ANNA Bligh can still recall with clarity the day she moved a simple amendment, in her then-portforlio as Queensland Family Minister in 1998, to allow those in same-sex relationships to be protected by the same domestic violence laws as their heterosexual counterparts.

“I was a very junior minister and moving an amendment that I thought was very simple and in fact quite uncontroversial,” she said.

“But I was very, very wrong. The National Party was particularly outraged. It was also at a time when Queensland Parliament was home to 11 members of One Nation Party, so between them there was what I describe as a totally hysterical response. The body of the debate was appalling, it was senseless and it became very, very heated.

“It culminated with one member of the National Party literally screaming across the chamber that I was the work of Satan and that God was watching me and that I was going straight to the burning fires of hell.

The former Queensland Premier paused to chuckle.

“That was pretty hard to be on the receiving of, but it meant the issue coverage got a lot of coverage in the media,” she said.

Since then, in fact since she was first elected as a Labor MP in 1995, Bligh said she has seen a “whole raft” of reforms in LGBTI rights — many of which she played an instrumental role during her time in Queensland politics, especially when she was Premier from 2007 to 2012.

And this weekend, Bligh will be honoured with the Pride Spirit Award at Sunshine Coast Pride Festival.

Apart from her support of marriage equality, she was also honoured because of the Civil Partnerships Act that she introduced to Queensland, which allowed same-sex couples to have civil unions, as well as the removal of discriminatory laws to provide same-sex couples access to surrogacy and parental recognition.

“I feel both honoured and humbled by the award,” she told the Star Observer.

“This is an issue that’s been dear to my heart… when I think back to the motivations to go into a political life, it was really that I can’t tolerate injustice and I saw so much injustice in the community in Queensland in the late 70s and 80s under (then-Premier Joh) Bjelke-Petersen and I believed we could be a much better place.

“I think the continuation of discrimination of people in same-sex relationships in this country is unjust, plain and simple.

“Certainly, when it comes to the laws allowing civil unions, I know one lesbian couple who are actually very good friends with my mother, who had a child around that time and were able to register as co-parents and I know how much that meant to them… to be able to secure that recognition and protection.”

Joining Bligh in receiving a similar award during Sunshine Coast Pride is PFLAG Australia icon Shelly Argent.

“Shelly Argent is one of the people who I admired terrifically during my time in Queensland politics,” Bligh reflected.

“She’s just an ordinary mum who did the bravest of things in a very, very conservative environment.”

Bligh also reflected on how the year that she was elected was around the time Queensland had just decriminalised homosexuality.

“People were still getting arrested just because of their sexuality. And that’s not ancient history, that’s the 1980s. And from that time on you can really see a whole raft of law reforms.”

The Star Observer asked if she faced a constant battle to bring about law reforms after that unexpectedly controversial amendment to the domestic violence legislation.

“Every single one of them got a lot easier. Every single one of them had a more rational debate,” she responded.

And what of that Nationals MP who called her the work of Satan?

“To his credit, that particular National Party member (Vaughan Johnson), when he went back to his country seat, his wife said to him ‘what on Earth do you think you’re doing? Why would you say those sorts of things?’,” Bligh said.

“She named a couple of members of the community that he hadn’t realised were gay, and he was forced to rethink everything. He sent me a handwritten note that apologised for what he said. He went and met the gay members of his community to gain a better understanding, and he became a supporter of every other legal reform that we did.

“I think he deserves credit for it, but I haven’t entirely forgiven for what he said,” she said, laughing.

Since Bligh retired from politics in 2012, she has battled cancer. With that behind her, she now lives in Sydney and is the chief executive of YWCA.

(Image: Anna Bligh receives her award from Sunshine Coast Pride Festival’s Mark Morein. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna)

 

 

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