2012: Year in Headlines
Gay marriage, HIV, homophobia in sport and law reforms dominated the news in 2012. Serkan Ozturk looks back at the year in headlines.
Tennis champion turned pastor serves up gay media frenzy
The year got off to a fault as the Australian summer of tennis morphed into a season of gay controversy with former tennis champ turned evangelical preacher Margaret Court serving up some shocking claims about gay youth. As the Australian Open was getting into full swing, Court penned an article in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper suggesting people’s sexuality was “a choice” and people only identify as gay because “if somebody is told they are gay they often start to believe it”.
Openly-gay tennis legends Martina Navratilova, Billie-Jean King and other big names hit back at Court while a petition was launched to change the name of Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena and a protest group, Rainbow Flags Over Margaret Court Arena, descended onto to the court to show their pride.
In mid-April, Court’s article was slammed by the Press Council which found her claim that sexuality was a choice was “probably inaccurate and potentially dangerous” and forced the Herald Sun to attach its judgement in full to the article online.
Adelaide anti-gay preachers vow to continue campaign
The Adelaide Street Church, otherwise known as the street preachers, started off the year with big plans to spread their anti-gay message and also threaten legal action to anyone who prevented them communicating their diatribes. As part of their so-called expansion, members of the Church left behind the hot pavement for the coolness of train carriages to carry on preaching. In late January they also tried to sue Adelaide City Councillor Anne Moran for defamation after she accused the group of spreading “a vicious and hate-filled message”.
By the time of the annual Feast Festival and Adelaide’s Pride March in November, however, it seemed the Church’s aims for world domination were in the doldrums with only a handful of their supporters turning up to hold anti-gay placards and spout Biblical verses.
Despite high hopes, a lack of police uniforms was also evident at this year’s Pride March after SA Police Commissioner Gary Burns refused to have his force follow in the footsteps of colleagues in NSW and Victoria and allow them to participate in the march in full police regalia.
The gay hate truck and its trail of controversy
Word got out in late February that Sydney’s very own fire-and-brimstone preacher Peter Madden was planning to drive a vehicle dubbed the “Hate Truck” from the Harbour City to Brisbane ahead of the Queensland state election. In a bid to drum up support against same-sex marriage, Madden had set up the Stand4Marriage website to promote the “major prayer rally” and had modified the truck’s billboards to showcase warnings of the “dark side of same-sex marriage” alongside an image of a middle-aged man hugging a child.
Sadly for Madden, the prayer rallies were anything but major, with only a few of his supporters turning up and large counter demonstrations by Equal Love groups in Brisbane and elsewhere soon forcing the Christian fundamentalist to cancel plans for a rally on his return home to Sydney. A parody web page promoting equality was also created in response, while one young gay marketer tried to get an ‘Ice Cream Truck of Love’ off the ground.
Memorably, Madden’s truck was glitter bombed in Lismore as protestors chained themselves to it. In October, a court threw out all charges against the activists while the town’s mayor warned Madden to never return.
LGBTI rights and equality under threat in Queensland
March saw Queenslanders well and truly over their 15-year love affair with the Labor Party, with voters turning out to present a landslide victory to the LNP led by former Brisbane Lord Mayor, Campbell ‘Can Do’ Newman. Apart from Labor’s decimation, the election was also notable for a homophobic ad aired by Katter’s Australian Party during the campaign which caused a stir all the way to France with a photographer heard to yell “Sacrebleu” after the use of his images without his permission.
With 78 seats in Queensland’s 89-seat single House parliament, Newman and his team then got onto apparently the most pressing job at hand – stripping away the rights of the local LGBTI community. With little warning, millions of dollars in funding to Healthy Communities (QAHC) was cut amid false claims by Health Minister Lawrence Springborg that the peak gay men’s health organisation failed to curb rates of new HIV infections. Civil union legislation enacted only a few months previously was altered so that many said it now more resembled registering a pet dog than one’s relationship. The LNP then warned that it planned to send same-sex couples to jail in the future should they seek surrogacy arrangements. And despite a worldwide campaign led by a Maryborough priest, the new State Government also refused to scrap the ‘gay panic’ defence which allows some violent criminals to literally get away with murder by pleading to a lesser charge if they can show they were provoked because of a victim’s non-violent sexual advance.
Needs of older LGBTI Australians under the spotlight
With the estimated number of older LGBTI Australians over the age of 65 expected to rise to approximately 500,000 people by the year 2051, the last 12 months will most likely be viewed in coming years as a watershed moment for the LGBTI community and aged care.
In April, following on from recommendations outlined in the Caring for Older Australians report by the Productivity Commission, the Commonwealth for the first time included LGBTI people as a special needs group under the Aged Care Act. The Federal Government also announced that it would allocate $2.5 million over the next five years to train aged care staff in addressing the sensitive needs of older LGBTI Australians.
Later in July, Minister for Ageing Mark Butler confirmed that a specific National LGBTI Aged Care Strategy would be part of the government’s wider $3.7 billion reform program on aged care, ‘Living Longer Living Better’.
Towards the end of November an overhaul of the country’s federal anti-discrimination laws by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon saw changes so that Commonwealth-funded aged care providers will no longer be permitted to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In another first, one of the country’s largest providers of aged care services, UnitingCare Ageing, installed a full-time LGBTI project officer to better gauge the needs of older LGBTI people. Here’s hoping it will be the first of many.
Queers lives shine of primetime Australian television
2012 was the year reality television went all the way gay – with winners, runners-up and near-hopefuls all flying the rainbow flag on the small screen.
Brisbane pizza shop owner Margie Cummins was named the winner of The Biggest Loser in May and took home $220,000 after shedding more than 73kg.
Proving he was a hit with a whisk as much as the ball, Sydney Convicts footballer Kevin Perry was the first to make it into the Masterchef house, only to become the first evicted when his “Canadian programming” got the better of him and he confused his lasagne with his lasagnette.
He may not have won X-Factor but gay troubadour Justin Standley, better known to many as Justin J Bear, won the hearts of Australia after his moving tale of losing contact with his three young children following the breakdown of an earlier relationship with a woman caught the attention of Today Tonight. A whirlwind trip to Perth in August saw J Bear reunited with his brood and promising he would never be out of their lives again.
Cabaret performer Tom Sharah finished runner-up on Network Ten’s I Will Survive while the newly relaunched Big Brother saw 32-year-old account manager Benjamin Norris walk away as the last person standing with a car, $250,000 in cash and a new fiancée after he proposed to his partner on live television.
Salvation Army comes under fire over gay statement
The policies of The Salvation Army came under intense scrutiny in the middle of the year after singer-songwriter Darren Hayes posted a link to the Salvos’ position statements against homosexuality and marriage equality.
“Important for gay people to know the true position of the Salvation Army when considering who to donate to. Sad,” Hayes tweeted to over 65,000 of his followers.
Within hours the Salvation Army was trending on Twitter and the charity was in full damage control mode. The social media backlash got worse a week later when a senior member of the Army, media relations director Major Andrew Craibe, went on Melbourne’s Joy 94.9 and agreed with a proposition that the Salvos handbook not only condemned homosexuality but also suggested that gay people deserved to be put to death. “Well, that’s a part of our belief system,” Craibe told Salt and Pepper program host Serena Ryan.
The top brass of the Salvos soon issued an apology saying there had been a misinterpretation of the text. “The Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine does not state that practising homosexuals should be put to death and, in fact, urges all Salvationists to act with acceptance, love and respect to all people,” Major Bruce Harmer clarified.
Reassuring words but for some, it was too little too late, and the damage was already done.
Marriage equality: One step forward, two steps back
Hopes were high 2012 would be the year of marriage equality but it will more likely be remembered as a year of missed opportunities.
History was nevertheless made after Tasmania became the first jurisdiction in the country to pass a same-sex marriage bill after a bill co-introduced by Premier Lara Giddings and Greens Leader Nick McKim in August snuck past the state’s Lower House by 13-11 votes.
Setbacks though would come thick and fast the following month as not only did the Tasmanian bill fail to pass the state’s Upper House due to fears over its constitutional validity, but two separate marriage bills in both houses of Federal Parliament were comprehensively defeated after almost half of all Labor MPs and senators went against their own party’s platform to side with Coalition Leader Tony Abbott in opposing the reforms.
The spotlight on marriage also drew ludicrous claims expected by the likes of Australian Christian Lobby chief Jim Wallace and arch-conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. Wallace suggested that being gay was more dangerous to one’s health than smoking tobacco while Bernardi also got in on the animal act after he compared the desire of same-sex couples wanting to marry to those who wished to engage in acts of bestiality.
The last laugh however went to marriage equality supporters with six states and territories by year’s end planning to introduce equal marriage laws of their own in the coming months.
Pressure mounts on AFL to show more gay support
Little did controversial and serial offender Stephen Milne know but when the St Kilda small forward decided to motivate his opponent, Collingwood defender Harry O’Brien, with a combination of the words “fucken homo cunt” he would set off a chain reaction that would see the AFL for the first time seriously face up to issues of homophobia in the sport. Escaping with only a $3,000 fine for his second gay slur in as many years, Milne and the AFL would come under attack by an increasingly agitated sporting public concerned about the lack of a gay footballer in its ranks and little action by organisers on promoting inclusion when it had already led the way on multiculturalism, as well as indigenous and women’s participation.
Flying the banner proudly was gay amateur Yarra Glen footballer Jason Ball who, via a petition, convinced the AFL to air ads from the ‘No to Homophobia’ campaign created by a number of LGBT groups. The only one who seemed to be left unimpressed was former AFL star and football loudmouth Jason Akermanis who bluntly tweeted “Who cares” in response to Ball’s petition. It seemed plenty did because within hours ‘Aker’ was forced to delete his Twitter account after social network users were all too happy to point out his lack of a heart. Luckily, it seemed AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou also cared with the sport’s boss promising to investigate bringing in an annual Pride Round as early as 2013.
The State, the Premier, the Lord Mayor and her seat of Sydney
“Barry O’Fail” was what many were whispering after the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s decision to push through laws that prevented sitting state MPs from holding positions as councillors on local governments horribly backfired. Though over 20 Coalition and other MPs were affected, long-serving Sydney MP and Lord Mayor Clover Moore was believed to be the real target of the laws passed with the help of Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters and Fishers.
The Independent had long been a thorn in O’Farrell’s side with a seat inside Parliament as well as the controlling hand in the nation’s richest and most powerful local council. Surprising some by choosing to vacate her state seat, Moore once again easily won the mayoral race for Town Hall on September 8, only suffering a slight reduction in her team’s council vote. With much speculation on who would succeed her, all eyes fell towards Australian Marriage Equality, convener Alex Greenwich, who had run as part of her council ticket with rumours abounding he was being groomed for a run against the Liberals’ Shayne Mallard for the now-vacant state seat.
Greenwich finally declared his intentions to enter the political fray after emotional scenes at Parliament House following Moore’s final speech. Descended from Georgian royalty and nicknamed ‘The Prince’ at high school, the 32-year-old Greenwich easily swept away all comers at the October 27 by-election to become the first person in a same-sex marriage to take a seat in any parliament in Australia.
“Now there’s two of us,” Greenwich said at his victory speech with Moore alongside.
HIV rise prompts calls for renewed action and commitment
The nation’s response to the HIV epidemic was back on the agenda after the latest yearly surveillance figures released by the Kirby Institute showed that for 2011 the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Australia was 1,137 compared to 1,051 in 2010 – an annual increase of 8.2 per cent. Sex between men accounted for two thirds of all new diagnoses while the latest figures were actually part of a 50 per cent leap in infection rates over the past decade, with 719 new HIV diagnoses in 1999.
Following overseas developments such as rapid HIV testing, oral swab home testing, the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs such as Truvada and increasing evidence on the efficacy of antiretroviral medications to prevent transmission, peak HIV bodies came together with sex worker and drug organisations to present the Melbourne Declaration during the Australasian HIV Conference in Melbourne in mid-October. With an AIDS-free generation in sight for the first time, the calls for a rejuvenation of Australia’s response did not fall on deaf ears. Calls for action were further heightened after the release of The HIV Stigma Audit by the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA), which found about 60 per cent of respondents always or occasionally felt “ashamed” or “blamed” for being HIV-positive by reporting in the media and when with sexual partners.
Soon after, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced 23 grants worth $13 million in funding for HIV research projects while renewing her commitment to introducing licensing for rapid HIV testing. By the time World AIDS Day came around on December 1, NSW became the first state to commit to the goals of the Melbourne Declaration with Health Minister Jillian Skinner announcing strategies to receive test results and medication more quickly as well as ‘bold’ new targets of reducing new HIV infections by 60 per cent amongst the gay community by 2015.
Federal Govt overhauls national anti-discrimination laws
After years of lobbying, the Commonwealth finally announced in mid-November that it planned to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity unlawful as part of a major overhaul of Australia’s federal anti-discrimination laws.
Heralding the changes, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said consolidating five different statutes into one single act would provide better protections for Australians but as always the devil was in the detail with religious organisations – with the exception of Commonwealth-funded aged care providers run by faith groups – still given a clear path to discriminate against LGBTI people with past exemptions continuing to apply. Members of the intersex community were also angered after the reforms tried to squeeze intersex into the field of gender identity, which Organisation Intersex International president Gina Wilson said was like a slap in the face after being led to believe protections for intersex people would be included on the basis of anatomical features, “as they do with disability or age”.
The draft anti-discrimination laws also threw open the doors to claims of hypocrisy with Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Rodney Croome noting that the Government’s suggested laws prohibited discrimination on the grounds of ‘relationship status’ yet it continued to remain all too happy to deny the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Perhaps NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Justin Koonin summed up the community’s sentiment best when he said: “We will be working closely with LGBTI groups and the broader community to communicate our views on where the Government got it right and where improvements could be made to better recognise and protect the rights of LGBTIQ communities”.