VICTORIAN MPs have launched the state’s first Parliamentary Friendship Group for LGBTI Victorians, with politicians from all major parties and the cross-bench attending the first meeting.

Like the federal equivalent established by Coalition MP Warren Entsch in 2011 and a similar group in NSW Parliament, the Victorian group will aim to build cross-party understanding and parliamentary support around LGBTI issues.

The first out woman in Victorian Parliament, upper house Labor MP Harriet Shing, was elected co-chair alongside upper house Coalition MP and LGBTI ally Margaret Fitzherbert, while the Sex Party’s Fiona Patten was elected secretary at Thursday’s meeting.

Shing told the Star Observer the group would play a vital role in educating and informing MPs about LGBTI issues, and in helping build relationships within the community.

“As the first out female politician in Victoria’s parliament it’s particularly important to me personally to see that there’s a real groundswell of support not only in the community, but with elected representatives,” she said.

“To see that it was such a respectful, positive and engaged meeting was a really positive sign, and I’m looking forward to doing my bit and working with my fellow co-chair Margaret Fitzherbert and secretary Fiona Patten.”

Fitzherbert echoed her comments, and said she was glad to be involved.

“The LGBTI friends is an informal group where MPs of all parties can work through some of the issues,” she told the Star Observer.

“I’m very pleased to be taking a leadership role in a group that has some constructive work to do.”

Co-convenor Anna Brown and secretary Corey Irlam from the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) briefed the group on a range of issues affecting LGBTI Victorians at the first meeting.

“The government has an ambitious equality agenda and this group will be an important opportunity to put a human face on these LGBTI issues,” Irlam said.

“It will also allow parliamentarians to discuss issues amongst themselves, and across the political divide, which is particularly important given the current upper house.”

No party currently holds a majority in the state’s upper house, with the balance of power lying in the hands of a diverse group of small parties including the Sex Party and the Shooters and Fishers.

Issues raised by the VGLRL at the group’s first meeting included homophobic bullying in schools, access to medical treatment for trans* people, and ending unnecessary surgeries on intersex infants.

“Our hope is that this level of interest can be sustained, and over the next four years provide a forum for MPs to hear about issues often not talked about in Parliament,” Brown said.

Transgender Victoria was involved alongside the VGLRL in the inaugural presentation to the group, and executive director Sally Goldner said it would be important not only to LGBTI issues broadly, but to trans* issues specifically.

“Whilst there are common issue such as religious exemptions (to anti-discrimination law) that affect all of LGBTI, there are then trans-specific issues such as birth certificates,” she told the Star Observer.

“It’s important that there is a group like this that can receive understanding of the full gamut of issues, and also keep it all above party politics.”

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