Order Of Australia Honours For LGBT Advocates David Polson, Michael Barnett And Rebecca Johnson
The 2023 Australia Day honours were announced on Wednesday acknowledging the trailblazing work done by around 1,047 Australians. LGBTQI rights activists and HIV advocates were among those honoured with awards.
David Polson, a health advocate and one of the first gay Australian men diagnosed with HIV, was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia “for significant service to community health through HIV education and advocacy roles”.
Michael Barnett, co-convenor of the Victoria-based LGBTQI+ Jewish advocacy group Aleph Melbourne, was awarded the Order of Australia Medal.
Rebecca Johnson, President of Brisbane Pride, was also honoured with the Order of Australia Medal for service to the Indigenous and LGBTQI communities.
Speaking Out Against HIV Stigma
In 1984, Polson, was one of the first 400 Australian men to learn that they were HIV positive. Following the diagnosis, his doctors told Polson to tell only three people that he was HIV positive “because of the hatred, discrimination and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.”
However, as he saw his friends die, Polson spoke in public about his HIV diagnosis and the stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV faced. Over the next few decades, he participated in around 28 HIV drug trials that had significant side effects on his body. The HIV survivor recently founded Sydney’s first LGBTQI museum Qtopia.
In November, Polson told Star Observer that he wanted people to remember that the 1980s and 1990s were not only a period of suffering but a pivotal moment for the community that should be celebrated.
“It was incredible. We have to remember it was a time of great celebration. Sydney reacted like nowhere else in the world. Everywhere else in the world, the reaction was punitive. The LGBTQI community in Sydney came together as a whole. I’ve never seen a community so full of love, support and care ever since. We’ve got to remember and celebrate that,” said Polson.
‘Homophobia Destroys Families, Communities’
For nearly three decades Barnett, has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQI rights, within the Jewish community as well as against anti-semitism. “Over the years of my advocacy and activism I have seen Melbourne’s Jewish community become a beacon of LGBTIQ+ inclusion,” Barnett said in a statement.
Barnett said his work was motivated by the “relentless and pointless homophobic and transphobic intolerance” he saw and experienced personally and the resulting “alarming rates of suicide and mental health issues” especially among young LGBTQI people. “It destroys families and communities,” said Barnett.
Barnett counts the Jews of Pride contingent at the Pride marches and Aleph Melbourne’s presence at the 1999 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras as some of his biggest achievements.
In 2012, Barnett led a campaign and successfully lobbied with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry to distance themselves from Rabbi Shimon Cowen, a vocal opponent of the Safe Schools program.
Taboo Topics In Multi-Faith Communities
In 2014, Barnett got married to his partner Gregory Storer in New Zealand in a national television series, to focus on the marriage equality campaign in Australia.
Australia legalised same-sex marriages in 2017 following a national vote and many states have passed LGBTQI law reforms. Barnett said that the fight for equal rights is far from over, despite the growing societal acceptance of the LGBTQI community.
“The topics of homosexuality and gender identity are still taboo in sections of the Jewish and other multicultural and multi-faith communities,” said Barnett.
“Sadly, intolerance and exclusion lead to negative mental health outcomes, self-harm and suicide. Transgender people are especially vulnerable and misunderstood, and hardline religious forces fabricate lies portraying them as predators, which unfortunately leads to further victimisation and tragic outcomes. Community leaders need to take a strong stand against this sort of misinformation and intolerance, promote facts and provide a safer community,” Barnett said.
Aleph Melbourne welcomed the award for Barnett. “Michael has provided a welcoming place for hundreds of people over the years and has been at the forefront of fighting for the dignity and humanity of people from diverse genders and sexual orientations,” Colin Krycer, Co-convenor of Aleph Melbourne, said in a statement.
“From arranging Shabbat meals and social get-togethers to taking on the might of the establishment, he worked tirelessly to make life just a little better for the community,” added Krycer.
Service To Indigenous And LGBTQI Communities
Rebecca Johnson has been an advocate for Indigenous, LGBTQI, sistergirl and brotherboy communities. Johnson is co-founder of IndigiLez Women’s Leadership & Support Group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lesbian, same attracted and bisexual women.
For over two decades, she has advocated for improved mental health and wellness for First Nation LGBTI communities.
“The love, leadership, and support we receive from elders develop our sense of pride in self,” Johnson told Star Observer in 2018.
“Our elders’ stories and wisdom provide many of us with direction and safety in life. Being a minority within a minority tests our strengths and excludes our voices socially. Stay connected to culture and community, stand strong, and be proud of your cultural, sexual, and gender identities. We are a deadly mob us First Nations women, we come from strong roots of womanhood, and we are resilient,” Johnson said.