FOR me, sex education in high school was primarily focused on safe sex to stop unwanted pregnancy. Since I knew I was gay, I simply “turned off” and paid no attention. It was not until I moved to Melbourne and started seeing messages about HIV and STIs in the clubs and on the back of toilet cubicle doors that I realised how inadequate my sex education was.

I was lucky to have a great group of friends who were comfortable talking about sex and sexual health, so if it were not for them I would not have been as informed.

But what about those who do not feel comfortable, or worse, feel shame about discussing sex with their closest friends? To me the ideal situation would be both comprehensive education in schools, including sexuality and relationship information, and a change in community attitudes and perceptions where everyone was able to speak more openly about sex and sexuality.

The Australian Sex Party’s stance on sex, sexuality and sexual health was one of the policies that first attracted me to join the party. I strongly believe that every young person in Victoria should benefit from sex and relationships education (SRE) that is accurate, non-judgmental, inclusive, comprehensive, universal and compulsory. Once implemented, this program would considerably benefit young people who identify as LGBTI. It would benefit them not just in sexual health, but also begin to address some of the mental health concerns for young people in our community.

Of particular concern to me is the broad sweeping exemptions for religious-based organisations within Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act. Currently it is lawful for a school, hospital, employment provider or aged-care service that is owned by a church to discriminate on the basis of sex or gender-identity, sexuality or marital status.

This is not equal.

What is more concerning is that a large majority of these organisations receive public funding. The solution is pretty simple – complying with Victoria’s equal opportunity laws should be a condition of receiving public funding. In a secular society, the rights of LGBTI people should not be trumped by religious doctrine.

In recent years, I have “come out” regarding my status as living with HIV and hepatitis C, speaking to audiences about HIV transmission and sexual health – not to try tell people what to do, but rather to inform and empower individuals to be conscious of the decisions they make about their own sex lives.

Because I am comfortable talking about my experiences and being open about sex, sexuality and sexual health, I hope to put others at ease in an attempt to start to address shame, stigma and discrimination surrounding these manageable illnesses.

Furthermore, criminalising HIV has adverse affects on HIV transmission rates. This out-dated form of legislation creates fear and ambiguity, ultimately dissuading people from getting tested. It is my view that Section 19A of the Crimes Act is one of many contributors to the stigma of HIV and discrimination of people living with HIV in our own community.

To work within state parliament and to contribute to repealing Section 19A would be a significant achievement for me.

Joël Murray is a Northern Metro candidate for the Legislative Assembly of Victorian Parliament. He represents the Australian Sex Party. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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