It could be an awkward Mardi Gras for the Leader of the Opposition this year.
Bill Shorten is set to become the first leader of either major party to march in the parade, a notable achievement to be sure. Labor will enforce a binding vote on marriage equality by 2019 and while that’s a long way off, the upside is it has at least driven people like Joe Bullock out of the party in the meantime.
Having spent the last few weeks defending the Safe Schools Coalition against a frenzied attack from the Coalition’s right, and calling out Cory Bernardi in person, Shorten will certainly be more welcome in Oxford Street than the Prime Minister.
But while Shorten is getting less shy on LGBTI rights, it’s another policy area that could cause him some discomfort as he makes his way through the Sydney streets tomorrow night.
There’s a new float in the parade this year, and according to a parade order seen by New Matilda, it’s due to run directly behind Shorten and the Rainbow Labor team.
It’s called ‘No Pride in Detention’.
The float has been organised to protest and draw attention to the plight of LGBTI refugees, whose treatment seriously undermines Labor’s apparent interest in LGBTI rights more generally.
The issue was recently taken up by Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs at a Mardi Gras side event held at Sydney’s Pitt Street Uniting Church. Triggs said there are an estimated 175 million people worldwide vulnerable to persecution and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, but that just 2,500 have ever achieved refugee status.
She gave examples of the way processing in Australia disadvantages people from this cohort.
“An important case is the Knox case… in the process for determining their refugee status the Refugee Review Tribunal asked if the applicant used lubricant to have sex with his partner,” Triggs said. “He refused to answer that question and the tribunal said he could therefore not have refugee status as he was not a truthful or credible witness.”
Aside from the already bleak experience of detention for those onshore, asylum seekers sent to detention and processing on Manus Island by Australia find themselves in a country where homosexuality remains criminalised.
Elaine Pearson, the Australian Director of Human Rights Watch, travelled to Manus Island to meet asylum seeker and refugees in 2015.
“One of the men we interviewed was from Iran – this is a country where a same-sex relationship is illegal, and in fact there have been men in the past who were beheaded,” Pearson said. “He told us he fled the county after his boyfriend’s father reported him to the police. His boyfriend’s family did not approve of the relationship, so he felt in that situation he just had to get out as quickly as possible and I guess in making contact with a smuggler, Australia was presented to him as an option.
“He said to us very clearly that had he known he would end up in another country that also criminalised gay relationships, then he never would have attempted to come to Australia.”
Now would be an appropriate time to recall that offshore processing and resettlement in PNG was introduced by Labor, and supported by soon-to-be-star of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Bill Shorten. As leader he has maintained support for the policy.
Whether Shorten has anything to say to those on the float behind him – or perhaps more interestingly, what they might have to say to him – should be worth tuning in for.
New Matilda checked in with Mardi Gras organisers to see if there had been any last minute shake-up to the schedule of the parade, but over 24-hours later we’re yet to hear back.
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