Anti-Discrimination Board president Chris Puplick this week issued an impassioned warning against complacency in the struggle for gay and lesbian human rights.
In an impromptu speech at the close of a tribute dinner to Justice Michael Kirby on Tuesday night, Puplick threw down the gauntlet to politicians and community leaders to act on their sentiments.
Puplick’s challenge echoed the views of Australian Medical Association president Dr Kerryn Phelps in a speech she delivered earlier in the evening.
What lessons are we to learn [from Justice Kirby’s ordeal]? The first is that the battle has not been fought and won -“ not by a long shot, Phelps said to the crowd of approximately 220 Gay and Lesbian Business Association (GLBA) members gathered at the Millennium Hotel for the dinner.
Phelps later said, If there is one young person who thinks life is not worth living because they think they are gay, as long as there is a single gay-related hate crime -¦ and while a politician thinks they can target a High Court judge because he is an out gay man, there is still a very long way to go.
Asserting that words without actions are the assassins of ideals, Puplick challenged fellow guest speakers.
Addressing Liberal member for Wentworth Peter King, Puplick urged him to act on his previous fine record of commitment to gay and lesbian rights by pressuring his party and the federal government on the issues of insurance, superannuation and anti-discrimination legislation.
He also urged the president of the NSW Legislative Council, Dr Meredith Burgmann, to ensure that the state government moves on introducing equal age of consent. An earlier comment made by Burgmann that the Labor party expels its homophobes was picked up by Puplick, who asked when the community would see some action from Labor in ousting Country Labor convenor Tony Kelly who has been accused of using homophobic wedge politics in his rural electorate.
Perhaps most controversially, Puplick challenged gay and lesbian community leaders to act with a little more sophistication when applying political pressure to parties, including the federal government and Prime Minister John Howard.
Speaking to Sydney Star Observer yesterday, Puplick said community leaders should not make a permanent habit of publicly abusing people who have the power to make decisions on changing the laws.
For example, if you were the prime minister and an organisation came along and said, you are racist and you are stupid and you are a homophobe -“ why would that encourage you to change things?
Politics is a profession that has its rules and its ways of working and the most successful lobbyists understand where the entry points are, where the levers of power are and exploit them in a way which gives the lobby group what it desires and also gives the political party who deliver it for them the right to take part of the credit.
Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Alex Sosnov also delivered a speech at the SGLBA dinner. In response to Puplick’s views, Sosnov told the Star yesterday, It’s a fair point -“ but I think community organisations like ours are doing the best we can in terms of the resources available to us and the kind of resistance we’re up against.
I can’t tell you how many times our requests for meetings with some politicians have been ignored. The reality is, we write letters and request meetings and sometimes we get them and often we don’t.
While Justice Kirby was unable to attend the dinner in person, SGLBA president Vicki Brackenreg read to guests a statement by the judge in which he conveyed his thanks and said he was especially pleased that the full spectrum of political opinion would be represented at the dinner.
Certainly we should try to learn how the institutions failed and the usual conventions were breached in my case. I am still too close to the event and the pain for me and my partner Johan and my family is still too recent -“ one day I will give my viewpoint but not now, Kirby said.
During Phelps’s dinner speech, the AMA president said individuals within the community must take a greater role in the fight for equality.
Each one of us must do what we can to take personal responsibility for the destiny of gay men and lesbians within Australia and the quality of life that we will be handing on to our future generations.
On a more controversial note, Phelps asserted to the assembly that the gay community should do more to strongly express abhorrence and objection to pedophilia.
We are not expressing that strongly and stridently in the community -¦ I believe we can do more to speak publicly about that issue. I didn’t say that to be popular, I said it to make you think.
Independent member for Bligh Clover Moore told the SGLBA dinner crowd that the Kirby ordeal highlighted an urgent need for further legal reform in NSW.
The discriminatory age of consent continues to encourage irrational fears and undue focus on gay male pedophilia, Moore said. The discriminatory age of consent must be dealt with in NSW now, not in the next parliament. I welcome the tentative progress being made by the premier and the leader of the opposition.
Democrats Senator Brian Greig’s speech offered a sobering insight into the need for Australia’s gay and lesbian community to remain resolute in maintaining their visibility.
The reason Heffernan attacked Kirby is because he is outspoken and the reason that homophobes attack the outspoken is to ensure that those who are silent remain silent. Don’t be silent, Greig said.