FROM THE ANNUAL REPORT AS PRESENTED AT THE AGM, 22 Nov 2001:
2OO1 - Corners turned, paths ahead made clear
The past year has been one of major achievement for the Lobby-relationship recognition for lesbian and gay couples in Victoria! In 2001, new and deeper relationships were established with the Police, the State Government, the Liberal Party and other gay and lesbian community organisations. We held our biggest and best Mass Debate--a highlight of the 2001 Midsumma Carnival.
It has been a very exciting and privileged time to be a Co-convenor-and also a major learning experience for us both.
Operation of committee of management
As always, the Committee has done an enormous amount of work. Co-vonvenors could not have done our job without constant committee support and work in the background.
Peter Di Sciasio, in his outgoing Secretary's report, sets out the Committee changes this year. On behalf of the outgoing Committee, we would like to say a very big thank you to Peter for all his work in the Lobby since it was established in 1997.
Peter did an extraordinary amount, managing the Secretary role, the membership database and producing the newsletter. This year, we have split this superhuman workload (which has grown along with the Lobby membership and activity) between a number of different Committee members.
In a new development, the Lobby had an intern for the first time. Andrew Richardson, a third year Arts student at Melbourne University, approached us and requested that he work with us for a semester.
We were delighted to take him on. He began work on our Relationships Survey Report (see below), came to Committee meetings as an observer and helped out with management of emails under Miranda's supervision. Andrew has continued his involvement with the Lobby on the Mass Debate Working Group.
Researching our Community
An important part of the Lobby's mission is to conduct and disseminate research that will enable us to effectively understand community needs and represent gay and lesbian interests.
This year, the Enough is Enough Report launched in 2000 proved invaluable in all the Lobby's activities. It provided comprehensive and valuable statistics in talking to the media about discrimination, violence and the needs of the community.
It also provided excellent background data to use in the relationships reform.
The media, the Parliament and policy makers rely on it and quote it. The report was referred to many times in the debate of the Relationships Bill, providing solid evidence supporting the case for reform. Enough is Enough has been used as a resource in states around Australia and it will continue to be an essential resource for many years to come.
In 2001, the Lobby has completed Everyday Experiments, which is a report of a VGLRL survey into same sex relationships in Victoria. The survey, conducted in 2000, has produced some very interesting data and it begins to fill in an information gap about our relationships. Findings include how long our relationships last, whether they include children, how many of us live with our partners and whether we share assets and finances.
The report will be essential in community education about the relationships reform and in future law reform efforts considering children in our relationships and legal relationship recognition.
Losing our religion
A recommendation of Enough is Enough was that religious leaders should reflect deeply on the implications of their often very public condemnation of lesbian and gay lives. Religious bodies continue to be exempt from anti-discrimination laws under the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 and the full extent of this exemption is still not tested. This year the Lobby was involved in three cases where Christian values of compassion and inclusiveness would seem to have been ignored by those professing to be "Christian".
Catholic Archbishop George Pell (who has now moved north to the Mardi Gras city!) has publicly opposed lesbian and gay rights for many years, even refusing the sacrament of communion to heterosexuals whose wearing of a rainbow sash expresses solidarity with gay and lesbian Catholics.
This year. he wrote to members of Parliament members urging them to oppose the relationships law reform on the grounds that it was wrong for the family and for society. Included in the letter was some highly questionable economic modeling professing to show that gay and lesbian couples contributed nothing to the economic welfare of society and so, unlike heterosexual couples, they should receive no formal recognition or encouragement from the state.
Like the claim that condoms fail in 50 per cent of Instances made by the highly partisan St Vincent's Centre for Bioethics in the early 19908, this is further evidence that the truth won't stand in the way of conservative Catholics attempted intervention in public policy and law making. The expediency and double standards of Pell8 moral position is made quickly apparent when one considers his resolute silence on Tampa and the treatment of refugees in Australia.
In the past 12 months, Victorian lesbians and gays have experienced even more direct hostility from church leaders. In Swan Hill In North-eastern Victoria, the local Presbyterian minister spearheaded a homophobic campaign against a proposed lesbian and gay festival.
His campaign involved persistent and vile harassment and threats of violence against festival organiser Scott Wheatland and his aging parents, and a boycott of Scott8 caterlng business. Both Scott and his parents were ultimately forced to leave the town, despite the (eventual) public support of the Swan Hill mayor and a successful running of a (smaller scale) festival without incident. In what looked like a positive move, the Lobby was approached by a well-meaning Catholic Chaplain seeking our involvement in a working group under the auspices of the Victorian Council of Churches. (This includes Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Orthodox Churches and Ouakers, among others). The Group would have looked at the impact of public teaching and statements by the Churches on homophobia and anti-gay violence in the community.
Unfortunately, this positive initiative appears to have folded as a result of opposition from church representatives within the Council of Churches.
There is still a long way to go to create acceptance and inclusion within the churches. While many lesbians and gay men react to the rejection shown by the churches by in turn rejecting organised religion completely, it remains an objective of the lobby to work for and support equality and justice in this field of human activity just as in others.
Overcoming social and geographic isolation
While not a Lobby initiative, Co-convenor Chris Gill gave a brief presentation in October to the inaugural meeting of the ALSO Rural Outreach Network Committee. Another quiet but vital community development initiative from ALSO, this committee comprises representatives of various G&L social, support and activist groups from around rural and regional Victoria and will (we hope) play a key role in supporting those who, like Scott Wheatland, are working to improve visibility and pride for lesbians and gays in the countryside.
This year also saw an outstanding initiative from VicHealth as part of their mental health promotion strategy. The project involves trial activities and support services throughout regional Victoria and aims to combat the socjal and geographic Victorian Gay and Lesbian isolation experienced by gay and lesbian youth (a major contributor to youth suicide). When this program came under attack from conservative religious elements, the Lobby wrote letters of support for the program and circulated them to government, VicHealth and its partner organisations as well.
Victoria still has discriminatory laws regarding access by lesbians and gay men to assisted reproductive technology and adoption. The Lobby has continued to work well with the Fertility Access Rights Group, which is seeking access by lesbians and single women to donor insemination and other assisted reproductive technology in Victoria.
The high profile McBain case found the Victorian laws invalid as in breach of the federal Sex Discrimination Act. The Infertility Treatment Authority has continued to take a discriminatory approach to access, although it is currently in the process of reviewing some of its policies. The Authority is apparently planning to issue new guidelines on "psychological infertility" which could provide access to IVF for prospective lesbian parents. At the federal level, with the Howard Liberal government back in power, there is still a possibility that the Sex Discrimination Act could be amended to undo the effect of the McBain case.
The Bracks government has promised to refer these matters to the Law Reform Commission for review. However, it now appears that this won't happen until some time next year and a report will not be produced until after the next Victorian election. Lobbying must continue on these and other issues associated with parenting in lesbian and gay families.
Victoria Police: tug boats and oil tankers
The relationship between our community and the Victoria Police has traditionally been strained and patchy. This year we made some small but significant steps forward in turning this relationship around.
The Lobby is represented on a working group chaired by the Equal Opportunity Commission, which includes representatives of Police command, the Commission and newly convened Gay and Lesbian Antiviolence Project JAVP). This working group has met a few times over the past 12 months year--on a timetable largely determined by the Police.
Christine Nixon's appointment as Chief Commissioner marks what we hope will be an important turning point in our community4 relationship with the Victoria Police, and between the Force and its gay and lesbian members.
Victoria's top cop told the annual general meeting of the Gay And Lesbian Police Employees Network (GALPEN) that she would permit police to march in uniform in the Midsumma Pride march, allow the use of the police crest on GALPEN signage and consider issuing a formal apology on behalf of the police to past employees who have experienced discrimination and harassment-all long-standing points of grievance with GALPEN.
Of more practical long-term benefit for lesbian and gay Victorians, the Police crime database LEAP started this year (after a long period of lobbying) to record hate crimes in a new category on their incident reporting form. This means that we will now be able to gather data on the incidence of harassment, violence or vandalism (at least as it is reported to the police) that the victim believes has been motivated by hatred due to their ethnicity, religion, gender identity or sexuality.
Belinda Edwards' appointment in the trial position of Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer (GLLO) has been evaluated and is now accepted by the command of the force as a great success. We have a commitment from Command to roll out GLLOs across the State, and we are looking forward (with some anticipation!) to negotiating and helping the Force create accountability and reporting structures for the new officers which will enhance their ability to meet the needs of lesbians and gay men for whom trust with the Police remains something to be earned (carefully) rather than instantly given away.
There remain occasional instances of homophobic behaviour within the Police force, and as a large institution with an entrenched culture of homophobia, change will require patience and restraint. It's an oil tanker, and the Lobby is at best a tugboat nudging it in toward dock. Significant progress has been made this year, but there remains a fair way to go. We look forward to working with the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Chief Commissioner and others to cooperate in building a form of community policing that builds trust and achieves security and confidence - on both sides.
Relations with the State Liberal Party
The media reported Police Commissioner Christine Nixon4 comments on police marching in Pride and sought and got a reaction from State Liberal Leader Dennis Napthine. "Not appropriate", he said. "Nothing against lesbians and gays, but they shouldn't flaunt it."
The Lobby sought and got a meeting with Mr Napthine to discuss his comments, as well as an earlier comment opposing a small grant made to educate lesbians about cancer. He explained that he thought it would be just as inappropriate for police to march in uniform at a recreational fishermen's convention and that breast cancer education funding should be allocated "by need, not sexuality".
Napthine's inability to distinguish between an innate characteristic (sexual orientation) and a chosen recreation (fishing) and his failure to recognise that sexuality might raise special health education needs (disclosure, confidentiality, incidence and prevalence) is evidence that we still have some way to go with education of key decision makers.
Such education is now being developed and undertaken in cooperation with more progressive Liberals Andrea Coote, Peter Katsambanis and openly gay member for Silvan, Andrew Olexander.
We plan to include, as part of this education process, distribution to all MPS and their advisors a list of gay and lesbian "buzz words" (eg "sexual preference" rather than "sexual orientation"; "flaunting it" etc) and presentations and forums with members of the community (eg Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gay men-PFLAG) to share their real life lived experience of homophobia and solutions to it.
The Lobby was invited to address the State Conference of the Victorian Young Liberals on the topic of gay and lesbian rights broadly and the relationships bill then before Parliament. This was a helpful opportunity to demystify the issues and show a human face for our community with individuals who will no doubt later move into positions of influence.
They showed themselves to be intelligent supporters and critics, and after a discussion that included "So what is a human right anyway?" the Conference moved and carried (overwhelmingly but not quite unanimously) a motion supporting the relationships reform.
Also of note is the formation of an ongoing reference group, convened by Liberal Upper House member Andrea Coote. The group has been meeting every month or so to provide a forum for representatives of various gay and lesbian community groups to exchange information and views with senior Liberals including Robert Dean (Shadow Attorney General) and Dennis Napthine (Leader). Other members of the group include Peter Katsambanis and Leonie Burke. It is hoped that discussions on this group will avoid the "misunderstandings" that nearly derailed the relationships law reform process.
Relationships with the State Labor government have been honest, productive and mutually respectful-even when differences occurred. It has been because support for relationships law reform is an explicit part of Labor policy that the Lobby has not had to spend the same amount of time and energy persuading the party to support reform. This has led some to think that we only talked with the Liberal Party. Not so.
Labor's principled, patient and practical commitment to relationships law reform must go on the record as a genuinely great human rights achievement. The Lobby commends Steve Bracks, his predecessor John Brumby, the Attorney General Rob Hulls, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice Richard Wynne and others such as John Thwaites and one-time candidate for Prahran Joseph O'Reilly who worked tirelessly over a long period to see legal recognition for our relationships become reality.
While we have focused on state issues this year, we have had a small role in raising federal issues with our constituency and with Liberal and Labor candidates for the federal elections.
Prime Minister John Howard repeated twice that while he had nothing against lesbians and gay men, he would be "disappointed" if his son "hypothetically"turned out to be gay. He also said that while he opposed discrimination, he didn't think gay and lesbian couples should be treated the same as married couples.
The Lobby collaborated with our interstate colleagues in the lead up to the federal elecfon, comparing notes, and issuing statements to our local media. We wrote letters to all Victorian Liberal and Labor candidates for federal seats.
We made a submission to the inquiry into proposed amendments to the FederalSex Discrimination Act, which the government is seeking to change to remove access to assisted reproductive technology by single women. With the re-election of the conservative Howard government we will need to continue this struggle.
Equal Opportunity Reference Group re-convenes
Members may recall that it was the Sexual Orientation Reference Group at EOCV that commissioned the "Same sex relationships and the law" report. This report played a pivotal role in persuading government that there was an urgent need for reform of the law as it affected gay and lesbian relationships.
After the election of the State Labor government and the introduction and passage of relationships law reform, the Reference Group has reconvened after a hiatus and is currently considering what aspects of law reform are needed next.
The Lobby is represented on this committee, as are most other major GLBTi groups.
The Reference Group is currently advising the Commission on issues such as community legal education for lesbians and gay men in Victoria and what might be done about those remaining Victorian laws discriminate against people based on sexuality or gender identity.
Shock! Deviants make the news!
Our relationships with media have had some high points and some predictable low points this year.
Gay and lesbian parenting provided some "lifestyle" feature writers with material, but it was the split in the State Liberal Party caused by the Relationships Bill that generated the most coverage. Tabloid newspaper and TV coverage, in fact, showed that it was much more interested in the conflict within the party than in the substance of the Bill. When the Bill passed the Parliament there was no news coverage at all, despite our media release describing it as "historic" and "the most advanced such reform in Australia".
Darrin Farrant and Steve Dow of The Age consistently provided exceptions to the generally poor level of coverage for our issues. Both deserve congratulations for thoughtful and thorough treatment of the issues.
Satellite media went under-proof that that there's nothing about being gay that protects you from the Christopher Skases of the world. Within a fortnight there were two new local community newspapers: MCV and BnewS. The Lobby has briefed both regularly on news and issues, as our work relies heavily on our ability to communicate with our constituency. Given the generally appalling level of coverage that the mainstream media gives to gay and lesbian issues, community media is a vital component in achieving equality and justice.
The Lobby was one of many GLBTl community organisations that made a submission supporting the broadcasting license application of Joy Melbourne FM.
We look forward to this addition to what has proved to be a lively, resilient and vital community media network
What we didn't do
It is important to acknowledge that we haven't achieved everything we set out to do this year. Perhaps most importantly (and with the possible exception of lobbying and letter writing for the relationships bill) we did not fully mobilise and involve our membership in our activities.
It is our hope that in 2002 we will be able to create a working membership database that enables us to telephone members and invite them to contribute their time and skills to our work as the need arises-to broaden and deepen the work currently mostly done by the Committee.
We have also not got a truly national lobbying presence happening. In part is this is due to our overwhelming focus (and need to focus) on reform of State legislation-still the forum that most affects our lives.
However, if we are to make real headway on immigration or superannuation reform, we will need to develop more concrete and regular working arrangements with our interstate colleagues.
Time and money (eg for travel] will be even more an issue for this work than it has been for our state based work. We hope that by this time in 2002 we wiil be able to report on the formation of a truly national lobby to defend, and perhaps even extend our human rights in Howard's Canberra.
One could argue that a human right never exercised does not exist. A priority for us in 2002 will be to educate our community and its service providers about the new laws.
To this end, we have been successful in obtaining a grant of $50,000 from the Department of Justice. This will be put toward a carefully planned education campaign in collaboration with the Equal Opportunity Commission, Victoria Legal Aid and key gay and lesbian community organisations.
The campaign will be based around the book Over the Rainbow-a guide to the law for lesbians and gay men in Victoria previously funded through the Victoria Law Foundation (for publication early in 2002) and will include a website, forums and some publicity materials.
There remain other significant areas of society and law that demand our attention. As citizens committed to defending and extending our human rights, we will collaborate in partnerships with others who are similarly pursuing their human rights. As the creation of the refugee "crisis" shows, Australia in 2002 is likely to have a growing number of such groups.
Areas of particular concern to lesbians and gay men include:
Education of gay and lesbian communities and their service providers about the new relationships law
Community anti-homophobia education, especially in schools
A system for certification or declaration of our relationships
Reform of various government, non-government and corporate regulations to recognise our relationships
Access to assisted reproductive technology and adoption
Genuine equality under immigration law
Equality under superannuation law
Abolition of the "homosexual provocation" defence
The unfair exemption of religious organisations from key anti-discrimination legislation
Censorship and freedom of cultural expression
Adequate resourcing by government and business for our specific legal, cultural, health and welfare needs including through the creation of centres of excellence and through training and development for existing services.
We get a gong
The Lobby was honoured to receive the President4 Award at this year's Annual General Meeting of the Victorian AIDS Council / Gay Men's Health Centre. The award recognised our role in achieving reform of relationships law in Victoria.
Chris Gill and Miranda Stewart
COMMITTEE FROM 2000 AGM:
Grant Davies (to Feb 2001)
Jo Tomlins (to March 2001)
Peter Di Sciascio
Female Coconvenor: Miranda Stewart (from Dec 2000)
Male Coconvenor: Chris Gill
Secretary: Peter Di Sciascio (to April 2001)
Secretary: Ian Gould (from April 2001)
Treasurer: David Gray
COMMITTEE MEMBERS CO-OPTED DURING THE 00-01 YEAR
Fran 0'Toole (Sept - Nov 2000), Miranda Stewart (Nov 2000) and lan Gould, Nina Field
and Maria Bamford (all joined in March 2001)
WORKING GROUPS DURING THE 00-01 YEAR
OUTCOMES OF 2001 AGM:
COMMITTEE FROM 2001 AGM:
OFFICER POSITIONS FROM 2001 AGM:
Female Coconvenor: Miranda Stewart
Male Coconvenor: Chris Gill
Secretary: Ian Gould
Treasurer: David Gray
Find a full copy of the