The former mayor of Moorabool Shire and a Victorian council candidate has triggered controversy after calling the Rainbow pledge, a campaign to support and protect the LGBTQI community, “divisive.”

Councillor Paul Tatchell, who is contesting the council elections from the Central ward, has said that he is not homophobic or racist. Tatchell told Star Observer that he has been supporting the LGBTQI cause “for over 40 years” and his rival candidate was trying to “make this some sort of election issue.”

The controversy arose after Ben Davison, who grew up in a Rainbow family with two moms, and is a first-time candidate in the Central ward posted about having signed the Rainbow Pledge. The pledge is part of the Rainbow Votes campaign and has garnered the signatures of over 800 council candidates. They have pledged their support for Rainbow Tick accreditation for council-run services, establishment of LGBTQI advisory committees, drawing up an action plan for the community, flying the rainbow flag on important days and participating in local pride events.

Having campaigned for marriage equality and frequently told my story of being raised by two mums, I was happy to pledge my support for our LGBTQI residents. Everyone deserves to feel included and safe when using council services. I’ve been told that at the moment I am the only candidate in the Central ward who has made this commitment, I hope the others will join me in pledging support for a more inclusive and accessible Moorabool Shire Council before the end of the campaign,” Davison posted on his page.

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 Tatchell shared Davison post on his Facebook page, commenting: “The Joys of Campaigning; Actions speak louder than words and you certainly don’t do it for votes; I don’t need to sign something to know who I am, or what values and code I live by, signing these things is divisive in itself! Politics or People?” Tatchell then went on to post two more statements.

“The insinuation that the Moorabool Council is not inclusive or accessible is just plain ignorant, all of the policies are well documented, we don’t use them for votes, we live by them… I hope I don’t have to get up in the morning to defend a Council policy on boat people trying to enter Moorabool via Pykes Creek!”

The Joys of Campaigning; Actions speak louder than words and you certainly don't do it for votes; I don't need to sign…

Posted by Paul 4 Central Ward on Thursday, 1 October 2020

Davison said Tatchell’s comments took him by surprise.

“As candidates for council, we get asked by a lot of community organisations to make statements and pledge our commitments to campaigns so people voting can know what we stand for. I know that all of the Central ward candidates – including Paul and myself – have made statements at the request of other groups, and I’m not aware of him having any issue doing so before now. I found Paul’s reaction and comments to be surprisingly divisive for someone who wants to represent a community where my lesbian parents lived for nearly 20 years and that I have always found to be welcoming to everyone.”

Both Davison and Tatchell have responded and posted statements, in response to requests by other organisations like the Moorabool And Central Highlands Alliance for their stand on the Western Victorian Transmission Network Project.

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 When reached on email, Tatchell pointed to members of his family and his campaign who are openly gay.

 These are the actual comments, when the candidate suggested that Moorabool was not inclusive or accessible by not signing an agreement with a lobby group,” Tatchell said in an email response to Star Observer. “The person running my campaign is well known and openly gay, not to mention a close friend. You will also find that the only married gay person in the same election (but) different ward hasn’t signed it either, and I have been supporting their campaign; The other candidate is trying to make this some sort of election issue; it’s probably worth noting Peter Tatchell is my cousin and probably the best known LBQTQI activist in the World, I’ve been supporting this cause for over 40 years!”

Victorian Pride Lobby co-convenor Nevena Spirovska condemned the councillor’s comments and pointed out that one in 25 people in Moorabool Shire identified as LGBTQI.

“Criticising reasonable requests to support LGBTQI priorities and joking about asylum seekers do not demonstrate that this candidate will support the whole Moorabool community if elected.”

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