AUSTRALIAN Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome has been named Tasmania’s Australia of the Year for his contribution to LGBTI human rights and equality.

At a ceremony in Hobart last night, Croome said his honour was a “sure sign of how far” Tasmania and Australia have come since he and over 100 other people were arrested for setting up a gay rights stall in a public market 26 years ago.

However, he highlighted the ongoing discrimination that still exists, including against trans* and intersex people, and against same-sex couples refused the right to marry.

“Wherever I go around Australia I meet people who want the growing social acceptance of LGBTI folk to be reflected in marriage laws that celebrate love rather than entrench outdated attitudes,” he said.

“I know that in this award these many Australians will find great encouragement.”

AME acting director Ivan Hinton-Teoh welcomed Croome’s award.

“This is a wonderful recognition of the ongoing life work of a great Australian,” Hinton-Teoh said.

“This award highlights the overwhelming support that exists in Australia for fairness and inclusion. Today Tasmanians have honoured Rodney for his advocacy for equality.

“We look forward to the federal government also recognising the importance of equality for all Australians by moving forward on marriage equality.”

Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich, who was the AME national director before his election to NSW Parliament, also congratulated Croome.

“Rodney has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of LGBTI people in Tasmania and across Australia, and this is a fitting acknowledgement of his amazing work,” he said.

“I have worked closely with Rodney for over five years and am always inspired by his tenacity to do whatever it takes to get the best outcome for the LGBTI community.”

At last night’s ceremony, Croome praised the other finalists and their understanding and respect for others who do not share their views.

“We live in an age when dogmatism is mistaken for principle, shouting for persuasion and empathy for weakness,” he said.

“I hope that, at its best, my work, and the work of the other Tasmanian finalists here tonight, shows there is a better way forward.”

Croome is now in the running for Australian of the Year, together with seven other state and territory representatives. The winner will be announced on January 25.

Rodney Croome’s address from last night can be read here:

“Thank you for this humbling honour.

While my name is on the citation, it is not only for me.

It is for my ever loving mother, Bev, who is here tonight, and my late father, Peter, for my friend Richard who is also here, and all those friends who have helped me through the tough times, for all the passionate people I work with, and for all those Australians who aspire to a more inclusive nation.

Most of all it is for my partner, Raf, who can’t be here tonight, but whose immense love and generosity has enabled me to continue to do what I do.

26 years ago last week, on October 22nd 1988, my journey as an advocate for the LGBTI community began, after the Hobart City Council banned a Salamanca Market stall calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and along with many others I was arrested in defence of that stall.

It was a frightening step for a middle class boy from Devonport, but I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do.

A quarter century later Tasmania and the nation have seen immense strides towards LGBTI equality.

Tasmania has gone from having the worst laws and attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities to having some of the best.

Across Australia, hatred and bigotry against LGBTI people have gone from being tolerated to having no legitimate place.

Few things speak more eloquently of this transformation than the fact that a man once arrested for defending LGBTI human rights is now honoured for it.

But there remains much to do.

Transgender and intersex people lack many of the basic rights other Australians take for granted. Men once arrested for being gay our burdened by criminal records that should be erased and apologised for.

Most of all, wherever I go around Australia I meet people who want the growing social acceptance of LGBTI folk to be reflected in marriage laws that celebrate love rather than entrench outdated attitudes.

I know that in this award these many Australians will find great encouragement.

To end, a word about and to my fellow finalists.

As Tasmanians we are close. I am familiar with the work of many of you and would have happily seen any one of you standing here instead of me.

I say this not out of false humility but because of what I think we have in common.

We are serious and passionate about the values we hold.

But because our community’s weave is tight we also do our best to understand, respect and work with those who do not always share these values.

This is hard and I know I often fail to show the patience I should. But in the quarter century I have advocated for LGBTI equality I have found the only way across the torrents of human conflict is to build a bridge.

We live in an age when dogmatism is mistaken for principle, shouting for persuasion and empathy for weakness.

I hope that, at its best, my work, and the work of the other Tasmanian finalists here tonight, shows there is a better way forward.

Thank you again for such a great honour.”

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