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

The last major battle for gay & lesbian legal equality in Australia won’t be about marriage

[Updated March 4th 2015]

This Saturday, the 37th annual Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade will work its way up Oxford St with its now traditional mix of politics, colour and movement, and above all, pride. Pride in who we are, pride in our community, and pride in what we have managed to achieve.

Because life is unarguably better for the vast majority of Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) population in 2015 than it has ever been before. And that indeed is something to be proud about.

Following the first Mardi Gras on 24 June 1978, many of the barriers to legal equality have been removed. NSW passed anti-discrimination laws in 1982, followed by the decriminalisation of gay sex in 1984. Same-sex couples have since achieved de facto relationship recognition, and there is now equal access to assisted reproductive technology and adoption in most Australian jurisdictions.

It is likely that one area where legal rights have yet to be achieved will, once again, be the dominant theme of many of the more politically-oriented floats in this year’s parade – the Australian Parliament’s ongoing refusal to recognise marriage equality between all couples.

As someone who is engaged to be married, and who has been for more than four years but is currently prohibited from doing so, I understand why marriage equality is an issue which arouses such intense passion, and an admirable level of commitment from many activists around Australia.

But marriage equality is also something which most of us know is probably, some might say almost inevitably, going to be achieved at some point in the next five, at most 10, years.

When that day comes, when the first couples legally married under federal law have shared their vows and celebrated their commitments to each other in front of their families and friends, there will still be a major outstanding issue of legal inequality confronting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Australians.

It appears just as inevitable that, long after those couples dance their waltzes and cut their wedding cakes, the anti-discrimination protections which are offered to LGBT Australians under most state and federal laws will continue to be seriously undermined by the wide-ranging exceptions which are offered to religious organisations (NB Intersex is not included here because religious exemptions under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 do not apply on those grounds).

These exceptions allow religious schools to actively discriminate against LGBT teachers and students. Religious hospitals and community welfare organisations can utilise these loopholes to discriminate against LGBT employees, as well as patients and clients. And, while the historic federal reforms passed via the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 do not allow religious-operated aged care facilities to discriminate against LGBT people accessing their services, LGBT people can still be denied employment in those facilities simply because of who they are.

All of these services – education and health, community welfare and aged care – are located firmly and squarely in the public sphere, and address some of the most fundamental human needs in life. It is these same characteristics, that they are public services meeting public needs, that are used to justify the substantial amounts of public funding which subsidise the religious organisations running them, money which comes from all taxpayers, religious and non-religious, LGBTI and non-LGBTI alike.

Yet, despite operating in the public sphere, almost always using public money, these organisations are granted exceptions from the same legal obligations that are imposed on any other group, namely the responsibility not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The justification for these ‘special rights’? Basically, that the ability to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is so fundamental to the exercise of religious freedom that it cannot be limited.

Note that we are not here talking about who is appointed as office-holders, including ministers, within a religion itself, what a particular religion may or may not believe in terms of morality, how religious ceremonies are undertaken, or even who can attend a religious ceremony. These are things that are central to religious freedom, and most people would not advocate the imposition of limits on the ability of religious organisations to discriminate in these areas.

Instead, some religious organisations (and we must say some, because not all groups hold these views) believe that they should have the right to fire a gay teacher, to expel a bisexual school student, to refuse to employ a lesbian aged care worker, or to deny services to someone who is transgender, even when all of the above is clearly done in the public sphere.

This is a much more substantive denial of rights than simply being denied access to marriage rites. Religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws can affect LGBT people in multiple areas of their lives, including times and places when they are at their most vulnerable. In practical terms, I believe it is religious exceptions and not marriage inequality that is the biggest battle left to be won for full gay and lesbian legal equality.

It is also a battle that looks set to be fought more ferociously than that over marriage equality. Some of the largest religious organisations in the country don’t just support these exceptions, they are prepared to wage cultural war to defend them.

The Wesley Mission recently spent eight years, and went all the way to the NSW Court of Appeal, defending their right to deny allowing a male same-sex couple to become foster carers to children in need. Wesley did so on the basis that: “[t]he biblical teaching on human sexuality makes it clear that monogamous heterosexual partnership within marriage is both the norm and ideal” (OW & OV v Members of the Board of the Wesley Mission Council [2010] NSWADT 293 (10 December 2010).

Further, they submitted that: “Wesley Mission’s tradition views a monogamous heterosexual partnership in marriage as the ideal family role model for the vulnerable and sometimes damaged children we foster. Other understandings fall short of that norm.” And finally that “[t]he proposition that we should provide a framework for children to be cared for and nurtured within the context of a homosexual lifestyle is fundamentally unacceptable to our evangelical teaching and practice.”

The irony, some might say hypocrisy, of these statements is that, in the same case, Wesley Mission admitted that single people could themselves become foster carers through their service. Apparently they believed that two dads or two mums had less to offer foster children than one.

The net effect of the Wesley Mission case was to provide judicial confirmation of the breadth of the religious exceptions offered under section 56(d) of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. That section reads: “[n]othing in this Act affects: any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

In short, if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, then you have no legal right or expectation to be treated fairly and without discrimination by a religious employer, or religious-operated service, in NSW.

It is no surprise then that, when the Federal Parliament was considering the Exposure Draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination (HRAD) Bill 2012, the precursor of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, key NSW religious organisations would argue for religious exceptions to be established in Commonwealth law, too.

What is perhaps surprising is that some churches made submissions to the Senate inquiry considering the HRAD Bill that these exceptions do not go far enough.

The Standing Committee of the Synod of the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney (including the Diocese of Parramatta and the Catholic Education Commission of NSW), both argued that the concept of exceptions was problematic, and that the right to discriminate against LGBT people should instead be re-contextualised as a positive right.

From the Anglican submission: “[w]hile exceptions are necessary, casting the protection of these rights in a wholly negative manner, in the form of ‘exceptions’, does not do justice to their importance. It suggests they are merely to be tolerated rather than positively recognised and upheld as legitimate and important in themselves.”

Meanwhile, in a ‘Diedre Chambers’ style coincidence, the Catholic submission also wrote: “the terminology of “exceptions” is problematic and fails to acknowledge that the right of freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, which the Commonwealth government is obliged to protect under international law. In our view, the terminology of “exceptions” should be replaced with the terminology of “protections”. Using the terminology of “protections” would recognise that conduct which is deemed not to be unlawful because it is covered by an exception related to religion is in fact lawful because it accords with the fundamental human right of freedom of religion” [emphasis in original].

Both submissions also go further than concerns surrounding terminology to argue that the exceptions which are offered to religious organisations should also be available to individuals – that is, that their personal beliefs should allow them to discriminate, even in their professional lives and when not working for a religious organisation.

For example, the Anglican submission recommended that “[a]n employee should not be required by their employer to undertake particular tasks or provide services in a particular context that are contrary to the employee’s genuinely held religious convictions where this is reasonable.”

Thankfully, that style of exception, which is located somewhere on the bottom half of the slippery slope down to the abhorrent type of laws currently attracting controversy in several US states, was not included in the final Commonwealth legislation. But in making that submission, the Anglican Church of Sydney has made clear the direction it wants anti-discrimination, or more accurately, pro-discrimination, laws to head [As an aside, if it had been passed then, when marriage equality does eventually become a reality, such provisions would have allowed individual employees to refuse to sell wedding cakes, or serve as wedding photographers, merely because of the sexual orientation and/or gender identities of the couples involved].

And they will fight equally hard to ensure that the current framework of exceptions applies in as many contexts as possible. The eventual removal of these exceptions in terms of people accessing aged care services was strongly resisted from some religious bodies, even if their arguments for doing so were quite weak (the Anglican submission on the HRAD Bill suggested that “[i]t may be unsettling to these communities to have residents who do not share their beliefs, values and ethos facility on matters of sexual practice”).

They have been more successful in fighting against recent proposed changes to NSW law that were simply attempting to remove the right of religious and other private schools to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender students (NB Bisexuality is shamefully still not a protected attribute in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977). Alex Greenwich’s amendments are currently on hold, at least in part because of the influence of the two major churches in the Parliament.

As we have seen, some religious organisations have demonstrated over the past 10 years that they are prepared to fight, by whatever means necessary (through the courts, in parliamentary inquiries, by lobbying parliamentarians directly and in public debate) to maintain and even extend the reach of these exceptions.

While this may seem to some like a theoretical (or even theological) debate, they are not doing so because they want the law to recognise abstract rights – they are engaged in this battle because they want the retain the ability to actively discriminate against LGBT people in real life.

Sadly, there are too many stories of this happening, of religious exceptions causing real-world harm to LGBT people. In the lead-up to Mr Greenwich’s Bill being introduced, several lesbian and gay students came forward with stories of being sent to the counsellor’s office for being “sick” (that is, for being gay), of being called disgusting and a disgrace – by a teacher no less – and threatened with exclusion from senior school, and of being told not to talk about their sexuality in addition to being excluded from school events (source: “Discrimination has no place in schools” Alex Greenwich, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September, 2013).

Not forgetting the recent incident where the Sacred Heart Primary School at Broken Hill, which falls within the Wilcannia-Forbes Catholic Diocese, rejected a young girl’s kindergarten application simply because her parents were two women (source: “Same-sex enrolment row prompts call for law change”, ABC News Online, 15 December 2011).

Of course, these are just some of the stories that we are aware about. Most people who are discriminated against by religious organisations, either directly or indirectly, do not speak up, because they are aware that the discriminatory actions of those bodies are entirely lawful, or because they fear retribution from those organisations if they do so.

Which brings me back to the Mardi Gras Parade. While for many of us the decision to participate on Saturday is an easy one, choosing to celebrate pride in who we are and as part of our community, for others the decision whether to be visible or not in this manner can be significantly more complicated.

For people already engaged with religious organisations in different ways, or whose profession may involve applying for jobs with them (for example, more than a third of schools in Australia are religious, an even higher proportion amongst secondary schools), choosing to be ‘out’ through Mardi Gras can have serious repercussions.

Some people can and do have a legitimate fear that being identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender could result in them being fired, or being refused employment in the first place, in being expelled from school (or seriously mistreated while there), or being denied necessary services. Neither state nor federal anti-discrimination law would currently protect them in these circumstances.

In this respect, despite all of the progress in law reform since the first Mardi Gras parade was held back in 1978, there is still an incredibly long way to go. That is one of the reasons why we must ensure that Mardi Gras, as well as being a celebration of pride, also continues to serve its role as a political protest.

It is also why me must continue to campaign for equality, and to fight for our rights, including the right not to be discriminated against. Given the scale of the challenge involved in removing these unjust religious exceptions, and how hard (some) religious organisations will struggle to retain them (and therefore to maintain their position of privilege in society), we should be aware that it is not a fight that we will win in months. It will take several years, at least – if not decades.

But it is a battle we must wage nonetheless. Because, if LGBT Australians are ever to be truly equal under the law, then the special exceptions granted to religious organisations under Commonwealth, state and territory laws must end.

Explanatory notes: I have attempted to be clear in this post about when I am speaking about gay and lesbian, or LGBT, or LGBTI, because sometimes the law affects these groups in different ways (and please accept my apologies if I have made some errors in this respect). For example, removing religious exceptions cannot be the last major battle for bisexual legal equality – especially if they are not included in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act in the first place.

Equally, I am not in a position to argue that religious exceptions are the biggest legal issue confronting transgender Australians when uniform positive recognition of gender identity is not yet a reality. And, while intersex people are not subject to religious exceptions under the Sex Discrimination Act, I also wouldn’t describe this issue as more important than banning involuntary medical sterilisation, something I have written about previously (see link: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/25/no-3-senate-report-on-involuntary-or-coerced-sterilisation-of-intersex-people-in-australia/).

Finally, while I wrote in the second paragraph that, for the vast majority of LGBTI Australians, life is unarguably better than it has ever been before, I do not wish to underestimate the ongoing problems of mental illness, depression and suicide which affect many young LGBTI people, or indeed the plight of LGBTI asylum-seekers, who Australia continues to send to Nauru and Manus Island, PNG, for ‘processing and resettlement’.

One (more) final thing: if you liked this post, please consider sharing. Thanks, Alastair

No Homophobia, No Exceptions

During the week, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (which I am involved in as the Policy Working Group Chair), launched its No Homophobia, No Exceptions campaign, calling for the removal of religious exceptions to LGBTI anti-discrimination protections contained in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

This is an incredibly important campaign, given these exceptions will possibly be the last barriers to full LGBTI equality in Australia to fall, and a campaign which I am very proud to be involved in.

Now, while this blog, and the posts which I put up here, only ever reflect my personal views on things (ie in this blog I do not speak on behalf of the GLRL, or any other organisation), I would like to take the opportunity to put up a link to two other pages which form key parts of the No Homophobia, No Exceptions campaign.

The first is an op-ed I wrote for the Star Observer newspaper, outlining the reasons for the campaign, and calling for the LGBTI community to get involved. Link here: <http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/soapbox-opinion/no-homophobia-no-exceptions/117476

The second link is to a Change.org petition which asks people to support the campaign, by calling on Commonwealth Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis, and NSW Attorney-General, The Hon Greg Smith MP, to repeal these provisions.

If you support the campaign, and the principle that all people deserve to be treated equally in all areas of public life, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, then I strongly encourage you to sign. Link here: http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/senator-hon-george-brandis-remove-religious-exceptions-from-anti-discrimination-laws

Thanks.

Letter to Scott Morrison about Treatment of LGBTI Asylum Seekers and Refugees Sent to Manus Island, PNG

UPDATE: Sunday 20 July 2014

On Friday 18 July, I received the following response from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, to my correspondence about the treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees:

Dear Mr Lawrie

Treatment of homosexual, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers

Thank you for your letter of 2 February 2014 to the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, concerning the treatment of homosexual, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers. The Minister appreciates the time you have taken to bring these matters to his attention and has asked that I reply on his behalf. I regret the delay in responding.

As a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (the Refugees Convention), Australia takes its international obligations seriously. Australia is committed to treating asylum seekers fairly and humanely, and providing protection to refugees consistent with the obligations set out in the Refugees Convention, and other relevant international treaties to which Australia is a party.

The Australian Government has taken a number of measures to deter people smuggling and to ensure that people do not take the dangerous journey to Australia in boats organised by people smugglers. Under Australian domestic law, all illegal maritime arrivals (IMAs) entering Australia by sea without a visa will be liable for transfer to Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG) where any asylum claims they may have will be assessed, and if found to be a refugee, they will be resettled in Nauru and PNG or in another country.

Any claims made against Nauru and PNG by an IMA, including claims concerning the treatment of homosexuals, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers in either country, are considered prior to transfer. Where an IMA makes such a claim, consideration is given to whether the IMA can be transferred to the proposed country, or an alternative country, or whether the IMA’s case should be referred to the Minister for consideration or exemption from transfer.

Nauru and PNG are also both parties to the Refugee Convention. The Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) they have signed with Australia on the offshore processing arrangements reaffirm their commitment to the Refugees Convention and to treating people transferred with dignity and respect in accordance with human rights standards.

The enforcement of PNG domestic law is a matter for the Government of PNG. The government is aware of laws relating to homosexual activity in PNG and understands that there have been no recent reports of prosecution under those laws.

If homosexual activity should occur in the OPC, there is no mandatory obligation under PNG domestic law for Australian officers or contracted services providers to report such activity to the PNG Government or police.

The department notes the release of the reports by both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International on the Manus OPC. Any reports received by the department will be reviewed, and observations or comments verified. Where reports make practical observations that can be implemented and would improve the operations of the centres, the government will address these in partnership with Nauru and PNG to address any deficiencies in good faith.

Any claims of mistreatment at the Manus OPC would be primarily a matter for the Administrator of the OPC. The Manus OPC is administered by PNG under PNG law, with support from Australia. The PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration appoints the Administrator of the Centre (a PNG national) under section 15D of the Papua New Guinea Migration Act 1978 (the Act). The Administrator, who, under the Act has control and management of the Centre (currently the Chief Migration Officer, Head of the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority) has an Operations Manager at the OPC reporting to him, who has oversight of the day-to-day operations of the OPC.

To assist PNG in the implementation of the MOU, the government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure that transferees’ needs are adequately met, including through the provision of health and welfare services. Transferees can report any concerns to OPC staff.

Regarding the distribution of condoms, I can assure you that condoms are available at the Manus OPC, and the department’s contracted health service provider, International Health and Medical Service, conduct regular health information sessions on safe sex practices.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to the Minister’s attention.

Yours sincerely

[Name withheld]

Acting Assistant Secretary

Community Programmes Services Branch

9 / 7 / 2014

Some quick thoughts on the above:

  • Even though we are more than a decade into our post-Tampa nightmare of refugee policy in Australia, it is still shocking to see people simply seeking asylum in Australia described, by government officials, as Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs). And it is probably almost as shocking realising that the same government official doesn’t even need to spell out what an OPC is anymore, instead it is taken as a given.
  • While the letter acknowledges there is no mandatory reporting of homosexual activity under PNG law, it explicitly does not state that there is no reporting of homosexual activity to PNG Police, or refute the claim that asylum seekers have been told they will be reported if found to engage in such activity.
  • It is difficult to accept the statement that “[t]o assist PNG in the implementation of the MOU, the government has contracted appropriately trained and experienced service providers to ensure that transferees’ needs are adequately met” from the same Government that is responsible for the death, in custody, of Reza Berati just over two weeks after I wrote my initial letter.
  • It is obviously welcome that, at least on paper, the Government claims it makes condoms available to asylum seekers on Manus Island – although whether they are made available in reality would be difficult to verify (given the shroud of secrecy surrounding, and lack of journalist access to, the detention facilities in PNG and Nauru).
  • The main problem remains however, and that is there is no firm commitment not to send LGBTI asylum seekers for ‘processing’ to countries which criminalise homosexuality, and no commitment that LGBTI refugees will not be permanently resettled in countries where they are liable to punishment merely for sexual intercourse.
  • The process outlined in the letter – that an asylum seeker must make a claim against the laws of PNG or Nauru prior to their transfer, is farcical given what we know about the current way asylum seekers are being assessed: while they are detained on navy or customs vessels, on the open sea, through a short interview (with as few as four questions by some reports) via teleconference to officials in mainland Australia. It is outrageous to suggest that the only way a gay asylum seeker can avoid being sent to another country which criminalises their sexual orientation is to declare their sexual orientation at short notice, whilst intimidated by naval or customs personnel (and potentially while intimidated by other asylum seekers, including possible family members), and to specifically claim protection against countries which they may not even be aware they are being taken to, and may not know criminalise homosexuality.

While I certainly wasn’t expecting to take much comfort from this response from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, it is still depressing to realise that, yet again, so little solace is to be found.

ORIGINAL LETTER

The Hon Scott Morrison MP

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Sunday 2 February 2014

Dear Minister

TREATMENT OF LGBTI ASYLUM SEEKERS AND REFUGEES SENT TO MANUS ISLAND, PAPUA NEW GUINEA

I am writing regarding the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers and refugees sent to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, both for offshore processing and permanent resettlement.

In particular, I am writing about concerning allegations raised in the Amnesty International Report This is Breaking People: Human rights violations at Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, which was released on 11 December 2013.

Chapter 8 of that report, titled ‘Asylum claims on the basis of sexual orientation’ (pages 73-75), details a range of serious allegations about the mistreatment of LGBTI asylum seekers sent to Manus Island for processing.

Specifically, Amnesty International found that:

  • Section 210 of the PNG Penal Code, which makes male-male penetrative sexual intercourse a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment, applies to asylum seekers detained on Manus Island
  • Section 212 of the PNG Penal Code, which makes other sexual activity between men, termed ‘gross indecency’, a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of 3 years’ imprisonment, also applies to asylum seekers detained there
  • Asylum seekers held on Manus Island have been informed that if they are found to have engaged in male-male sexual intercourse, they will be reported to PNG Police (despite no requirement for mandatory reporting)
  • Gay asylum seekers have reported being subject to bullying and harassment from other detainees and staff, including physical and verbal abuse and attempted molestation, but are not reporting this abuse because of fear of prosecution for their homosexuality
  • Interviewees have indicated that some gay asylum seekers have changed or are considering changing their asylum claim, from persecution on the basis of sexual orientation to persecution on another ground, in order to avoid prosecution (thereby jeopardising the chances of their claim ultimately being accepted)
  • Interviewees have indicated that some gay asylum seekers have chosen to return home, despite the risks involved to the personal safety/liberty, rather than be subjected to ongoing mistreatment because of their sexual orientation on Manus Island and
  • Condom distribution has been banned within the Manus Island detention facility, despite the risk of HIV transmission.

In these circumstances, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ms Renate Croker, the senior official from the Department of Immigration & Border Protection located at the Manus Island detention facility, told Amnesty International that “she was unaware of any asylum claims being made on the basis of LGBTI identity.”

Not only is this contradicted by the Amnesty Report – which interviewed a man who reported that his claim was based on persecution due to his sexual orientation, and who expressed concern about being transferred to Manus Island for this reason – it also ignores the fact that some gay asylum seekers may have changed their claims to other grounds (for the reasons outlined above), or that some asylum seekers may happen to be LGBTI but their claim is in fact based on persecution on other grounds (for example, race or religion).

Irrespective of how their claim is being dealt with, the Australian Government has a responsibility to protect the human rights of any and all LGBTI asylum seekers who have sought protection in Australia. This includes the right to freedom from prosecution on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, the right to claim asylum and the right to health.

From the information contained in the This is Breaking People report, it seems the Australian Government is falling well short of its obligations in this area.

I should note at this point that I am strongly opposed to the offshore processing and permanent resettlement of any asylum seekers by the Australian Government. This policy does not constitute a humane response, nor does it live up to our international humanitarian and legal responsibilities.

However, the mistreatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees raises particular problems, problems that do not appear to be recognized by the Australian Government. Nor does there appear to be any evidence the Government is taking action to remedy them.

Even if the offshore processing and permanent resettlement of refugees continues, this must not include the processing and resettlement of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees in countries which criminalise homosexuality (which both PNG and Nauru currently do).

If you, as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and therefore Minister responsible for the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees, cannot guarantee that sections 210 and 212 of the PNG Penal Code do not apply to detainees on Manus Island, then you cannot send LGBTI people there in good conscience.

If you, as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, cannot guarantee that LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees will not be subject to homophobic bullying and harassment, and will be free to lodge claims for protection on the basis of persecution due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, then you must not detain them in such facilities.

If you, as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, cannot guarantee that all asylum seekers and refugees, including but not limited to LGBTI people, have access to condoms, then you are potentially endangering their lives and you should be held accountable for any health problems which occur as a result (noting that HIV continues to be life-threatening in the absence of treatment).

It has been clear since the reintroduction of offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, passed by the previous Labor Government and supported by the Liberal-National Opposition in mid-2012, that the criminalisation of homosexuality in these countries constituted a significant threat to the human rights of LGBTI asylum seekers sent there.

Indeed, I wrote to you as Shadow Minister for Immigration expressing my concerns about this exact issue in September 2012. I did not receive a response addressing the subject of LGBTI asylum seekers prior to your assumption of the role of Minister for Immigration and Border Protection in September 2013.

I sincerely hope, now that you are the person directly responsible for the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees, and especially after the Amnesty International Report This is Breaking People has confirmed that these human rights abuses are real, that you take this issue, and your responsibilities, seriously.

I look forward to your response on this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

A copy of the Amnesty International Report This is Breaking People, can be found here: <http://www.amnesty.org.au/images/uploads/about/Amnesty_International_Manus_Island_report.pdf

No 5 Homosexuality Still Criminal in 77 Countries

The past four posts have looked at one issue (marriage equality, both domestically and around the world) and gay rights in two specific countries, Russia and India.

The subject matter of each of these four posts has received significant media coverage – for some pretty obvious reasons. Same-sex couples seeking the right to marry provide both a ‘human interest’ story, and usually some compelling images to accompany it. Putin’s crackdown on LGBTI Russians has inevitably received widespread attention, particularly in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics. And it is pretty hard to ignore the re-criminalisation of homosexuality in a country with more than 1.2 billion people.

But, comparatively, it has been much easier for the media to ignore the ongoing criminalisation of homosexuality in 77 countries across the world (including India after the recent Supreme Court decision, but excluding Russia where, despite the anti-propaganda law homosexuality itself remains legal).

To put that figure into perspective, that is five times the number of countries that have full marriage equality (or more than four times the number of countries including those where some parts have adopted marriage equality, like the United States). So, while some parts of Europe and North and South America (together with South Africa and New Zealand), push forwards towards full equality, more than a third of countries around the world still treat homosexuality as a criminal offence.

This includes 38 countries in Africa, while 41 countries come from the Commonwealth (which is pretty extraordinary when you consider there are only 53 member states in total).

Tragically, the are five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – where homosexuality attracts the death penalty, while capital punishment also applies in parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

Which is a scandalous state of affairs, and something that the media – including but not limited to the LGBTI media – should report, and reflect, more on.

There have been some encouraging recent signs – in terms of coverage, if not subject matter. Over the past week, moves to increase criminal penalties in Uganda and Nigeria have attracted attention globally. The murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe in Cameroon mid-year was also covered, as have, periodically, anti-gay developments in Zimbabwe, Iran and elsewhere.

What has also been encouraging during 2013 has been the debate, within the Australian LGBTI community, about the need for advocacy for global LGBTI rights. Sparked in part by the situation in Russia, there has finally been a discussion about the relative priority we give something like marriage equality, compared to decriminalisation around the globe.

After all, while we are fighting for the right to walk down the aisle, our LGBTI comrades elsewhere are fighting simply for the right to exist. I’m not suggesting that we have those priorities right – in fact far from it. But I get the feeling that we are closer to achieving a better balance at the end of 2013 than at the beginning.

Some of the organisations that have helped to promote the global push for decriminalisation include the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA: http://ilga.org), AllOut (https://www.allout.org), the Kaleidoscope Trust (http://kaleidoscopetrust.com), and of course Amnesty International (a link to the NSW LGBTQI Network here: http://www.amnesty.org.au/nsw/group/12065/). I would encourage you to support any or all of them.

One final point I would like to make is that there are things that the Australian Government can and should be doing with respect to this issue, not just raising it (diplomatically, in all senses of the word) through international forums and bilaterally, but also by providing aid to global campaigns for sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status equality.

One special burden which falls upon Australia is its own responsibility for the criminal laws which still exist in our former ‘colony’, Papua New Guinea, which were in place before Independence in September 1975. Because of that fact, it is imperative that the Australian Government – and the Australian LGBTI population generally – helps to encourage moves in our closest neighbour to decriminalise homosexuality. Hopefully that day, not just in PNG but right across the South Pacific, is not too far away.

No 10 The Federal Election on September 7

This would possibly have been higher on the list, were it not for the fact the outcome was pretty much inevitable, long before polling day (and certainly by the time I finished working at Parliament House in mid-2012).

But the September 7 election was still a significant moment, because it drew the final curtain on the Rudd & Gillard (& Rudd again) Labor Government that, in less than 6 years, achieved more for LGBTI rights than any other federal Government in history.

Perhaps we, as a community, took some of those achievements for granted. Perhaps, because many of those reforms were so long overdue (case in point: de facto relationship recognition) that they didn’t feel like achievements at all, instead they were simply the actions of a Parliament finally catching up to where the population already was.

More likely, for many of the LGBTI people of Australia, the achievements of the Labor Government were overshadowed by one major law reform which they didn’t implement. As someone who is engaged to be married myself, I understand that frustration (and I would add another couple of major policy failures as well – but more on them later in this countdown).

Nevertheless, the fact that the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government did not introduce marriage equality should not mean that we completely disregard their achievements in other areas. After all, they accomplished infinitely more in a little over 5 and a half years than the Howard Government did in twice that time (to be honest, the only positive Howard Government LGBTI achievement I can think of was allowing same-sex couples access to their partner’s superannuation, but even that wasn’t mandated, didn’t cover Commonwealth public sector employees, and was only passed as a trade-off when they introduced the marriage ban in 2004).

The positive list of Labor achievements between 2007 and 2013 includes:

  • De facto relationship recognition (and access to the Family Court on relationship breakdown)
  • The inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in federal anti-discrimination legislation for the first time (again, more on that later in the countdown)
  • Another first, this time the first National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy
  • Providing funding for the National LGBTI Health Alliance for mental health projects
  • Providing funding for QLife, the national network of LGBTI telephone counselling services, to allow a 1800 number to be operational across the country 7 nights a week (the importance of which really shouldn’t be underestimated)
  • Introducing trans* and intersex passport reform, with M, F and X categories (where X includes indeterminate/unspecified/intersex)
  • Permitting LGBTI inclusive couples to access Certificates of No Impediment, to at least allow them to be married overseas, if not at home
  • Providing Gardasil vaccinations to teenage boys, so that future generations of gay and bisexual men are protected from anal, penile and throat cancer
  • Introducing Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, and
  • Removing some gender requirements for PBS medicines, meaning easier access to some treatments for trans* and intersex people.

The above list (which I am sure is not exhaustive) is, all things considered, a pretty impressive one.

It is a shame that, through their own actions (or, more specifically, inaction), the Rudd and Gillard Government will, for many, be remembered more because of the failure to recognise the fundamental equality of love, than any of the things I have noted above. Because, in reality, they left the state of LGBTI affairs in Australia a far better place on 7 September 2013, than what they inherited on 24 November 2007.

Still, there is one way in which the outgoing Labor Government could be remembered more fondly over time – and that is if the actions of the newly-elected Abbott-led Liberal and National Government make them seem better in hindsight.

Already, that looks like a distinct possibility. The first LGBTI-related action of the Abbott Government was taking the ACT and their same-sex marriage laws to the High Court (thus seeing them overturned). And there are plenty of other tests to come over the next 12-24 months, including deciding whether to continue funding for some of the above-named initiatives. Not to mention the potential threat to anti-discrimination reforms, and in particular the possibility of Brandis & co reintroducing an exemption for religious aged care service providers.

So, while we (quite rightly) criticise the Rudd & Gillard Labor Government for what it didn’t do, perhaps every once in a while we should also reflect on the good things that it did accomplish.

13 Highs & Lows of 2013: No 13 (Alleged) Police Brutality at Sydney Mardi Gras

As I did last year, I am going to end the year by writing about the highlights – and lowlights – of the last 12 months. As always, choosing the best and worst of the year is a subjective process, and reflects my own experiences as a cis-gender gay man, who engages in LGBTI advocacy, in Sydney. But I hope that the list I have selected is reflective of some of the major issues of 2013, at least in Australia anyway. If not, please feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments section below.

No 13. (Alleged) Police Brutality at Sydney Mardi Gras

Let’s begin by remembering one of the true low-points of this year – the (alleged) actions of NSW Police officers which marred Australia’s, and one of the world’s, premier LGBTI events, the Sydney Mardi Gras, in February and March.

As we approach the end of the year, almost 2 million people, from right around the world, have watched the Youtube clip of the way Police officers treated Jamie Jackson on Oxford St on the night of the Mardi Gras Parade. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxtFtVfAeeE)

Jamie Jackson Mardi Gras

Others have read about the way long-term LGBTI activist Bryn Hutchinson was (allegedly) treated by NSW Police officers, also on Oxford St after the parade had finished. Now that all charges against Mr Hutchinson, and his sister Kate, have been dismissed by the courts, he has written about his experiences in the Star Observer. (http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/soapbox-opinion/my-terror-of-crossing-oxford-street-at-mardi-gras/113785)

But it is important to remember that it was not just these two isolated incidents that left a sour taste in the mouths of many after what is supposed to be a celebration of pride and diversity. Nor were instances of alleged Police brutality confined to the night of the Parade and Party, but instead occurred throughout the Mardi Gras Festival.

In fact, Sydney Mardi Gras and ACON received at least 58 complaints about the way people had been treated by NSW Police over the entire Mardi Gras season. These complaints included allegations of intimidation and aggression by Police on Oxford St after the Parade had finished, reports of homophobic language and behaviour at the main Party, of intimidation, violence, excessive physical force and coercion during drug operations at both the Harbour Party and main Party, and other aggressive and intimidating behaviour in LGBTI venues along Oxford St during the Festival.

Since March, Sydney Mardi Gras, ACON, the Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC) and the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) have been attempting to work through these issues in consultation with the LGBTI community. They recently released an advocacy document outlining 12 recommendations to the NSW government, although, with just 2 months left til the 2014 season gets underway, it is currently unclear how many will be accepted by Premier Barry O’Farrell, Police Minister Michael Gallacher and others. (http://glrl.org.au/images/stories/Publications/20131115_policing_at_lgbti_events_and_venues.pdf)

What is likely is that NSW Police will be much better behaved – at least for the 2014 Mardi Gras Festival, Parade and Party. They will be told by their superiors that to repeat what happened this year would reflect badly on the Government (in the media), as well as potentially jeopardising the money that is brought into the NSW economy by Mardi Gras and associated events. They will also be keenly aware that all eyes will be on them come February and March 2014, to see if their poor behaviour is repeated (on camera).

Nevertheless, the real test will come in 2015, 2016 and beyond, when the immediate controversy has died down, media interest has waned, and the temptation will emerge for some elements of the Police (because it should always be remembered that not all Police act poorly) to slip back into the (alleged) intimidation and outright aggression of 2013.

If the majority of the Mardi Gras, ACON, ICLC and GLRL recommendations are adopted (especially recommendations 1-3), then we may see some positive long-term cultural changes within NSW Police, meaning that future Mardi Gras patrons may not suffer in the same way that Jamie, Bryn and others did this year.

But, in my opinion, the two best recommendations for helping to ensure that NSW Police are ‘well-behaved’ at future Mardi Gras events are perhaps the two that are least likely to be adopted by the NSW Government.

The first, recommendation 7, calls for an end to drug detection dog operations. The evidence against the use of sniffer dogs has piled up since legislation was first passed authorising their use, without warrants, in NSW public places in 2001. The 2006 Ombudsman’s Report was damning in terms of their lack of effectiveness, as well as the risks, including health risks, of their ongoing use. In 2011, just 20% of drug dog indications resulted in Police actually finding drugs on the person searched.

The 2013 Mardi Gras experience, especially for attendees of the Harbour Party, simply confirmed the vagueness of what constitutes ‘reasonable grounds’, as well as the gross invasion of civil liberties and indeed bodily integrity involved in a subsequent drug search.

The use of drug detection dogs should end, end of story. And yet, with both the current Coalition, and previous Labor, Governments seemingly addicted to ‘law & order’, that outcome seems incredibly unlikely.

Something which is slightly more feasible is the subject of the other key recommendation (11), which calls for the establishment of a “transparent, representative civilian-led police complaints and investigatory body with the appropriate resources, capabilities and knowledge” to oversee NSW Police. Obviously, such a body would help remedy issues experienced, not just by the LGBTI community, but also by other vulnerable groups across NSW, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, young people and people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

It should be acknowledged that the NSW Government has taken a small step down this path, by appointing the former Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, to review the investigation and oversight of police critical incidents (those where police actions have resulted in the death or serious injury of a member of the community). But this represents just a small sub-set of police actions which should be subject to independent review, and it is undeniably a long, and hard, road from this narrow review to the introduction of a broad-based, independent complaints body. We’ll see what happens on this in coming months (and, I suspect, years).

There is one final comment which I feel compelled to make. In the aftermath of the incidents during this year’s Mardi Gras, some members of Sydney’s LGBTI community focused on the possible involvement of Police officers from outside the Surry Hills Local Area Command. Specifically, they argued that if we could somehow return to a (simpler) time when Surry Hills Police were sufficient to patrol the Mardi Gras, supplemented by others from around Sydney who volunteered to be on duty, then the problems of 2013 would somehow disappear.

To me, that ignores a much deeper problem. If a Police officer is going to behave in an allegedly homophobic and aggressive way on the busiest gay night of the year, on Oxford St, in front of thousands of people, then how are they going to treat an individual LGBTI person, when nobody is looking, in other parts of Sydney, or indeed elsewhere in the state?

I am not interested in just having an LGBTI-friendly Police force serving the inner-city enclaves of Surry Hills and Newtown, while simultaneously ignoring the potential for homophobia outside those supposedly safe borders. Any officer, from any part of the State, should be able to be called up for duty around Mardi Gras and behave in a responsible and respectful manner.

Above all, every single officer, in every single station across NSW, must be able to deal with, and respond appropriately to, the concerns of LGBTI people. If they can’t, they should have their badges taken off them, because they’re not fit to be a Police officer.

LGBTI Voices Absent from the Chamber

This week marked the first sittings of the 44th Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. It also marked the 44th sittings in which there have been no openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) members of the House of Representatives. The achievements of prominent Senators over the past 15 years – most notably former Greens Leader, Bob Brown, and current Leader of the ALP Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong – mean many people, including some within the LGBTI community, are unaware of this fact.

However, the truth remains that, 38 years after the first Australian state decriminalised homosexuality (South Australia in 1975), and 16 since the last (Tasmania in 1997), no openly LGBTI MP has ever occupied a seat in our federal lower house. This ongoing absence is both an embarrassment, and means Australia is a statistical outlier amongst similar countries.

Image

Above: now retired, Senator Bob Brown, former leader of the Greens.

The United Kingdom has a long, and mostly proud, history of ‘out’ House of Commons MPs. Leaving aside the ‘outing’ of Labour’s Maureen Colquhoun in 1976, fellow Labour MP Chris Smith voluntarily came out just a year into his first term, way back in 1984. The first Tory to come out in office – Matthew Parris – did so the same year. In fact, with roughly 20 current openly LGBTI House of Commons Members (there’s so many it’s getting hard to keep up), even adjusting for size Westminster features the equivalent of 4 or 5 openly LGBTI Australian House of Reps MPs.

New Zealand is similarly a long way ahead of Australia. Like the UK, our Trans-Tasman cousins had a female MP who was ‘outed’ whilst in office (Marilyn Waring from the Nationals, in 1976), with the first MP to publicly come out being Labour’s Chris Carter, shortly after his election twenty years ago. New Zealand even had the world’s first openly transsexual Member of Parliament, Georgina Beyer, before the turn of the last millennium. And, despite having a national list as part of their electoral system, these (and several other openly LGBTI) MPs represented single-member geographic electorates.

Meanwhile, the Canadian history of openly LGBTI lower house MPs has already reached a quarter century, following Svend Robinson’s pubic declaration in 1988. Even the United States Congress has featured openly LGBTI members in their House of Representatives; after Democrat Gerry Studds was outed in 1983, fellow Democrat Barney Frank came out voluntarily in 1987. Heck, the first Republican Members of Congress to either be outed (Steve Gunderson in 1994) or come out voluntarily (Jim Koelbe in 1996) happened almost two decades ago.

So, what has gone wrong in the Australian political system such that, despite having six openly LGBTI Senators or Senators-elect (in addition to Brown and Wong, there’s Democrat Brian Greig, Labor’s Louise Pratt, Liberal Dean Smith and newly-elected Green Janet Rice), not one openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender of intersex MP has ever won a seat in the House of Reps? How is it that Liberal Kevin Ekendahl, contesting the seat of Melbourne Ports in September 2013, appears to be the candidate to come closest – and even he fell more than 3.5% short?

The first possible explanation is that the party machines, in particular of the Coalition and the ALP, have actively operated to prevent LGBTI politicians from rising to the top. Given Australia’s incredibly strong two-party system (much stronger than the UK, New Zealand or Canada), it’s plausible that the increasingly powerful religious/conservative wing of the Liberal and National parties, and the virulently homophobic SDA, led by Joe De Bruyn inside the ALP, have each stopped the emergence of LGBTI politicians in Australia.

Except they haven’t been completely successful – 3 of the 6 openly LGBTI Senators have come from major parties (although none yet from the Nationals). And it ignores the Senate’s position as a quasi-‘insiders club’, where the majority of people elected have themselves emerged from, or at least have the support of, the party hierarchy. Which means that, even if discrimination within the party machine offers some of the explanation, there must be more to it.

A second possible explanation is that our political parties, operating in a system of single-member electorates with compulsory voting and compulsory preferential voting, have taken conscious decisions to find candidates who do not risk alienating any specific part of the electorate, and therefore have ruled out pre-selecting openly LGBTI candidates; or have nominated them to the multi-member Senate instead. Especially in marginal suburban or regional electorates, even a small backlash from voters motivated by homophobia (or who could be made to feel so through an exploitative campaign by opponents) could arguably be the difference between success or footnote.

At least historically, that could have been a somewhat rational, albeit craven, view from inside our major parties. But over time, with the growing acceptance of LGBTI people throughout Australian society, that perspective should have become irrelevant. And, once again, it cannot offer a full explanation, because, even accounting for different electoral systems in other countries, LGBTI candidates have had to counter, and survive, explicitly homophobic campaigns against them elsewhere. That could, and should, have happened here too.

A third possible explanation is that LGBTI people themselves have ‘self-selected’ out of becoming members of the House of Reps. There are two main ways in which this could have happened. First, if LGBTI advocates and achievers, becoming disgruntled by a (real or perceived) lack of progress on equality inside the major parties, chose instead to focus their energies on minor parties like the Democrats or, later, Greens, then they have largely ruled themselves out of being viable candidates for the House of Reps. The fact that 3 of the 6 openly LGBTI Senators to date have come from these smaller parties lends some weight to this hypothesis.

The other way in which an LGBTI person might rule themselves out is that, having progressed within the major parties and been in a position to challenge for pre-selection, they instead chose not to expose themselves to public scrutiny of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, or the possibility of outright homophobia. It’s been reported before that this is one reason why Justice Michael Kirby chose the law instead of politics (as an aside, imagine the achievements of Kirby as an activist Attorney-General?). It’s possible this fear continues to be a factor today. And, given the sexism and misogyny that is still directed at our female politicians, who’s to say they’re being irrational?

Image

Above: Senator the Hon Penny Wong, currently Leader of the ALP Opposition in the Senate, with her family. Unfortunately, as a Senator she can no longer be promoted unless or until she moves to the House of Representatives.

Last month, Bill Shorten made addressing this issue, through the introduction of LGBTI affirmative action rules for ALP candidates, one of his policy planks in the contest for Labor Leader. The proposal, oft described as a quota, drew condemnation from a diverse range of people, including Andrew Bolt and Crikey’s Guy Rundle. Disappointingly, the debate over his solution (which, for the record, I think is worthy of consideration) ignored the fact that Shorten was talking about a real problem – that LGBTI people continue to be excluded from Australia’s House of Government, long after they have stormed the barricades in comparable nations.

It’s important this problem is addressed, not because a Parliament must automatically reflect the demographic make-up of the people it represents, but because, at a time when the rights of LGBTI people continue to be a matter of major public debate (see: marriage equality), we should at least be at the table; or on a green chair or two, anyway. But above all, removing the barriers which have, in the past, operated to prevent openly LGBTI people being elected to the House of Representatives, means clearing the way to ensure that the best possible candidates are put before the Australian people, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. That’s something we all deserve.

**********

UPDATE 7 JANUARY 2016:

On Saturday 5 December 2015, Trent Zimmerman became the first out gay man to be elected to the House of Representatives, in the North Sydney by-election created by the resignation of former Treasurer Joe Hockey.

A Liberal, Mr Zimmerman will be the first out member of the LGBTI community to serve in the lower house of our federal parliament when he formally takes his seat on Tuesday 2 February 2016.

While his historic victory was a long time coming, there is some hope that the 2016 Federal Election may even see other out LGBTI representatives elected to join him. The best chance at this stage appears to be gay army major Pat O’Neill, standing for Labor in the marginal seat of Brisbane.

Other candidates with admittedly longer odds include Carl Katter (ALP) and Jason Ball (Greens) in Higgins which is currently held by Liberal Kelly O’Dwyer (they both had much stronger chances before Malcolm Turnbull replaced the bigoted Tony Abbott as Prime Minister), and Labor’s Sophie Ismail who is running against Green Adam Bandt in Melbourne.

Of course, even if Mr O’Neill succeeds, two MPs out of a chamber of 150 do not a landslide make. LGBTI voices will still be under-represented when the issue of marriage equality is debated (yet again) next term, as well as other issues of importance to the LGBTI community.

And Australia remains well behind in terms of LGBTI representation, both in comparison to similar countries elsewhere, and when we remember the fact that there has still not been an out transgender or intersex member in either house. Despite Mr Zimmerman’s victory, there is still a very long way to go.

Trent-Zimmerman

Liberal Trent Zimmerman became the first out LGBTI person elected to the House of Representatives on 5 December 2015 [image source: The Weekly Times].

Submission on Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013 re Homosexual Advance (or ‘Gay Panic’) Defence

I am writing to make a submission on the Exposure Draft Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013, as released by the Attorney-General, the Hon Greg Smith MP, on 17 October 2013.

First, I would like to commend the Attorney-General, and the O’Farrell Government more broadly, for developing a Bill which, if passed, would finally abolish the homosexual advance (or ‘gay panic’) defence.

The homosexual advance defence has long been a stain on the fabric of our criminal justice system, resulting in the ‘downgrading’ of convictions from murder to manslaughter where it is not justified, and in doing so implying that the victim was in some way at fault, even to a small extent that they ‘deserved’ what happened to them.

Sadly, this has not been an abstract injustice, restricted to the statute books, but a defence that has been used, successfully, in multiple criminal trials over the past 20 years. This means that there is every chance that it could be used again, unless and until this Bill is passed.

Which brings me to my first recommendation: The Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013 should be passed as soon as possible. This will help ensure that no future victim is disrespected by the fact their murderer escapes with a lesser conviction, and probable reduced sentence, simply because that murderer had a homophobic reaction to the victim’s non-violent sexual advance.

If, for whatever reason, the NSW Government is unable to progress this legislation with the urgency that it requires then, as a fall-back, I suggest that it consider amending clause 2 of the Bill to ensure that the Act has retrospective application.

Specifically, if the legislation is not passed by the end of the first sittings in 2014 (on Thursday March 27th), consideration should be given to back-dating the legislation to take effect from the date the Government formally confirmed its intention to introduce these reforms through the release of this Exposure Draft (ie on 17 October 2013).

I acknowledge that this would be a drastic step for any Parliament to take. No-one should casually amend the criminal law in such a way, especially where the offence involved carries significant penalties, without a compelling justification.

But I sincerely believe that a case for doing so could be made in these circumstances: that the injustice of our legal system effectively saying that a killing is less offensive, less contrary to community standards, less worthy of punishment than other killings, simply because the non-violent sexual advance involved was from one man to another, is so great that the question of retrospective application at least merits further debate.

Despite this, my overall preference would be for the Bill to be passed without including such provisions, and that this happen in the shortest possible timeframe, making retrospectivity less of a pressing concern.

My second recommendation deals with another potential issue which would remain unresolved even if the Exposure Draft Bill was passed, and that is: The new Crimes Act section 23, introduced by the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013, should specify that the ordinary person is not homophobic.

The Exposure Draft Bill includes multiple safeguards to help ensure that a non-violent sexual advance, whether same-sex or heterosexual, cannot be used as the basis of the partial defence of extreme provocation.

Specifically, proposed new sub-section 23(2)(b) requires that the conduct of the deceased was a “serious indictable offence”, which would clearly not include a non-violent sexual advance. Even more categorically, sub-section 23(3)(a) ensures that the partial defence cannot be raised in circumstances where “the conduct was only a non-violent sexual advance to the accused.” I strongly support the inclusion of both provisions.

However, in the event of a contested murder prosecution, there can be doubt about the boundary between what constitutes a non-violent sexual advance and a violent sexual advance. This doubt can, and often will, be exploited by a defendant, especially because the victim is not available to provide their version of events. It would be a potentially perverse, although perhaps unavoidable, consequence of the Government’s reforms that it would introduce an even greater incentive for a defendant to establish that the victim’s sexual advance was itself violent.

If the defendant is successful in establishing that the victim’s sexual advance was indeed violent (or that there is at least some evidence to support this: see proposed sub-section 23(7)), then proposed sub-section 23(2)(d) becomes relevant, and it maintains the existing ‘ordinary person’ test to assess whether the loss of self-control is accepted as the basis of this partial defence.

It is possible that, given hardening community attitudes against rape, any violent sexual advance, irrespective of the sexes or genders of the people involved, would now satisfy the ‘ordinary person’ test in terms of partially excusing that loss of self-control. If that is the case, then there would be no unjustified discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the law would not require further amendment.

However, it is also possible that a male defendant could claim a violent sexual advance from another man is more egregious or offensive, and therefore more worthy of the application of the partial defence, than a violent sexual advance in other circumstances (eg a violent sexual advance from a woman to a man).

Based on the existing case-law (including Green v The Queen 1997), there is a possibility that this argument would be accepted – the consequence of which being that, once again, the killing of someone who makes a same-sex sexual advance would be treated as less serious than the killing of someone who makes a heterosexual sexual advance in the same circumstances (the only difference being that both would now be violent).

Given the significant step forward overall which would be achieved by the passage of this Bill, I do not wish to see it undermined by the ongoing possibility of such homophobic discrimination, which is why I propose that new section 23 include a provision that, at least for the purposes of this partial defence, the ordinary person is not homophobic, bi-phobic, trans-phobic or prejudiced towards intersex people (specifically, the ordinary person does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status).

As with  the suggestion about retrospectivity, discussed earlier, this would be an unusual step for a Parliament to take, and leaves open for consideration a range of other factors which may or may not need to be prescribed (for example, that the ordinary person is not racist or sexist). I make no comment here about those or other factors (other than noting that, whatever list may be deemed necessary include, it should be inclusive rather than exhaustive).

Nevertheless, given we are fully aware that the law has allowed homophobic discrimination within the partial defence of provocation in the past, I believe we should be actively considering how to prevent further such discrimination in the future within the new partial defence of extreme provocation. Even if the section itself is not amended, alternatives could include either or both the explanatory memorandum and second reading speech noting that it is not the Parliament’s intention that the new partial defence should operate in a homophobic manner.

Leaving aside these two recommendations, it is my firm belief that the passage of the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill 2013 would be a significant, and long-overdue, achievement. This is something that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community has been campaigning on for many years: it is my sincere hope that the homosexual advance (or gay panic’’) defence will finally be consigned to the dustbin of history in the very near future.