By Josh Pallas
Pride month has become a celebration for the queer community. But it should always be deeply connected to the ongoing struggle for queer liberation.
The Sydney’s first Mardi Gras protest march took place on June 24, 1978 as an action in solidarity with American gay activists who remembered Stonewall. In the months that followed, many gay activists in Sydney were arrested and publicly exposed for their activism. This Pride month coincides with the declaration of the results of the federal election where queer politics loomed large for all the wrong reasons. So how are things going for queer politics under Anthony Albanese’s government?
Scott Morrison failed to protect LGBTQI people
Like many other queer people, I breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that Scott Morrison’s government had been overthrown. As if Prime Minister Morrison’s damaging rhetoric against gay people wasn’t damaging enough, his government’s policy stances sought to remove protections against discrimination and, in fact, expressly allow it.
At the heart of this political program were the three failed attempts to pass the Religious Discrimination Bills and the vicious attacks on trans participation in sport by Katherine Deves and Senator Claire Chandler.
So what about the new government? Only recently in opposition the Labor Party backed the Religious Discrimination Bills in the House of Representatives, even after the Labor MP stephen jones gave a spirited speech in support of trans rights.
Labor Religious Discrimination Bill
Labor to bring new Religious Discrimination Bill to Parliament: Attorney General Mark Dreyfus
Before the election The Albanian Prime Minister has pledged to reintroduce a form of protection for religious people against discrimination, while protecting homosexual students against expulsion from schools. Labor Policy Platform talks about strengthening anti-discrimination laws, not weakening them.
But until we see the details of any proposed bill, we won’t know if gay rights are being restricted or taken away in favor of religious rights. However, it is heartening to see a change in the rhetoric and commitment of the new government to inject more funds into queer community organizationsespecially those who support people living with mental illness.
Although these commitments by the Albanian government are welcome, they do not go far enough. Two other examples of important areas requiring immediate reform that would make a significant difference in the daily lives of gay people would be that the government prohibit conversion practices across the country and stop unnecessary surgeries against children with innate variations in their sex characteristics (as studied in the ACT). These issues are specific to the queer community and require special attention from the government.
Australia needs a human rights charter
Meet Australia’s Out Gay MPs
But the best way to protect the queer community and all other marginalized groups within society would be for the government implement a human rights law or charter.
Australia remains increasingly isolated as one of the only liberal democracies without nationwide legal human rights protections. A human rights law would cover all civil and political rights (like the right to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination) in one place, which would necessarily establish a mechanism to address rights disputes.
It would end the way rights are currently protected (or not) by a patchwork of federal and state laws that don’t interact well with each other. A human rights law could also include important protections regarding health care, education and housing; none of which are particular to the queer community, but concern everyone. More importantly, we know that human rights laws are consistent with the most recent study by Human Rights Law Center published last week on similar laws in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.
Politics and Pride
Implementing a human rights law takes courage and would demonstrate a truly reformist government. To date, the major parties have shown no appetite for such reform.
Ahead of World Pride, Alex Greenwich has shown this much-needed leadership at the state level (where we also have no human rights law!). Will the Albanian government also show leadership or will it be content to tinker around the edges?
Regardless of how the next two months unfold, let’s remain committed to keeping politics at the center of the Pride celebrations as we continue our fight for true queer liberation.
Josh Pallas is chairman of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties. @jospallas on Twitter.