Julie Peters

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First published in Dare: Issue 1, April 1999:
Turner Publishing

Political Animal

Julie Peters

If you want to live a life free of disrimination it is important to be involved politically at a level that suits your situation and personality ...

How far should you push your comfort zone to do this?

There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding in the community at large as to what being homosexual, bi or transgendered is about. There are so many cultural stereotypes and confusion as to who we are and, often malicious and deliberate, blurring of the boundaries between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children.

This blurring is `legitimised' in Victoria by flawed legislation that is designed to protect those engaging in `lawful sexual behaviour' but allows discrimination against them when they are working with children. For those of us living in the cosmopolitan inner suburbs being different isn't an issue. But for those living in many rural areas or in the `wrong' suburb it is.

How do we break down these stereotypes and make being sexually `different' a non-issue. There are more and more people for whom being homosexual is a non-issue; gay couples are being invited to family, business and church functions. But surveys of gays, lesbians, transgendered, bisexuals and queers shows that discrimination, vilification and harassment are still rife in most spheres of life.

Can the law protect you when you are overlooked for promotion at work? - Only when it is very clear that you were not promoted because you are lesbian; and only if you are willing and have the psychological strength to challenge your boss.

Which comes first laws that protect us or a change in the social milieu that says sexual diversity is acceptable or chic? They both move forward in small steps; each leads the other. So it is important to be political at both levels.

But how can we change public opinion? It's easy; be `out' and let everyone see what wonderful people we are. One of the scariest and most political thing you can do is to take your partner to the work dinner. I have met a Lieutenant Commander in the Australian Navy who has taken his partner to Naval functions. How far should you push your comfort zone to do this? It's up to you. To be closeted is to be invisible - out is to have a voice.

Other less confronting ways of helping shift public opinion is going to events such as Midsumma, Mardis Gras or Pride March or singing with the Gay and Lesbian Chorus. All these are important for creating community and this is important because the most rampant homophobia occurs in our very own community; internalised homophobia.

I met a gay-man a few years ago, who was proud he had never had sex with a `queen' only with the straight men he met at beats. He believed queens were lesser men and so he saw himself in the same light; this belief stopped him having relationships. Some cope with this self loathing by drinking, smoking - you name it. We see this when `straight-acting' are ashamed of drag queens. We see it when lesbians attack transexuals. We see it when men are ostracised for not being big or beautiful enough or too old. We see it when transgendered are homophobic. We see it when any of us are racist.

There are so many groups that help build community; the AIDS councils, the Archives, the Switchboards, the newspapers and magazines . But there are legal and political changes that we need. And we need them at all levels of government; local, state and federal. And so we need lobbyists and our own `out' politicians and progressive straights at all these levels.

Many councils around Australia now provide targeted services for our communities as well as supporting our festivals.

The then SA Premier Don Dunstan in 1975 was the first in the English world to push through legislation that decriminalised sex between men. Rodney Croome and Nick Toonan took the Tasmanian Government to the United Nations and the ensuing debate in that state moved them forward to having some of the best legislation in Australia. West Australia now hold the mantle for the worst legislation; it has discriminatory age of consent laws that say heterosexuals can have sex at 16 but gays have to wait until they 21.

Come July we will have two out Senators Bob Brown (TAS, Greens) and Brian Greig (WA, Democrats). But it's not unexpected; both of these political parties have long supported progressive legislation. When Don Chipp first became a Senator in 1977 one of his researchers was Chris Carter, a very well known gay activist from Melbourne.

Immigration, superannuation, marriage and discrimination are all federal issues. And the most important legislation currently before the Australian Parliament is Sid Spindler's (VIC, Democrats, retired) Sexuality and Transgender Identity Discrimination Bill. It aims to deal with those issues that come under the umbrella of federal powers. It aims to make it unlawful to incite hatred, outlaws discrimination against gays, lesbians and the transgendered and recognise superannuation for same sex couples. At its first reading in November 1995 it got no public support from either the Liberal or Labor parties. It was sent to a Senate committee in May 1996. This process of collecting evidence helped shift the majority of Labor Senators but not the Liberals publically.

Almost three and a half years later the Bill has reached the second reading stage. Neither the Liberal nor Labor parties are keen to vote on it. If it passes it will upset the conservatives and if it fails it will upset the gay, lesbian and transgendered communities. Last year I heard that most members of Parliament had received very few letters supporting the legislation but they had received hundreds of letters from homophobic Christians. We need to lobby to be effective and we need to support federal lobby groups such as the Australian Council for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

If you want to live a life free from discrimination it is important to be involved politically at a level that suits your situation and personality.




© Copyright Turner Publishing/Julie Peters 1999
Contact julie@natasha.ironbark.id.au