Openly gay senator Brian Greig retired from politics last week feeling confident he had lifted the profile of gay and lesbian issues in federal parliament.
Greig, who had served as a Democrats senator since 1999, felt his greatest achievement was the very real attitudinal change he helped bring about by forcing people to confront issues they would otherwise never think about.
He told Sydney Star Observer he was sad to be leaving and regretted not being returned to the Senate at the last federal election.
But he said he was looking forward to spending time with his partner Keith after being away from home for much of the past six years.
On his final day in parliament, politicians from all sides praised Greig for his tireless pursuit of gay and lesbian law reform.
Liberal senator Brett Mason said he felt privileged to have witnessed Greig’s first day in the chamber.
I will never forget his first speech when he quoted Armistead Maupin, the author of Tales Of The City, Mason said.
Maupin wrote: -˜I wish someone older than me, and wiser than me, had taken me aside and said: You’re all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You are not sick or crazy or evil. Most of all though, you can love and be loved without hating yourself for it.’
Of all the speeches in this place about the dignity of the individual and indeed the challenges of diversity, nothing measures up to that -“ a beautiful, simple and eloquent statement of the fact that we all matter and we can all contribute. Brian, I thank you for that.
ALP senator Ruth Webber praised his quiet dignity and diligence and all the good work that he does on behalf of a section of the community that I must admit I am concerned may be overlooked in this place with his departure.
Democrats leader Lyn Allison disagreed that gay and lesbian issues would now be forgotten, telling Sydney Star Observer that Brian’s legacy is a far greater level of awareness.
I think his reminder that discrimination is everywhere is something that we’ve taken on board in a very conscious way, she said.
He’s held our own party and the rest of the parliament to account on these issues. He’s always been there saying, -˜Is there an element of discrimination in this legislation?’ whether it was tax or superannuation or anything, really.
Greig told the Star there was nothing preventing other senators from championing the gay and lesbian cause. However, he did concede it took an out person to really press the issues.
But there are a number of lesbian and gay people who are still in the Senate, and it is up to them if they choose to pick up where I left off, he said.
Two out senators remain -“ the ALP’s Penny Wong and Greens leader Bob Brown.
Greig admitted he was worried about the coalition having a majority in the Senate after 1 July, predicting the ban on overseas adoption by same-sex couples would be revisited.
He was also concerned there would be a push for a national curriculum in high schools, which he believed could see the end of educational material on LGBT issues.
His most negative experience in parliament was during last year’s same-sex marriage debate.
It was very painful for me to see the major parties collude to guillotine the debate so we couldn’t have a proper, thorough, mature debate on these issues.
That still haunts me because I feel that it heralded a new conservatism within our parliament in approaching these issues and our community needs to be alert to it.
He said any federal recognition of same-sex relationships will come about only under a Labor government, and that to achieve federal de facto status or civil unions the community should push for marriage.
As for the future of gay and lesbian law reform, Greig believes there has to be a national gay and lesbian lobbying presence permanently based in Canberra to deal with members of parliament one on one.
Greig plans to go on holiday for a while before looking for work in the area of community development, perhaps as a government liaison.
Hopefully I’ll find something I can be passionate about, he said. But there’s no hurry and we’ll see what eventuates.