2014 GLORIAs Form Guide

The 2014 annual GLORIAs (standing for Gay & Lesbian Outrageous, Ridiculous and Ignorant comment Awards) are coming up next week – Wednesday 14 May.

I enjoy the GLORIAs for a few reasons, not the least of which is host David Marr’s dry wit. The awards are also an important reminder that, no matter how much progress we have made, and continue to make, towards legal equality, the battle against homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and anti-intersex prejudice in social and cultural life goes on.

The GLORIAs, like the Ernies (for misogyny), are a way to hold bigots to account for the awful things that they say – it is a chance for our community to ‘take revenge’ and tell them that enough is enough. Oh, and did I mention that it is usually quite a fun night? Tickets are available here: <http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=83377

Voting for the worst comment in each of the six categories (International, Media, Politics/Law, Religion, Silliest comment within the LGBTI community, and Sport) is also open online until 5pm on the evening of the 14th: <http://www.theglorias.com.au/home So, get voting.

I have reproduced the nominees from the 6 categories below, along with the person I voted for, who I think will win, and a space to update with the name of each winner after the event. I would love to hear your thoughts on whether you agree or disagree with my reasoning.

And one final thing, thanks should go to lesbian Labor MLC Penny Sharpe, and her staff, for organising the event (which, it should be pointed out, especially after recent events at ICAC, is NOT a political fundraiser).

1. The worst INTERNATIONAL Comment of the year:

Mary Baker, Tea Party activist and leader of Conservative Moms for America: “Gay Supremacy is becoming a monster that carries greater evils than white supremacy ever did.”

Guido Barilla (of Barilla pasta fame): “For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the fundamental values of the company… I have no respect for adoption by gay families because this concerns a person who is not able to choose”.

Brunei for adopting a new penal code that calls for death by stoning for consenting same-sex sexual activity, adultery, rape, extramarital sexual relations, and for declaring oneself to be non-Muslim.

India’s Supreme Court has refused to review the ban on gay sex it imposed last month, rejecting arguments from civil rights campaigners and the Indian government that the move was unconstitutional.

Delta County School Board member Katherine Svenson said she opposed the recently passed laws in California and Massachusetts that allow transgender students equal access to school facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms: “I just want to emphasise: not in this district. Not until the plumbing’s changed. There would have to be castration in order to pass something like that around here.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill on Monday that criminalizes same-sex relationships, contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison and bans gay marriage, same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in gay rights groups.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe described homosexuals as “worse than pigs, goats and birds” and “If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh: “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively… As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni: “Homosexuals are actually mercenaries. They are heterosexual people but because of money they say they are homosexuals. These are prostitutes because of money”

Ugandan Ethics & Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo: “It is a social style of life that is acquired… They chose to be homosexual and are trying to recruit others. … If they were doing it in their own rooms we wouldn’t mind, but when they go for children, that’s not fair. They are beasts of the forest…. Homosexuality is unnatural, abnormal and strange to our cultures… It has no output whatsoever; it only does damage and destruction. You cannot have a right to be a sick human being. There is no right in homosexuality. It must be cured…. Excretion is through the anus, like the exhaust of an engine. The human body receives what it takes from the mouth. They’re twisting nature the wrong way. Homosexuality will destroy humanity because there is no procreation; it will destroy health because the backsides will not hold.”

Michelle Bachmann: “… the gay community, they have so bullied the American people, and they’ve so intimidated politicians. The politicians fear them, so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin: “We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships. We have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality and paedophilia… You can feel relaxed and calm [in Russia], but leave children alone please”

Who I voted for: Simon Lokodo, for demonstrating in one long quote just how ‘anally-focused’ many homophobes tend to be.

Who I think will win: This has to be the toughest category to predict. Each of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh (and his acronym) and perennial nominee Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has a strong claim but, simply given the attention his position attracted in the lead-up to Sochi, I suspect Russian President Vladimir Putin might ice-skate his way across the line.

Who did win: In a pleasant surprise (and possibly because of he extremely unpleasant nature of the comments) Simon Lokodo.

2. The worst MEDIA comment of the year:

A poster advertising the Brisbane Queer Film Festival that featured two men kissing was deemed too explicit and banned by Brisbane City Council.

Des Houghton columnist for the Courier Mail for the column ‘Dangers Lurk on Queer Street’: “Is the push for gay marriage just another fad like chai latte with Mt Kosciuszko yak milk, fixed-wheel bicycles and Vietnamese pork belly buns?” (read it here http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/opinion-dangers-lurk-on-queer-street/story-fnihsr9v-1226703120375).

This ad for The Yellow Pages: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHVjKta5FTk&feature=youtu.be&noredirect=1

Andrew Bolt: “ABC staff must call Manning a woman even when he’s still a man, just because he says so. Just like I must call a white… No. Best not go there.”

Editorial in the Bairnsdale Advertiser ‘Trans-genderism is the enemy of healthy childhood development’.

Who I voted for: Des Houghton, because if you read the entirety of his column, you get an insight into how unhappy his world must be now that the LGBTI community has the temerity to demand genuine equality.

Who I think will win: The explicitly transphobic nature of Andrew Bolt’s column must make him a strong contender.

Who did win: The Bairnsdale Advertiser.

3. The worst POLITICS / LAW comment of the year:

Tasmanian “True Green” party representative Andrew Roberts’s election leaflets: “Most parents will admit that they do not want their kiddies growing up to be more and more corrupted, as they will witness an ever increasing sodomite and lesbian behaviour in public like it’s ‘the norm,’” says the flyer, which associates gay people with disease, child abuse and drug abuse, and calls for the recriminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania.

Dennis Jensen MP for Tangney WA, speaking on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013: “This bill is a piece of enabling legislation: it enables the dismantling of society as we know it. In essence, this bill is the apotheosis of a movement bent on legislating a social experiment. Gay marriage is a social experiment. Social experiments have poor results when viewed historically. One need only think of phrenology and eugenics, both of which, thankfully, have been consigned to the dustbins of history but not before having damaging social consequences…”

Federal election campaign flyer in Moreton, QLD with a picture of a crying child stating “I want my mum and dad … Loving kids and respecting their rights means keeping marriage laws that put kids first” (source unknown), https://www.facebook.com/TheGLORIAs/posts/508063229281606

Joe Bullock (Labor Senator-Elect) on running mate Senator Louise Pratt: “she’s a lesbian I think, although after her partner’s sex change I can’t be sure”.

Fred Nile’s (#3) speech in Parliament in support of Reparative Therapy (gay cure therapy). Hansard 14 November 2013.

NSW Premier Mike Baird for his views on “choosing to live a homosexual lifestyle” and his refusal to answer questions about this statement at a press conference after he became Premier.

George Brandis for this on QandA: TONY JONES: But just on principle, you are saying that religious freedom supersedes the freedom of your sexuality? GEORGE BRANDIS: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Yes, I am.

Fred Nile (#2) on the NSW Same-Sex Marriage Bill: The so-called marriage between two males is unnatural. Homosexual relations between a male and a male are strongly forbidden in both the Old Testament and the New Testament—in the New Testament particularly by Apostles Paul and Peter and, by implication, by the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that God’s creative purpose for planet Earth—which is a sensitive issue to discuss—is that the basis for the foundation of the family and the continuation of the human race is the institution of marriage.

Tony Abbott, discussing marriage equality: “I’m not saying our culture, our traditions are perfect but we have to respect them… … I’m not someone who wants to see radical change based on the fashion of the moment.”

A fundraising event for the Liberal Party hosted by Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has seen independent Frankston MP Geoff Shaw ridiculed as a “poofter bastard” by comedian Nick Giannopoulos in front of more than 300 guests.

Fred Nile (#1) for this section of Christian Democratic Party’s National Charter: (c) GOD’S GIFT OF SEX: We believe that God has established laws of sexual morality for the well-being of society prohibiting pornography, adultery, incest, homosexuality, and other sexual aberrations which debase man, as well as defile and pollute our nation. (Note that ‘homosexuality’ is listed after ‘incest’).

Alby Schultz: “I think it is abominable that gay activists continue to focus on and manipulate civil rights strategies to justify claims for same-sex marriage and keep using accusations of discrimination, inequality and homophobia to intimidate politicians and the general public.”

Cory Bernardi’s book ‘The Conservative Revolution’.

WA Liberal Upper House Member Nick Goiran for linking gay marriage to incest in a speech in Parliament.

Federal election campaign flyer in Jagajaga, VIC: “Jenny Macklin voted for same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage WILL MEAN same-sex education in kindergartens and schools” (source unknown): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=5080622 “92615033&set=a.358377574250173.91788.274008212687110&type=1&theatre

Who I voted for: George Brandis (and not just because it was my question on #QandA which precipitated the exchange between Tony Jones and him). Despite other comments being more overtly ‘offensive’, the fact that the then shadow/now Commonwealth Attorney-General was prepared to say, without any qualification whatsoever, that religious rights automatically trump LGBTI rights is, when you think about it, actually pretty outrageous.

Who I think will win: While I’m not confident of this prediction, the combination of the popularity or marriage equality, and current lack of popularity of our Prime Minister, makes me think Tony Abbott could take home the gong.

Who did win: As predicted Tony Abbott took out the gong (better luck next year Senator Brandis).

4. The worst RELIGION comment of the year:

Pastor Kevin Swanson of the Colorado based Reformation Church, thinks that the Disney movie ‘Frozen’ indoctrinates five-year-olds into lesbianism and bestiality: “You wonder sometimes if maybe there’s something very evil happening here … I wonder if people are thinking: ‘You know I think this cute little movie is going to indoctrinate my 5-year-old to be a lesbian or treat homosexuality or bestiality in a light sort of way.’”

Far-right American Christian author Linda Harvey blames gay teens for running away from ‘heart-broken’ homophobic parents who want to control their lives – saying they only have themselves to blame for their homelessness.

Australian Christian Lobby/Lyle Shelton for the Media Release ‘Rudd’s change on marriage sets up a new stolen generation’: “Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said Kevin Rudd’s overnight change of mind on redefining marriage ignored the consequence of robbing children of their biological identity through same-sex surrogacy and other assisted reproductive technologies”.

Ex-Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen: ”How do two men have sexual union? …You have joined a couple of people together at a spot where they shouldn’t be joined together, really.”

Penrith Christian School’s statement which includes the following: “We believe that homosexuality and specific acts of homosexuality are an abomination unto God, a perversion of the natural order and not to be entered into by His people.” And “We believe the practice of attempting to or changing ones gender through surgical and/or hormonal or artificial genetic means is contrary to the natural order ordained by God.”

Who I voted for: Peter Jensen. In Australia we often judge religious (and political – see Simon Lokodo’s comments, earlier) leaders in other countries for making anal sex-obsessed homophobic comments. Last year, we had the leader of the Anglican Church right here in Sydney saying basically the same thing. The fact he has now retired and may not be nominated again provided another incentive for this vote.

Who I think will win: It’s hard to look past the ACL media release equating Kevin Rudd’s support for marriage equality with the stolen generations as a ‘winner’. Which reminds me: can we officially make an Australian version of Godwin’s Law that the first person to bring up the stolen generations in an unrelated argument automatically loses?

Who did win: Penrith Christian School (NB I also collected the GLORIA for the person who nominated them, even though I still would have preferred Peter Jensen to have won).

5. The SILLIEST GLBTI comment from someone within the GLBTI community

Openly Gay Federal Election Liberal candidate for Sydney Sean O’Connor for preferencing the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) on his How To Vote card above Tanya Plibersek for Labor and The Greens (See:http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/local-news/new-south-wales-news/gay-liberal-candidate-prefers-reverend-fred-niles-party-for-sydney/108672).

Brian Coleman, the gay former Conservative London Assembly Member and ex-mayor of Barnet who described the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act as a “silly” and “dreadful” piece of legislation.

Gay CNN host Don Lemon talking about ex-figure skater Johnny Weir: “No one likes a gay minstrel show … so let’s just put that out there. About some of his flamboyant and over the top and all those, it seems those are the people who get the attention, but they don’t represent all of gay America.”

Who I voted for: Don Lemon. The idea of calling someone else who could be described as camp (possibly something of an understatement) as a ‘gay minstrel’ reveals much more about Don Lemon than it does about Johnny Weir. We need to accept people for whoever they are, and however they choose to express themselves. At the same time, it is not the responsibility of each and every gay man in public life to be the sole representation or role model of gay life, either in America or elsewhere.

Who I think will win: Don Lemon.

Who did win: Sean O’Connor (who, like Duncan Gay last year, had the good grace – and PR advice – to attend and collect the award in person).

6. The worst SPORT comment of the year:

Newcastle Knights NRL footballer Ryan Stig who posted a long message to Facebook and Twitter titled ‘Homosexuality demonic work’ about his opposition to marriage equality: “Homosexuality is a fairly good example of distortion of design for fairly obvious reasons. When laws such as this … are created it makes covenant with unseen realms of the demonic which work to infiltrate and come against the thought lives of our cities states [sic] and nations”.

Anthony Mundine for this comment about Redfern Now: “Watching redfern now & they promoting homosexuality! (Like it’s ok in our culture) that ain’t in our culture & our ancestors would have there head for it! Like my dad told me GOD made ADAM & EVE not Adam & Steve,” he wrote.

Alex Rodrigo Dias da Costa, former Chelsea player: “We love everyone but do not like those who do not stand for what the Bible says. But this is not homophobia…. I don’t agree that it is OK that a man lives with another man and a woman with a woman.”

PGA Golfer Steve Elkington for this tweet regarding openly gay NFL hopeful, Michael Sam: “ESPN reporting Michael Sam is leading the handbag throw at NFL combine …. No one else expected to throw today”.

Who I voted for: Anthony Mundine, not just because the comment was idiotic, or because of his repetition of the immensely stupid catch-phrase ‘Adam & Steve’, but because he disparaged the wonderful Redfern Now. At least his ignorant twitter outburst had the positive outcome of helping to inspire the creation of the Black Rainbow facebook community.

Who I think will win: Anthony Mundine, although the long-on-content but short-on-intelligence rant from Ryan Stig could be a very close second.

Who did win: Anthony Mundine (in a well-deserved effort).

Stand-in host Barbara Blacksheep, performing the now-accustomary lip-synch of 'Gloria'.

Stand-in host Barbra Blacksheep, performing the now-accustomary lip-synch of ‘Gloria’.

The Golden GLORIA

This is particularly difficult to predict, given the winner must come from the 6 winners of the above categories, and is then decided by a ‘boo-off’ on the night. Still, I will put forward my preference, and hazard a guess who the community might help ‘elect’ as the prestigious title-holder for the next 12 months, replacing the outgoing winner, NSW Roads Minister The Hon Duncan Gay.

Who I want to win: George Brandis. As explained above, I find his elevation of the religious ‘freedom to discriminate’ above the LGBTI community’s right not to be discriminated against offensive in the extreme. For more on why, feel free to read my earlier column: The last major battle for gay & lesbian legal equality in Australia won’t be about marriage, here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/26/the-last-major-battle-for-gay-lesbian-legal-equality-in-australia-wont-be-about-marriage/

Who I think will win: Perhaps Vladimir Putin, or maybe Yahya Jammeh.

Who did win: Well, after winning his category, and in a decision which is possibly somewhat related to the unpopularity of last night’s Federal Budget, the winner of the 2014 Golden GLORIA, was Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

One final category, which wasn’t in the program, but which was awarded for the first time on the night, was the inaugural ‘good’ GLORIA, for people or organisations which have shown the most improvement in terms of accepting LGBTI people. The winner was the anti-homophobia initiative in April involving the leaders of major Australian sporting codes, and the #YouCanPlay campaign alongside it. Fittingly, ex-NRL trailblazer Ian Roberts was on hand to accept the award on their behalf.

So, that’s the GLORIAs done for another year. Thanks again to Penny Sharpe for another fabulous event – and I understand that nominations for next year’s event should open by the weekend (there is already an early frontrunner, given Miranda Devine’s recent efforts, but there’s still plenty of time left for more ridiculous, outrageous and ignorant comments to be made).

Don’t Limit Racial Vilification Protections, Add Vilification Protections for LGBTI Australians

The following is my submission to the Attorney-General’s Department’s Review of the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 – Exposure Draft (aka the Bill to significantly limit the scope of racial vilification protections under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975).

Submissions close on Wednesday 30 April, and more details can be found here: <http://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/ConsultationsonamendmentstotheRacialDiscriminationAct1975.aspx

I strongly encourage you to make a submission, and include in it the call for the Commonwealth to focus on expanding protections for the benefit of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, rather than limiting the operation of s18C for one Melbourne-based News Ltd columnist. Thanks.

Human Rights Policy Branch

Attorney-General’s Department

3-5 National Circuit

BARTON ACT 2600

s18cconsultation@ag.gov.au

Thursday 24 April 2014

To whom it may concern,

SUBMISSION ON RACIAL VILIFICATION AMENDMENTS

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on the proposed changes to the racial vilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, as contained in the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 Exposure Draft.

For the reasons explained below, I do not support the replacement of existing sections 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E with the new clauses of the Exposure Draft Bill.

However, I do believe that significant changes should be made to vilification provisions in Commonwealth law: namely, that vilification protections should be expanded to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

The absence of such protections leaves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians vulnerable to the same types of adverse public conduct experienced by people of different racial backgrounds, but without recourse to the same complaint resolution mechanisms.

I will now turn to these two issues – the proposed reforms, and the case for introducing LGBTI vilification protections – in more detail.

Proposed Reforms to Section 18C

In considering any potential reforms to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, it is useful to start at the particular sub-section which features in most debate. Sub-section 18C(1)(a) makes it “unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if: the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.”

I am of the view that the drafting of this sub-section is probably not ideal, and, arguably, is too broad in terms of the types of conduct that at least theoretically could be captured. I do not believe that, were provisions regarding racial vilification to be drafted today, they would include the terms ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ (or at least not without aggravating factors or considerations).

However, it is one thing to suggest that the drafting of a provision is something less than ‘ideal’ – it is another to suggest that poor drafting has directly caused problems that mean it must be amended. And even if that test is satisfied, any proposed reforms to the law should be an improvement, and not worsen any potential harm.

Turning to the question of whether the drafting of section 18C has directly led to, or caused, any significant problems, I am not convinced that it has. Racial vilification protections under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 appear to be widely supported by the community, and, for the most part, appear to be working well, both with the oversight of the Australian Human Rights Commission and in the Courts.

There is, of course, one case which is frequently cited as necessitating change to section 18C, and its related provisions, and that is the case of Eatock v Bolt [2011] FCA 1103.

Even ignoring the old legal maxim that hard cases make bad law (“Hard cases, it has frequently been observed, are apt to introduce bad law”, from Judge Rolfe in Winterbottom v Wright in 1842), it is not clear that the outcome of the “Bolt case” makes any persuasive case for change.

In the summary of that decision, Justice Mordecai Bromberg explained that “I am satisfied that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed by the newspaper articles” of Mr Bolt (para 17).

Justice Bromberg also explained that Mr Bolt’s conduct could not fit within what are, to be frank, extremely generous exemptions in section 18D, writing that “I have not been satisfied that the offensive conduct that I have found occurred, is exempted from unlawfulness by section 18D. The reasons for that conclusion have to do with the manner in which the articles were written, including that they contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language” (para 23, emphasis added).

In his summary, Justice Bromberg also articulates at least one of the reasons why laws should exist to prohibit writings such as those of Mr Bolt: “People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying. Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of the racial identification of a group of people is likely to be destructive of racial tolerance, just as disparagement directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people is also destructive of racial tolerance” (para 22).

In short, there appears to at least be an arguable case that not only was the “Bolt case” decided correctly on the existing law, but also that the current provisions are operating as intended to limit the negative effects of racial intolerance. Conversely, I believe it is difficult to argue, solely on the basis of Eatock v Bolt, that section 18C is so deficient that it should be amended, and amended as a matter of high priority.

Even if the argument that change was, indeed, necessary was accepted, I do not support that changes proposed in the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 Exposure Draft.

I believe that the replacement of ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ with to vilify (defined as “to incite hatred against a person or a group of persons”) or to intimidate (meaning “to cause fear of physical harm; to a person; to the property of a person; or to the members of a group of persons”), would arbitrarily and unduly limit the effectiveness of these protections.

I agree with the Australian Human Rights Commission, in their statement of Tuesday 25 March 2014, that: “the bill reduces the level of protection by providing a narrow definition of vilification and by limiting intimidation to causing fear of physical harm. It is not clear why intimidation should not include the psychological and emotional damage that can be caused by racial abuse.”

I also agree with the Australian Human Rights Commission in their concerns about the breadth of the exemptions proposed in new clause (4). As the Commission notes “[t]his provision is so broad it is difficult to see any circumstances in public that these protections would apply.”

This is at least in part because the previous limitations of section 18D – that words or conduct must be done “reasonably and good faith” to be exempted – have been removed, again without a clear explanation or motivation. In my opinion, the proposals contained in the Exposure Draft Bill would not improve the operation of racial vilification protections generally, but instead have the capacity to make things substantially worse.

Overall, while I concede that the current drafting of section 18C is not ‘ideal’, I do not believe that there are sufficient problems in practice for it to be amended. I also strongly oppose the replacement of sections 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E of the current Racial Discrimination Act 1975, with the clauses contained in the Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 Exposure Draft.

Recommendation 1. The Freedom of speech (repeal of s.18C) Bill 2014 – Exposure Draft should not be introduced into or passed by the Commonwealth Parliament.

Need to expand vilification protections to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status

While I do not believe a case has been made to reform the racial vilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, I do believe there is a strong case for expanding vilification provisions under Commonwealth law to offer additional protection to LGBTI Australians.

In a similar way to their ongoing problems with race, some extreme elements within Australian society continue to demonstrate their difficulty in accepting people, and treating them equally, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Both groups – Australians of diverse racial backgrounds, and LGBTI people – are regularly subject to vilification in public contexts, whether that be in political or media debates, or in harassment and abuse in public spaces.

Significantly, while LGBTI Australians finally achieved anti-discrimination protections under Commonwealth law in 2013 (a mere 38 years after the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act), the Sex Discrimination Act amendments did not include protections from homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and anti-intersex vilification. Unlike people of diverse races, LGBTI people still cannot launch complaints about vilification under Commonwealth law.

There is no philosophical or conceptual reason why this should be the case – both are vulnerable groups, subject to vilification against which they deserve to be protected.

The vilification of LGBTI people can take many forms. A 2003 NSW Attorney-General’s Report found that, in the previous 12 months, 56% of gay men and lesbians had been subject to one or more forms of homophobic abuse, harassment or violence.

This violence can also be extreme – as demonstrated by the disturbingly high number of gay men violently murdered in Sydney during the 1980s and 1990s, but whose tragic deaths are only now being properly investigated.

In terms of vilification in public debate, there are almost too many examples of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination to choose from (and certainly enough to hold an annual event ‘celebrating’ the worst of these comments in a range of different areas of public life, aka The GLORIAs).

One notorious example from recent years was the homophobic comment of a religious figure, addressing a ‘National Marriage Day’ rally outside Parliament House in 2012, who said “I’m convinced that homosexuals (re)produces (sic) themselves by molesting children.”

Unfortunately, heading inside Parliament House, the tenor of public debate is sometimes not much better. Over the past 12 years we have seen Senators argue that allowing two men or two women to marry could lead to humans having sex with animals, arguing that enacting marriage equality would potentially result in another ‘Stolen Generations’, and abusing parliamentary privilege to smear an openly-gay High Court Justice with unfounded allegations of paedophilia (apparently solely because of his homosexuality).

This is not to say that all, or even any, of those comments would necessarily qualify as vilification under an equivalent provision to section 18C, but, the fact those comments are able to be made in our National Parliament provides a small insight into the type of abuse and vitriol which continues in other forums, day-in, day-out, which are not subject to the same levels of scrutiny.

That includes street-level harassment and abuse which my fiancé Steven and I, like many thousands of other LGBTI Australians, experience all-too-frequently. Anyone who is ‘visibly’ identifiable as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, including non-LGBTI people who are perceived as being LGBTI by others, and anyone who simply wants to engage in the tender act of holding one’s same-sex partner’s hand, knows the risks that being or expressing who you are in public can bring, from being yelled at from passing cars, to the very real threat of much, much worse.

Of course, the introduction of s18C-style protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status will not automatically lead to a reduction in such abuse, but it will allow for people to contest the most egregious examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and anti-intersex vilification in public life.

Over time, the introduction of vilification protections for LGBTI Australians, on top of the recently passed anti-discrimination laws, would help to send a strong signal to the wider community that such conduct was no longer tolerated.

The impetus for sending such a signal can be found in figures which show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians continue to experience disproportionately high rates of mental health issues, including depression, attempted suicide and suicide.

This problem is especially pronounced amongst younger LGBTI people, with young same-sex attracted people estimated to be 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts (source: National LGBTI Health Alliance). Young people’s experience of discrimination and homophobia has been found to play a key role in this huge, and sadly persisting, health disparity.

Not only is public vilification in the form of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex discrimination wrong in and of itself, it has serious consequences, including in negative mental health outcomes for LGBTI people.

I believe that anti-LGBTI vilification must be prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act, in the same way that racial vilification was in 1995 when the Racial Hatred Act amended the Racial Discrimination Act, and that it should be done as soon as possible.

Recommendation 2. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 should be amended to prohibit vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Obviously, there are other potential attributes which could also be aided by the introduction of vilification protections, including those grounds which already have Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws (sex, disability and age), but, as I am not an expert in any of those issues, I am not in a position to argue for or against their inclusion in this submission.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that these questions – whether vilification protections should be expanded, and which additional groups they should cover – are the ones which should be occupying the mind of our Commonwealth Attorney-General, and indeed all MPs, rather than working out how to restrict the protections offered by the racial vilification provisions contained in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

I sincerely hope that this submission assists in helping to turn that conversation around, and that we, as a community, start to focus on enhancing instead of undermining human rights.

Thank you for taking these comments into consideration. Should you require clarification or further information, I can be contacted at the details below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

No 2 Australia Finally Adopts Federal Anti-Discrimination Protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People

I have already written about the significance of this achievement (link: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/06/30/federal-lgbti-anti-discrimination-protections-at-last/), so I won’t go into a lot of new detail here.

Still, as far as highlights of 2013 go, it would be pretty difficult to overlook the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act in June. From 1 August, LGBTI people in Australia finally had anti-discrimination protections under federal law. And we only had to wait 38 years after the Racial Discrimination Act, and 29 years since the original Sex Discrimination Act (and yes, that was sarcastic – the passage of this Bill was long, long overdue).

There were two particular aspects of the Sex Discrimination Amendment Act that warrant particular celebration. First, it is the first anti-discrimination law passed anywhere in the world to explicitly include intersex people. That is a pretty amazing achievement, and another testament to the great work and advocacy by OII Australia and other groups.

Second, the legislation includes an amendment that means aged care service providers operated by religious organisations are not legally allowed to discriminate against LGBTI people accessing their services. Again, this is a significant victory, and will help to ensure the generation of LGBTI people who fought so hard – and successfully – for our civil rights, have the opportunity to grow old with dignity.

Nevertheless, the fact that a special ‘carve-out’ is necessary for aged care service delivery by religious organisations emphasises the major weakness of the anti-discrimination protections that were passed: schools, hospitals and other community service organisations that are run by religious groups are legally allowed to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, both employees and service recipients (NB religious organisations do not have exceptions allowing them to discriminate against intersex people).

These religious exemptions or exceptions are contrary to the fundamental concept of anti-discrimination law – that people should not be discriminated against for things that are irrelevant to their capacity to perform a job, or their right to access a service.

Fighting to remove these religious exceptions will be the biggest test for LGBTI advocates and activists over the next 5, 10 or even15 years (achieving marriage equality will likely turn out to be both easier, and quicker, than removing religious exceptions, and religious organisations will probably fight much harder to retain them than to retain a discriminatory Marriage Act).

Still, fight them we must, because for however long a religious school can sack a teacher for being gay or bisexual, or a service organisation can refuse to provide that service because the intended recipient is transgender, then we are not truly equal.

As an indication of how difficult this fight will be, I am re-posting the exchange between myself, now Attorney-General George Brandis and Tony Jones on #QandA back in June, the night before the legislation, including the aged care carve-out, was passed (and, no this is not just – well, not entirely – because I had so much fun doing this):

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: My question is to Senator Brandis. Last Tuesday you announced that the Coalition would block any LGBTI anti-discrimination bill that did not allow religious aged-care service providers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is despite the fact that these agencies themselves do not believe they need this exception. You seem to be putting a theoretical religious freedom above practical protections. Why don’t you believe that older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender Australians, people who have grown up when their love was criminalised, who lost friends and lovers to HIV and AIDS, have the right to grow old in dignity and respect that they deserve?

GEORGE BRANDIS: It is a very important question that you ask and let me explain what the Opposition’s position is. But there was one statement in your question which wasn’t quite right. You said that the religious institutions, the churches, didn’t themselves want the exemption so far as concerned aged care facilities. That’s not right. Some said they didn’t want it. Most said they did. So don’t be misled by a misleading statement by the Attorney-General. On the broader issue, when the bill, the sex discrimination bill, was introduced into the Parliament, I took a submission to the Shadow Cabinet and to our party room which was, I think without a dissenting voice, endorsed that we should support it. And the reason we support it is because it is actually the policy we took to the 2010 election, that the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act should extend to sexuality as a protected attribute. The Government knew that they had the Opposition on board with this. In fact, the Government’s measure was itself taken from the Opposition’s report on the broader human rights and anti-discrimination bill, the bill that was abandoned by the Government earlier this year because it was acknowledged to have gone way too far. So we had, on this very tricky and important issue of discrimination against gay people, we had bipartisanship and unanimity. And then into the middle of this harmonious bipartisan moment, the Labor Party, out of the blue, threw in an amendment never anticipated, never expected, that would have caused the religious exemption issue to come into play. Now, if you want to build a consensus around this issue, that gay people should be protected from discrimination by the Sex Discrimination Act, then you would not have done that and the Labor Party, on all other grounds, in all other arenas, has said that it will respect the religious exemption. I am cynical about why the Labor Party did that…

TONY JONES: Okay, George.

GEORGE BRANDIS: …knowing that by introducing the religious exemption, it would make it impossible for that bipartisanship to continue.

TONY JONES: George Brandis, the questioner has his hand up so we’ll go back to you.

ALASTAIR LAWRIE: I would just like to pick up a point you seem to be making. In Senator Humphrey’s dissenting report to the sex discrimination senate inquiry, the two organisations that he quoted justifying the call for religious exception in that circumstance were the Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Women’s League. Neither of them provide religious aged care services. So in that circumstance, why are we trying to impose a religious exception to the detriment of older LGBT people for those groups that don’t actually run those services?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I’m very familiar with that minority report because I was one of the signatories to it and I had a lot to do with drafting it. There were many more submissions to the inquiry from other churches and religious institutions than those two. So don’t infer that because those two were mentioned as a ‘For example’, those were the only ones, because they weren’t.

TONY JONES: Okay. George, I would like the hear other people on this subject. Anne Summers?

ANN SUMMERS: Well, I’m afraid I don’t know much about the legislation. I mean I just obviously would support the principle that LGBT people should be able to go to retirement homes and nursing homes free from any form of discrimination, which I take to be the central point and I know that, you know, one of the problems with homes that are run by some religions is they have been discriminatory in the past and I imagine what we are trying to avoid is the continuation of that discrimination and I would support that.

TONY JONES: Yeah, very briefly, George, before I go back to the other panelists, shouldn’t anti-discrimination be universal?

GEORGE BRANDIS: No.

TONY JONES: Why shouldn’t it?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Anti-discrimination laws should not be universal because the right to fair treatment is one of several very important but sometimes inconsistent values. The right of people who practice or profess a particular religious faith to live their lives and to conduct their institutions in accordance with the precepts of their religious faith is integral to religious freedom and religious freedom is also a fundamentally important value.

TONY JONES: So religious…

GEORGE BRANDIS: And if I may say…

TONY JONES: But just on principle, you are saying that religious freedom supersedes the freedom of your sexuality?

 

 

GEORGE BRANDIS: Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. Yes, I am. But I am also making a political point. There are – we in the Liberal Party have joined with people in the Labor Party to progress this agenda for years and those who wanted to see the Sex Discrimination Act extend to protect people on the grounds of their sexuality were furious that the Labor Party decided to throw in a curve ball into the debate that deprived the country of the opportunity for unanimity on this. [emphasis added].

 

That exchange, and especially Senator Brandis’ statement that religious freedoms clearly trump our right to not be discriminated against, show just how hard this battle will be.

Underscoring this point is Attorney-General Brandis’ recent appointment of Tim Wilson as a new Human Rights Commissioner, responsible for promoting ‘traditional freedoms’. Recruited from the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs, on 23 January this year Mr Wilson appeared at a Senate hearing into the then draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (transcript here: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/commsen/8eb3bdec-c603-4d2d-9564-674c7bd7b5c2/toc_pdf/Legal%20and%20Constitutional%20Affairs%20Legislation%20Committee_2013_01_23_1612_Official.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22committees/commsen/8eb3bdec-c603-4d2d-9564-674c7bd7b5c2/0000%22).

During his testimony, he argued that anti-discrimination protections should only apply to government employees and services – basically, that anti-discrimination law should not protect people from being fired for being gay, or being expelled for being a lesbian, or being denied a service for being bisexual, transgender or intersex. Given the extremity of these views, if this is any indication of how Attorney-General Brandis will approach anti-discrimination reforms then we will need to be prepared to fight any moves to wind back our hard-won protections in 2014.

In the meantime, the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 will stand as the most significant LGBTI victory of the past 12 months. Thank you to the former Labor Government, then Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Senators Penny Wong and Louise Pratt and everyone else who helped to make this happen.

George Brandis, Tony Abbott, Marriage Equality & CNIs

Marriage Equality Red Background Rings

This week saw the passage of marriage equality in Uruguay, and then New Zealand. Next week will witness France adopt marriage equality legislation. These are the 12th, 13th and 14th countries around the world to have done so.

This spate of activity has provided renewed focus on the issue of marriage equality within Australia. In particular, it has prompted more people to scrutinise the position of Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National Opposition, because they will almost inevitably form Government after the election on September 14th.

Some people have pointed to Tony Abbott’s recent comments to say that he is softening his stance of marriage equality. Specifically, he has said that the matter will be debated inside the Coalition party-room after the election, with the possibility that they may adopt a conscience vote on the matter.

I disagree that this is necessarily a positive development. Instead, I think Abbott’s position is a complete cop-out. It avoids legitimate scrutiny in the lead-up to the poll, leaving voters unclear exactly what he, and his Government, will do once in office.

It also means that people and groups who oppose marriage equality can exert their homophobic influence behind closed doors to ensure that there is no progress. No doubt bigots like the Australian Christian Lobby will be there, actively lobbying in secret, with their decidely un-christian views.

The potential outcomes of this ‘evasive manoeuvre’ by Abbott include that the Coalition’s policy does not change, and that there is therefore no conscience vote next term. We could also end up with civil unions, a so-called compromise which basically nobody wants, but which seems to be favoured by people like Warren Entsch, who has traditionally been one of the more progressive Liberal MPs.

In fact, civil unions seem to me like the most likely outcome of an incoming Liberal-National Government. I genuinely can’t see marriage equality happening under someone as fundamentally conservative as one T Abbott, and that is why I fear we may still be three terms away from Australia-wide reform. Imagine how many countries we will have fallen behind by then?

But, there is one scenario in which we could even go backwards in terms of marriage equality in Australia. I know, that doesn’t seem possible, but there is actually one marriage reform which has been implemented by the current Labor Government which could be wound back under a Coalition Government, in what would be a worst-case scenario.

This would involve the incoming Attorney-General, who will most likely be Senator the Hon George Brandis SC, revoking the January 2012 decision by the then Labor Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, which allowed Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples to obtain Certificates of No Impediment (CNIs) to marry overseas (in the countries that require them).

In fact, this would simply be the Coalition reverting to the policy which they adopted from 2004 to 2007, when, under then Attorney-General, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, the Liberal-National Government refused to issue CNIs to same-sex couples, thereby cruelling the chances of most Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples from taking advantage of overseas developments.

To be honest, I don’t know how likely this worst-case scenario is. I would hope that we have come a long way since the end of the Howard era in 2007, and that an incoming Abbott regime would not wind back this particular right.

On the other hand, many Queenslanders probably thought last year that, even if he wasn’t going to be a pro-equality champion, Campbell Newman and the LNP wouldn’t wind back existing LGBTI rights. How wrong they were.

Anyway, that is why I have written the following letter to Shadow Attorney-General Brandis, and copied it to Mr Abbott. Basically, I am asking them to support marriage equality, through party policy or at least a conscience vote. But, if they are unable to do either of those, to at the very least continue to grant CNIs to Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples to marry overseas.

I don’t know what kind of reply to expect. But, as always, whatever I get I will post here.

This is the text of the letter which I sent yesterday:

Dear Senator Brandis

Marriage Equality and Certificates of No Impediment

I am writing to you about the issue of marriage equality, and specifically the policy which the Liberal-National Opposition will take on this issue to the Federal election to be held on 14 September 2013.

I am a 34 year old man who has been together with my wonderful fiancé for almost 5 years – and we have been engaged to be married for more than 3 of those.

All we want is to be able to have a legally-recognised wedding ceremony in front of our family and friends in our own country. All we want is exactly the same rights which other Australians already enjoy.

I strongly encourage the Liberal-National Opposition to support marriage equality as formal policy ahead of the September poll. This would show that the Liberal-National Coalition accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians as first-class citizens, deserving of both respect and full legal equality.

Failing that, and as a bare minimum, the Liberal and National Parties should publicly commit to holding a conscience vote on this issue in the next term of Parliament, so that those MPs who wish to support LGBTI equality are free to do so. There have already been several Liberal MPs and candidates who have expressed their desire to take advantage of a non-binding vote to support marriage equality, should one be granted.

Finally, I have a specific question relating to the Attorney-General portfolio. In 2005, your Coalition colleague, the Hon Philip Ruddock MP, as Attorney-General prohibited the granting of Certificates of No Impediment (CNIs) to Australian LGBTI-inclusive couples who wished to marry overseas.

This ban remained in place until overturned by the Hon Nicola Roxon MP on 1 February 2012. This allows Australians couples, and those LGBTI-inclusive couples which include dual or multiple nationalities, to take advantage of the growing number of countries to have implemented marriage equality.

Just this month, Uruguay, New Zealand and France have become the 12th, 13th and 14th countries to accept marriage equality, as part of a growing worldwide movement. Even if the Australian Parliament does not grant marriage equality in the near future, should not mean we are prevented from taking advantage of the equality that already exists overseas.

My question is this: Do you commit a Liberal-National Government to continuing to grant CNIs to LGBTI-inclusive couples who wish to marry overseas?

I would appreciate your reply on all the issues raised in this letter, but in particular, on whether a Liberal-National Government would continue to grant CNIs to all Australian couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Thank you in advance for considering this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie