LAST weekend’s state elections in Tasmania and South Australia left Corey Irlam to ponder about members of the LGBTI community in elected office. He says that this is important. Tomorrow, Victoria’s Prahran state Liberal MP Clem Newton-Brown, a heterosexual family man, writes about why he disagrees. What do you think?
The same can be said for mainstream politicians, thinking about tackling LGBTI issues. No matter how supportive or empathetic a non-LGBTI politician may be, it is my experience that they will never quite understand the issue in the same way as a member of the rainbow family.
With a rainbow parliamentarian, politicians can’t really say “I don’t know anyone” who is LGBTI. If they’re a member of their own party, there’s often a sense of solidarity and they can become an informal source of education and awareness on LGBTI issues for other MPs and the community alike.
The power of having a member of the affected community stand up in parliament and speak from the heart about LGBTI issues cannot be understated. Perhaps more importantly in these days of Ugandan and Russian-style roll backs to our LGBTI rights; the rainbow politicians’ role as defenders of our hard-won rights will ensure Australia does not have similar experiences.
I’m not suggesting we should have queer quotas – I think there are plenty of highly qualified candidates who can win pre-selection without them. It was disappointing therefore, that last week’s state elections in Tasmania and South Australia delivered only one LGBTI-candidate in South Australian Labor minister Ian Hunter.
Where were the myriad of other out loud-and-proud queer candidates? Was I asleep and couldn’t find them? Were they not preselected? Were they too afraid if they identified themselves as LGBTI they would have less chance to be elected?
Whatever it is, as members of the LGBTI community, we owe it to ourselves to get involved in whatever way we can to elect visible rainbow candidates into every parliament. While Australia doesn’t have an equivalent of the US-style Victory Fund, dedicated to electing LGBTI candidates, there are ways you can make a difference.
There are moves towards giving non-party members a say in pre-selecting candidates such as the ALP’s current trial in in the new state parliament seat of Newtown NSW*. As a segment of the broader community, we rainbow voters would be wise to get ahead of the curve and actively engage with pre-selection processes now to make sure anti-LGBTI politicians don’t ever get selected, let alone elected to parliament.
NSW upper house Labor MP Penny Sharpe, an out and proud rainbow politician is standing for pre-selection and I for one hope she wins. As an upper house MP Penny has an impressive track record of working across the political divide to achieve tangible outcomes for our community in NSW. She would be an impressive addition to the lower house, just as the out Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith has been.
With the emergence of the Australian Equality Party, pro-LGBTI voters also have an opportunity to send a whole party to the Senate to represent our views. This is an important point of difference for voters to consider compared with MPs representing parties that may have only partially pro-LGBTI policies.
However, change won’t happen without the support of both major parties, which is why the emergence of the new LNProud group within the Liberal-National Parties is an important development for Australia’s LGBTI political landscape. Like its Rainbow Labor cousin, LNProud will provide a focal point for individuals within the LNP to debate, discuss and take positive action for change from within.
As we watch with bated breath about the outcome of rainbow Senator Louise Pratt in the WA Senate re-run and gear up to the Victorian election in November (where former Rainbow Labor co-convenor Neil Pharaoh will contest Prahran), we need more rainbow candidates from all parties in parliament.
Corey Irlam is an LGBTI advocate who is not a member of any political party.
*=If you live in the state electorate of Newtown you can learn more about the ALP community pre-selection process here http://yoursay.nswlabor.org.au/newtown