A new gay and lesbian lobby group was unveiled at last weekend’s state ALP conference.

Rainbow Labor is a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender special interest group for ALP members. It aims both to encourage queer participation in the ALP and to ensure that gay and lesbian issues are taken seriously by the party.

Co-convenor Ryan Heath told the Star that they had received an overwhelmingly positive response.

We had people from all around the state and from all different factions coming up to us at the conference saying they were very excited, he said.

The group kicked off with a mail-out to all Labor Party branches two weeks ago and has already built up a substantial mailing list of interested members including a strong interest from regional areas. Importantly they have also managed to gain cross-factional support.

We’ve met with quite a few senior figures in the party to explain to them that we exist and what our aims are and we’ve had a very positive response from both men and women and figures from the left and right of the party, Heath said.

Paul O’Grady, one of the NSW ALP’s most prominent gay members, cautiously welcomed the formation of the group but also warned that it ought not become an isolationist cell.

A former member of the NSW upper house, O’Grady made headlines in 1990 when he became the first politician to come out as gay and then again in 1996 when he went public about being HIV-positive.

I believe politics is about activism and in my view integration. I don’t see any point in having everybody in one spot. We have to go out and we have to take the struggle up at the coal face -¦ I say that we have to go out there and just agitate and we have to force people to deal with us and make people take notice of us.

For O’Grady the issues that affect gay and lesbian people are broader than simple issues of homophobic discrimination.

You have to go out there and you have to argue about the fact that there are not enough textbooks in schools. What happens if there is a faggot or a dyke who has a great interest in science but can’t get a physics textbook and misses that connection? That might be the connection that they need to step forward.

For Kirsty Campbell, Rainbow Labor’s other co-convenor, it’s not about an either-or philosophy. She believes that Rainbow Labor can inspire people to become more involved with grassroots politics.

People are not going to branch meetings because they are boring, she said forthrightly. They are not facing the issues that they want to talk about, so if you create a vehicle so that people can talk about the issues that are important to them, then it will re-invigorate the party.

Both Campbell and Heath are realistic enough to realise this is not going to happen overnight. But both are confident that change is possible.

We’d be foolish to think we could change the ALP and turn it into a paradise for the queer community overnight. That’s not going to happen but we can have a real effect over time, Heath said.

Rainbow Labor can be contacted at kirsty.campbell@bigpond.com.

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