Tomorrow Is IDAHOBIT Day! And Not A Moment Too Soon

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We need to do more to protect the rights of the LGBTIQ community, writes Dustin Halse.

Today is International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia; a day that provides us with an opportunity to pause and reflect on the policies and prejudices that continue to affect the LGBTIQ community.

Many in our society might dismiss the campaign for equality as somewhat of a ‘fringe’ or small minority issue. But this is clearly not the case. The Australian Human Rights Commission reports that 11 in 100 Australians have a diverse sexual or gender orientation.

In addition, it’s clear that equality has become a key political issue in a number of marginal seats across Australia during this current federal election—including the seat of Deakin (in which I am campaigning for the Labor Party).

Yet many in the public sphere still feel safe engaging in the discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians. Sports starts like Israel Folau and Gary Ablett have recently aired anti-homosexual comments and tweets. Federal Liberal Party political candidates have been disendorsed after making comments linking homosexuality to paedophilia; and others have suggested that the Party should actively rid its ranks of ‘gays’.

Worse still, just days ago, Victorian police officers were involved in an altercation outside prominent LGBTIQ bookstore, Hares and Hyenas, that left an innocent man with a broken arm.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius has since remarked bluntly that ‘it’s very clear that police stuffed this one up’.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were celebrating the achievements of the Yes Vote and the subsequent amendment to the Marriage Act. Yet despite that momentous occasion, which corrected a historical injustice, the campaign to end discrimination against our LGBTIQ community did not end with the passage of the amendment to the Marriage Act.

Indeed, rather than being a permanent turning point in the march towards equality, it was a brief respite in Australia’s ongoing, but somewhat chequered advancement into modernity and inclusivity. It’s worth remembering that the decriminalisation of homosexuality in all Australian states did not end completely until 1997.

The so-dubbed ‘honeymoon’ period is over; and we now need to renew our focus on ending LGBTIQ related abuse and discrimination.

To be clear, this is not only a question of fairness, equality and justice – this is literally a matter of life and death.

LGBTIQ young people between 16 and 27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Trans-gender people over the age of 18 are nearly 11 times more likely to attempt suicide. Thirty percent of Bi-sexual women between 16-27 have reported self-harm.

The statistics for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions among the LGBTIQ community are also much higher than national statistical averages. Moreover, research published by the University of Melbourne in 2017 found that LGBTIQ Victorians were twice as likely to experience homelessness.

How can these statistics be possible?

Well imagine for a moment being a young bi-sexual man; or a trans-gender woman; or lesbian woman in a workplace or school that practices intolerance and discrimination based on sexual identity.

Imagine being fired for being a gay man; or simply failing to rise the employment ranks; or missing out on the job altogether because in a conservative milieu you are simply labelled too ‘different’.

Imagine being ostracised by your community, church or family for coming out.

These experiences are unfortunately all too common. That’s why I agree with equality advocate Rodney Croome when he wrote recently that our political system needs to do much more to support the LGBTIQ community.

In Victoria, we have shown that there is the political will to address these problems and create better outcomes: the Andrews Labor Government has banned conversion therapy; appointed an equality minister; increased funding for LGBTIQ homelessness services; committed funding to a new PRIDE centre and state-wide PRIDE events; and is working to eliminate LGBTIQ discrimination from all statutory codes.

These achievements are a good start – but they are just that: a start.

Politicians, like me, and policy makers need to be bold and continue to research, design and implement best practice policies when it comes to the equality agenda at both state and federal levels.

We need to call out Homophobia, Bi-phobia and Trans-phobia where we see it.

There is much work to do, and we owe it to all LGBTIQ Australians to continue the fight for equality.

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Dr Dustin Halse

Dustin Halse is the Victorian state Labor MP for Ringwood. He previously was a trade union official and an academic fellow at Swinburne University of Technology.

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