Justin-Koonin1NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-Convenor Justin Koonin reflects on the state of LGBTI rights as GLRL prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The Australia gay and lesbian people face in 2013 is a profoundly different one to that encountered by those who founded the GLRL in 1988.

At that time, the gay and lesbian rights movement had won a major victory in the decriminalisation of homosexuality, but broader social acceptance, anti-discrimination laws, recognition of our relationships and the rights which ensue were distant dreams.

Today, we stand on the brink of legislative of legislative equality for gay and lesbian people in this state.  The fact that we cannot marry the person we love, and that religious organisations continue to enjoy wide-ranging exemptions to anti-discrimination laws, remain hurdles we must overcome.  These may yet take time.  Yet few would argue with the claim that we are far closer to the end of our programme of legislative reform than the beginning.

So does that mean our job is nearly done?  We think not.

While legislative reform is important and necessary, it alone does not guarantee that we can live our lives freely.  The challenge ahead will be to translate legislative equality into substantive equality – to change the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians, and ensure that our lived experience is one of respect and acknowledgement.

Of course, this process of cultural change has been underway for a long time.  The level of support for LGBTI equality in broader Australian society is higher now than it ever has been.  Many of us can indeed live lives where, for the most part, we do not regularly face overt homophobia or transphobia.

Yet for many others in our community, often those who lie at the intersections of marginalised groups, change has not come so fast.

Our young people continue to face high levels of discrimination in their school environment. Our elderly people are often forced back into the closet when they enter aged care facilities.  People from certain religious and cultural backgrounds continue to face physical and emotional violence of alarming intensity.  The situation in rural Australia is far removed from that of inner city Sydney, and our friends in the intersex, trans and gender diverse community still face an uphill battle for acceptance.

So no, our work is not yet done. When we said we wanted equal rights, we did not mean equal rights for some of us.  We meant equal rights for all of us, and having achieved as much as we have for many in our community, our responsibility now extends to those whose freedom has not yet been won.

We look back with enormous gratitude to those whose courage in years gone by paved the way for the victories we have won in recent years.  In turn, it is our hope that we can extend our circle of care outward, and see the trauma of our past not as a burden, but as the very source of our desire to participate in the creation of a society which values diversity and recognises the unique contribution that each of us can bring. We do this not just for LGBTI people, but for all Australians, and all who face discrimination across the globe.

We cannot wait to see what the next twenty-five years hold in store, and hope that you will join us on this journey.

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