The Anti-Discrimination Board is no longer operating as an effective lobby group for gay, lesbian and transgender rights, activists said this week.
Sydney’s Gender Centre has boycotted the ADB’s community consultation meetings for failing to consult with transgender people.
And former ADB president Chris Puplick told the Star the board has ceased to be a major contributor to the processes of progressive law reform in NSW.
The Gender Centre boycott reflects discontent with the Anti-Discrimination Board since the board’s budget was cut by 23 percent last year, prompting strikes and protests.
The cuts required president Stepan Kerkyasharian to work on a part-time basis and saw the disappearance of some of the board’s anti-homophobia campaigns.
I just think it is profoundly disappointing, Puplick said.
The minimum changes to the Act that have been recommended by the Law Reform Commission and which are at least 10 years overdue have been lost in the wilderness.
Puplick stepped down as president in May 2003, following allegations he gave preferential treatment to a friend in a gay discrimination case. Puplick denied he had acted improperly.
Kerkyasharian told Sydney Star Observer he had invited Gender Centre coordinator Elizabeth Riley and consultation committee member Norrie May-Welby to a meeting next month to discuss issues surrounding the boycott.
He said he was shocked his conduct had been called into question.
Activists have criticised Kerkyasharian’s lack of commitment to amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act recommended by the NSW Law Reform Commission. The amendments would have included same-sex couples within definitions of marital status.
I took over a board which had just been severely decimated in terms of its budget. Something like I think 20 percent of its staff had been made redundant, he said.
One of the cuts was the abolition of the legal branch, which was to carry out those investigations [into Anti-Discrimination Act reforms] and provide advice.
Kerkyasharian said he supported all of the changes recommended by the NSW Law Reform Commission Report and that allegations against him were untrue and mudslinging.
I could have stopped the consultations with the gay and lesbian and the transgender communities. If I wanted to stop I had every reason to. The resources are not there. I made a very deliberate decision to continue with those consultations, he said.
It would be quite tragic if my first introduction to the gay and lesbian community through the Star would be one of a person who is not prepared to talk.
Kerkyasharian pointed out that a number of recommendations from the NSW Law Reform Commission were put to parliament last week. None of the recommendations dealt directly with gay, lesbian or transgender rights.
He did not see further independent lobbying about implementing the LRC changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act as part of his role. When people put something to the board to be referred to the attorney-general, then it’s done, he said.
Members of Sydney gay, lesbian and transgender communities have questioned Kerkyasharian’s commitment. One attendee of the gay and lesbian consultation meetings who did not wish to be named claimed the meetings had become a farce.
Riley has boycotted the meetings since Kerkyasharian was unable to satisfactorily explain the granting of an exemption in August to allow three Kings Cross refuges to exclude preoperative transgender women.
The move was made without consulting representatives of Sydney’s transgender community. The Gender Centre’s boycott has since been supported by representatives of the Inner City Legal Centre and Sex And Gender Education Australia (SAGE).
Gay activist Sister Mary-Mary-Quite Contrary, who attends the ADB gay and lesbian consultation meetings, told the Star unlike the previous president Chris Puplick, Kerkyasharian did not have any significant experience working with gay and transgender issues.
I think he’s still learning things, especially in relation to religious exemptions in vilification and such and ethnic community vilification against gay people, he said.