After Defeating Voice, LGBTIQA+ Australians Are The Next Target Of No Campaigners
Empowered by the success of their fear-mongering and division-sowing, No campaigners will turn on us in an attempt to claw back the tolerance we won through marriage equality.
We know this because they have told us.
Jacinta Price has loudly said that after No wins she will move straight on to excluding trans kids from health care and trans women from women’s spaces. South Australian Liberal Senator Alex Antic, has also flagged a bill banning gender-affirming health care for trans youth.
Having mobilised the nation to say No to positive change, other campaigners are eager to return to rolling back discrimination protections in the name of religious freedom, dismantling school inclusion programs and banning books in the name of parental rights.
Renewed Campaigns Against LGBTQI Australians
It galls them to see Britain become Terf Island and the US banned-school-book list grow, but for Australia to stall on exclusion.
With “No” echoing in their ears, some Liberals will see renewed campaigns against LGBTIQA+ inclusion as their way back to government.
Having spent so much political capital, some ALP strategists will advise Labor governments to duck and cover from all controversial reforms. Worse still, the No vote will be seen as confirming the immense influence of post-Covid social media misinformation and conspiracies.
Soon enough our antagonists on the far right will again turn the social media firehose of hate on us, but this time with even greater force.
Meanwhile, Labor should learn from the defeat of the Voice that its insipid, small-target approach to reform – what senior journalist, Mark Kenny calls its “supine naivety” – doesn’t work. But I fear it’s too stuck in its rut to change any time soon.
Altogether, that leaves LGBTIQA+ Australians more vulnerable than we have been since the defeat of the Morrison Government.
New Solutions Needed
At a time like this, we need to consider new solutions. In July I was in Orlando, Florida visiting my partner’s family.
Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, has championed polarising legislation like his Don’t Say Gay Bill and legislation banning trans people from their preferred bathrooms and change rooms.
I met with Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre and the then press secretary of Equality Florida, to ask how his organisation deals with the attacks.
The answer surprised me. Equality Florida has seen how the anti-LGBTIQA+ movement attacks us on our strengths of diversity and equality. Its response is to target the anti-LGBTIQA+ movement on its strengths, “freedom” and “censorship”.
This means Equality Florida doesn’t lead with the harm discrimination causes LGBTIQA+ people like we do in Australia (if you find that disconcerting, consider how conclusively the Voice referendum failed despite its strong focus on the harm discrimination inflicts on Aboriginal people.)
Instead, Equality Florida focuses on turning its opponents’ cases against them.
For example, its billboards and TV ads highlight how banning LGBTIQA+ books, or taking away affirming health care from trans kids, undermines the rights of parents who want their kids to have those books or that health care.
The Florida Strategy
The message is the same when it comes to religious freedom laws or anti-trans bathroom laws. Such repressive laws circumscribe the freedoms and choices of LGBTIQA+ people and others who fall into their net.
The underlying message is that those who purport to be freedom’s champions are actually its authoritarian enemies because they censor and cancel everyday people, take their choices and opportunities away, and tell them how to live their lives.
This strategy is based on extensive focus group testing that shows strong opposition to Ron DeSantis ’-style initiatives among registered Republican voters in Florida and across the US South when those initiatives are reframed as an attack on freedom and parental rights.
For example, a strong majority of Republican voters oppose the state taking away the right of parents to allow their trans children to affirm health care and oppose refusal of service to LGBTIQA+ people in the name of religious belief.
When Floridians are asked if they want Ron DeSantis deciding what book their child reads, or what medical treatment they get, the answer is overwhelmingly No.
If necessary, we must be prepared to ask Australians the same question; do they want to co-parent with Peter Dutton?
The case about harm to LGBTIQA+ people has not vanished. It remains an important message.
The message about freedom, rights and choice being under attack from authoritarians builds a bridge to voters for the harmful argument to walk across. As a result of its strategy, Equality Florida is clawing back support publicly and in the state congress, and national LGBTIQA+ organisations are paying attention.
It was no surprise to me that Brandon Wolf was recruited by the National Human Rights Campaign not long after we met.
Cue To Attack LGBTQI Communities
If I am correct and the illiberal right will take the defeat of the Voice as its cue to attack LGBTIQA+ Australians with more vigour, we must be ready.
We must depend on ourselves, not on the anxious Labor governments currently in power. We must find strength in grassroots organising and allyship with other communities.
We must seriously consider how the challenges we face are already being successfully overcome in the US and UK.
You may not agree with the Florida Strategy I’ve outlined, but at the very least we need a serious community debate about what we should do. It mustn’t be business as usual. We mustn’t stumble into the future hoping right will prevail.
Let’s not repeat that mistake.
Rodney Croome is a long-time Australian LGBTIQA+ human rights advocate. In recognition of his work he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.