The Labor Party Conference is fast approaching, and already the debate about “what do we want from Labor” is being narrowed down to one question: should Labor continue to have a conscience vote on marriage equality, or should it become binding party policy?
“Binding” means exactly what it says: all party members must vote for binding party policies on pain of expulsion from the party and deselection.
I’ll say more about that later, but marriage is not the end of the story. As we have seen in the UK, and again here, and in Brazil, and several US states, the introduction of marriage equality does not mean an end to discrimination, persecution and homophobia. In fact, it can in the short term make things worse.
So it is very important that when marriage equality is finally enacted, it is accompanied by a complete suite of LGBTI reforms and protections, not introduced in isolation.
Labor is prone to telling us to pick one policy we would like enacted above all else, and then working (sometimes with less than wholehearted enthusiasm) for ONLY that policy. We need them to understand that that we expect and need them to commit to the total package.
Others, notably Alastair Lawrie, have laid out some of the issues that need addressing, especially this on the issue of a binding marriage equality vote, and this on the other issues conference needs to address. I thoroughly recommend his blog.
What follows is my personal, non-exclusive list of nine policies which I believe should be included in the suite to which conference should commit, and Labor should take to the election. They are not in order of preference or importance. I believe we need them all.
MINISTER FOR LGBTIQ
Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about this: it’s not a minister for equality, or a minister for diversity, it is specifically to deal with LGBTIQ issues and to manage the LGBTIQ reform package through parliament into legislation. There’s a minister for women, there’s a minister for the first Australians, there should be one for us.
Perhaps the best way to tackle this would be a Cabinet Minister for Diversity covering all these fields, with three junior ministers, but in any event, a dedicated one stop shop for us and all programs affecting us.
The inevitable elephant in the room. Remove the changes introduced to the Marriage Act by John Howard and Tanya Plibersek. Amend the act to speak of two adult individuals, regardless of sex or gender. Ensure that all married couples have exactly the same rights: no ‘special’ legislation or clauses just for us. And make this binding party policy.
The policy should be: full equal marriage and with that equal pension, superannuation, inheritance and other rights, including full rights to IVF, joint adoption, recognition of all marriages and civil unions of other states and countries.
A notion has been floated that the party could make equal marriage binding policy, but allow some members to abstain, e.g., if it offends their religion.
Let’s be clear here. A binding policy is a binding policy, No ifs, ands or buts. To provide such a get-out is just a conscience vote by another name, lipstick on the current pig of a policy. If a member chooses to abstain, absent themselves without a pair, or otherwise fails to support the policy, s/he is out of the party and deselected. The end. If this leads some members of the party to leave, then, frankly, good riddance.
This leads me to:
No religious exemptions in any law. Amend the tax laws and the Sex Discrimination Act to make this crystal clear. There cannot be one law for everyone, with special rights and privileges for religious adherents. All must be equal before the law. The law trumps religion, every time.
It has been suggested that some organisations would rather close down their hospitals, clinics, schools, colleges, employment services, etc., rather than provide services or employment to LGBTIQ people. Fine. Remove the exemption from rates and taxes from the institution in question and their ultimate sponsoring body, for example, the Catholic Church.
They can keep their tax exemptions or their prejudices, but not both.
Or alternatively they can surrender their institutions and endowments to be run by the state or federal government. That way they do not deprive anyone of their services.
ROYAL COMMISSION INTO HISTORIC GAY MURDERS
Figures are disputed, but between 1960 and 2000 there was a horrifying wave of anti-gay violence directed principally against gay men in Sydney, including maybe as many as 80 murders. Far from stemming this crime wave, the police passively encouraged the bashings by treating them of as no consequence, failing to investigate properly if at all, failing to record reports (or later conveniently losing them), and even going out bashing themselves when in plain clothes.
An unknown number of men were murdered during this holocaust – and yes, the word is appropriate – yet few if any have ever been brought to justice. Some of the police who were serving at the time are now in very senior positions.
The Scott Johnson case has illuminated just the tip of this iceberg. But as that case clearly demonstrates, the NSW police themselves cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. They have demonstrated they will do anything to cover up what really went on – which means something really bad actually did go on inside the NSW Police.
It’s time they were brought to account. The party needs to pledge a Royal Commission into crimes of violence against gay men in NSW and especially Sydney 1960-2000, and the police handling of the matter.
In case you think this would be a waste of time and money, may I remind everyone, firstly, that justice is beyond price.
And I would direct you to examine what is happening even now, when in parts of NSW homophobic violence is going unchecked and even abetted by serving police officers, with the alleged collusion of the NSW Police Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officers. This mess needs to be cleaned up once and for all, for the good not just of gay Sydneysiders, but also the police, who seem to be quite out of control.
YOUTH EDUCATION, HOMELESSNESS, SELF-HARM & SUICIDE
That bane of any attempt to get change, “anecdotal evidence”, indicates that a large number of young homeless people are LGBTIQ. That, plus evidence from overseas, puts the figure at around 40%. Much of this stems from their rejection by their families, who either throw them out, or pressure them to “change”. Much of this is driven by religion.
Homeless kids have a poor prognosis – especially trans* kids. Yet their needs are barely recognised, let alone met. We need a nationwide support network and provision of emergency accommodation. As I understand it, Twenty10 is the only organisation addressing this but is scandalously underfunded.
We all know by now, I would hope, the horrendous stats on youth mental health and suicide. We have also seen energetic efforts by the so-called Christian lobby to shut down anti-bullying programs in schools that address this.
We need organisations like Safe Schools, Twenty10, and all other LGBTIQ service delivery organisations to be properly funded long-term, not just on a year-to-year, project-to-project basis: another reason we need a Minister for LGBTIQ.
We need science-based, nationally mandated, fully inclusive sex-education in all schools, delivered by appropriately qualified presenters. At the moment, too many are in the hands of amateur religious presenters with an anti-LGBTIQ abstinence agenda, presenting dangerous and damaging material.
And we need a well resourced national study to discover just how many homeless youth are members of our community. But we shouldn’t wait for that before acting.
Disclosure: I’m one of them. The needs of ageing LGBTIQ are not being met, whether it’s through simple homophobia, forcing us back into the closet if we need to enter care or allow carers into our homes, or simple ignorance, especially regarding the complex needs of people ageing with HIV, or dementia patients who are transgender.
We do not have full rights to our partners superannuation on the same basis as heterosexual spouses.
And we often lack the extended family networks heterosexual couples can call on for support, since we may have been ejected from our birth families. We are also marginalised within the LGBTIQ community itself.
Doctors, nurses and carers are very poorly trained, if at all, on LGBTIQ health and ageing issues, which means health education needs to be reformed.
There’s a summary of the last round table on these issues here.
Our treatment of all refugees is arguably criminal, but our treatment of LGBTIQ refugees is especially cruel. People fleeing deadly homophobic regimes like Iran are locked away, and their stories are not believed. The default assumption is that they are faking their sexual orientation in order to secure citizenship.
This has been the situation for many years, but it is worse under this government than any other.
They are currently trapped, afraid to reveal their sexuality lest they are abused and beaten by fellow detainees (especially if they are from Muslim countries), or by local and usually homophobic security staff. Yet they cannot justify their claim for asylum unless they do so.
LGBTIQ refugees are thus left with a choice between: revealing themselves and making their current situation worse; being forced back to e.g., Iran (where they will likely hang); or accepting settlement in Nauru or Cambodia, both of which are far from safe for them.
Refugees claiming asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity should be assessed here in Australia, and released into the community as a priority.
I have placed this at the end of my list, because it is about internal party arrangements, not a policy to take to an election. And I know I said I wasn’t going to preference or prioritise any one item in this personal and admittedly incomplete list. Nevertheless I will stick my neck out and say I think this is probably the one that it is imperative to pass as soon as possible. What is “Emily’s List”?
The name EMILY comes from its United States equivalent and is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast”, from the political saying, “Early money is like yeast, because it helps to raise the dough“. [Wikipedia]
Leaving aside the cutesy acronym, I believe the Labor Party should pass an additional Affirmative Action Rule requiring openly LGBTI candidates to be preselected in 10% of winnable seats, in all elections.
And I believe we should form a multi-party grouping of openly LGBTIQ members of all parties, including out LGBTIQ serving members of all parties, with the goal of ensuring 10% of all elected MPs and Senators, in all parliaments, are openly LGBTI.
I find it quite incomprehensible that we are so under-represented, and I believe that unless we take this into our own hands, that will continue to be the case.
I just haven’t thought of a name yet!
These are just my thoughts. I’d be interested in yours. But whatever they are, can we please move beyond the ‘let’s do one thing before we move on to the next one’ mind-set. It lets lazy politicians get away with doing less than they could, or should, and keeps us constantly dangling on a string, hoping for the next crumb. It’s time to demand the cake.