The inaugural function of the Parliamentary Friends of LGBTIs was launched at the Parliament’s Mural Hall last night, with a large group of MPs and Senators turning out to show their support alongside representatives of LGBTI community organisations from across the country.

The launch was organised by Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch with the support of the Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Labor’s Graham Perrett.

“The purpose of this Friendship group, like all other friendship groups, is about hosting a function two or three times a year to let parliamentarians meet with particular constituencies … and be able to socially interact with their representatives and raise issues and hopefully through getting to know each other, provide an opportunity to give members and senators a much better understanding of the difficulties and some of the issues that are faced in your own communities,” Entsch told the room.

In introducing the function’s keynote speaker, Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham, Perrett told the room that Australia Post had issued a stamp to commemorate his gold medal win at the Beijing Olympics.

“But unfortunately in this house there are politicians who refuse to use those stamps still after that achievement. And why? Because Matt was one of only 11 openly gay athletes at the Beijing Olympics,” Perrett said.

Hanson-Young said she had been bowled over by attendance at the event which had been about “cutting across the party lines to talk about what really matters to people in their private life and how they are impacted on by policy, and how we as parliamentarians need to talk about this stuff with each other so we can improve things”.

Politicians had to duck in and out of the function to take part in parliamentary proceedings, however notables among those sighted by the Star Observer included Labor’s Peter Garrett, Anthony Albanese and senators Penny Wong, Louise Pratt and Doug Cameron.

From the Coalition ranks were the former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, WA Liberal Barry Haase and in a surprise for many, Senator Bill Heffernan, who had earlier in the evening surprised a group of people who had been preparing for the event with an impromptu visit.

Other politicians who were unable to attend in person sent staffers to show their support – including Labor’s Tanya Plibersek and Senator Gavin Marshall.

LGBTI groups present included ACON, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, New Mardi Gras, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association, Australian Coalition for Equality,  A Gender Agenda, Transgender Victoria, the National LGBT Health Alliance and OII Australia.

The function also heard from the Group Managing Director of Telstra, Enterprise and Government, Paul Geason, who spoke about the benefits of supporting diversity in the workplace.

Telstra were also the sponsors of the inaugural function, providing a special pink version of the Telstra logo for a banner for the event.

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