South Sydney City Council has formally requested the support of Sydney’s lesbian and gay community in its fight against proposed local government boundary changes. At the same time, questions about how an expanded City of Sydney would deal with gay and lesbian community issues continue to go unanswered by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Frank Sartor.

A meeting of lesbian and gay groups, to be held at the Pride centre next Wednesday, is expected to develop a joint statement in support of South Sydney City Council, which faces the loss of 18 percent of its total area if the current proposed boundary change is adopted. Petitions to the State Government on the issue will also be circulated.

South Sydney City Council’s lawyer, John Marsden, told a meeting of key gay and lesbian community groups last Friday that the proposed boundary changes have nothing to do with good government or good council.

[We in the community have] had our arguments [with South Sydney City Council], we’ve had our disagreements, we’ve had our problems, but at the end of the day we’ve known that South Sydney, whether it was under a straight mayor, Vic Smith, or a gay mayor, John Fowler, has been there to support us, Marsden said.

Council spokesperson Damian Furlong said that South Sydney City Council had never shied away from proactively engaging with the gay and lesbian community, and being upfront and public about it.

Our support has been about more than just flying the rainbow flag in the Coun-cil chambers, Furlong said. It’s about doing things concrete on the ground and working with community groups.

It’s been our feeling that this is not likely to continue under the City of Sydney. It certainly has no history of being proactively supportive as we have done, and if you rely on historical precedents, it is difficult for a leopard to change its spots, Furlong continued.

Council has asked the gay and lesbian community groups to develop a joint statement of support, which will be attached to Council’s submission to the Local Government Boundaries Commission. Council’s response to proposed boundary changes is due on 28 February.

Community group sources who spoke to Sydney Star Observer said that while South Sydney City Council’s support of the gay and lesbian community was undeniable, the political ramifications of a statement or action of support would need to be thought through.

Some sources expressed considerable frustration at Lord Mayor Frank Sartor’s apparent reluctance to communicate with lesbian and gay community groups.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Anthony Schembri told the Star that the Lobby had written and made follow-up phone calls to the Lord Mayor’s office over the past few months but had had no response.

We’re very disappointed that the Lord Mayor’s office or the Lord Mayor is refusing to communicate with us, Schembri said. The Lord Mayor has also declined to be interviewed by the Star, despite repeated requests.

While the lesbian and gay community responds to South Sydney City Council’s request for help, negotiations about local government boundary changes in the inner-city area continue. It is understood that key players from South Sydney Council and Leichhardt Council (who are also set to lose space to an expanded City) have had discussions about the possibility of a merger.

Last Friday’s meeting was also told that if necessary, South Sydney would be prepared to cede Kings Cross, Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay and Rushcutters Bay to the City, but wanted to retain Darlinghurst. The boundary change proposed by the State Government moves all parts of South Sydney north of Oxford Street to the City; South Sydney’s alternative pushes that boundary up to William Street.

We believe that there is still an opportunity for negotiation with the government, Furlong said. But in order for that negotiation to be successful, we have to demonstrate that there’s a body or groundswell of support for the position we’re promoting.

The meeting of groups to discuss the lesbian and gay community’s position on local government boundary changes will take place at the Pride Centre, 26 Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills, on Wednesday 30 January, starting at 6:30pm.

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