January 3, 2005
Gays quickest to use Tasmania LGB couples register
by Gavin Lower
Almost 50 couples have signed on to Tasmania’s groundbreaking relationships register since it came into existence one year ago. Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome yesterday hailed the first anniversary of the register and declared it a success.
He called on the Commonwealth and other states to enact similar schemes. "Clearly there is a demand for partnership registration from couples who want the added legal security registration brings them and their families," Mr Croome said. State Labor member for Denison David Bartlett said since the register was opened on January 1 last year 43 relationships had been registered. He said many other states and countries were looking at replicating the legislation. "The Government’s very proud of introducing this nationally and internationally leading legislation," he said. Registrations offer security for wills, superannuation and situations such as a medical crisis that requires consent.
Mr Croome said 39 same-sex couples had registered their relationships with the Births, Deaths and Marriages Office and four heterosexual couples. He said of the 39 same-sex couples, 22 were male and 17 were female. He also said none of the registrations had been revoked. Rebecca Wealands and her partner Lee Hyland were among the first to register their relationship. They said the relationships Act had made a difference to Tasmanian society. Ms Wealands thanked the Launceston community for its support after they went public with the registration of their relationship. "We didn’t know what to expect, to be outed on such a large scale," Ms Wealands said. "But the response was just so fantastic." She said people had come up to them in the street and congratulated them.
Ms Wealands said knowing their registration was recognised by law had helped their relationship. She said now their relationship had been registered she and Ms Hyland were planning on having children. Mr Croome said his one disappointment with the registration scheme was that no couples such as carers and the person they cared for or older companions had registered. "This is probably due to the fact that registration for these kinds of non-conjugal relationships is a very new idea and isn’t available anywhere else in the world," he said. "A government-funded education campaign about the benefits of registration for non-conjugal couples would see more of them take advantage of the relationship register."
April 18, 2005
Former Australia Premier’s Partner Claims Pension
<Note, August 20, 2005: Don Dunstan has given up his effort to get his partner’s pension.>
by Peter Hacker
Sydney, Australia – The surviving partner of one of South Australia’s most progressive politicians is battling to get Don Dunstan’s pension. Dunstan (pictured) dominated South Australian politics in the 1970s. During his time in office the emerged as one of the most progressive in Australia. Drinking laws were liberalized, legislation was passed cracking down on race and gender-based discrimination, and homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized.
He died in 1999 leaving behind his partner of 13 years Steven Cheng. Cheng, once a successful chef today lives a meager existence in the home the two men shared. If he is successful he would get Dunstan’s $107,000 (Au) annual pension. He first filed a claim for a spousal pension in 1999. At the time it was passed off because the state did not recognize same-sex couples. But, in 2003 the law was changed and provisions were made for gay relationships.
The new law said anyone who lived with their partner for a continuous period of more than five years, is considered to be their spouse. Cheng again filed for Dunstan’s pension, but the case has been met with opposition and now a bill before the state Parliament would nullify any claims made before 2003. " I am trying to pay my bills, maintain the house . . . it’s not easy," Cheng told Adelaide’s Sunday Mail newspaper. " It had all happened so fast. Just four months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer he died." Cheng said he believes the bill before Parliament is aimed directly at him.
" It looks like it’s aimed at me. I can’t think of anyone else who is in the situation of being a same-sex partner of a deceased politician" Cheng told the paper.
11 April 2005
Gays are different says Immigration Minister
GAY couples entering Australia on temporary visas are treated differently from heterosexual couples under immigration laws, minister Amanda Vanstone has conceded. The discrimination came about because gay couples were not recognised as a family. Senator Vanstone said she accepted the situation between heterosexual and homosexual couples differed but her office said there were no plans to change the law.
However, same-sex partners of permanent residents and citizens were recognised as partners under immigration laws.
"It’s different because the visa structure was set up to accommodate families and at this point in Australia we don’t recognise gay couples as being a family in the same sense as we do a husband and wife, maybe with kids," Senator Vanstone told ABC radio.
She said some gay couples had addressed the anomaly by entering Australia on a tourist visa with their partner who held a temporary work visa and then applied for a separate working visa.
"That is different (to heterosexual families), I accept that," Senator Vanstone said. "And I think it’s a difficult proposition either way because as I say we don’t recognise homosexual couples as being a family and that’s the way the immigration system in relation to families is structured so it’s not an easy situation, I accept that."
May 25, 2005
Coming out getting easier for gay teenagers
by Adele Horin
More young people are happy to be gay than six years ago, a major survey has found. And television programs such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy have helped. But the survey of 1750 people aged 14 to 21 who are attracted to the same sex revealed they still experienced high levels of verbal and physical abuse because of their sexuality. And schoolyards remained the major danger area. The study, the largest of its kind in Australia, was carried out by the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
It shows young people are more likely to "come out", and to receive a positive response from friends and family than six years ago. And more than one-third of respondents realised their sexual difference before puberty. The lead author, Dr Lynne Hillier, a senior research fellow, said there were "fantastic" improvements in the young people’s self-image since a similar survey was conducted in 1998, reflecting significant cultural changes. " The progress is also directly related to the extra supports available, such as social groups for same-sex-attracted young people run by councils and community health centres. And the media has helped."Apart from Queer Eye, a Channel Seven soapie about lesbian life, The L Word, had also had a positive impact.
The report, Writing Themselves In Again: 6 years on, shows 76 per cent of the young people said they felt "great" or "good" about their sexuality, compared with 60 per cent in the earlier survey. And 95 per cent had told someone about their sexuality, against 82 per cent in the first survey. " More young people are telling someone and getting a positive response," Dr Hillier said. "But parents are only told if their child believes there is a good chance of them being supportive."
Parents were generally more positive than in the past, though mothers more so than fathers. And while a small proportion of the young people – less than 20 per cent – had told a teacher about their sexuality, the response was also usually positive. However, the survey found homophobia was just as rife among peers as six years ago. Almost half those surveyed had experienced verbal or physical harassment, with 16 per cent having been physically abused. Usually the abuse happened at school and often was part of an ongoing campaign. Dr Hillier called for a "zero tolerance" response to homophobic violence at school.
" It is especially concerning that the most dangerous place for these young people to be … is their school," the report says. It cites the "typical" experiences of a boy called Wayne: "I was hit in the face and thrown down a flight of stairs and called a poofter and a queer weirdo. This was at high school in year eight," he said. Bullying and harassment were directly associated with young gay people’s drug use. Those who reported abuse were more likely to be taking drugs. "It’s their way of escape," Dr Hillier said.
While drug use among this population had declined since the first survey, it was still worryingly high, and higher than among other young people. The study also found that the young people were sexually active at a younger age than their heterosexual peers, many of them with people of the opposite sex.
12 May 2005
Media release posted by Southern Cross University: Homosexual rights book earns national prize
Southern Cross University senior lecturer and Director of the Centre for Law, Politics and Culture Dr Baden Offord has been awarded the annual George Duncan Memorial Award for his book Homosexual Rights as Human Rights. The book (published in 2003), on homosexual rights as human rights in Indonesia, Singapore and Australia, was described as "groundbreaking" and "an important contribution to the struggle for equal rights worldwide" by the George Duncan Memorial committee.
The national George Duncan Memorial Award commemorates the murder, with no subsequent conviction for the crime, of law lecturer Dr George Duncan near the University of Adelaide in 1972. South Australia later became the first state to decriminalise homosexual acts in 1975. Dr Offord said receiving the award was an honour. He said he was 14 when Dr Duncan was murdered and remembered the news at that time. " Australia has come some was way in the past 30 years, but it would be incorrect to think that enough has been accomplished to end overt and covert discrimination in our society and families," he said.
" Sexuality, that dimension of being human which makes us most vulnerable, is still caught up in social and cultural apartheids."
In the foreword to Homosexual Rights as Human Rights, the Hon. Justice Michael Kirby compared the work to the pioneering studies of Alfred Kinsey and said Dr Offord pushed the boundaries of understanding, knowledge and acceptance. The award, in its second year, is presented for an outstanding piece of work contributing to legal reform and the betterment of the Australian lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, transgender or intersex community.
The George Duncan Memorial Award 2005 was announced at a ceremony in Adelaid on Tuesday, May 10.
Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.
July 26, 2005
Study Tracks Australian Homophobia
by Peter Hacker
A new study on the extent of homophobia in Australia shows that despite the country’s reputation for welcoming gays there remain many areas where anti-gay sentiment is strong. The study, released by the Australia Institute, is the biggest survey of public attitudes towards gays and lesbians ever undertaken in the country. Called, Mapping Homophobia in Australia, it questioned 24,718 people aged 14 and over and was carried out by Roy Morgan Research for the AI. It found that Queensland and Tasmania were the most homophobic states, with the Northern Territory coming close behind. The most gay accepting state is Victoria.
The researchers found even cosmopolitan Sydney was rife with homophobia. While the inner-city with its large gay community was mostly tolerant of gays and same-sex relationships, the city’s southern suburbs were distinctly homophobic. The study also determined that despite the views of the Roman Catholic Church on homosexuality and same-sex relationships Catholics were among the least homophobic people in Australia. Two-thirds of Baptists and evangelical Christians believe homosexuality to be immoral. The study was released as LGBT civil rights groups called for a public apology over statements made on national television by a prominent Muslim cleric. Sheik Khalid Yasin said that "the punishment for homosexuality is death". The remarks were aired on the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes program.
Australian gay rights activist, Rodney Croome, has called for legal action against the Sheik and for community education to combat homophobia. " If Sheik Yasin’s hate goes unchecked, it’s only a matter of time before a hot-head is incited to violence,", Croome said.
" Moderate Islamic leaders have a responsibility to speak out in support of social and sexual pluralism, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations have a responsibility to engage Muslim communities in a dialogue about our human rights." Late Tuesday Islamic leaders said that Yasin, who came to Australia from the US to teach, was no longer welcome and called on the government to remove him from the country.
Australian gives equal rights to gay military
The Australian government has granted same-sex couples in the country’s military the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. The move has delighted campaigners, who see the move as the first step towards full equality in the military.
Defence minister Robert Hill made the announcement yesterday, revealing that allowing lesbian and gay people in the military to have equal rights was reflective of the government’s attempts to ensure all employees were protected from discrimination.
It was celebrated by campaigners and official human rights groups yesterday, who said the decision was a “victory”. "This is a victory for common sense and for equality, but most of all it is a victory for the military because it makes the ADF a fairer, happier and more effective workplace for troops in same-sex relationships,” Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Croome said today.
"The least this country can do for its service men and women is to treat them and their families equally regardless of sexual orientation." The country’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) says the change comes after complaints of discrimination from service members. “It was those complaints which prompted the Commission to take up this issue with the ADF and the government earlier this year,” Human Rights Commissioner Dr Ozdowski said.
“As acknowledged by the ADF, the elimination of discrimination in the availability of employment entitlements and conditions of service available to employees is not only important to the creation of a workplace which is fair and inclusive for all, but also enhances workplace cohesion and effectiveness,” he added. Although Australia dropped its ban on lesbian and gay people in the military 13 years ago, the change is expected to impact many of those working in the military.
It creates a new category of "interdependent relationship" which will include all same-sex and de facto different sex couples.
It will offer same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual partners in areas like housing and education assistance, relocation and compensation upon death or injury. To qualify a couple must show they have a close relationship and provide each other with financial and domestic support.
9 March 2006
Australia to recognise same-sex migrants
In a move that could simplify the migration of lesbian and gay couples across the globe, the Australian government has announced it will recognise the same-sex partners of skilled workers moving there. The decision, made this week by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, will mean that lesbian and gay people will find it easier to relocate to Australia if their partner has already been accepted by the country. The changes are set to come into power on the 1st July and will ease an issue that has blighted many same-sex couples who are faced with relocation of jobs.
It will also mean that the country will be opened up to migrants looking to take their talents to Australia, but feared having to leave their partners behind. The changes mean that temporary skilled migrants will be able to include their same-sex partners on visa applications and that the partners will able to stay in the country for as long as their partner has the right to work. Previously lesbian and gay couples were forced to apply for visas separately, despite heterosexual couples being allowed joint entry into the country.
Speaking to the Sydney Star Observer, a spokesperson for Amanda Vanstone said the change would help ensure Australia did not lose skilled migrants. “The fact that couples were not treated together in the same application created some uncertainty for them and a potential loss for Australia of highly skilled migrants,” she said. “This change will remove this anomaly.” Campaigners say the change will remove one of the last obstacles to gay rights in immigration. “It’s the single largest area of reform that we’ve been campaigning for, for over a decade,” Lachlan Riches, senior advisor at the Gay and Lesbian Immigration Task Force told the newspaper.
May 11, 2006
Australian Capital Territory Passes Same-Sex Unions Law– broadest legislation affecting gay and lesbian couples in the country
by Peter Hacker,
Canberra – Same-sex couples in the Australian Capital Territory will be able to have civil unions under legislation passed Thursday by the Legislative Assembly. It is the broadest legislation affecting gay and lesbian couples in the country, stopping just short of offering full marriage. When ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope first proposed civil unions he said they would mirror civil partnerships in the United Kingdom. The announcement was met with a threat by the federal government to enact a bill nullifying the ACT legislation.
What finally passed the Assembly was only moderately amended but Stanhope said he believes it meets all of the objections of Prim Minister John Howard’s government. The Assembly gallery was packed with gays and lesbians as the vote was taken. "It’s a real feeling of elation," one person told ABC television. "It distinguishes us from any other jurisdiction in the country. It’s something that a lot of us didn’t think would come for many more decades." The federal government said it is studying the legislation to determine if it will challenge it.
Australian Marriage Equality called on the federal government to abandon any plans to overturn the legislation. "Australians are increasingly aware of and uncomfortable with laws which discriminate against and exclude gays and lesbians. Most Australians would view an overturning of the ACT legislation as unjust", said spokesperson Peter Furness. In 2004 the Australian government passed legislation defining marriage as between a man and a woman (story) and Prime Minister Howard has refused to consider national civil union legislation.
16 June 2006
Judges demand gay equality in pensions
by Chris Merritt, Legal affairs editor
The nation’s judges have intervened in the debate over the legal recognition of gay marriage, calling for new pension rights for the partners of homosexual federal judges. The Judicial Conference of Australia, which represents all judges, wants gay partners to inherit judicial pensions after the death of federal judges. This would give the surviving gay partners the same pension rights as widows and widowers. They would receive a lifetime pension worth 62.5 per cent of the pension that is payable to retired judges.
Federal judicial pensions, which are non-contributory, give retired judges a lifetime pension of 60 per cent of a sitting judge’s income. High Court judges currently earn $346,760 a year, while judges of the Federal Court and the Family Court earn $294,060. If the Judicial Conference’s plan is accepted, it would bring the pension arrangements for gay federal judges into line with those of gay state judges. Victoria and South Australia are the only states that do not recognise the pension rights of the partners of gay judges, the Judicial Conference says. The judges have outlined their concerns in a submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s inquiry into discrimination against same-sex relationships.
" The JCA considers that Australian judicial officers, like other working Australians, should be able to share the fruits of their labours with their partners of either sex," it says. "Entitlements and benefits should be uniform among all judicial officers, state and federal, and should reflect the principle that family members will be protected after the death of a judicial officer." It says provisions of the Judges Pension Act restricting the pension benefits to widows and widowers discriminates against same-sex partners "without any rational justification" and should be removed.
Federal magistrates are not covered by the non-contributory federal judges’ pension arrangements but the Judicial Conference said similar restrictions were contained in legislation that is still being considered by parliament. It said amendments that will give federal magistrates death and disability benefits continued to discriminate against same-sex relationships. While those changes have been considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Commission, the Judicial Conference said it agreed with the dissenting report.
Give us our rights, demand Australian gay and lesbian couples
by Tony Grew
55 gay and lesbian couples held hands and exchanged vows on the steps of the Victoria State Parliament in Melbourne yesterday. A crowd of over 2000 people joined them, calling on the Victoria and Australian governments to follow the example of the UK and other countries and recognise gay and lesbian relationships. The protest was one of many held across Australia yesterday, the second anniversary of federal government’s amendment to the Commonwealth Marriage Act banning same-sex marriage. Out gay MP Andrew Olexander, who was expelled from the Liberal opposition party last year after branding them homophobic, told The Age : “Like all other Victorians, we fall in love and we commit ourselves to devoted, long-term relationships.”
He was greeted with cheers when he told the crowd of his intention to introduce a private member’s bill to grant equal rights to gay and straight couples. Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are supported by the Democrat and Green parties in Australia, but the Labor government in Victoria claim the issue is not on the agenda. State elections will be held in November, and the Liberal opposition have surprised many by supporting gay unions. In Queensland, maverick Liberal backbencher and former crocodile farmer Warren Entsch announced he is introducing a private bill to end inequality. He told The Australian : "If I am a veteran and come back from Iraq or Afghanistan and am suffering from a range of battlefield-related disorders, my wife is entitled to a pension.
"If I decided I wanted to invest in a wife from Russia, she would be entitled to my pension. However, if I had a homosexual partner for 15 years, I would come back having served with distinction and when I did he wouldn’t be entitled to a cracker." At federal level, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard has consistently opposed more rights for gay couples, despite increasing support from the grassroots and state parties. Treasurer Peter Costello, tipped to succeed Howard as soon as he can prise him out of the PM’s office, supports an end to inequalities between gay and straight couples, but opposes gay marriage.
August 7, 2006
Gay Games Stretches Strength with Sydney Mardi Gras
Chicago/Sydney, Australia – The 2006 Gay Games and the New Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras today announced a multi-year international partnership designed to strengthen two of the world’s largest and most beloved international gay and lesbian events. In a joint announcement from Chicago, host of Gay Games VII, and Sydney, site of the world’s largest LGBT Mardi Gras festival, the new partnership broadens the worldwide visibility of both events. Matching two of the world’s most vibrant and gay and lesbian-friendly cities, the new relationship will also enhance tourism and harmony between the LGBT communities in the USA and Australia.
"Sydney and Chicago are forever destined to be entwined in the minds of the LGBT community worldwide," said Kevin Boyer, Gay Games VII co-vice-chair. "Sydney hosted a glorious Gay Games VI in 2002 and Chicago will host Gay Games VII in 2006. We’ve watched as Australians and Sydneysiders pre-registered for Gay Games VII in extraordinary numbers — the highest registration numbers per capita of any nation on earth. The legacy of the Gay Games is strong in Sydney and we welcome the opportunity to partner with New Mardi Gras to strengthen the LGBT community there while we prepare to welcome Aussies to Chicago in 2006."
"Mardi Gras is bigger than Sydney," said Mark Orr, New Mardi Gras co-chair. "People from Beijing to Barcelona look to it as a beacon for the fight for equal rights, acceptance of the GLTBQ community and a celebration of its rich culture. The Gay Games and our friends in Chicago share these same values and goals and is an ideal match for our organization. Our new relationship with the Gay Games in Chicago will further enhance our reputation as an all-inclusive, international event while we both work toward equality for all."
"Sydney and the Gay Games movement already enjoy close ties. We hope the new alliance will help to bring more people to Sydney for a taste of a queer Aussie summer," said co-chair Steph Sands. "Chicago continues to be a true partner to the international Federation of Gay Games and our participants worldwide" said Kathleen Webster, Federation of Gay Games co-president. "The spirit and success of the 2002 Gay Games are a testament to the Sydney community’s commitment to sport and to the international LGBT community. Chicago has shown itself to be a worthy successor. Just as the lesbian and gay sports and culture community will forever remember the Sydney skyline and harbour and their legacy to the Gay Games movement, athletes and artists now turn their attention to Chicago with its outstanding sport traditions, unique architecture and miles of lakefront parks. We’re thrilled with this new partnership between Sydney and Chicago."
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is an iconic event of international renown and is Australia’s largest annual outdoor event enjoyed by over one million national and international visitors. In February 2005, New Mardi Gras launches a four week festival with over 100 events, Launch, Fair Day, the world famous Parade, and culminating with a world famous Party. Partners of New Mardi Gras include the City of Sydney, the Sydney Star Observer, plus a dozen other media and business partners.
Gay Games VII Sports and Cultural Festival will take place in Chicago July 15-22, 2006. More than 12,000 athletes from more than 100 countries will compete in 30 sports ranging from softball to dancesport, swimming to tennis. The weeklong event will include band, cheerleading and color guard performances, chorus, an ancillary arts festival, and a series of community- organized social events and parties
21 October 2006
Gay campaigners welcome review of discriminatory laws
Gay rights supporters have welcomed Federal Government moves to eliminate some legal discrimination against homosexual couples. The Australian newspaper has reported Prime Minister John Howard and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock will review Commonwealth legislation to remove areas of discrimination. That includes the Medicare rebate under which heterosexual couples qualify for the 80 per cent safety net rebate after jointly incurring $716 in out-of-pocket expenses. Gay couples must spend $716 each for the same rebate. However, Mr Howard has no plans to allow same-sex marriage.
Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Rodney Croome has welcomed the move and called on the Government to commit to a timetable for reform. Mr Croome has said same-sex couples experience emotional trauma and financial hardship because of the law’s failure to recognise their love and commitment. " Legal discrimination in areas like superannuation, taxation, pensions and aged care can see bereaved partners plunged into despair and poverty," he said. " For social conservatives like Prime Minister Howard, reform makes sense because it allows partners in same-sex relationships to better provide for each other and stops them falling into the welfare net."
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle has said there is no reason for Mr Howard to delay. " The changes under consideration are simple and straightforward matters which could be enacted immediately if the Prime Minister really wanted to," she said. Gay and Lesbian Rights lobby spokeswoman May Miller-Dawkins has welcomed the move as a first step. " It’s this kind of discrimination which is quite insidious and which makes life harder as someone in a same-sex relationship," she said on Sky News. " Obviously there are broader issues of recognition and discrimination in the community but it is important that we take these steps to change the laws that discriminate as a first step."
November 10, 2006
Darwin is Australia’s new ‘gay and lesbian mecca’
Darwin is becoming a mecca for gays and lesbians, according to an Australian gay travel website. The Fellow Traveller site challenges Darwin’s reputation as a rowdy frontier town and champions the emerging metropolitan and tolerant life style. "While the streets are not exactly lined with rainbow flags or feather boas, the legendary Northern Territory friendliness now seems to extend to the complete range of human beings, regardless of sexual orientation," journalist Robert La Bua wrote. "With all the Paul Hogan wannabes running around in Outback drag, gaysbians are hardly remarkable on the streetscape. It’s hard not to arouse a johnson for the easy styles of living in Australia’s north."
A dessert at Pee Wee’s restaurant gets special mention – it’s called the chocolate slut. And the author was obviously excited by Mick’s Whips at Mindil markets – he wrote that the performance was "enough to make you twitch right there and then". For La Bua, Darwin is not a city that falls in to the lap of visitors, although swingers seemingly abound.
"There is no ‘gay’ gay nightspot in Darwin, which makes the cruising that much more of a challenge – or pleasure – at Throb, where the drop-dead gorgeous bloke with the square jaw and winning smile may or may not drop his girlfriend home before coming back for you." ??The nightclub’s co-owner, Mark Marcelis, said Darwin was not on par with Australia’s "unofficial gay capital" of Alice Springs, but the "community" was active and friendly. "The spirited gay and lesbian traveller always research friendly businesses when travelling and we enjoy providing a space for them to mix with the locals," he said.
December 12, 2006
SA equality bill passes at last
by Ian Gould
A landmark South Australian gay rights bill passed the upper house of parliament on the final sitting day of the year last night. The long-awaited Domestic Partners Bill passed the upper house by 16 votes to three, amid cheers by MPs. The law will come into force in early 2007, giving gay and lesbian couples financial, inheritance and other rights. Until the bill’s passage South Australia was the only state or territory to not recognise same-sex couples in legislation.
Gay Labor upper house member Ian Hunter told the parliamentary debate this week of being denied rights despite being in a same-sex relationship for about 15 years. “We have grown accustomed to being in a second class relationship where we have no legal rights,” Hunter said. “This bill is a step in the right direction – a big, bold step – but by no means the last. “Same sex couples still have many campaigns ahead before they are treated as truly equal in the law." Activists had feared the gay rights bill could fail to pass parliament for the third year running.
2007 Mardi Gras plans protest against prime minister’s position on gay marriage 19th January 2007
by Tony Grew
Sydney Mardi Gras organisers have launched a stinging attack on the Australian Prime Minister’s stance on same-sex marriage. The federal government of John Howard has rejected calls for Australian gay and lesbian couples to be allowed to have same-sex marriages or civil unions. The Liberal leader has spoken out against gay rights on many occasions.
In 2004 the government passed the Marriage Amendment Act, which stops the courts recognising the validity of same-sex relationships. Lex Lindsay, Queer Screen’s Festival Manager commented, "Australia’s gay and lesbian community are treated like second class citizens by Australia’s Federal Government. "John Howard would be screaming from the rooftops if his marriage wasn’t recognised by the government, yet this is just one of the many basic rights that the gay community is still denied here in Australia.
"I invite Mr Howard to try walking a mile in our shoes, come and see some these films, and then tell us why we don’t deserve to be treated equally." Sydney Mardi Gras is internationally famous for the parade, but is in fact a four week festival with a range of cultural and social events like Fair Day and the launch and after-parade parties. The parade traditionally features floats with caricatures and effigies of hate figures in the gay community, which could feature Mr Howard. Last year US Vice President was lampooned along with Brokeback Mountain. The post-parade dance party normally attracts around 20,000 revellers, making it one of the biggest events in Australia. This year’s parade is on March 3rd.
January 31, 2007
Sydney gays come out fighting
Exclusive by Lillian Saleh
GAYS and lesbians will be singled out for special self-defence classes to protect them from violence on one of Sydney’s most popular party strips. Sydney City Council will offer the classes and increase the number of "safe places” for gays and lesbians as part of a strategy to improve safety along Oxford St. Council rangers will increase patrols of the strip, while security staff at local clubs and pubs will be encouraged to take a greater role in responding to crime.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the ideas are contained in a draft Oxford St Safety Strategy which aims to improve on a $24 million face-lift completed last year. Upgrades already completed include widening of footpaths, additional lighting and street furniture.
However, crime continues to plague the area with almost 2000 incidents along Oxford St alone between June 2005 and July 2006.
A report submitted to council reveals more than half of those incidents involved stealing or assault, with the majority of incidents occurring between 11pm and 4am. While businesses struggle to attract visitors during the day, more than 10,000 people converge on the strip every Friday and Saturday night.
With it comes a large number of attacks against the area’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, who report no longer feeling the area offers them a refuge. Co-ordinator of the lesbian and gay Anti-Violence Project with the Aids Council of NSW Carl Harris said while overall crime figures are down across the state, homophobic hate crimes are on the increase.
Darlinghurst Business Partnership chairman Andrew Duckmanton said while he welcomed the defence classes, he belives the course should also be made available to the wider community. After being questioned by The Daily Telegraph a council spokesman said, if approved, the classes will also be offered to heterosexual ratepayers also. Businesses along Oxford St will be encouraged to join a safe place program which provides a haven for homosexuals "when actual or threatened violence occurs”.
Ms Moore said the strategy also commits the council to pursue safer design features in new buildings, as well as planning controls for queues outside night clubs. "This is a four-year plan to work closely with licenced premises and authorities to reduce the incidents of homophobic violence and abuse, increase safety and reduce alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour,” Ms Moore said.
Other initiatives include seven closed-circuit television cameras between Taylor Square and Hyde Park, upgraded lighting and increased ranger patrols of known trouble-spots.
The draft strategy is on public exhibition until February 26.
March 31, 2007
Justice Kirby says federal laws fail to protect homosexual couples
Justice Kirby says federal laws fail to protect homosexual couples. High Court Justice Michael Kirby has criticised federal laws that do not protect homosexuals in the same way as married or de facto couples. In giving his speech to the Southern Cross University in Lismore last night, Justice Kirby praised Australian Idol finalist Anthony Callea for "coming out" as a homosexual.
As well as discussing his concerns at some issues facing the court, Justice Kirby spoke on the highly personal issue of his sexuality. Justice Kirby said the time for hiding the truth about one’s sexuality because people do not want to face it is over. He touched briefly on the difficulty of defending personal attacks made against him in the Senate.
Justice Kirby said while his partner came to all High Court functions and was accepted at luncheons with the Queen, the Governor-General and the Prime Minister, he was not given the same protection under law as the spouse or de facto partner of a heterosexual judge. Justice Kirby also indicated he will write to Mr Callea to congratulate him for his decision. He said in terms of influencing the reality of human sexual diversity, he would trade 10 judges for the popular singer.
April 24, 2007
Australian State Creates Gay Partner Registry
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Melbourne, Australia – The Australian state of Victoria will have a domestic partner registry by the end of the year Premier Steve Bracks announced on Tuesday. Bracks said the registry would be similar to one already operating in Tasmania the only other state-wide registry in Australia. Tasmania passed its law in 2004 allowing same-sex couples to register their unions. Under Bracks’ plan same-sex couples would sign a registry affirming they are in a co-dependent relationship. In return they would get a certificate affirming their partnership. It would allow partners to make medical decisions for one another in cases of emergency, receive health care under the same rates as for married couples and have rights to a partner’s pension after that partner died.
In addition couples would have rights in wills and the division of property. "A statewide register operated by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages is a sensible solution," Bracks said. He said the legislation would not create either civil unions or marriage. The register "simply reaffirms that someone has a relationship," the premier told reporters. With those assurances the opposition Liberals said they were likely to support it. But LGBT rights groups say it isn’t enough. They wanted Bracks to challenge federal legislation that bars same-sex marriage.
In 2004 the Australian government passed legislation defining marriage as between a man and a woman (story) and Prime Minister John Howard has refused to consider national civil union legislation. A private members bill that would have created civil unions in Victoria failed to gain support. Two attempts by the Australian Capital Territory to enact civil unions legislation failed when the federal government overturned the first bill and threatened to do the same to the second.
April 26, 2007
It’s the law – the high cost of being gay
by Erik Jensen
Vicki Harding is in a lesbian relationship. Because of this, her partner and child cannot be considered part of a "family" for the purposes of the Medicare Safety Net. Her family pays about a third more than similar heterosexual families to reach the government threshold. The law is one of about 60 that a national inquiry has heard discriminate against gay couples at a federal level.
Graeme Innes, the Human Rights Commissioner who chaired the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry, said the laws discriminated against gay couples legally and financially and led to a lower standard of living. A report from the year-long national inquiry will be presented to the Attorney-General next month. For Ms Harding, these laws prevent her from knowing where her family stands legally – knowing in what situations they will be honoured as a group, and in what situations they will not.
"Some of the things I’m not going to know until something goes wrong," she said. "Jackie [her partner] is not on our Medicare card. I just don’t know if people will honour our family in a medical situation." Same-sex couples were not recognised by the Aged Care Act and often qualified for less residential care money, Mr Innes said. They are excluded from the Child Support Scheme, and have limited options for pursuing child support. They are precluded from various defence force entitlements, including spousal death benefits.
The Family Law Act is structured so that gay couples must pursue custody in one court and property matters in another. There is no federal legislation to protect gay people from discrimination by insurance companies. "Almost all discriminatory laws have been removed from state legislation, and the Federal Government is trailing behind," Mr Innes said.
Another survey, released by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby in February, found 51 per cent of the 1300 gay people surveyed regarded these laws as the main reason for wanting their relationships recognised in the same sense as heterosexual unions. A plan to overhaul discrimination in tax, welfare and superannuation is expected to go before the Federal Government soon.
April 29, 2007
Tas activists welcome ALP’s same sex recognition
Tasmania’s gay rights activists are pleased the ALP has moved for the first time to formally recognise same sex relationships. A motion endorsed by the party’s national conference supports relationship registries throughout the country for same sex couples based on the scheme enacted in Tasmanian in 2004. It offers equal legal entitlements to couples who cannot or do not wish to marry. But Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome says he is disappointed the motion reaffirms Labor’s opposition to same sex marriage.
"It won’t be strong enough to woo all gay voters because of course there’s still a very strong message in here against same sex marriage and that will be a big turn-off for quite a few gay and lesbian voters," he said.
But he says the motion does represent a significant policy shift. "This is an important step forward because it’s the first time that the federal ALP has indicated support for the formal recognition of same sex relationships and of course it’s a big thumbs-up for Tasmania, which has had a scheme like this in place since 2004," he said.
April 12, 2007
Pacific told it can’t ignore threat of Aids
by Angela Gregory
Pacific politicians have been told to get out of a "denial" mentality and show strong leadership on tackling HIV-Aids or face a crisis of African proportions. An Australian High Court judge, Justice Michael Kirby, told a regional meeting on the issue in Auckland yesterday that he had witnessed the follies of sub-Saharan Africa whose leaders had, at a crucial period, not wanted to tackle the growing problem of Aids. Justice Kirby, who was a member of the inaugural World Health Organisation’s global commission on Aids (1988-92), said he had been invited to South Africa to advise the country of the strategies of New Zealand and Australia, both which had shown good leadership on the issue.
"But they didn’t listen. I told them about what we had done like major public education, ethics in school education, promotion of condom availability and use." In Papua New Guinea, with a population 5.5 million, the rate of new HIV diagnoses had increased at about 30 per cent a year since 1977, raising the potential for a rapid onset in other Pacific islands. Some 1.8 per cent of the adult population was infected with HIV and the prevalence in urban areas might be as high as 3.5 per cent, comparable to the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. "Do not repeat in the Pacific the southern African experience of neglect, denial and inaction." Justice Kirby said politicians had to be upfront and truthful and recommended the decriminalisation of sex workers and other measures. Churches also needed to get involved in the struggle.
The UN resident co-ordinator Papua New Guinea, Jacqui Badcock, agreed strong leadership was crucial, saying: "Without it, tackling the tough and sensitive issues associated with HIV, going against the stream of prejudice and ignorance and ensuring a society-wide and multi-sectoral response is hard to imagine." Work was needed to address the injustice and legal impediments that hindered addressing HIV in the Pacific region where women were increasingly being infected by unfaithful husbands or partners. Papua New Guinea’s Health Minister, Sir Peter Barter, told the Herald it was up to leaders to fight the disease and his country had done more on the issue than its Pacific neighbours. "The rest of the Pacific is in a state of denial."
He said stigmatism against those with HIV had been radically reduced in PNG in just a couple of years. "You can now go to villages and talk about HIV because of the awareness." A visit to Africa last year brought new ideas that had been put in place such as the rapid testing for HIV, which could give a result in 20 minutes. Those infected with HIV were now being treated "at the front of hospital not the back" – a far cry from a decade ago when some highland villagers killed Aids sufferers.
The Samoan Deputy Prime Minister, Misa Telefoni Retzlaff, said when he started taking a strong leadership role on HIV-Aids about 12 years ago his political enemies put out a story that he was a "closet queen". "It takes guts in our island communities to be an HIV activist." Mr Retzlaff said political leaders needed to more aggressively harness their communities to do something about the disease.
Nauru’s Health Minister, Dr Kieren Keke, said it was hard to raise issues such as the need for sex education in schools without a community backlash. There was an underground prostitution industry in Nauru – a high risk group in the small country with no known cases of HIV yet – but any attempt to decriminalise it would meet strong resistance. Dr Keke said the strong church influence was part of the problem.
The UNAIDS co-ordinator Pacific sub-region, Stuart Watson, said there were encouraging signs from the churches, although the rhetoric did not always meet the reality. In 2005, Pacific churches had apologised to people living with HIV-Aids for any inadvertent discrimination in the past. Mr Watson said legal measures such as protecting confidentiality in testing and health care were needed in many countries to help combat the disease. "We want to ensure the rights of those living with HIV."
People with HIV-Aids could face judgmental treatment from health workers and face other consequences of a deep social stigma.
May 18, 2007
AUS: Highlighting lesbian sex health risks
The AIDS Council of New South Wales is look to redress the lack of information about sexually transmitted infections among lesbians. For many years health services have neglected lesbian sexual health, putting the money behind gay men and heterosexuals, causing this area to become extremely under-recognised and researched. Recent figures have revealed that same-sex-attracted women under 25 have up to five times the rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) found in their heterosexual counterparts. ACON project officer for the Young Women Project and Western Sydney Lesbian Health Project, Siri May, says that lesbians have slipped through the cracks because of the misconception that their sex is not real and doesn’t involve STIs.
“At the moment the biggest issue is starting an open dialogue about the matter both within our community and with healthcare providers,” May said. “We are also examining what STIs are around for same-sex-attracted women, the sort of rates, types of transmission and how we respond to that as a community.” Reports have highlighted that women across the board are experiencing high levels of chlamydia. Unfortunately researchers are unaware of this rate within the lesbian community, as little effort has been made to find out their subjects’ sexual preference.
In general the STIs affecting lesbians are treatable, whereas hepatitis C and HIV have not been highly recorded. “Lesbians are mostly exposed to chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes human papilloma virus [HPV]. Most of these STIs are easily treatable and can be transferred through touch and body fluid exchange,” she said. “Up to 80% of transmissions can be transferred through touch. HPV has been a factor in cervical cancer and can also be transferred through mutual masturbation, oral sex and penetration with sex toys. The risk of infections also doubles not just when swapping sex toys between partners but with any insertion from the anus to the vagina.”
Despite lack of information about HIV transmission, lesbians still need to take precautions, especially when participating in bloodletting or any type of blood sports. “Blood in any form has a high risk of any blood-borne virus and menstrual blood is no different. If someone has a laceration or piercing and they come in contact, it’s the same as any mixing of blood.” ACON’s main concern is not about scaring people but to de-stigmatise the issue and let the community know that chlamydia and gonorrhoea are easily transmittable and usually have no obvious symptoms.
“There are only serious implications if the STI is untreated but they are easily treatable. If you have more than one sexual partner, it’s a good idea to get tested,” May said. “Make sure there is a high level of communication between you and your partner. Also use condoms on sex toys between partners and also when swapping between the anus and vagina. We recommended that you use gloves if you have any lacerations, including hang nails.”
As lesbians are notoriously bad in accessing health services and don’t often disclose their sexual orientation, ACON is assuring women that they do see lesbian sex as real sex and also advising them to get a pap smear every two years.
The Tsamanian Antarctic Midwinter Festival celebrates the winter solstice
The Antarctic Midwinter Festival celebrates the winter solstice (June 21 – 22) – the shortest day and longest night of the Antarctic year and each year you’re invited to join the fun! It is traditionally a time of celebration across the whole Antarctic community with friends, social events and the big midwinter dinner – or even taking a plunge into freezing water for a midwinter swim.
The midwinter solstice (from the Latin solstitum, meaning "sun stands still") marks the turn of the season. The long polar night begins to retreat and the light returns to the frozen continent. Tasmania’s Unique Antarctic Community Hobart’s special connection with Antarctica goes back hundreds of years, and there’s still a thriving link today that the Antarctic Midwinter Festival celebrates.
The Festival highlights the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration and heroes such as James Cook, Dumont d’Urville, Roald Amundsen and Douglas Mawson, and the part that Hobart played in their great Antarctic adventures. The Festival is presented by the Tasmanian Antarctic community and explores the wide range of science undertaken in Antarctica and has a look behind the scenes to see how local companies supply, support and transport Antarctic expeditioners. Events include open days, exhibitions, lectures and demonstrations all over the City of Hobart.
Landmark Case for the whole of Europe: Will the European Court of Justicedecide in favour of Same-Sex Couples?
RKL-President Graupner represents ILGA-Europe (the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Organisation ILGA) in a landmark case before the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The highest court in the EU has to decide if registered (same-sex) partnerships have to be treated on the same footing as marriage and if employers and pension schemes may restrict benefits to married partners. Mr. Maruko for years lived with his partner in registered partnership. After his partner had died the VddB, the pension scheme for German theatres, refused to pay him a survivors pension as such pension are provided only formarried partners. Mr. Maruko sued the VddB and the Bavarian Administrative Court Munich referred the case to the ECJ for interpretation of the EU-Antidiscriminati on-Directive. The ECJ heard the case in an oral hearing on June 18th, 2007. Mr. Maruko has been represented by ILGA-Europe and ILGA-Europe itself by RKL-president Dr.Helmut Graupner who has been assisted by Dr. Robert Wintemute (professor of human rights at Kings College London) and Manfred Bruns from the German federal lgb organisation LSVD (who is a retired federal attorney at the German Supreme Court).
The German government did not oppose Mr. Maruko while the British and the Dutch governments did so. The European Commission however supports Mr.Marukos position. The Advocate General has announced his opinion for September 6th, 2007. The ECJ then will have to decide two questions. First, if registered (same-sex) partnerships in employment have to treated on the same footing as marriage and second, if employers and pension schemes may restrict benefits to married partners, as long as marriage is an exclusively heterosexual institution excluding same-sex couples.
"The ECJ already three times decided in favour of transsexuals, but so far never for homosexuals" , says Dr. Helmut Graupner* , president of the Austrian lesbian and gay rights organization *Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL) *and counsel of Tadao Maruko, "We very much hope that the highest court in the EU this time will send a strong signal against discrimination of same-sex couples".
*Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL), founded in 1991, on a supra-partisan and denominational level is working for the implementation of human rights for homo- and bisexual men and women. In its honorary board it convenes so prominent members as Prime Minister Dr. Alfred Gusenbauer, President of Federal Parliament Mag. Barbara Prammer, former Minister of Justice Mag. Karin Gastinger, former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Peter Schieder, Federal Ombudsman Mag. Terezija Stoisits, Director of Public Security Dr. Erik Buxbaum, the President of National Juges Association Dr. Barbara Helige, the Vice-President of the Vienna Bar-Association Dr. Elisabeth Rech, the President of D.A.S.-legal expenses insurance company Dr. Franz Kronsteiner, the President of Weisser Ring Dr. Udo Jesionek, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Austria Mag. Heinz Patzelt and the well-known human-rights experts Dr. Lilian Hofmeister and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, the constitutional law professors Univ.-Prof. Dr. Christian Brünner, Univ-Prof. Dr. Bernd-Christian Funk, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Heinz Mayer and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Ewald Wiederin, famous child- and adolescent psychiatrist Univ.-Prof. Dr. Max Friedrich and the Vienna Child- and Youth-Ombudspersons DSA Monika Pinterits and Dr. Anton Schmid, sexologists Univ.-Prof. Dr. Josef Christian Aigner, Prof. Dr. Rotraud Perner and Mag. Johannes Wahala, theologist Univ.-Prof. Dr. Kurt Lüthi, Life-Ball-Organisor Gery Keszler, Entertainer Günter Tolar and many more. October 2nd, 2006, RKL’s 15 years anniversary has been celebrated in historic Ceremonial Act "Against Sexual Apartheid" in the lower chamber of Austrian federal parliament. This first honouring of an lgbt organisation in a national parliament worldwide took place in attendance of over 500 guests including highest representatives from the judiciary, administration and politics.
See the oral observations of Dr. Graupner in the hearing before the ECJ at: http://www.graupner.at/documents/PlaedoyerMaruko.pdf
More information: Rechtskomitee LAMBDA, (++43/1/876 30 61), office@RKLambda. at www.
RKLambda. at http://www.rklambda .at/
July 20, 2007
Risky gay sex blamed for HIV surge
Risky gay sex is behind Australia’s sharp surge in HIV infections, a national study of hospital data has confirmed. And while NSW has escaped the resurgence, others such as Victoria have been hit hard, according to the report in the Medical Journal of Australia. The major survey of HIV rates found that 12,313 Australians were infected with the lifetime disease in the 13 years between 1993 and 2006. The number of new infections dropped 30 per cent in the 1990s and then climbed back to the same high between 2000 and 2006. Professor John Kaldor, deputy director at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, said the rise was due mainly to risky sexual behaviour among gay men.
Virus exposure through male-to-male sex accounted for 70 per cent of all cases, followed by heterosexual contact at 18 per cent. In more than half of heterosexually-acquired cases, the person was born in or had a partner from a country with a high prevalence of HIV. Exposure to HIV from injecting drug use was relatively rare, Prof Kaldor said. The study also found that in NSW – historically the state with the highest HIV rate – numbers have remained stable for the past five years. But in other parts of the country the trend was upwards, with Victoria now roughly equal to NSW in per capita diagnoses. Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia also had significant increases.
Prof Kaldor said high-risk sex trends changed between cities. In the late 1990s, gay Sydney men were the most likely to have casual unprotected intercourse, but this trend has since switched to Melbourne and Brisbane. Prof Kaldor said there seemed to be a misunderstanding that HIV was no longer a serious disease. "It’s true treatments have improved a lot, but it’s still very serious," he said. "The treatments are still difficult and there are still several hundred Australians developing AIDS and dying every year."
The rise also raised questions about the effectiveness of current HIV prevention strategies, said Prof Kaldor, who called for new ways of promoting health messages to the gay community. The findings were released ahead of the International AIDS Society conference to be held in Sydney from Sunday. It will attract 6,500 delegates to hear the latest in new drug treatments, vaccine breakthroughs and risk reductions options like male circumcision.
July 20, 2007
‘Asia must overcome HIV stigma’
Sydney – Asia has made progress in containing HIV but must remove the stigma associated with the virus to fully consolidate the gains and keep it under control, international research chiefs say. Speaking ahead of an international conference of 5,000 HIV/Aids researchers in Sydney next week, America’s top expert Anthony Fauci and his Australian counterpart David Cooper said HIV remained a major public health risk in Asia. Fauci said predictions HIV would devastate Asia as it had Africa had proved false after local health authorities, which were initially slow to heed warnings, adopted pro-active policies. But he said the potential for an epidemic still existed in a region estimated to have eight million people with HIV, a figure aid agency USAid says could climb to 40 million by 2010.
"The population density in Asia is so great, with countries like India and China that have a billion people each, that infection rates just have to track up a few percentage points and you’re potentially looking at a catastrophe," Fauci told AFP. Cooper, the co-chair of the International Aids Society (IAS) conference, said responding to HIV was complicated by the fact that many suffers existed on the fringe of Asian society and faced discrimination. "We’re not going to have the generalised epidemics in our region that we’ve got in sub-Saharan Africa, we’re going to have explosive smaller epidemics," he said.
"They tend to occur among drug users, also among gay men, sex workers or mobile workers such as truck drivers, fishermen who are more likely to pay for sex. In Asia, they’re stigmatised and discriminated populations. The trick is to get into these vulnerable populations and provide non-judgemental healthcare." Cooper cited China as an example of a country that had overcome its initial denial of an HIV problem but could go further if discrimination ended. "China is responding pretty well, their response has changed, they’re putting treatment in place and doing research," he said. "But people are still very much concerned about the human rights issues and how people with HIV are treated in Chinese society."
China estimated last year that it had 650,000 HIV cases, although United Nations (UN) officials estimate the actual number is now higher. A recent paper in British medical journal The Lancet praised China’s adoption of schemes such as needle exchanges and awareness campaigns among gay men, although the UN said there was still resistance to confronting the problem at a local level.
In India, where the estimated number of HIV cases was this month halved to 2.5 million, the government has set out to target the type of at-risk groups identified by Cooper. "They’re talking about upscaling programmes with marginalised groups," said Anjali Gopalan, head of the Naz Foundation, which works primarily with men. There was quite a bit of silence on them earlier." Indians with HIV are still often treated as social outcasts, with reports of doctors shunning Aids patients and HIV-positive children being barred from attending school with other pupils.
In Cambodia, one of the countries hit hardest by HIV/Aids, the authorities are concerned that discrimination is helping the virus spread. "It is difficult for us since stigma causes infected people not to speak out and this quietly spreads the infection," said Ly Peng Sun, deputy director of the National Centre for HIV/Aids and Dermatology. "Bias can prevent us from fighting the virus successfully."
Vietnam has introduced laws banning discrimination against people with HIV, although locals say it means some employers simply find a pretext to sack infected workers, rather than admitting it is because of their illness. "If this new law is effectively implemented, it will serve not only as a shield for the fundamental rights of people living with HIV…but also as a positive tool for fighting stigma and discrimination," UNAids Vietnam director Eammon Murphy said.
Thailand has adopted a different tack to breaking down the taboos regarding HIV with innovative education campaigns such as traffic police handing out condoms, an initiative dubbed "Cops and Rubbers." The country, which has experienced about half a million Aids deaths and has about the same number of HIV cases, has slashed infection rates since it appointed a cabinet-level anti-Aids co-ordinator to oversee prevention efforts. It is also pushing international drugmakers over access to generic versions of newer and more expensive HIV medications that are needed to treat patients who have become resistant to the old drug.
July 25, 2007
Refugee Tribunal: You’re Not Gay
by Harley Dennett
Despite a High Court rebuke and assurances to the Senate, immigration authorities are still finding ways to ignore pleas for protection on the basis of anti-gay persecution. Egyptian-born Mohamed (Mike) Sarhan is the latest in a string of cases where bigoted assumptions by the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) and the Immigration Department are putting gay people at risk of torture. Sarhan and his Australian partner Brad Calderon celebrated their second anniversary last week with rings and a ceremony at Sydney Town Hall, but the RRT accused them of faking homosexuality. “How on earth can you prove that you are gay or not? I told her everything during the interview but she threw it out,” Sarhan said.
When Sarhan first applied he thought the case would be open and shut as he fled Egypt in 2004 after being found in his underwear with another man during a police raid. Homosexuality is punishable in Egypt under debauchery laws, but Sarhan claims he escaped prosecution because the other man was a British citizen. Fearing he would be further targeted by police or killed by his father, Sarhan came to Australia where relatives had accepted his sexuality. He claims the Immigration Department did not dispute his claim, but refused him a protection visa as “low profile behaviour” would reduce the risk on return to Egypt.
“But if I go back I’ll be dead by my family, or I’ll be caught by the police and tortured without any fair trial,” Sarhan said. Appealing to the RRT was little help, even though the presiding member Christine Long accepted that openly gay people couldn’t be sent back to Egypt. “The Tribunal accepts that persons taken into custody in Egypt on suspicion of homosexual activity face a real chance of torture, physical mistreatment and other human rights abuses amounting to persecution,” Long wrote. “… [but] the Tribunal does not accept that the applicant is a homosexual and that he has engaged in homosexual conduct in either Egypt or Australia.”
Long doubted Sarhan’s claims because he admitted to leaving out the issue of homosexuality during discussions with his first migration advisor, a man from the Lakemba Muslim community. Recently arrived in Australia, Sarhan said he did not feel safe revealing his sexual orientation to a Muslim man. After the first meeting, he chose another advisor. That meeting cost him credibility at the initial RRT hearing, but the case will be reheard after the Federal Court intervened to protect the right of confidential communication, ruling Sarhan’s omission must be ignored. The application was reheard by the RRT yesterday, but the outcome is still unknown. Sarhan hopes he at least has a chance.
“They’re playing with people’s lives. Mike can’t go back, he’ll have to go to a safe country like New Zealand and I’ll go with him,” Calderon said. The couple had wanted to celebrate their commitment on their first anniversary, but held off while their future was undecided. But as their second anniversary approached, Calderon said they refused to wait any longer and signed the City of Sydney’s relationship register on 18 July surrounded by friends and family. They later celebrated at the Imperial Hotel. The couple could return to Australia if the government granted Sarhan a relationship visa from outside the country.
Despite the limbo surrounding his future, Sarhan’s case has paved the way for fairer treatment of refugees after the Federal Court precedent. The High Court rebuked the RRT over a 2003 case involving two Bangladeshi men, which opened the door to sexual orientation as grounds for claiming asylum. Since then further criticism has come after Tribunal members said applicants’ homosexual activity was merely the result of all-male detention. Under scrutiny at Senate Estimates Hearings earlier this year, principal member Steve Karas accepted a suggestion members undergo training on sexuality issues.
Have your say: Should the Refugee Review Tribunal accept all gay applicants from Muslim countries? Vote Yes on No at www.ssonet.com.au.
August 8, 2007
Vienna competes with European capitals for gay tourists
Vienna (AFP) — Famous for its waltz, its cafes and its classical music, Vienna is pushing for a bigger slice of the lucrative gay tourist trade this summer with its "Queer Guide" to the city. The 48-page brochure, available free of charge in English, French and Spanish, lists all the capital’s gay-friendly locations, from night clubs to shops, cafes, hotels, saunas, and nudist beaches on the Danube. Although Austria was named preferred country of destination by participants in Germany’s Gay Pride parade in 2004, Vienna still lags far behind Paris, Berlin or Barcelona in a worldwide ranking of favourite destinations for gays and lesbians.
"Since then, the city has been trying to catch up," Susanne Langer, director of the "Queer Guide" project which is in its second year, told AFP. "Homosexuals are a very interesting target group. They are generally interested in culture, do not have children and can therefore travel easily, and above all they spend on average a lot more than heterosexuals," she said.
Gay meeting places have a low profile in Vienna and are not concentrated in one area as in New York or Paris, but the city stages several big events every year: the extravagant AIDS charity Life Ball in May, the Rainbow Parade in June and the Rose Ball in mid-February, a gay party that originated as a rival to Vienna’s traditional ball season. "Vienna is more liberal than some of the outdated stereotypes would suggest and just because the city has maintained a lot of historic buildings from the past, the people and society are not at all that old-fashioned," the Queer Guide boasts.
The guide offers history buffs alternative tours of the city, taking them to the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, "one of the first and most important gays in Austrian history" and the place where composer Franz Schubert died of syphilis, supposedly contracted following his only sexual experience with a woman. The brochure also contains a wealth of other tidbits on the indiscretions of former members of the imperial family and notorious historical figures, including the revelation that Empress Maria Theresia’s father had a relationship with a man, and that the architects of the Vienna Opera, Eduard van der Nuell and August Sicard von Sicardsburg, were a homosexual couple. At the Cafe Berg, listed in the Queer Guide and located just down the street from the former home and practice of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis himself, a rainbow flag indicated the establishment’s tendency.
"A third of my clients are tourists. Mostly Germans, but also Italians, Germans and tourists from eastern countries," said its owner. The Frauencafe, women’s cafe in German, an establishment with a cosy but militant feel, was set up in 1977 by a lesbian group and now regularly organises talks and exhibitions. Last year, Vienna’s tourism office gave out 80,000 copies of its Queer Guide, which can also be downloaded from its website. The capital is estimated to have about a 10-percent homosexual population out of 1.7 million people, according to the Vienna Homosexual Initiative, Austria’s largest gay and lesbian organisation.
August 15, 2007
We’re here, we’re queer, we’re still in high school
by Daniel Swain
The F-bomb was dropped on me only once. I was at a bus shelter with my then boyfriend when we heard the "call of the wild": "Go back to Mardi Gras you f—ing faggots!". I responded as calmly as I could: "I may be a faggot, sir, but you are a fool. My people get parades, what do your people get?" The gay teenager is a modern invention. No longer must we wait for the liberal oasis of university to express our sexuality identity. After several years enduring those polite euphemisms of "flamboyance" and "sensitivity" I tiptoed out of the closet. Fifteen, out and proud. My story is not unique. For the more liberal members of our generation the closet has become an antique. The internet has become an important resource for the fledgling homosexual. A boy a few years below me at school came out by editing his MySpace profile. The advent of cybersexuality has allowed gay teenagers to communicate, connect and flirt without fear of persecution. Feel lonely? Log in, chat. Where once a teenage lesbian would have felt confused or alienated, she can now google stories just like her own. The internet first introduced me to the history, the politics, the rituals of being gay. My sex education was exclusively heterosexual, and I didn’t want to risk borrowing that book from the library.
Television has also made a difference. Programs such as Will and Grace have popularised the image of the fag hag and her effete companion. The result: I have been accessorised by teenage girls who want you to be "their" gay best friend. Having gay friends makes them feel like one of those metropolitan goddesses from Sex and the City. We’ll merrily trot from one boutique to the next picking dresses or boyfriends. I try to explain that I know nothing about fashion or men but they simply won’t listen. (I do try to be more like the well-trained, urbane, television homosexuals. I really do.) Thankfully, my own high school is, largely, the tolerant, accepting society in microcosm. It is Wollongong’s only academically selective school which means that the student body is intelligent enough to know that sex only matters when you’re involved. To the Sydney readers, I hope that shatters some of your stereotypes of Wollongong: we aren’t all steel-brained Neanderthals.
But other students are not so lucky. According to a LaTrobe University study into the lives of same-sex-attracted youth, 44 per cent experience verbal abuse, while 16 per cent suffer physical abuse. Gay teens can end up homeless, depressed and suicidal. The average high-school corridors are known for their inimicality. Friends of mine have to rush from class to class through hidden paths to avoid the obligatory shout of "faggot". This intolerance makes it obvious how the modern gay rights movement has failed gay kids. It is a political movement driven by the concerns of wealthy, white, middle-aged, metropolitan men. Marriage, apparently, is the gay equality issue of our time; the right to give your relationship governmental oversight. It is a noble project but when you compare it to real queer issues of our time it appears a waste of focus, time and resources.
HIV infection rates are on the rise in gay communities, as is the use of crystal meth. The afflictions that school students face remain unaddressed. Internationally our identity is criminalised: there are still nations around the world that enforce the death penalty for being gay. In Russia and Poland, reactionary parties have tried to remove the civil liberties of gay protesters. These groups face the problems that our community dealt with decades ago. I thought history bred compassion. Growing up gay involves moving slowly forward in the traffic jam of progress. You savour each small advance but you can only see your destination in the distance. Sometimes bigotry, hatred and cruelty bring your journey to a standstill.
Daniel Swain is a year 11 student at Smith’s Hill High School in Wollongong.
August 23rd, 2007
Sydney Star Observer: Former ‘Ex-Gay’ Leaders Slam ‘Ex-Gay’ Ministries
Five former leaders of ex-gay ministries in Australia have publicly condemned the practice of teaching homosexuals to be heterosexual. Reparative/conversion therapies, which seek to alter a person’s sexual orientation through disciplinary programs, have been dealt a blow in recent times as an increasing number of former leaders acknowledge that the practice does not work. The apologies of three former ex-gay leaders at the Ex-gay Survivors Conference in Los Angeles in June encouraged a number of former Australian leaders to speak up. Paul Martin was the former leader of Exodus in Melbourne, a ministry that “helped” men and women “find a way out of homosexuality”.
“There was not one person that I met or worked with who, in any genuine way, achieved the fundamental transformation from homosexual to heterosexual,” Martin said. “The stress of attempting to change their sexual orientation, however, increased the risk of suicide, and absolutely led to erosion of self-esteem and increased levels of depression and self-deprecation at a very deep level.”
Another former Exodus leader, John Metyard, said he was once ardent in his opinion that it was God’s intention to heal the same-sex-attracted and help them to be “whole”, but admitted that his position was now different. Many former leaders believed that homosexuality was a choice, including Vonnie Pitts, the former leader of Living Waters, an organisation that conducts disciplinary programs for those pursuing “sexual wholeness”. She did her own research into the causes of homosexuality, she said, and found there was mounting evidence that sexual orientation was determined in the womb. “Now I have absolutely no doubt that homosexuals are born gay and don’t need to change,” she said.
Former Exodus Melbourne leader Wendy Lawson said nearly every member of the group was now living as an openly homosexual person, and Kim Brett, also a former Exodus leader, said of the people who were married, “most seemed to still be dealing with homosexual feelings”. After attending Australia’s first ex-gay program in 1972, Anthony Venn-Brown spent 22 years trying to change his sexuality. The program, he said, was about “modifying your behaviour to become more masculine”. “You were never allowed to work in a kitchen – that was women’s work,” he said. “You were always doing maintenance work and manual labour outside … and they also removed any articles of clothing from my wardrobe that they believed were not masculine. They believed you should have a good, strong male role model because your father was emotionally distant. Therefore they gave me a minder, who would be with me 24 hours a day and who would make sure I was behaving myself.”
It was abusive, Venn-Brown said, and after six months he left the program and attempted to recover from the trauma. He has told his story in his recently released book A Life of Unlearning – A Journey to Find the Truth. The sense of failure and shame that results from time spent undergoing conversion therapies has discouraged former participants from talking about their experiences. The community of former participants in Australia would be attending a reunion in the coming months, Venn-Brown added. “Some people have suicided,” he said. “But most people have now come to terms with their sexuality. There is no success rate. The only success rate the programs have is a degree of heterosexual functionality, which is not a change of sexual orientation.”
A number of Australian ministries still conduct conversion therapies today, including Living Waters and Liberty Christian Ministries.
13th September 2007
Howard rejects equal rights for gay Australians
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
The Prime Minister of Australia has told his Liberal party MPs that he does not believe that gay and lesbian couples should be given the same rights as heterosexuals. Backbench MP Warren Entsch, an advocate of equality, pressed John Howard at a meeting of Liberal parliamentarians. Three weeks ago, after a heated meeting of the Cabinet, the final decision about whether gay and lesbian couples in Australia will be given equal rights was left up to Prime Minister John Howard.
His senior government colleagues are split on the issue. Some feel it is not a priority for the government ahead of elections later this year and are concerned about the cost of reforms. Other Cabinet members, especially those with sizable gay communities in their constituencies, argue that equal provision in areas such as Medicare and pensions must be in place before going to the polls. Mr Howard said yesterday that the issue is "complicated" but that he does not feel gay couples are entitled to equal rights.
A report from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) was presented to the federal parliament in June. It listed the 58 laws that need to be changed to grant gay, bisexual and lesbian Australians equal rights. Despite hopes that those inequalities may be addressed by the Howard government, gay marriage is still off the agenda. Not only is it not supported by the Liberals but last month the opposition Labour party came out against any form of gay unions.
The HREOC report found that same-sex couples and families in Australia get fewer leave entitlements, less workers’ compensation, fewer tax concessions, fewer veterans’ entitlements, fewer health care subsidies, less superannuation and pay more for residential aged care than opposite-sex couples in the same circumstances. The report traced this pervasive inequality back to how lesbian and gay couples are excluded from federal law’s definitions of couples, partners and spouses.
October 12, 2007
Kirby cautious on gay reform
by Michael Pelly
He may have been named this week as one of Australia’s 25 leading gays, but judge Michael Kirby didn’t think much of the crusade of two gay men to decriminalise homosexuality. It was 1991, and the High Court judge and UN special representative was still eight years away from "outing" himself when Rodney Croome called his chambers at the NSW Court of Appeal. The upper house in Tasmania had voted down a bill to decriminalise homosexuality. Mr Croome and his then partner Nick Toonan wanted Justice Kirby’s advice on whether they should lodge a complaint with the UN’s Human Rights Committee.
"They wanted to argue that, by tolerating the continuation of old crimes in Tasmania, the nation was in breach of its obligations under the covenant," Justice Kirby writes in the current issue of Meanjin, a journal published by the University of Melbourne. I counselled against such a complaint. It did not seem timely. The Tasmanian law was not being vigorously enforced. The UN, I said, would never tackle such a sensitive topic. They should not waste their money and time. Famous last words." Mr Croome told The Australian that the account of Justice Kirby – who is included in a list of leading Australian homosexuals named by gay and lesbian group samesame – was "absolutely true".
The gay activist said he had approached Justice Kirby after hearing him speak in favour of decriminalisation at an AIDS conference in Hobart two years earlier. There had been encouragement from lawyers, human rights activists and Chris Sidoti, then the Australian human rights commissioner. "Other lawyers we spoke to seemed quite enthusiastic, but not Michael Kirby," Mr Croome said. "He felt it was too much to ask of the UN … I remember being very grateful for his advice but we made our appeal to the UN anyway."
Mr Croome said Justice Kirby had since talked of how he was glad his advice was ignored. "What this shows about Michael Kirby is that he is not the unmitigated idealist or radical that many people characterise him as," Mr Croome said. "While Chris Sidoti said ‘Go for it’, Justice Kirby’s equally sincere assessment of international opinion and where the UN was at was quite conservative."
The UN committee found the Tasmanian law violated Australia’s obligation under the Human Rights Treaty, but the Tasmanian government refused to repeal the law. The federal government then stepped in and passed the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act. Again, Tasmania refused to budge, so Mr Croome and Mr Toonen went to the High Court, and won.
Justice Kirby, who did not sit on the case, wrote in Meanjin that progress in human freedom "belongs to the bold". "Nick Toonen took his case to the UN. He won. The decision in this case stands as a principle upholding sexual privacy among adults for the whole world." Australia’s longest-serving judge (24 years) also recalled his first year in law, 1958, and a lecturer’s "rasping voice as he intoned the old provisions of Section 79, spitting out the exceptionally ugly words of denunciation in the parliamentary prose".
"I felt the blood rushing to my face. I shuffled my papers. I looked down. Do any of them know? I asked myself. I hope they cannot guess. I could not bear the shame. I should be very, very quiet. Then maybe, no one will ever know. No one will ever guess. I will get through life alone and sexless. But I would rather die than be seen on the front page of the Mirror.
"Whenever I hear about the ‘good old days’ of the law, I think of that lecture hall."
14th October 2007
John Howard calls November election in Australia
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
Australian Prime Minister John Howard today called a general election, to be held on the 24th November. It has been speculated that he will support moves towards an increase in pro-gay legislation. Mr Howard’s Liberal Party is around 12 per cent behind Kevin Rudd’s opposition Labor party in the polls. At that level of support, switching LGBT voters, traditional supports of the Labor party to vote Liberal will become more significant. Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be defending the Sydney seat of Wentworth, which after boundary changes now includes gay districts such as Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.
While, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey is seeking re-election in North Sydney, another constituency with a high concentration of LGBT voters. A report in June by Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) recommended that 58 laws need to be changed to grant gay, bisexual and lesbian Australians equal rights. These include key changes in the way that gay couples receive benefits from their relationships.
Calling the election, Mr Howard said Australia was enjoying "a remarkable level of national prosperity" and that the country has a bright future with him at the helm. "But that won’t happen automatically," he added. "In order for that to happen, this country does not need new leadership, it does not need old leadership, it needs the right leadership."
"The right leadership is the leadership that tells the Australian people where it stands on issues and what it believes in. Can I say, love me or loathe me, the Australian people know where I stand on all the major issues of importance to their future."
While Mr Howard has called an election, his British counterpart, Gordon Brown is still reeling from the fallout from not calling an election. An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph puts David Cameron’s Conservative Party on 43 per cent, seven points above Labour on 36% and Sir Menzies Campbell’s Liberal Democrats on 14 per cent.
October 25, 2007
Gay Law Reform: Still Proud Five Years On
by Megan Smith
In March 2002, the West Australian Parliament passed the Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Bill. The legislation gave same sex couples equal rights in transfer of property, medical treatment and inheritance – measures that had broad bi-partisan support. However, when it came to four other areas – lowering the age of consent for gay males from 21 to 16, adding sexual diversity education to school curriculums, IVF access for lesbians, and gay adoption – the debate became considerably fiercer.
After marathon debates, including one 16-hour sitting, the bill passed the lower house on December 12, 2001. In the upper house, the bill made it through by a single vote on March 21, 2002. With the bill’s passage, Western Australia became one of the most progressive states with regard to GLBT rights laws. Out In Perth reporter Megan Smith revisits the debate surrounding Western Australia’s gay law reform and asks those involved about how it has changed the state for its same-sex attracted population.
‘The whole tenor of this report, and of the approach of the Labor Government, is to promote equality as such. I support equality as a principle but it is not the only principle. The issue about what is right or wrong must first be addressed. The Opposition will be looking at what is right or wrong in terms of the age of consent or access to in vitro fertilisation technologies.’ –Hon. Colin Barnett, MLA for Cottesloe, Leader of the Opposition in the Lower House, Liberal Lies surround this legislation. I wonder why the Government has done that. It was not necessary. It was not called for. It hardly helps anybody, least of all the gay and lesbian community, which has ended up being blamed for this. It is being blamed for the Government’s inept and incompetent handling of this legislation. If the Government thinks that this will lead to a better relationship between gay and lesbian people and the rest of the community, it is wrong. The rest of the community will attribute to the gay and lesbian community the poor handling, arrogant behaviour and failure to consult of this Government. It will be tarred with the Government’s intolerant behaviour and the way in which it has dealt with this legislation.’ –Hon. Peter Foss, then Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, Liberal What is the Government’s priority? Sodomites committing sodomy!… It is absolutely disgraceful! The people of Western Australia think it is utterly disgraceful. While we are on the subject of priorities, whose priority is this legislation? It is the priority of the Attorney General… The Attorney General is the hero of the homosexuals, the leader of the lesbians, the bloke sitting side saddle on the horse at the front of Mardi Gras receiving rapturous applause from the masses… This Government is about to do irreparable damage to the family unit. History will treat it very harshly, as will the people of Western Australia.’ –Mr. Matthew Birney, MLA for Kalgoorlie, Liberal
The plight of gay men and lesbians – their experiences of discrimination and exclusion and invisibility in legislation – has to date been the subject of many reports and inquiries. The Government and I believe that it is now time to change the law in Western Australia to recognise lesbians and gay men as human beings who are a part of Western Australian society. –Hon. Jim McGinty, Attorney-General, Labor I do not denigrate the people who oppose this legislation, but by supporting it, we are doing something important and beneficial for the State of Western Australia and the people who live here now and in the future. If we achieve nothing else than this little bit, it will, in my mind, make our entire political careers worthwhile… I will be able to say that I was a part of the process that improved the State of Western Australia by making a fundamental change – removing discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality. –Hon. Alan Carpenter, then Minister of Education, current Premier, Labor Demand for equality for lesbians and gays has had a long history – almost 30 years. In my books, it is not a rushed debate. The majority of fair-minded Western Australians support equality for gays and lesbians. They do not see what the fuss is about and they cannot understand why we have had to wait so long. –Giz Watson, MLC for North Metropolitan Region, Greens
Five Years On…
I would say overall the legislation has succeeded. It’s been well received and rightly well received in the community. While there are particular parts of it that I don’t concur with. I think overall the reform was overdue and has been well accepted… In some of the other areas, such as marriage, adoption, they are broader social issues. They are not to me issues of discrimination or unequal rights. Let me put it this way, I don’t have any difficulty at all with two men standing in a church exchanging commitments to each other. I don’t have a problem with it or with it being recognized legally through civil unions, but to me, marriage is actually a male-female relationship. I don’t see it as discrimination, I see it as different. –Hon. Colin Barnett
I go to something like Fairday and I see young gays and lesbians looking happy, confident… You get a sense that for young people it’s so much clearer, it’s so much easier than it was. I’m not suggesting that it’s easy, just easier than it was 10 years ago, and I think the law reform has had a significant part in that. Every time I felt that this is distressing and exhausting and painful and horrible things are being said about us by people I have to work with every day, I thought if it prevents young people with questions about their sexuality having to go through the sort of difficulties that a lot of us did, then it’s worth it. –Giz Watson
Five years on, I still believe it was a significant reform to pass through Parliament – by removing discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual preference. At the time, I said it was one of those policy debates which made me very glad that I was a member of Parliament. –Hon. Alan Carpenter
From Out in Perth – www.outinperth.com
Transgender Day Of Remembrance
by Cara Davis
Almost 10 percent of transgender people will be murdered, compared to 0.0055 percent of the general population. In addition, 60 percent of all transgender people become victims of hate crimes. The US statistics, provided by Gender Evolve, form the basis of an online petition to the United Nations calling for equal human rights for transgender people. While Australian statistics are limited, a La Trobe University study of almost 6,000 GLBTI people in 2006 found 46.9 percent of trans-females and 29.4 percent of trans-men had been threatened with violence. Transgender people and their friends will gather this November for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, to remember those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred.
The event was initiated to commemorate the life of Rita Hester, whose murder in 1998 triggered a candlelight vigil in San Francisco, and the Remembering Our Dead website, which lists the names of those killed by transgender prejudice. Eleanor Ashley Lister, who is on the organising committee of the Sydney Transgender Day of Remembrance, said the event has since grown, and is now held in cities around the world. “It’s an important day because it emphasises the dangers and differences of being transgender, and it pulls us together as a community by honouring our dead,” Lister said. “At the same time it is a kind of moral justification for our activism. Even if you thought we were insane, we still have the right not to be murdered.”
The Sydney event will include talks by transgender individuals, a film screening, and a discussion panel, featuring Greens Senator Kerry Nettle and Labor MP Penny Sharpe. Community representatives will also be there. Senator Nettle said the day was important for raising awareness about the level of violence that people in the transgender community experience. “While there is discussion about homophobic discrimination and violence, the discrimination that transgender individuals experience is heightened,” she said. “It is really important to have a discussion about what the experiences in life are like for transgender people.”
The Sydney Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held at 1pm on Sunday 18 November at Bar Me, 154 Brougham St, Kings Cross. Details: www.webspinning.org/tdor2007.
Fifteen same-sex couples wed in ceremony
November 18, 2007
Fifteen gay and lesbian couples declared their love for one another in a mass ceremony in Adelaide, drawing attention to Australia’s "backward" same-sex marriage laws. The ceremony, entitled Loved Up, was held as part of the state’s gay and lesbian cultural festival – Feast Festival. The 12 female couples and three male couples declared their love before hundreds of family and friends who gathered on the city’s Montefiore Hill. The hour-long ceremony was performed by three celebrants.
Event organiser and participant, Daniel Clarke said it was a personal and political event for the participants. "What we wanted to do as a festival was celebrate diverse love and put it out to the wider public so that it can be recognised as equal to straight marriage," Mr Clarke, the Feast Festival’s artistic director, said before the ceremony. Of course it’s political, but it’s a very personal day and it’s going to be a very, very moving day." Mr Clarke and his partner Nick Pelomis were married last year in the UK, establishing what that country calls a civil partnership with the same rights as marriage.
"It’s just backward that it hasn’t happened here yet," Mr Clarke said. The couple chose to renew their vows because very few family and friends were able to celebrate with them in the UK. The Feast Festival runs until November 25 and is the largest cultural event of its kind in Australia, with 151 different events held over two weeks.
27th November 2007
Archbishops fuel homophobia says gay judge
by Gemma Pritchard
Australia’s most high-profile gay judge has said that only some of his colleagues have accepted his homosexuality and he is unhappy with the way relations between them have developed. Michael Kirby, a Justice of the High Court, has also accused the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney, Peter Jensen and George Pell, of making it hard for people to adopt a more tolerant attitude to gays. And when asked on Australian broadcaster ABC radio’s Sunday Profile if some of his fellow judges had yet made
"the journey from tolerance to acceptance of your homosexuality", he said: "We have our different values and our different life experiences, and they have theirs and I have to respect theirs. If I’d had a different life experience, maybe I would have been a bit different." Justice Kirby, who has lived openly with his partner for the last 38 years, said he enjoyed his time on the New South Wales (NSW) Court of Appeal, which he left in 1996 to join the High Court.
"I wouldn’t say (I was) happy with the way relations have developed. That would be putting it too high," he said. In the NSW court "there were judges of different philosophies, and that was a very beneficial thing because then you have an interaction and a frisson of opinion within the court," he said. "That doesn’t exist in the High Court of Australia at the moment. I’m off in a minority of one, not always but sometimes, and that really is different, and you can’t have as rich a human relationship with people in those circumstances."
The judge said he took his partner Johan van Vloten, "along to dinners with the Queen and with the Governor-General and everybody’s getting used to it." He told ABC that he hoped his sexuality was not an issue in the current court "though it is true some of the justices perhaps have less liberal views than I have." Justice Kirby also said that he understands the discomfort of some people around gays.
"Often, it has to be said, it comes from religion," he said. "It comes from people’s religious upbringing, reinforced even to this day by religious instruction, and it has to be said, religious instruction from the two archbishops of Sydney. My partner, Johan, is not a believer and he constantly says to me, ‘I don’t understand how one of the most intelligent people in this country can take any of this stuff seriously’." The judge, who must retire in March 2009 when he turns 70, says he is a "Christian Anglican" and that he has "hung in there" despite his partner’s advice to "get out of it."
In a speech last year, Justice Kirby called on all homosexual people to come out of the closet and fight homophobia. He stated he did not believe that prejudice would be eradicated in his lifetime and he urged Australians to recall the formerly racist nature of their society, and realise that progress can be made. He added that a fear of difference was behind prejudice against the LGBT community. "Such forces include the childish desire to erase differences in humanity and to stamp similarity and identity on everyone around us," he said. "It was this desire that lay at the heart of the former White Australia policy and of apartheid in South Africa. Prejudices and dislike will, ultimately, only recede when gay people themselves break the spell of silence and stand up to be counted."
The judge has always been forthright about his own sexuality, even mentioning his partner in Who’s Who. He faced criticism for admitting to a relationship with a man before 1984, when New South Wales decriminalised homosexuality. In 2002, homophobic senator Bill Heffernan used parliamentary privilege to accuse Kirby of ‘trawling for rent boys.’ When the senator’s evidence was shown to be false, Justice Kirby responded: "I accept Senator Heffernan’s apology and reach out my hand in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homosexuals can lead to."
3rd December 2007
Liberal leader comes out for gay rights
by Tony Grew
Just weeks after being kicked out of office, the Australian Liberal party has decided to embrace limited gay equality. Former Prime Minister John Howard, who lost office and his own seat in Parliament in last month’s federal election, has been replaced as party leader by Brendan Nelson. The former Liberal/National coalition government failed to make any decisions on gay equality across a range of issues outlined for them in June by a report from the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. It listed the 58 laws that need to be changed to give gay, bisexual and lesbian Australians equal rights.
Now Mr Nelson says the party is in favour of the changes, but continues to reject gay marriage, adoption or access to IVF treatment. "Our challenge is to say to ourselves, how would I feel if that were me?" he told ABC TV. "Every Australian, as far as taxation, social security and those things, should be treated equally." Mr Nelson’s comments will increase pressure on the new Labour government to bring forward legislation as promised during the campaign.
"It is clear that the removal of discrimination against same-sex couples is supported by the leaders of both major parties," the Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Rod Swift told AAP. 49-year-old Mr Nelson has drawn comparisons with Tory leader David Cameron. A GP by profession, he is socially liberal in a way that his predecessor never was. The far right of the party regard him with suspicion as he attempts to rebrand them as ‘small l’ liberal and in touch with modern Australians.
He has previously spoken in Parliament about his brother’s death from AIDS, saying: "Homosexual people are our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, our sons and daughters, and some are even parents, and they should be able to live in a society that is free of intolerance, persecution and hatred."
He beat Malcolm Turnbull to become Leader of the Opposition on 29th November, by 45 votes to 42.
December 5, 2007
Malaysia-born lesbian lawyer becomes australia’s first openly gay cabinet minister
by News Editor
Senator Penny Wong has been appointed Australia’s first climate change and water minister – making her both the country’s first openly gay and Asian-born cabinet minister. South Australia Senator Penny Wong Ying Yen, a 39-year-old lawyer who was born in the East Malaysian state of Sabah, was named Australia’s first climate change and water minister by newly-installed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who was sworn in on Monday. The Labor Party leader and former diplomat officially ended John Howard’s reign as Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister after winning a landslide election victory over Howard’s 11-year-old coalition last week. Wong, who was born in Sabah’s capital of Kota Kinabalu to a Malaysian Chinese Hakka father and an Australian mother, emigrated to Australia as an eight-year-old in 1977. She worked as a lawyer before being elected as a Labor Senator for South Australia in November 2001. Wong was appointed Shadow Minister for Employment and Workforce Participation, and Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility in October 2004.
Described by newspaper commentators as “the smart rising star of Australian politics” and “a template of Australia’s multicultural future,” Wong spoke of her family history and race issues during her first parliamentary speech in August 2002. She spoke critically of former PM Howard’s tolerance of Pauline Hanson’s views and called for the reclamation of the phrase `one nation’ referencing Hanson’s One Nation Party which promoted racist and anti-immigration views and policies. “Then there was Pauline Hanson, who said we were in danger of being overrun by Asians. And what did the Prime Minister do? Did he as the Prime Minister show that moral leadership which was called for? Leadership was called for, not to deny freedom of speech but to assert the harm in what she said. Leadership was called for, but it was not provided.”
Last year, the outspoken senator again criticised the Howard Government for overturning the Australian Capital Territory Civil Unions Act. “The ACT government has chosen to do this [legislate for the recognition of and therefore consequent rights for same-sex relationships]. It is a proposition even President Bush is on the record as countenancing, and the logic really is difficult to fault. If you deny access to one institution – that is, marriage – is it appropriate that you also deny any alternative form of recognition to such relationships via state and territory laws? The only reason you would deny alternative recognition is because your position is in fact that you do not want any recognition for those relationships and therefore no consequent rights. Yet this is precisely what the Howard government seeks to do in relation to the ACT.”
Wong, the Prime Minister and Environment Minister Peter Garrett who might be better known as the former frontman of Australian rock band Midnight Oil, are expected to attend the United Nations Climate Change (UNCC) conference in Bali next week.
Extracts of parliamentary speeches by Penny Wong
Maiden Speech – Reclaiming One Nation: 21 Aug 2002
Then there was Pauline Hanson, who said we were in danger of being overrun by Asians. And what did the Prime Minister do? Did he as the Prime Minister show that moral leadership which was called for? When asked to comment on whether Aboriginal and Asian Australians should be protected from people like Pauline Hanson, the Prime Minister said: Well, are you saying that somebody shouldn’t be allowed to say what she said? I would say in a country such as Australia people should be allowed to say that. What sort of message does this send to our community? That it is acceptable to rail against people who look different? That these sorts of comments are no different from any other sort of political commentary? Leadership was called for, not to deny freedom of speech but to assert the harm in what she said. Leadership was called for, but it was not provided.
ACT Civil Unions Act: 15 Jun 2006
The ACT government has chosen to do this [legislate for the recognition of and therefore consequent rights for same-sex relationships]. It is a proposition even President Bush is on the record as countenancing, and the logic really is difficult to fault. If you deny access to one institution – that is, marriage – is it appropriate that you also deny any alternative form of recognition to such relationships via state and territory laws? The only reason you would deny alternative recognition is because your position is in fact that you do not want any recognition for those relationships and therefore no consequent rights. Yet this is precisely what the Howard government seeks to do in relation to the ACT.
This is exemplified by the government’s refusal to engage with the ACT to find a constructive solution to this. They have not engaged because they do not want a resolution. They say it is too like a marriage. I will pose some questions to the government, but I doubt I will get an answer. Which rights do you say ought to be removed in order for this bill to become acceptable? Which rights would you delete in order for it to be acceptable for a same-sex relationship to have recognition? Which rights would you remove in order for this to be okay? Would it be medical consent? Would it be the fact that you have to pay stamp duty? Would it be the disposition of property? Would it be the rights if someone dies intestate? Which of these rights, which are conferred through the ACT legislation, so offend this government that they have to strike this law down?
If it is one particular right, such as the stamp duty issue, perhaps you should put it back to the ACT government that you would like that taken out. Which rights do you want removed? The fact is, you will not engage in that discussion because ultimately you do not want recognition of those relationships. I doubt that the government will answer me when I ask them which rights should be removed to make this legislation acceptable.
December 10 2007
First Person: Peter Jackson
As told to Isabel Berwick
In 1983 I was an Australian PhD student visiting Thailand to do research on Buddhism when, by chance, the first Thai-language gay magazine appeared on the newsstands. I bought it, and since then I have built up a personal collection of about 2,000 Thai gay magazines. Now, with funding from the Australian Research Council, I am developing an archive in Bangkok of gay culture and literature.
I am doing this to give something back to the Thai gay and transgender community, whose members I have been interviewing and studying for the past 25 years. I am an associate professor in Thai history at the Australian National University, and the archive will help younger gay and transgender people in Thailand, now in their 20s and 30s, who want to study their own history. The magazines are a unique record of how gay culture has developed in Thailand.
My aim is to develop the Thai Queer Resources Centre as an archive that can eventually be donated to a university in Thailand for safekeeping. There’s a rich history in these magazines, and apart from a few private collectors in Thailand, no-one has kept them. The police regularly destroy gay magazines – as supposedly pornographic – and mount raids on newsstands.
The previous political regime of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had conservative moral policies, and magazines and other gay businesses were often raided. Somewhat ironically, since the military coup that overthrew Thaksin in September 2006, the climate for homosexual people has improved markedly. There’s been a boom in gay businesses, including new gay magazines.
We have put ads in the gay press and on gay websites, asking people to donate magazines to our archive, and we have used the network of people working in gay rights and HIV prevention NGOs (non governmental organisations) in Thailand to get the message out. I have been stunned by the positive response, and by the sense of community history they have. So far we haven’t had to pay for any of the several hundred magazines that have been donated.
There are many people in Bangkok who collect gay magazines. One man rolled up in a taxi with three huge boxes – he had kept them in a storeroom for years. One closeted man e-mailed, saying he lived with his parents in the suburbs and they had no idea he was gay. He said it was fine to go and pick up his collection, but asked that nobody came in drag, which would have given the game away.
I now have an assistant working full-time on archiving the magazines. She’s the first transgendered academic in Thailand and it hasn’t been easy for her to get a job. I really hope she can get a teaching job in Thailand. Things are changing, slowly, and in 2005 I organised the first international conference of Asian Queer Studies in Bangkok.
We had Ford Foundation support and more than 500 registrations, 80 per cent of them from Asia. It’s encouraging, but we have a long way to go to get acceptance in Thai universities for gay, lesbian and transgender history. I wrote one of the first books on Thai gay history, 20 years ago, and I now get e-mails from many Thai students who want to study the subject, but who can’t find a supervisor in Thailand.
The archive is part of my wider research looking at capitalism and gay history in Thailand. A lot of people look at the politics of gay issues but relatively few investigate the history of the gay scene. The truth is that without these spaces – the bars and saunas, and the magazines sold and given away in those places – there would have been nowhere for gay people to meet. Businesses and entrepreneurs have been vital in the emergence of gay history, and have often been brave in the face of official opposition and police raids.
I hope I can preserve that history, and pass it on to the next generation.
December 17, 2007
No Labor plans to allow gay marriage
by Siobhain Ryan
Kevin Rudd has dismissed reports that Labor plans to allow gay marriages, reassuring the Christian vote that the only union the party will recognise is between a man and a woman. The Prime Minister said in Brisbane that the Government wanted to ensure same-sex couples had non-discriminatory access to tax, social security and inheritance entitlements, via nationally consistent laws and registers of relationships. But he refused to go further, despite reports that ministers had revealed that the party was working on "secret plans" to allow gay civil unions. "Our position has always been that marriage is between a man and a woman and therefore that always will form the cornerstone of our view on these matters," Mr Rudd said.
Kerryn Phelps, a former Australian Medical Association president who travelled to New York to marry her partner Jackie Stricker, was reported yesterday as saying she had been told of the civil union plans by the senior frontbenchers, who were not named in the article. Labor has suggested its approach could be modelled on the Tasmanian relationship register, which gay and de facto heterosexual couples, as well as carers and others in dependent relationships, can use as added proof of entitlements. That approach has been accepted by the Australian Christian Lobby, although it still remains concerned about potential redefinition of words such as "de facto" or "family" that might result from future changes to federal legislation.’
The lobby group was rattled earlier this month by federal Labor’s reluctance to override the ACT Labor Government’s Civil Partnerships Bill, which would give legal recognition to the same-sex couples. But ACL national chief of staff Lyle Shelton said yesterday Mr Rudd’s latest comments were in line with the "very consistent" feedback on the issue the lobby group had received from Labor in Opposition and in government. "We’ve always had a very high confidence in Mr Rudd’s integrity on this issue," he said.
Gay and Lesbian Rights co-convenor Peter Johnson said the federal Government’s support for registers, while addressing state-based legal entitlements, still created an unnecessary tier of relationship recognition. He said, however, he had not been told of any shift in Labor policy on the issue. "I’m not aware of any secret plans," Mr Johnson said.