Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Tasmanians will remember Jim Bacon as the best premier they ever had.
His government enacted some of the best anti-discrimination and relationship laws in the world. Tasmania Together, the state blueprint he initiated, commits the island’s government and people to reducing levels of discrimination against LGBT people -“ a goal no other society on earth has ever tackled. His ministers have overseen the development of national-best sexual and gender diversity policies in education, health and the public sector. As Tourism minister he gave the go-ahead for the best gay and lesbian community marketing strategy in the country.
But Bacon’s contribution to sexual equality went far deeper than this. Not long after being elected he became the first Australian government leader to open an LGBT community event, a photo exhibition in Salamanca Place. When I thanked him for doing so, his response was that it was nothing remarkable -“ after all he was premier for all Tasmanians.
Through small gestures like this Bacon did something very important -“ he started bringing LGBT Tasmanians in from the cold and including us as a valued part of the Tasmanian family. There aren’t words to describe how important this has been for a community which has suffered brutal legal and social persecution for decades, whose young have been driven out and whose old have lived in fear. In the battle against hatred, fear and exile, in the historic struggle to reconcile being Tasmanian and being gay, Bacon played an invaluable role.
Of course there was disappointment and frustration at the shortcomings of the Bacon government, particularly its decision not to allow same-sex couples full adoption rights. But as legitimate and genuine as this anger was and remains, it also highlights how high expectations have risen and how much Tasmania has changed, thanks in part to Bacon himself.
Jim Bacon understood that there was something important at stake when it came to LGBT Tasmanians, something beyond the victories and defeats of parliamentary politics. He grasped that by transforming its attitudes to sexual minorities, Tasmania was transforming itself.
For example, he was keenly aware of the link between economic growth and social inclusion. One of the markers of a prosperous, creative community is its acceptance of sexual diversity. It’s no coincidence that Bacon successfully sought to foster both.
Bacon was also sensitive to the tyranny of Tasmania’s homophobic history. Shame about a convict past stained with unnatural vice, disdain for the sexual chaos that prevailed in colonial times, anxiety about being second-rate and worthless -“ if Tasmania could learn to stop projecting these traumas onto its LGBT citizens, maybe it would finally face and overcome them.
It was no coincidence that, in an attempt to illustrate his vision for the New Tasmania, Bacon’s most recent speech to the National Press Club highlighted the fact that Tasmanians are now immensely more tolerant of their homosexual compatriots than they were once believed to be.
Our national leaders have a lot to learn from Jim Bacon about the importance of fostering a society inclusive of LGBT people.
He showed that it is possible to be a champion of LGBT rights and not only remain immensely popular but actually grow in stature.
He showed that the benefits which come from uplifting disadvantaged minorities flow far beyond those minorities.
Most of all he showed that it is possible for political leaders to still make a difference, to improve everyone’s quality of life, and to bring out the best in an entire society.