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It’s a great pleasure to be here tonight to celebrate the graduation of the South Australian LGBTIQ Leadership and Advocacy Program.
The program brings to an end two years of work in South Australia by the Human Rights Law Centre – thanks to a funding commitment by former Premier, Jay Weatherill.
That relatively small amount of funding has gone a long way – and I want to thank Anna, Lee, and the Human Rights Law Centre for your priceless contribution to LGBTIQ rights in South Australia.
In particular, I want to acknowledge the way you have worked inclusively and respectfully with our LGBTIQ community here in South Australia, helping to strengthen the rights of our community but also our capacity for the fights ahead.
It’s important work – as necessary today as it’s ever been – and I would encourage the Marshall Liberal Government to continue funding for LGBTIQ advocacy.
I want to make a couple of comments about equality, and I want to reiterate something that I say often and I want to say it again in this room.
Equality never comes easy. It must be fought for and it must be won.
It was true of women fighting for suffrage.
It was true of workers fighting for decent wages.
It was and remains true of women fighting for wage equality, as it was for married women fighting for the right to remain in paid employment.
It is true of Australia’s first peoples, who have fought to be truly recognised as citizens of our nation.
And it has been true for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians fighting for equality before the law and equality in reality.
It is precisely because equality never comes easy that we have so much to be proud of.
In 1975, South Australia became the first state to decriminalise homosexuality.
Two decades later, in 1997, Tasmania became the last.
Let’s just pause to reflect on that.
Only twenty years ago, consensual homosexual acts between men were illegal in parts of our country.
That only twenty years ago homosexuals were criminals simply because of who they loved – is a stark reminder of how much the LGBTIQ community has been able to achieve in such a short period.
In South Australia, we have a proud history of being at the forefront of LGBTIQ rights reform.
In 1984, Labor introduced laws preventing discrimination on the basis of sexuality.
In 2003, the South Australian Parliament passed laws to remove discrimination in the treatment of surviving partners accessing the superannuation benefits of their same-sex partner.
In 2006, the Rann Labor Government introduced Domestic Partnership reforms amending 97 laws to treat any two people living together, regardless of their gender, equally under State law.
In 2011, presumption of parentage laws were amended to allow both mothers to be listed on their child’s birth certificate.
In 2013, South Australia became the first State to introduce legislation to allow for gay sex convictions to be removed from victims’ criminal records.
And in 2016, after the Labor Government commissioned a review of discriminatory laws and regulations by the South Australian Law Reform Institute, the South Australian Parliament passed the most significant package of LGBTIQ reforms in a generation.
Thank you to all of you who supported and fought for that.
Over 140 pieces of legislation were amended to remove discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and intersex status.
That included things like:
- Repealing the antiquated Sexual Reassignment Act and passing new laws making it easier for South Australians to change their legal identity to reflect their true selves.
- Establishing a relationships register, ensuring equal recognition of non-heterosexual relationships.
- Removing discrimination in laws governing adoption, surrogacy and assisted reproductive treatment.
Nationally, we saw recognition of same-sex couples for immigration purposes in 1985, anti-gay discrimination declared a breach of human rights in 1986, the ending of anti-gay formal discrimination in the Australian Defence Force in 1992 and the passage of sexual privacy laws in 1994.
In 2008, the Rudd Labor Government amended over 80 pieces of legislation to remove discrimination against LGBTIQ couples.
And of course, last year, Australia finally removed discrimination from the Commonwealth Marriage Act and achieved marriage equality.
I recount these steps forward not to suggest that our job is done.
We’ve achieved a lot collectively.
But we’ve still got a lot to do for our community.
Perhaps the most disturbing sign that we still have work to do are statistics on mental health and suicide.
I don’t need to tell you that the rate of suicide for LGBTIQ is far higher than the general population.
LGBTIQ people are at a higher risk for a range of mental diagnoses and they are significantly more likely to have depression or anxiety.
It’s a reminder of what we all know – that discrimination, intolerance, hate and rejection continue to plague our community and they have a human cost.
I want to recognise that transgender and intersex South Australians continue to face particular discrimination, particularly in relation to health services as we’ve also talked about tonight.
I also want to make a point about the need to guard against what you might term ‘rollback’.
We have to guard the achievements we have gained.
Because those who have opposed us on our journey towards equality will still undermine our progress and they continued to do so.
We only need to look to the concerted campaign against Safe Schools, or the recent cuts by the South Australian Liberal Government to HIV prevention and support services in South Australia.
These are just to examples of the way in which past success can never be taken for granted and is always at risk of attack.
Of course, those who fought the losing ‘No’ campaign will no doubt try to wind back the clock – they will try to re-litigate past fights, with some seeking to re-legislate discrimination through the Religious Freedom Review.
On that point I make the same point I made previously: Australians did not vote to increase discrimination, they voted to lessen it.
And we of course need to ensure that national leadership is present.
National leadership is necessary to ensure the acceptance we all seek is championed within the Australian community.
It was deeply disappointing to see the new Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, saying in an interview that gay conversion therapy wasn’t “an issue for [him]” and only days later responding to an article about a program in New South Wales educating teachers about gender diversity by tweeting that “we do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools. Let kids be kids.”
It is not leadership to use LGBTIQ kids to demonstrate your conservative credentials.
Real leadership is championing acceptance and equality.
Real leadership makes all of us feel safe, confident and accepted in our community.
So how have we achieved the things that we’ve achieved?
We have achieved equality, we have achieved progress, by standing together, all of us.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and more.
We have fought for the rights of all.
Not all our rights are equally impacted by every issue.
Not all our fights progress our personal journey towards equality.
But all of our fights progress our community’s journey towards equality.
Our strength has come from our community. From supporting each other and fighting together.
We have achieved equality by organising, campaigning, advocating and lobbying.
We’ve achieved equality by making sure we win allies. By winning hearts and minds.
We’ve achieved equality because we have great activists. People who are committed, people who are constructive, people who are strategic.
Those are the advocates who can achieve change.
I was reminded tonight of the importance of that when I saw the work that you do and are doing and will do.
I am reminded also of the very famous comment from Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Nearly twelve months ago, Australia achieved a significant step towards equality in gaining marriage equality.
Our country voted to remove discrimination from the Marriage Act and to legislate for marriage equality.
The grace and decency of our countrymen and women did shine through.
It was a big win. But it came at great cost.
It was a difficult time for many in our community.
It is important to remember that our job isn’t done. It isn’t done until we’ve achieved equality in the lives of all, until we counter the sort of discrimination, prejudice and hate that people talked about tonight.
To do that we have to continue to stand together, we have to continue to organise, to campaign, to advocate and to lobby, to make sure we have good allies and to make sure we support the people like those you saw tonight.
Congratulations to all of you.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.