MARRIAGE EQUALITY TAKES CENTRE STAGE
WHEN he became Prime Minister after challenging Tony Abbott in a leadership spill, Australians expected Malcolm Turnbull to grant the Liberal Party a free vote on marriage equality to reflect his personal views.
However, he stood firm on the party’s policy and the issue will now be decided by public vote, most likely after the next Federal Election.
[showads ad=MREC] Despite that disappointment, it’s been an interesting year in the marriage equality debate.
Deputy Liberal leader and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also revealed her support of same-sex marriage, which commentators believe is significant given her influence in Federal Parliament.
More MPs changed their position on marriage equality this year than ever before, and only six votes would be needed to legislate marriage equality should a free vote be allowed.
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MARRIAGE EQUALITY FEVER IN US & IRELAND
AUSTRALIA remains the only western English-speaking country in the world to not have marriage equality following landmark decisions this year in Ireland and the US.
Ireland’s successful referendum in May saw the Catholic-dominant country amend the definition of marriage in its constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Less than two months later on June 26, the US Supreme Court declared that the right for same-sex couples to marry was guaranteed in the US Constitution.
Momentum around the issue surged in Australia after both of these landmark reforms, partly because of Ireland’s ancestral links and of course the political and cultural influence of the US.
Following the US Supreme Court decision in particular, millions of people around the world changed their Facebook profile photos into visible statements of LGBTI pride and support by using a rainbow filter.
Mexico also ushered marriage equality, with three successful cases in its Supreme Court this year that enshrined the rights of same-sex couples to marry. However, it has not yet been written into law and same-sex couples still need to seek approval from a judge before marrying.
Northern Ireland also does not allow marriage equality, but it is a jurisdiction of the UK, of which Wales, Scotland and England have all legislated it.
LGBTI UNI GUIDE LAUNCHED
THE first Australian LGBTI University Guide revealed which universities were at the top of the game in LGBTI inclusion.
Produced by the Star Observer, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and Out for Australia, the guide looked at the existence of LGBTI student and staff groups and the breadth of support and health advice for LGBTI students.
It revealed only one in 10 universities’ equal opportunity policies fully reflect legally binding anti-discrimination legislation when it comes to protecting LGBTI students.
The guide will be updated and expanded in 2016.
PrEP DISCUSSION SURGES
THE fight continues to bring PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to Australia.
US pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences applied to the Therapeutical Goods Administration in March to have the PrEP drug Truvada approved as a HIV preventation method in Australia, a process that could take up to 12 months before it can be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to make it affordable and easily accessible for those who need it.
In the lead-up to World AIDS Day, PrEP was mentioned in Federal Parliament with South Australian Greens Senator Robert Simms introducing a motion urging the government to lift regulatory barriers. Meanwhile, lower house Labor MPs Tim Watts and Teresa Gambaro made impassioned speeches to expedite PrEP’s approval.
In NSW, the World AIDS Day announcement that the expansion of a current PrEP trial to 3700 people by the 2016 Mardi Gras grabbed headlines nationwide. The trial expansion is expected to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 50 per cent or more in its first two years.
In mid-December in Victoria, an accord on PrEP was signed by a number of individuals and groups working in the local HIV sector as a way to show solidarity and support in their aligned goals. The accord outlined a number of shared principles around the HIV prevention tool in areas such as education, stigma, and approval in Australia.
The only countries in the world that so far have PrEP approved are the US and France. The latter had it approved in November this year.
DAESH GAY RIGHTS ABUSE SHOCKS WORLD
THE safety of LGBTI people in Daesh-controlled parts of Syria and Iraq was the main focus on the UN Security Council’s first ever meeting focusing on LGBTI issues.
It is estimated more than 30 men accused of sodomy had been killed this year by Daesh, with the terrorist group often posting graphic images on social media showing the accused being thrown off the rooftops of buildings while blindfolded.
Attendees at the meeting, including gay Syrian refugee Subhi Nahas and US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, called on UN agencies working in the region to implement LGBT-specific programs.
MARDI GRAS POSTS FINANCIAL LOSS
THE Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras posted a financial loss of $336,057 for a 15-month financial year ending in June.
Following on from the loss, Mardi Gras axed its flagship Harbour Party event from the 2016 festival. It has been replaced with a series of more low-key events that will take place across the weekend Harbour Party was meant to take place.
Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival also suffered a financial loss in 2015, receiving only 10c of donations per person at its free Carnival event, despite a record number of attendance.
CHARLIE SHEEN REVEALS HIV STATUS
IN November, Hollywood A-lister Charlie Sheen revealed he has been living with HIV for about four years.
His public admission was an attempt to stop people allegedly trying to extort money from him to not reveal his status.
Sheen’s revelation put HIV back into the international media spotlight and revealed there were still many myths and misconceptions about the virus, even among the gay community.
ROUGH YEAR FOR SYDNEY GAY BARS
2015 was rough for iconic LGBTI bars in Sydney.
Erskenville’s Imperial Hotel rose to fame after featuring in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert but was sold to new owners earlier this year.
However, it was forced to shut down just a few months later and was sold again to new owners in August. The iconic pub was set to reopen in mid-December, with the website saying it will be “unlocking Priscilla’s box” — suggesting it will retain its LGBTI identity.
On the city’s famous “gay strip” of Oxford St, the Exchange Hotel closed after being sold while the Flinders Hotel which featured in Mardi Gras’ Laneway party closed after NSW’s lockout laws caused a downturn in business.
TRANS WOMAN ASSAULT CONTROVERSY
A TRANS woman and Sydney punk rocker was assaulted by two men at a Newtown venue in what was believed to be a transphobia-fueled attack.
Stephanie McCarthy’s assault in June caught the media’s attention after she told her story on the Humans of Newtown Facebook page (see image below).
McCarthy’s assailants pleaded guilty to violent assault with one copping a 150 hour community service and 18 month good behaviour bond sentence. The second assailant is due to be sentenced in February.
Five months on from the assault McCarthy still suffers from physical and emotional pain.
SYDNEY’S RAINBOW FLAG STAYS
AFTER months of community debate, the City of Sydney council voted to permanently keep a rainbow flag erected in Taylor Square in the LGBTI-centric suburb of Darlinghurst.
The flag was installed to replace the removal of the Oxford St rainbow crossing is similar to a flag in San Francisco’s Castro district and is popular with locals and tourists alike.
CIVIL UNIONS RETURN TO QLD
THREE years after state-sanctioned ceremonies had been banned and unions for same-sex couples were stripped back by the former Liberal-National Party government, civil partnerships finally returned to Queensland at the end of 2015.
The restoration was an election promise of the Palaszczuk Labor government, and almost half the LNP MPs defied their leader Lawrence Springborg by crossing the floor to support the legislation during the parliamentary debate on the issue.
CAITLYN JENNER’S IMPACT
Following months of tabloid speculation about her gender identity, the Olympian-turned-reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner publicly came out as a trans woman in an interview with American journalist Diane Sawyer.
Formerly Bruce, Caitlyn’s transition and story became the most publicised story of a trans person ever, shining a spotlight on the marginalised community and increasing their visibility.
Jenner’s striking Vanity Fair cover became one of the magazine’s most iconic, and while her story attracted transphobic detractors — such as Germaine Greer — she was met with overwhelming support.
CANBERRA WELCOMES MORE GAY MPS
IN 2015 the Australian Senate welcomed its latest openly gay member when the Greens replaced outgoing South Australian Senator Penny Wright with 31-year-old Robert Simms.
Simms, who had previously served as a councillor in Adelaide City Council and was an adviser to Senators Scott Ludlam and Sarah Hanson-Young, became the third openly LGBTI Senator currently in Federal Parliament. The others are West Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith and South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives welcomed its first ever openly gay MP after the Liberal’s Trent Zimmerman won the by-election for the safe seat of North Sydney vacated by the former treasurer, Joe Hockey.
Over in NSW Parliament, a record six openly gay MPs sworn in after this year’s state election, three of which are from the Liberal Party. Returning were Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich, Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith, upper house Liberal MP Don Harwin, and upper house Labor MP Penny Sharpe. Newly-elected were upper house Liberal MP Shayne Mallard and upper house Animal Justice Party MP Mark Pearson.
GAYBY BABY FURORE
WHAT set out to be a heartfelt look into the lives of children of rainbow families became one of the most controversial films of the year following tabloid uproar over Gayby Baby.
The NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli banned the documentary from being shown in schools as an apparent response to misleading controversy courtesy of the Daily Telegraph.
Victorian, Queensland and South Australian premiers all came on board to publicly defend the film and welcomed it being shown throughout their states. NSW Premier Mike Baird said there “should be some parameters around [tolerance]” in responding to Piccoli’s ban, but several weeks later he expressed remorse from the reactions he received.
MALTA’S LANDMARK INTERSEX REFORMS
MALTA became the first country in the world to outlaw involuntary or coerced surgical intervention on intersex minors following cross party support in April.
Organisation Intersex International Australia used the occasion to renew its calls for governments to adopt the recommendations of a 2013 Australian Senate committee report, which would see similar protections to Malta enacted locally.
The UN Human Rights Council also addressed intersex rights for the first time after High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein highlighted the lack of awareness around intersex issues in a speech in Geneva.
EUROVISION’S 60TH YEAR
THE world’s most-watched TV show — and one that seemingly attracts a large LGBTI fan base — Eurovision returned for its 60th anniversary in Vienna.
After being brought to Austria thanks to the contest’s iconic 2014 winner, Conchita Wurst, Eurovision took a markedly serious tone this year with an abundance of ballads and few camp or kitsch acts.
In one of the most contentious voting results in recent years, Sweden eventually pulled away from Russia — which attracted criticism over its treatment of LGBTI people — to claim victory for Måns Zelmerlöw.
CATE MCGREGOR A FINALIST FOR TOP HONOUR
THE world’s highest-ranked trans military officer, Cate McGregor, became the first trans person to shortlisted as an Australian of the Year finalist after she was named Queensland Australian of the Year in November.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk presented McGregor with her award at a ceremony in Brisbane, after the National Australia Day Council decided to commend her for her work as a diversity champion and national leader in trans issues.
The Australian of the Year will be announced on Australia Day.
THE CONTEMPT OF KIM DAVIS
FOLLOWING the groundbreaking US Supreme Court decision in June that granted equal marriage rights for Americans, opposition was expected but few foresaw the rise (and fall) of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis.
The controversial figure — who was shortlisted for Time magazine’s Person of the Year — was jailed for contempt following her refusal to grant marriage licences to same-sex couples in Rowan County.
She was soon released from jail on the proviso that she does not impede on other county clerks granting marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples.
Davis became the poster child for the American Christian far-right who defended her right to reject marriage licenses despite it being illegal to do so.
POLITICAL & UNIFORMED PRIDE
IT was a year of firsts for Brisbane and Melbourne as both cities’ LGBTI pride celebrations saw their highest level of political representation and attendance ever.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made a surprise appearance at Brisbane Pride Festival’s Fair Day in September, while her deputy Jackie Trad led in the preceding march alongside Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk.
Months earlier in January, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews attended and spoke at Melbourne’s Midsumma Carnival. He then marched in the city’s Pride March a few weeks later.
2015 was also the first time Queensland, Tasmanian, South and Western Australian police services participated in uniform in their respective capital cities’ pride marches.
In Sydney, the most senior enlisted member of the three armed forces in the Australian Defence Force marched alongside uniformed LGBTI service personnel in the Mardi Gras Parade for the first time.
VICTORIA REPEALS SECTION 19A
VICTORIAN Parliament repealed Section 19A of the Victorian Crimes Act in May, a law that criminalised the transmission of HIV.
The law was the only one of its kind in Australia and had threatened those who intentionally transmitted HIV with 25 years in prison, higher than the 20-year maximum for manslaughter.
HIV activist Paul Kidd said the decision sent a great message to the HIV community: “When people are criminalised it perpetuates stigma.”
The push to repeal Section 19A became prominent during the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.
BIG YEAR FOR BLACK RAINBOW
AN online social group catered to and run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who identify as LGBTI, sistergirl or brotherboy grabbed headlines after its successful crowdfunding campaign to establish the country’s first mental health service specifically for that community.
Black Rainbow’s fundraiser, which surpassed its $25,000 “tipping point” and $26,550 in February, meant the group could take the first formal steps required to elevate it from a social media network and into the Black Rainbow Living Well Foundation.
Black Rainbow founder and leader Dameyon Bonson told the Star Observer that the success of the crowdfunding campaign also meant Indigenous LGBTI Australians now had a space to have their voices heard and ask for direct representation.
Several months later in October, Bonson and Black Rainbow’s advocacy work for the Indigenous LGBTI community was recognised when it was shortlisted at the prestigious National Indigenous Human Rights Awards.
VICTORIA’S NEW LGBTI TASKFORCE
THE Victorian Government announced a new LGBTI Taskforce with the aim of protecting the rights of sexually and gender diverse people across the state.
Equality Minister Martin Foley and trans advocate Brenda Appleton were chosen to co-chair the taskforce, which consists of two working groups: one focusing on health services and the other on law reform.
Earlier this year, the government also appointed Rowena Allen as Victoria’s first Gender and Sexuality Commissioner.
POSTERS TELL MEN TO “F**K RAW ON PrEP”
POSTERS with the slogan “you can f*** raw, PrEP works” appeared around Melbourne in September, sparking a short-lived controversial campaign by an anonymous group.
Spokespersons for the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and Living Positive Victoria both affirmed the importance of making PrEP available in Australia, but questioned the appropriateness of the message.
More recently in the lead up to World AIDS Day, new posters emerged in both Melbourne and Sydney calling on VAC and ACON to take further action to get PrEP approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
QANTAS CEO ON GLOBAL 100 LIST
OPENLY gay Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was named the world’s second most powerful LGBT corporate executive in 2015.
Joyce was one of the few Australian names on the list and was only topped by Lloyd’s chief executive Inga Beale, the first-ever woman to have taken the top honour.
Joyce publicly came out to the media in 2012, although his colleagues, family, and friends already knew. He has led Qantas since 2008.
ACT ENACTS EXPUNGEMENT OF GAY SEX CONVICTIONS
THE ACT Legislative Assembly voted to allow men who were convicted of historic consensual gay sex crimes before decriminalisation to permanently clear the conviction from their criminal record.
Under the Spent Convictions (Historical Homosexual Convictions Extinguishment) Amendment Bill 2015, unanimously passed in November, men will be able to apply to have their convictions extinguished.
While advocates agree this was a necessary step, some are still calling for a formal apology.
ADOPTION EQUALITY IN VICTORIA
A BILL allowing same-sex couples to jointly adopt was passed in Victorian Parliament’s upper house in November, although the right of religious service providers to discriminate based on their beliefs was also voted in.
The bill was passed with 31 upper house MPs voting in favour of same-sex adoption and eight voting against it.
Despite the bill being passed, it still needed to go back to the lower house thanks to the amendment allowing for religious exemptions.
The bill, including the right for religious organisations to discriminate, eventually became law after it passed the lower house on December 9.
Victoria now joins NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT in allowing same-sex couples to jointly adopt.
CHANGING CULTURE OF SPORT
THE AFL’s St Kilda Saints will play the Sydney Swans in a Pride Match during the 2016 premiership season.
The landmark announcement made in October follows the support the NRL, AFL and Football Federation had thrown behind marriage equality in a full page advertisement published in The Australian in July.
NRL star Isaac Luke was also fined $10,000 by league bosses for posting a homophobic slur on Instagram in April.
Prior to that, Wallabies star David Pocock was praised after video footage of him calling out a fellow rugby player’s homophobic slur on-field went viral.
In April 2014, the AFL, NRL, Australian Rugby Union, Football Federation Australia and Cricket Australia all signed up to the Anti-Homophobia and Inclusion Framework.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA MARKS 40YRS OF DECRIMINALISATION
TO celebrate 40 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in South Australia, Adelaide City Council installed a rainbow walk in Light Square.
The walk, alongside lighting up the city’s town hall in rainbow colours, were initiatives designed to help Adelaide’s LGBTI community feel more accepted and were done around the time of the city’s Feast Festival — the annual LGBTI cultural event.
South Australia was the first state to decriminalise homosexuality in 1975, although the ACT was the first Australian jurisdiction to do so in 1973 — but it was not ratified by the Prime Minister until 1976.
HOLDING THE MAN CAPTURES COMMUNITY AGAIN
THE first ever film adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s memoir Holding The Man, which had its world premiere in Sydney in June, went on to be met with critical acclaim after it was released in cinemas nationwide in August.
The film — directed by Neil Armfield, written by Tommy Murphy (who also wrote the globally successful stage adaptation of the book) and starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony LaPaglia and Guy Pearce — also re-introduced the classic Australian novel to whole new generation of readers.
Holding The Man was also nominated for six AACTA Awards, including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.
STONEWALL MOVIE CONTROVERSY
THE release of a fictional film based on New York City’s 1969 Stonewall Riots caused uproar among the LGBTI community due to its allegedly inaccurate historic representation.
Widely considered the birth of LGBTI pride and one of the most important events in LGBTI history, the Stonewall Riots were led by people of colour, drag queens, “butch” lesbians and trans people. However, the movie had a cisgender white male in the lead and director Roland Emmerich was accused of “whitewashing” history.
Calls to boycott the film via online petitions circulated even before its general release and social media was rife with debate.
When the movie was finally released in September, it was met with mostly negative reviews and only took about $110,000 in the US box office.
The Star Observer thanks you for reading and supporting us throughout 2015
RELATED: The LGBTI stories that shaped 2014
**This article is a slightly edited/amended version of one that was first published in the January edition of the Star Observer, which is available from December 10, 2015. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.
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