Prominent gay politicians and activists have urged community members and their organisations to take a more active role in the growing anti-war movement.
Greens leader Senator Bob Brown is at the helm of Australian community opposition to the war on Iraq, and will be keynote speaker at a midday rally on Sunday 16 February in Hyde Park North.
Speaking to Sydney Star Observer this week, Brown stressed the importance of people power in the movement.
We have a choice between three things, he said. We can get angry, we can get depressed or we can get active. It’s logical to convert that energy into action because Australia usually rates above its size in terms of international influence, and it’s been put in the wrong place by John Howard, and people have got to rebel against that.
We’re a country that values the international rule of law, and John Howard and George W. Bush are pulling the rug from under that, right in our faces, Brown said.
But long-time human rights campaigner Rodney Croome said not enough was being done within gay and lesbian communities to oppose the war.
There is a very strong anti-war movement among gay and lesbian organisations in the US which we’re not seeing here, and the question is why, he told the Star. Some American organisations like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have directly joined anti-war coalitions, while another group, San Francisco Pride, has surveyed its members to determine a response to the threat of war.
Some people believe our organisations should restrict their advocacy to gay and lesbian and HIV issues, but where do we draw the line between what’s a queer issue and what’s not? Croome said. And if conservative groups like the RSL can come out in opposition to the war, why can’t ACON and the [Gay and Lesbian] Rights Lobby and New Mardi Gras?
Diversity of opinion within our community needs to be respected, but these organisations would be representing the overwhelming majority of us if they came out in opposition to US belligerence, Croome said.
It is uncertain at this stage which lesbian and gay community groups will be part of the 16 February anti-war protest, given that is also the date for the Mardi Gras fair day.
We have only recently become aware of the clash, New Mardi Gras co-chair Stevie Clayton told the Star. Obviously we think that the anti-war movement is important. It is well and truly time for us to come together in a common cause.
A New Mardi Gras board meeting next week would discuss the anti-war protest/fair day clash and look at appropriate scheduling for the day, Clayton said.
Australian Democrats senator Brian Greig said the Demo-crats were encouraging Austra-lians to show their anti-war stance by joining rallies and wearing purple ribbons.
Hound your local MP, Greig urged. Let them know, particularly if they are Liberals, how passionately you feel about this. Ultimately it’s only concern from coalition backbenchers which will filter this message through to Howard and his cabinet. They have arrogantly disregarded and underestimated community opposition to this war.
Greig highlighted another issue: that the sending of troops perpetuated inequities against lesbian and gay members of the Australian Defence Forces.
If a gay or lesbian defence force member is killed or injured on active duty, their surviving partner in Australia receives no bereavement counselling, no death benefit payment and no service pension, Greig said. With gay and lesbian personnel among the Australian troops being sent to the Gulf, it is high time the government treated all ADF members and their families with the same compassion and respect and stopped this cruel discrimination.
Greig told the Star he was personally acquainted with a number of lesbians and gay men who were part of the 500-strong Australian force sent to Iraq.