Friendship matters — especially when it comes to politics. Last week, the LGBTI Parliamentary Group was launched in Canberra, which is a new federal cross-party platform for discussing and supporting the wide-ranging issues affecting sexual and gender minorities in Australia.

Affectionately referred to as a ‘friendship group’, this network is convened by Warren Entsch MP (Liberal National), Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (Greens) and Graham Perrett MP (Labor).

Australia often takes the international stage claiming it has a strong commitment to human rights protection. However, despite being a signatory to numerous international human rights law treaties, systemic discrimination of LGBTI people remains.

Ongoing discrimination against LGBTI people in Australia can be in part ascribed to the absence of comprehensive federal anti-discrimination laws and broad exemptions and exceptions in existing anti-discrimination laws.

Media and public consciousness can be so captivated by the debate, or more appropriately denial, of equal relationship recognition, it is easy to forget that discrimination for sexual and gender minorities is not just confined to the Marriage Act.

In addition to marriage equality, there is also a lack of funding for a LGBTI peak body; failure to recognise issues for intersex people in any legislative agenda; inappropriate determinations of the status of LGBTI asylum seekers; and difficulties faced by sex and/or gender diverse people obtaining appropriate identity documentation or Medicare benefits.

Speaking passionately at the inaugural event, Entsch referred to the circumstances that continue to “out” the gender histories of people, because they are unable to easily change identity documentation.

Entsch also noted that in particularly small communities where people are not legally recognised in terms of their own identified sex or gender, in addition to causing humiliation and embarrassment, there is a risk that it may jeopardise a person’s mental health, and cause them to contemplate suicide.

Law reform alone does not eliminate homophobia or transophobia. We need to ensure an underlying culture change too — and this only comes with ongoing education and dialogue.

The Government should commit to providing additional funding for education campaigns relating to sexual and gender diversity in places such as schools, workplaces and aged-care facilities.

Equality and social justice should be apolitical. That is, the right to non-discrimination and equality for LGBTI people should not be limited to which political party assumes Government. It should be a core value of our secular democracy.

By SENTHORUN RAJ, NSW GLRL

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