First of all, may I congratulate you on your win. I hope the job is everything you hoped, that you will be good for Australia, and that Australia will the better for your tenure.
I don’t want to take the gloss off your victory, but I must say upfront that your win had more to do with how dire your opposition was than with any great love or enthusiasm for you or your tissue-thin ‘policies’ or your shadow front bench.
And that gives you a problem. It means your victory is fragile. People voted for you because they were angry. They’re still angry. They’re watching you like hawks to see if you’re as good as your word. They won’t forgive stuff-ups easily.
Then there are those that are even angrier, because they voted against you, and you won. Eager to see you fail, so they can cry “See, we told you so!”
It’s now your job to heal this rift. Assuage this anger. To do what Margaret Thatcher promised, and so spectacularly failed to deliver: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony,” she said, before visiting more disharmony and disruption on Britain than WW2.
In short, you got people’s votes, but you’ve a mountain of work still to do to gain their trust. And you are going to need it.
Among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex electors, it goes deeper than that. There is a great fear among many, which is generating outright enmity. Fear that you will dismantle everything we have worked so hard to gain, all the gains that have begun to ease our community out of second-class status and towards full and equal citizenship.
On their behalf, I can only ask you to remember tenets of your Christian faith: forgive those who sin against you; turn the other cheek; love your enemies. We’re going to take a lot of winning over. You need to reach out to us.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do without coming near the contentious issue of marriage – though we hope you do that too, one day soon (there’s a video at the end of this post that might move you, if you’ve the time).
Some of it is quite easy: just leave things as they are.
- The expansion of anti- discrimination laws to protect us, including the aged care protections; the gender and sex identity guidelines.
- The issuing of certificates of no impediment to marriage to same-sex couples marrying overseas.
- Supporting and funding LGBTI mental health initiatives and the LGBTI Ageing & Aged Care strategy, and maitaining recognition of LGBTI as a special needs group
- Supporting and funding HIV health and prevention
There’s plenty of scope for improvement in the health arena.
- Legislate against shonky, damaging and unscientific ‘therapies’, paid and unpaid, which give false hope to the vulnerable and lead them to despair
- Fund and support trans* healthcare including surgery
- Outlaw genital ‘correction’ surgery on intersex children incapable of consent
We know that some of our most vulnerable – same-sex attracted kids, especially those going through puberty – are in dire need or more help and support. The suicide rate is just too horrendous to contemplate. We know they are most at risk at schools, and in sporting environments. The provision of school chaplains has done nothing to make things any better. That’s is like giving aspirin to someone with bubonic plague. Far better to inoculate kids against the disease in the first place.
- Put qualified secular counsellors in all schools. Not everyone is a Christian, and nor are their parents. Chaplains just don’t cut it, and they don’t belong in our secular education system.
- Teach kids about the great contribution gay women and men have made throughout history from primary onwards – put it in the National Curriculum.
- Fund proper, non-judgmental secular age appropriate diverse sex education in ALL schools from primary onwards independently audited and monitored and include that in the National Curriculum too.
- Include LGBTI diversity, inclusiveness and anti-bullying training in teacher ed and mandatory professional development and accreditation.
- Make all sports funding contingent on embedding of externally audited ongoing pro-active anti-homophobia training in AFL, NRL, NFL, Australian Soccer and all other sports from junior to elite levels
We’d like you to be a good Samaritan to our community members overseas, too. As you may be aware, Russia has recently passed some draconian anti-gay laws, as has Nigeria. Uganda is still mulling a bill that calls for gays to be hanged. We are persecuted, beaten, jailed, tortured and murdered in many countries of the world, many of them in the British Commonwealth. Please don’t compound the cruelty by consigning our refugees to places that also persecute them. Please extend the hand of Christian compassion to people fleeing for their lives.
- Offer asylum to LGBTI fleeing Russia, Ukraine, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Saudi, Dubai, Senegal, Iran, Iraq, Gambia. . . the list is longer, but I’ll stop there.
- Raise the issue of LGBTI equality in all international discussions: ask what other countries are doing, and make it clear we don’t do business with those who discriminate
- Let our embassies and consulates become venues for local gay organisations to hold events, especially in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Help fund Pride marches and fly the rainbow flag.
You could do some cleaning up of your own Canberra backyard, too. Changes you could make to the way the government does business with business, simply by asking them to demonstrate that they do not discriminate.
- Anyone doing business with the government and its agencies ought to be contractually obliged to have pro-active sex and gender diverse hiring and employment policies and prectices
- Specifically include LGBTI in all whole of government initiatives and bodies, such as the social inclusion programs.
- Start including us in all the stats you collect across the whole government, including the census.
Of course, there is more. There always is. But this would be a start.
One last suggestion: you could make it easy on yourself by appointing a Ministry for LGBTI Affairs, a one stop shop to co-ordinate all the government’s effort to work with our community. It would simple, sensible, and send a clear message that you are extending the hand of friendship – or at least, truce (let’s not get too ambitious) – to us. Believe it or not, we’d like to be friends.
You sure I can’t change your mind about marriage? OK – but maybe John Barrowman can.