IT has been a momentous start to 2016, and it hasn’t necessarily been for all of the right reasons. As we prepare for a federal election and a potential plebiscite campaign in the next 12 months, it’s becoming more apparent how much work there is to achieve full legislative and social equality for the LGBTI communities, and how much of a fight we have ahead of us.

Something we’ve heard so much about recently is Safe Schools, and the decision made calling for a review of the program, which at the time of print was due to be completed on Friday, March 11. I think you would agree that some of the conceptions about the program and its resources from some people have been well off the mark. There is no indoctrinating, no “gay lifestyle promotion” — just resources that help make schools safe places.

The evidence as to why programs like Safe Schools are needed is overwhelming. Research released just two years ago, the Growing Up Queer report — which surveyed over 1000 LGBTI young people — told us only half of them felt safe at school, that school is the place where they experience homophobia the most, and that the number of young people in our community that are self-harming was far too high.

It’s so personal for so many of us, because we used to be the young people in those schools who experienced that abuse. It’s why I will always fight for programs like Safe Schools, and make sure that support is always there. No matter what. There is too much on the line for it not to be there.

As we get closer to an election, the potential for a plebiscite on marriage equality remains. The plebiscite is something that we don’t need — this is an issue that can be resolved within federal parliament by allowing a free vote. The numbers have been continually growing in our favour, and marriage equality can and should be legislated through parliament. We know there is an overwhelming majority of support from the public on this issue — the time for our parliament to address this is well overdue. If we do find ourselves in the instance where a plebiscite eventuates, I’m confident we can win it. And I know I’m not the only one who shares that thought.

However, the job of full equality for everyone within our communities doesn’t stop at marriage. There is still much more to be done. One of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby’s (GLRL) core focuses this year, particularly in the lead up to the election, is to pursue a full review of anti-discrimination law in NSW and to have any gaps or loopholes closed, ensuring that we cannot be treated any differently just because of who we are or the gender of the person that we love. NSW’s anti-discrimination law has more exemptions for religious organisations than any other state or territory-level law in Australia. It means that there are caveats, such as the ability for adoption agencies run by religious organisations to discriminate against same-sex couples. Staff can be fired and students expelled from non-government schools because of their sexual orientation or gender identity without penalty. Bisexual and trans people are not even recognised under anti-discrimination law. It’s time for this to change.

These are just three issues. There are many others, including the conditions and treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees, and the need for specialised mental health services (of which demand is significantly increasing as a result of recent events, in some cases by as much as 100 per cent). Gender inequality also remains an issue, and is particularly felt by female same-sex couples and their families. Addressing domestic violence becomes more vital as each week passes. There is so much we still have to fight for.

With elections and plebiscites comes the ability for us to make our voices heard. We need to make sure that happens. For ourselves, for our friends and families, and for everyone within our community. We need our young people to know it’s okay to be who they are are. We need to speak for the people who can’t or are too afraid to — we need them to know there is always someone fighting for them.

It’s going to be a big year for the NSW GLRL. We are a community organisation so we can fight for it with all of our might. Now is the time to make your voice heard and demand what’s right. There are so many people that are counting on it. It’s 2016. We shouldn’t be questioning whether we’re equal or not. With everything that’s happened, we deserve the respect and full equality — and nothing less.

Chris Pycroft is the Co-Convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. For details and to make a donation, visit www.glrl.org.au

Follow Chris on Twitter via @chrispytweets or the NSW GLRL via @NSWGLRL

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**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

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