I GREW up in a conservative, patriarchal Pakistani society, where homosexuality and sexual difference was hidden, condemned, and considered shameful, and where LGBTI people across society were persecuted.
From a very young age this discrimination did not sit well with me.
Tufail, who lived in our home in Lahore, was the life of the neighbourhood. Tufail passed away a few years ago, but their courage to openly be who they were in a society which vilified and stigmatised sexual and gender variance has stuck with me as an inspiration.
In the few years I’ve been a NSW upper house MP I have had the opportunity to really do something about the discrimination that people like Tufail have endured throughout history — and I certainly will continue to do so.
During the 2013 NSW same-sex marriage debate, I had many people — including friends and family from back home and in Australia — telling me that by being so loudly supportive of marriage equality I will burn in the fires of hell for eternity, that I will be but fuel for this fire, that I should back off, and that people will be praying for my soul.
Well, sorry, not sorry.
To be Green is to champion rights and equality even in the face of adversity and electoral backlash. For us, equality is a matter of principle, not a matter of conscience.
We have been a political force in NSW since 1984, the year homosexuality was decriminalised in our state. Back then, while the old parties bickered over whether or not to decriminalise homosexual acts at all, our first political document proclaimed that “social freedom and equality cannot be conceived without all forms of discrimination and oppression ending” and explicitly called for “an end to discrimination against men and women homosexuals in all areas”.
In 2005, the Greens launched the first same-sex marriage bill into NSW Parliament. At the time, we were basically alone in our parliamentary support for this reform. Ten years later, as more people have come on board, marriage equality seems almost inevitable across Australia, with support coming from various wings of all major parties.
In the last parliament a Greens motion meant that the NSW upper house recognised Transgender Day of Remembrance and Intersex Awareness Day and of course we introduced the first bill to eliminate forced trans* divorce in the state — a bill we will re-introduce and aim to make law when parliament resumes.
Additionally, we strongly supported measures such as those to remove religious exemptions from the Anti-Discrimination Act, which unfortunately failed, and to expunge convictions for homosexual acts — which thankfully passed.
I feel privileged to be in a party whose first federal parliamentary leader, Bob Brown, is a proud gay man. Equality shouldn’t be contingent on political palatability. Politics must be driven and led by those who are fearless to call out oppression and demand reform. We need Greens in parliament because we will always lead on LGBTI rights and equality, as we always have, while the other parties play catch-up.
The Greens support a reform agenda where no LGBTI person is neglected or silenced, where everyone is afforded the political space to be heard and their needs met.
As I marched (or rather danced) proudly under the Greens rainbow banner — “Passionate for Equality and Diversity” — at this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, the treatment of LGBTI people in other parts of the world was not far from my mind. From Uganda to Russia to Pakistan, discriminatory and hateful policies continue to marginalise and even kill people just because of who they are. We must give our solidarity and support to LGBTI people and activists across the globe and work with them to continue to achieve the many wins we are lucky to have already experienced here in this country.
LGBTI equality is on the political radar like no other time in history. However, by every measure of health, poverty and basic rights we still have much more to do for LGBTI people in our state, especially in regional NSW. We need increased dedicated funding for services, education initiatives and public events that support the diversity of the LGBTI community.
Electing more Greens to parliament will ensure louder and stronger calls to deliver the long overdue reforms LGBTI people need now and not just when it’s acceptable to enough swinging voters in key seats.
Dr Mehreen Faruqi is a NSW upper house MP and the NSW Greens’ LGBTI spokesperson. Twitter: @MehreenFaruqi