2013: The LGBTI year in headlines
Marriage equality, HIV, policing, anti-discrimination – it was an eventful year for Australia's LGBTI community. Cec Busby and Reg Domingo look back at the people and events that made national headlines in 2013.
Parramatta Council found itself at the centre of controversy when its staff ordered the removal of a Twenty10 banner at their stall at the Rediscover the River Festival on January 17.
The banner, which is regularly used by the youth organisation at various events, simply read: “Support services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people, their families and communities”. It also contained the Twenty10 tagline: “A place to be me, with the support I need”.
Council staff said a number of people took offence to the signage. Twenty10 packed up and left, citing fears over the safety of young people at the event.
Word of the incident began to spread on social media and soon, Parramatta Council was inundated with calls to apologise. An online petition demanding an apology amassed tens of thousands of signatures in a matter of days.
To its credit, Parramatta Council issued an apology with Mayor John Chedid sending a letter to Twenty10 expressing his regret over the incident. He added that neither he nor his staff held the view that the banners were offensive. Twenty10’s costs for the day were reimbursed.
Small gestures, some might say, but effective nonetheless. Indeed, the Parramatta Pride Picnic, an annual day event for the LGBTI community held in September, attracted a large number of stallholders and patrons.
Above: The Twnety10 banner deemed 'offensive' by Parramatta Council staff.
The case of Scott Johnson, a 27-year-old gay American whose naked body was found at the base of a cliff in Manly Beach in 1988, was thrust back into the spotlight in February when a $100,000 reward for information that may help solve the mystery surrounding his death was issued.
Johnson’s death was initially ruled as suicide by local police but his family has always believed there was foul play.
The case was re-opened in July 2012 when fresh evidence raised the possibility Johnson may have been a victim to a gay-hate murder spree that gripped Sydney in the late 1980s.
A taskforce was set up to review the case and possible links to others crimes.
The mystery of Johnson’s death highlighted a dark time in Sydney and serve as a reminder for the ongoing need to be careful and vigilant.
Above: The case of US man Scott Johnson remains open with a reward now offered for information about his death.
Despite a number of key developments at the 2013 Sydney Mardi Gras, including a pop-up museum and service personnel from the Australian Defence Force marching in the parade in uniform for the first time, the festival would instead be remembered for the actions of the NSW Police Force.
High profile allegations of heavy-handed police tactics at the Mardi Gras Parade and other festival events dominated the headlines soon after, prompting an outpouring of community outrage. It led to a forum, which saw the public air long-standing grievances over police practices such as the use of drug dogs and body searches, further denting an-already fragile relationship between Sydney’s gay community and the NSW Police.
That Donny Adney, the proactive NSW Police superintendent and former commander of Surry Hills LAC stepped down as community’s liaison a few months later didn’t help matters, leaving a relatively unknown Tony Crandell – at least to the LGBTI community – to pick up the pieces.
But, there have been signs of progress. Since then, a group of LGBTI organisations including Sydney Mardi Gras, ACON, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Inner City Legal Centre, have been working closely with the police, the state government and other agencies, to ensure a repeat of the incidents do not occur in 2014 and beyond. An advocacy paper containing recommendations on improving policing at LGBTI events was released in October and is currently under consideration.
The police have committed to an agreement before the 2014 season.
No doubt some will say ‘more needs to be done’, However, that the NSW Police is willing to come to the table is a small albeit encouraging indication of improvement.
Above: Demonstrators protesting against police practices on Taylor Square in March.
A spontaneous outbreak of DIY rainbow crossings spread across Sydney and thence around Australia and the globe, as a protest over the removal of the much celebrated rainbow crossing on Oxford Street.
The movement was championed by local man James Brechney, who chalked up crossing outside his inner Sydney home just hours after NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay ordered the removal of the rainbow crossing from Oxford Street on the grounds it was a safety hazard.
A Facebook page created by Brechney quickly gathered momentum, sparking spontaneous chalking of rainbows on footpaths, driveways, plazas et al around the world.
The following month, the issue took centre stage at the City of Sydney, with councillors debating the installation of a permanent rainbow symbol. No decision was made with the Lord Mayor Clover Moore instead deferring the matter to be determined at a public meeting July. Lots of ideas were generated, but to this date, there’s still no permanent rainbow installation for inner city Sydney.
Ashfield Council, however, took it up with gusto, when it approved a permanent rainbow crossing on Summer Hill square in May.
So what did it all achieve?
Some have criticised the strong focus on rainbows as misguided, arguing that the community’s efforts would be better spent on more pressing matter such as the fight for equality. Whether you agree with that or not, there’s no denying that the episode has cemented the rainbow motif and what it symbolises for LGBTI people into the consciousness of the broader community.
Above: Sydney man James Brechney (right) and his chalked rainbow that started a movement.
The NSW Police may have monopolised Mardi Gras’ headlines for much of 2013 so far, but the organisation gained plenty of attention in May for other reasons, namely when its members voted to re-instated the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ back into the titles of the parade and festival.
It brought to a close nearly two years of public meetings, community consultations, surveys and questionnaires, which found a large majority of members and the public disagreed with the 2011 announcement by the board to drop said words and have it simply referred to as ‘Sydney Mardi Gras’.
Some questioned the reasoning behind the decision while others suggested it was motivated by commercial considerations. Older members of the community were particularly outraged, claiming the name change dishonoured the struggles of LGBTI seniors, who helped pave the way for much of the freedoms young LGBTI people enjoy today. The transgender community, too, were equally annoyed. Far from making Mardi Gras more inclusive, the change further ostracised the gender diverse community.
But despite the strong negative reaction from members and certain sections of the community, it seems the hullaballoo skimmed right over the rest of public with Mardi Gras posting a $45,000 profit in July.
Above: The Mardi Gras logo was launched in 2011, at the same time the words 'gay' and 'lesbian' were dropped. Members voted in May to reinstate the words back into the titles of the parade and festival.
LGBTI advocates achieved a victory when hard fought amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, which included federal protections on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, were approved in June.
The laws, which came into effect on August 1, provided protection for LGBTI Australians from being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status and provided recourse for complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The amendment to the Act marked the first time intersex people had been included in anti-discrimination law anywhere in the world.
At the time the amendments were approved, then President of OII Australia, Gina Wilson commented: “We welcome the full, authentic inclusion of ‘intersex status’, a biological attribute, in anti-discrimination law for the first time. We have not previously been recognised in law, and our inclusion is of huge practical benefit.”
Federal election: the winners and losers
After the unceremonious ejection of Prime Minister Julia Gillard on June 26 by rival Kevin Rudd, insiders hoped the newly instated PM would take the Labor Party to a third term in office.
However despite a last minute surge of voter approval when Rudd came out in favour of gay marriage, there was not enough support to tip the scale. Rudd failed to bring it home for Labor at the September 7 election and the Coalition government delivered a resounding trouncing at the polls, making Tony Abbott the next Prime Minister of Australia.
Following the defeat, Rudd resigned from his role as Leader of the ALP, leaving Bill Shorten and former deputy PM, Anthony Albanese to fight for the tops slot. In a surprisingly bloodless battle, Shorten emerged as victor and promptly named LGBTI advocate and ally, Tanya Plibersek as his deputy opposition leader.
Across town, the newly elected PM made short order of announcing his cabinet, which included a dearth of women – Julie Bishop as Deputy PM marked the only woman to make the frontbench. The announcement prompted many rights advocates to signal Abbott’s reign as a return to the 1950s, and ponder what was to come.
Above: Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott during a televised debate in the lead up to the federal election. Photo: Getty Images
HIV transmission on the rise
Figures releases at the Australasian HIV & AIDS Conference in Darwin in October revealed Australia had recorded its largest single year increase in new diagnoses of HIV.
The conference was told one of the key drivers of HIV transmission, unprotected anal intercourse with casual partners, was on the increase.
STIs were also on the increase with a rise in Gonorrhoea that was close to the highest recorded level in Australian history.
The figures have prompted calls from HIV advocates and health experts for a more concerted and coordinated effort using a multi-pronged national approach, as exemplified by the NSW-led Ending HIV campaign, which calls on the community to test more, treat early and stay safe.
Above: ACON's Ending HIV campaign, initially launched in NSW, is now being rolled out nationally.
Sydney Independent MP Alex Greenwich shined the light on various matters important to the LGBTI community in 2013, including achieving marriage equality in NSW, how LGBTI people will be affected by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the importance of repairing the relationship between the gay community and NSW Police. But it was his dogged determination to close a loophole in the law that put LGBTI students in NSW private schools at risk that generated plenty of attention.
In September, Greenwich introduced a private member’s bill that sought to remove exemptions that allow private schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexuality.
While he garnered the support of Labor for the bill, the Coalition voted against it. But all was not lost, with Education Minister Adrian Piccoli announcing in November the Board of Studies will investigate schools to be found in breach.
Though it wasn’t an outright win, it was nonetheless a victory of sorts from one of the LGBTI community’s most strident defenders in NSW Parliament.
Above: Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich moved to close a loophole that made private schools exempt from anti-discrimination legislation.
Same-sex couples all over the nation celebrated when the ACT government voted laws that allowed same-sex marriage on October 22. On December 7, 27 couples took advantage of the law’s enactment to exchange their vows.
The couples’ joy was short-lived however, when on December 12, the High Court struck down the ACT law, forcing the annulment of all the marriages. According to the High Court, state and territory laws cannot run concurrently with the Commonwealth. Only the Federal Parliament had the power to legislate on gay marriage. The campaign for marriage equality, at least to many conservative pundits, suffered a major blow.
But despite the setback, marriage equality advocates have vowed to push on. A cross party working group was established to pursue marriage equality federally, and on the same day the ACT Bill was overturned, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young introduced a marriage equality bill to Federal Parliament.
Above: Deputy director of Australian Marriage Equality Ivan Hinton (right) married his partner Chris Teoh in Canberra in December. Their marriage lasted less than a week after the High Court threw out the ACT's same-sex marriage laws. Photo: Same Love Photography
- TOPICS: ACON, ACT marriage equality, Alex Greenwich, Anti-gay violence, DIY Rainbow, Gay marriage, High Court, HIV, HIV_AIDS, LGBTI Students, Marriage equality, NSW Police, Parramatta City Council, Rainbow Crossing, Rapid HIV Testing, Scott Johnson, Sydney Mardi Gras
- CATEGORIES: News + Politics, National, New South Wales