013 all the more important. In the meantime, the LGBTI people of Queensland are watching their rights being dismantled, one at a time. Shame, Campbell, shame.

5. Uganda debates ‘kill the gays’ bill

There have been several distressing stories internationally during the year. The appeals court in Cameroon upholding a three-year gaol term for Jean-Claude Roger Mbede simply for sending a text message to another man saying “I’m very much in love with you” was heart-breaking. The backwards steps being taken in Russia are also an obvious concern (not only do gay pride parades remain banned, but attacks against LGBTI Russians are rising at the same time the Russian parliament is considering legislation to outlaw ‘propaganda of homosexuality among minors’).

But without doubt the number one ‘lowlight’ internationally this year was the move by parliamentarians in Uganda to introduce capital punishment for homosexuality. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill (or Kill the Gays Bill as it is commonly referred), if passed, would mean Uganda would join 7 other countries where homosexuality is subject to the death penalty, out of 76 countries where being LGBTI is still a crime.

As the year ends there has been a short reprieve, with the Bill not coming on for a vote until at least February 2013, and some reports that the death penalty may ultimately be dropped from the Bill – although sadly not imprisonment. Still, the prospect of a country potentially introducing capital punishment for homosexuality this decade is almost too depressing for words.

Allout image

6. The emergence of AllOut (@allout)

One of the key groups which emerged to draw attention to, and fight against, the Kill the Gays Bill, was AllOut (a New York-based organisation which uses online and real-world tools to help the global LGBT movement for equality). In fact, I would argue that the emergence of AllOut is itself a major highlight of 2012.

AllOut is taking the best and most up to date models of activism and applying them to causes as diverse as LGBTI equality in Brazil, same-sex parenting in the EU, ending gay ‘cures’ in California, as well as trying to help stop the Ugandan Kill the Gays Bill. Here’s hoping that AllOut has a long and proud future, as it complements the work of existing and established organisations like the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).

7. International moves towards marriage equality

Another highlight of 2012 was the ongoing progress of the marriage equality movement. Leaving aside victories in the US (which I will discuss below), marriage rights were extended to LGBTI couples in Denmark in June. And the governments of Scotland, Luxemburg and France have all committed to marriage equality in the next few years. In England and Wales, and New Zealand, it appears likely that equal marriage will be passed next year by parliaments with conservative governments (Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is helping to drive legislation in Westminster, while National Party Prime Minister John Key has indicated he will support a private member’s bill in the Beehive).

The fact that two conservative leaders have embraced marriage equality shows just how far this movement has come over the past few years, and the fact that further progress is inevitable. Of course, it also further underscores just how out of touch and embarrassing Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are on this issue, but one day they too will be mere footnotes to our record of achievement.

8. The United States takes a giant leap for LGBTI ‘humankind’

It seemed like 2012 was the year in which the United States of America, and its people, finally ‘got it’ when it comes to LGBTI equality. The President, Barack Obama, announced that he supported marriage equality back in May (in part because he could muster no arguments against it when discussing the topic with his daughters). He was subsequently re-elected to serve a second term, and it seems that his pro-equality stance was a help rather than a hindrance (something which Julia Gillard should – but probably won’t – notice).

But Obama’s re-election was just one of many victories on Tuesday November 6 – a date on which LGBTI rights in the US took a bigger step forward than any single day since the Stonewall Riots in 1969. After 32 consecutive losses in state-wide referenda on same-sex marriage, all four states which voted in November bucked the trend and supported equality. As a result, Maine, Maryland and Washington became the 7th, 8th and 9th US states to introduce marriage equality, while a referenda to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was also defeated.

The significant of these victories should not be underestimated. For years, the radical right in the US has used these ballots to ‘get out the christian vote’ – indeed, Karl Rove employed this strategy to help George W Bush secure re-election as recently as 2004. Instead, in 2012, the American people decided to vote for acceptance and inclusion rather than intolerance and hate. What. A. Change.

To top things off, in Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first openly gay person ever to serve in the US Senate. And that’s not even counting the fact the most influential political analyst of the US election was a gay man, Nate Silver.

This truly was a watershed election, and paves the way for bigger changes in the future. Which might be upon us sooner than we thought, with the US Supreme Court to hear cases considering both Proposition 8 (the Californian ban on same-sex marriage), and the constitutional validity of the Defense of Marriage Act, in 2013. Let’s hope that the Court’s decisions are amongst the highlights (and not lowlights) of next year.

120525_nelderkin_idjfrankocean_055x

9. Hip-hop comes of age

There was a similar sea-change when it came to US popular culture this year. After many, many, many years of waiting, it seems like hip-hop finally started to change its homophobic ways, and to deal with the subject of homosexuality with a little bit of respect rather than just a whole lot of ‘faggots’ and ‘fucking homos’.

Leading the charge was Jay-Z, who followed Obama’s announcement by declaring that he too backed equal marriage rights. Other hip-hop stars also expressed their support. Rappers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis then released one of the best bits of pro-LGBTI propaganda of the past few years (well, outside of the 2011 GetUp! video anyway) in the form of single Same Love, which was also used in the successful marriage equality referendum campaign in Washington State. And Azealia Banks (of 212 fame) came out at as bisexual in February, a statement which may take on even more significance in February 2013 when she releases her debut album.

But for mine the most important development in hip-hop in 2012 was the beautiful and tender letter written by rapper Frank Ocean, talking about his first love – a man – and published the week before his full-length debut Channel Orange was released. This was a hip-hop star not just coming out, but coming out at the start of his career, and making no apologies for who he was and who he loved.

Of course, there have been other music stars who have come out (Elton John, George Michael, KD Lang, Melissa Etheridge, and countless others), but usually this has been at the end of their careers – or at least long after they were well established. Even ‘out and proud from the beginning’ groups like the Scissor Sisters (personal favourites of mine) have played in the more traditionally gay-friendly genres of pop and dance, rather than the decidedly less accommodating field of rap/hip-hop.

What made Frank Ocean’s declaration even more significant was that he backed it up with what has been widely recognised as the best album of the year – which is just one of six categories in which he is nominated for a Grammy. Channel Orange is a brilliant collection of highly personal songs, including several which are sung to or about a male love interest. Bad Religion is just about the best piece of art on the subject of unrequited (same-sex) love ever. Frank Ocean didn’t just make gay hip-hop for a gay audience, he made great hip-hop that covered many topics, including same-sex love, and looks to have found a large audience around the world. Even if you don’t like his music, you cannot help but admire his accomplishments.

10. Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse

This is the first of two developments which are not explicitly LGBTI-related but which are fundamentally important to all Australians, including the LGBTI community. The decision by the Federal Government to appoint a Royal Commission into child sex abuse is a necessary first step in dealing with this evil scourge, as well as recognition of the courage of people like Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox and numerous others in pushing for it, despite many setbacks along the way.

There are two potential long-term consequences for the LGBTI community as the Royal Commission runs its course. The first is that the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, and other religious organisations, will become ever more apparent. Some of the same religious figures who have been arguing about the so-called ‘perils’ of recognising the love between two consenting adults, have also been involved in negligent inaction within their own churches about the very real problem of child sex abuse. Some may even ultimately be found to have engaged in the criminal cover-up of child sex abuse, instead preferring to pay hush money to the victims and simply moving the offenders around. The fact that the broader community will be able to see through the hypocrisy of these figures should make it much easier to push for LGBTI equality in the future.

The second consequence is much more ambiguous. One tactic which christian fundamentalists could resort to during the Royal Commission is to blame ‘gay priests’ for child sex abuse, and to try to link homosexuality and paedophilia in the public debate. This strategy, blaming ‘the gays’ for child sex abuse, was used by bigots like France Arena in NSW in the 1990s, and it is easy to see it being attempted again – with much unpleasantness all round.

But I think this ultimately could be a good thing. Public understanding of these issues has moved on since then. Provided the Royal Commission is handled sensitively and gay and lesbian lobby groups are ready for the debate, this could actually be an opportunity to forever break any connection between these two essentially unrelated ideas (homosexuality and paedophilia).

11. Asylum seekers are sent to Nauru and Manus Island

Again, this ‘lowlight’ is not directly LGBTI related. But I would include it here because any time a country turns its backs on asylum seekers – to the extent that it chooses to send them to detention centres in other countries for unspecified periods of time – is something so terrible that it cannot, and must not, be ignored. To put it bluntly, this is a national disgrace, and something which the Labor Government and Liberal-National Opposition should forever be ashamed about. Unfortunately, given the current state of political debate in our country, there does not seem to be much hope this situation will change any time soon.

Of course, as I have written previously, there are LGBTI dimensions to this issue as well. There will inevitably be some asylum seekers who are sent to Manus Island and Nauru who were seeking asylum in Australia because of LGBTI persecution in their home country. It should also be noted that, for gay and bisexual men who are detained in either of these centres, both Nauru and Papua New Guinea criminalise male homosexuality, and so they may be exposed to prosecution on that basis. Still, this is an issue which is larger than just these injustices to LGBTI asylum seekers – no asylum seeker should be imprisoned simply for seeking safety from persecution. Not now, not ever.

12. Exposure Draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012

I thought I might end on a positive note – and also something which represents unfinished business for 2013. In November, the Federal Government finally released the exposure draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. As well as consolidating the existing protected attributes of race, sex, disability and age, this Bill would for the first time provide federal anti-discrimination protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians (*at this stage, intersex people are not properly protected, although hopefully that will be rectified during the committee stage).

If passed, this legislation would be another significant LGBTI-related achievement by the Labor Government. Building on relationship recognition and public sector superannuation reforms in 2008, passport changes for transgender people, Gardasil vaccinations for boys and the National LGBTI Aged Care and Ageing Strategy (both above), this would contribute to a fairly broad-based and substantial record of reform. To some extent, it is a shame that the failure to recognise marriage equality is so large a defeat that it overshadows much of this significant level of achievement. But then the Government has no-one to blame for that than itself.

Still, that is getting ahead of ourselves. Returning to the Bill, there are two major hurdles left to overcome. The first is in securing sufficient cross-bench support so that the Bill passes the House of Representatives, although the noises on this seem to be positive. The second, much more difficult, hurdle to overcome is ensuring that the legisation is passed before the federal election is called. With at most five months of sitting time left in this parliament, it is touch and go whether the Bill will be passed in time. Whether it does is the most important domestic LGBTI story of the first half of 2013. Fingers (and toes) crossed.