Tim Wilson at the Outgames' Human Rights Forum
Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson took to the podium at the Outgames Human Rights Forum yesterday to discuss his vision for the Human Rights Commission’s future policies on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex, or SOGII, issues.
As his first major speech on SOGII issues since commencing at the Australian Human Rights Commission, Wilson outlined what he hoped to achieve in the SOGII space. Wilson said he was encouraged to read the Outgames Human Rights Forum would have a focus on personal stories as a way to highlight humanity and strategise change.
“I commend the bravery of you all in gathering here to share your personal stories and experiences as a strategy to affect change,” he said.
He applauded the dedicated Outgames volunteers and suggested volunteerism was vital when it came to the pursuit of human rights.
“An essential component of free societies is a broad, engaged and responsible private sector including businesses, community groups and individuals that voluntarily collaborate. Its value extends so much further than the mere sum of its contributing parts. Voluntarism binds together the fabric of our society. It fills the gaping hole between the micro capacity and interests of the average citizen and the macro role of government…. It is also where the hard and effective work to advance human rights battles are fought and won.”
Wilson also spoke of the need and importance for sustainable societal changes as well as legislative changes for the LGBTI communities and the need to develop empathy and understanding within the greater community for LGBTI rights and issues.
“In my role as Australian Human Rights Commissioner, I want to strengthen this non-legislative defence of human rights in Australia,” said Wilson.
He cited the use of inclusive and acceptable terminology to empower individuals as a wayto invoke change and said the Commission supports the right of people to identify their sexual orientation, sex and gender as they choose. He also expressed his desire as a gay man to use his position to focus on LGBTI rights.
“As Australia’s first openly gay Human Rights Commissioner, I welcome the opportunity to utilise my public position to advocate for the realisation of human rights in this context,” said Wilson.
Wilson acknowledged that even with the extent of Australian law reforms, there was still work to be done.
“People of diverse sexual orientations, sex and gender identities in Australia experience discrimination in a number of areas of public life and infringements of their human rights including high rates of violence, harassment and bullying.”
Wilson told the forum he takes a classical liberal perspective on human rights – in that human rights are the protection of the individual from the abuse of government power, that people own their own lives and that they should pursue their opportunities and enterprise, while ensuring they do not do harm to others.
“For SOGGI human rights this separation holds specific implications,” Wilson said. “In Australia, thanks to the sustained efforts of an impressively effective and dedicated lobby of LGBTI communities and people, we have benefited from substantial and sustained law reform in this area.”
He cited victories in the decriminalisation of homosexuality and same-sex relationship recognition, and described marriage equality as inevitable, but suggested there was some way to go to obtain universal human rights for transgender and intersex people.
Wilson suggested it is through understanding of the experiences of discrimination, vilification and harassment that we can really appreciate the importance of equal treatment under law.
“The power of personal stories provides a human face to the experience of discrimination. This in turn leads to real and sustainable change in the realisation of SOGGI human rights.”
According to Wilson cultural change is what is needed to eliminate the final barriers to human rights for LGBTI Australians. He suggested sports played an important role in promoting cultural change and called attention to the work of the Bingham Cup – an international gay rugby tournament to be held in Sydney in August – whose organisers developed an anti-homophobia framework which has since been adopted by the five major Australian sporting codes.
“This is a genuine watershed moment for LGBTI Australians period, and equally in the history of Australian sporting history,” said Wilson. Sport is a national pastime. It binds us as a nation. It is one of the last frontiers to advance inclusiveness."
While Wilson said the work done by the Bingham Cup organisers was impressive, he said there was still much to be done.
“The Human Rights Commission, working with the Sports Commission, is now working to broaden the scope of the inclusiveness framework to go beyond LGB and include T and I.
“We then want to expand it further and seek the support of all professional sporting codes having built and learned from the hard work already done. We are then keen to continue to drive change from professional codes and see the spirit adopted by non-professional codes, peak bodies all the way down to community and school sports.”
Wilson believes it is changes such as this, which will impact on all LGBTI Australians.
“This work will make a tangible difference to the lives of LGBTI Australians. That difference will not just mean that LGBTI Australians can feel more confident participating in sports, it will challenge another remaining environment where there is still a, at least perceived, prevalence of prejudice and provide another contact point for, particularly, young Australians questioning their sexuality or gender identity to know that it is ok to be who they are. But it also makes sports more inclusive, will encourages people to participate and help them to gain the confidence that participation and achievement sports can provide."