Though in recent years I’ve been campaigning for equality for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex as the Greens candidate in a rural electorate I’ve been involved with queer activism for quite some time.
Way back in 1978 I marched in the first Mardi Gras protest march, as it was then. It was quite a frightening experience. I was fortunate enough to be shunted into a side-street rather than being thrown into a paddy wagon, locked up in jail and having my name printed in the Sydney Morning Herald.
After that experience my career took me to Wagga Wagga, where I still live. For quite a time my queer activism had to take a back seat as I concentrated on my career, but even in my job as a university drama lecturer I made sure I directed quite a number of gay themed plays, with perhaps Angels in America and The LaramieProject being the highlights
Anyway, once my career was established I had the time and headroom to get back to fighting for queer rights.
This has included working with the union movement to further the cause, which culminated in me becoming co-convenor of QUTE, the Queer Unionists in Tertiary Education caucus of the National Tertiary Education Union. You might not expect to find homophobia in our universities, but believe me it’s certainly there.
Most lately I have been a member of the Greens NSW lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) working group, I’m currently its spokesperson. I also helped revise both the Greens NSW LGBTI policy and the Australian Greens Sexuality and Gender Identity policy, more of which later.
I resolved to join and become active in the Greens in part because of their LGBTI policies, but also of course for their other progressive policies on issues such as the environment, climate change, education, industrial relations, foreign relations and so on.
I stood for my first federal election in 2004 for the seat of Riverina, which includes Wagga. It’s a very conservative electorate in which the Nationals candidate received 70% of two party preferred votes at that election.
Conservative though the electorate is, and homophobic some of its citizens are, I resolved at the outset that my campaign would include a call for full equality for those who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. I wasn’t sure how it would go down but there was no way I was going to play safe and ignore what was a very important issue for me and the Greens.
As it turned out I needn’t have worried.
I did a Riverina launch of our LGBTI policy which attracted some media coverage and it wasn’t hostile, so I felt relieved at that, though a few days later I received a bundle of my campaign leaflets stuffed into my letterbox defaced with words such as -˜fag’, -˜poofter’ queer and so on scrawled on them, which had me worried. But there was nothing else during the rest of the campaign.
In fact I actually got some positive feedback. A few days later I was walking home from the pre-polling booth and a taxi pulled up beside me. The driver lowered the window and called out Are you Ray Goodlass? I thought I was in for it, but I put on my strongest electioneering face and positively answered Yes.
To my complete surprise he then said I just wanted to say that you’ve got real guts standing as a gay Green in an electorate like this. Good on you mate. .
I see that taxi driver now and again, most recently at a rally to show support for Sudanese refugee community in Wagga after Kevin Andrews’ racist attack on the Sudanese, and he’s always keen to yarn about progressive issues,
One clear focus of that campaign for me in particular and the Greens in general was same-sex marriage, for Howard and Labor had gone into the election banning it, with both parties voting for the Marriage Amendment Bill.
I also stood as the Greens candidate for the seat of Wagga Wagga at this year’s state election, and my partner stood for the neighbouring electorate of Murrumbidgee. That a gay couple were standing in neighbouring electorates featured in a Greens media release and it was great to see SSO run a story on us, but to my surprise our local Prime television station also did a story on us and it was respectful and positive.
I’m again standing for the seat of Riverina at this year’s federal election. A strong feature of my campaign is the removal of all of the 58 federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples in financial and work-related areas identified in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) Same Sex: Same Entitlements report.
I’m also campaigning on same-sex and transgender marriage because nothing has changed since 2004 in that regard.
I do challenge the other candidates for their views on LGBTI equality but they carefully avoid saying anything, though the sitting Nationals member has said that she is opposed to same-sex marriage when directly asked.
Here in Riverina Labor shies away form any mention of queer rights. That’s a shame, but I find it more acceptable than the behaviour of the ALP candidates in Sydney, Wentworth and Grayndler, who claim that they support an end to all discrimination and then try to mince words on how this reconciles with their support of marriage discrimination. I trust that the voters in those electorates will show at the ballot box that they are not easily fooled by this duplicity.
This election I’m very happy to campaigning on the Australian Greens revised LGBTI policy, which we now call Sexuality and Gender Identity. I worked on the policy revision and really pleased by the improvements. It’s a much more inclusive policy for all who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, as it includes policies such as establishing intersex as a gender recognised by the legal system and supporting gender assignment for people born with an intersex condition being made only when they are able to express personal sexual identity.
Even our policy on marriage is more inclusive than simply saying we support same-sex marriage, for it now reads -˜legislate to allow marriage regardless of sexuality or gender identity’ and -˜introduce legislation to ensure fair and equal treatment under commonwealth law of all relationships regardless of sexuality and gender identity’.
Naturally, the new policy includes legislation to remove discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in all federal legislation, but I also like our new policy that would create a sexuality and gender category of refugees as we support the granting of political asylum on humanitarian grounds to people persecuted in their own countries on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity.
To wrap up I’d like to note that another reason for campaigning so strongly on our Sexuality and Gender Identity policy is to show support for regional young lesbians and gays who might feel isolated and even suicidal. Waving the LGBTI flag so prominently will at least show them that they are not on their own.
Ray Goodlass is the Greens candidate for Riverina.