25th Anniversary of NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby

(7.30pm, Wednesday 23 October 2013, Strangers Function Room, NSW Parliament House)

Hello, everyone. Tonight, I honour the many people who've fought the hard fight for gay and lesbian rights. They include the men and women of CAMP NSW, Australia's first gay rights organisation, and the first Gay Rights Lobby which was active in the early 1980s. You began the struggle at a time when men who engaged in consensual homosexual sex risked imprisonment, when openly gay people faced discrimination and harassment.

The Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby took up the work of the Gay Rights Lobby. The initial impetus was the election of a Liberal-National Party government in March 1988, which was also when I was elected as the Independent Member for Bligh.

 

Many in the GLBT community feared that under the new government, hard-won progress on rights would be wound back. A National Party shadow minister had already called for the banning of Mardi Gras, and the new government had promised to re-introduce the Summary Offences Act. But there was also some optimism, since the new Premier and several of his Ministers had voted for Neville Wran's homosexual law reform bill of 1984.

Changes were also occurring within the community. Many lesbians and gay men had realised how much more they could achieve by working together and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby was born.

Within weeks, it faced its first challenge - the reintroduction of the Summary Offences Bill. I remember Co-Convenor Gary Cox and a Lobby committee member, Antony Green, coming to see me about their concerns. I decided to make my first parliamentary speech on the Bill.

I told parliament that gay people had in the past been hounded by a homophobic police force under similar legislation, and I stressed the need to ensure that the powers the bill gave police were not abused.

The Lobby also produced the Streetwatch Report, the state's first serious study into violence against gay men and lesbians. It outlined the extent of the problem, and gave practical recommendations for dealing with it.

Fortunately, Police Minister Ted Pickering accepted that the issue required action and I helped convince him to launch the Streetwatch Report and implement its recommendations. One result was the Anti-Violence Project still operating at ACON.

Other valuable reports followed - on workplace discrimination, education, health and relationship recognition - many prepared by volunteers.

These reports provided the evidence I needed to argue the case for reform with my Parliamentary colleagues. I hope that research remains an important part of you work, as Alex and other MPs will make use of it.

Research has also underpinned the most important aspect of your work - lobbying and campaigning. The results of that include extending Anti-Discrimination law to cover people with HIV and transgender, legal recognition of same sex de facto relationships and an equal age of consent.

I was proud to introduce the anti-discrimination homosexual vilification bill into Parliament and it was carried in the Legislative Assembly with the support of the Opposition and my Independent colleagues, John Hatton and Peter MacDonald. A large number of Liberal MPs who privately supported the Bill abstained. Liz Kirkby introduced the Bill into the Legislative Council where it was carried by one vote, thanks to Ted Pickering, who crossed the floor.

My Bill to allow same sex couples to adopt is my greatest source of personal satisfaction. At my first attempt in 2000, no other MP supported me. Ten Years later, MPs of all parties got the bill passed. The community's work in putting a human face on the issue was vital.

After the Bill became law, I met a number of families and was deeply moved by the happy, lively children who were so clearly benefiting from a loving and stable home life.

Achieving these reformed entail compromises - including agreeing to exempt churches and religious organisations. I'm pleased the Lobby continues to campaign against the exemptions, and that Alex is pushing ahead with a Bill to remove exemptions allowing private schools to discriminate against gay and lesbian students.

The final law reform will bring marriage equality. But all these legal reforms now must form the basis for taking on social discrimination and homophobia, so that the same acceptance enjoyed in inner city communities becomes the norm in outer suburbs and regional areas.

There is also the situation of the first generations of gay men and lesbians to be out and proud. They're now of an age when many need aged care services, and these services must be provided without discrimination.

Finally, there are many parts of the world where gay men and lesbians have no rights and freedoms. The Australian Government must be a strong voice internationally for those rights. The Lobby will, I'm sure, play its part in advocating for Australia to be that strong voice.