It seems a reflection of the times and the growing support of gays and lesbians in more sections of Australian society than ever before, that a lobby group inspired by the 60’s counter-culture movement and radical politics, could manage to hold its 25th anniversary inside the halls of power and draw some of the country’s most powerful.
That was the scene inside NSW Parliament House late last month when the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) was toasted for its contribution to improving the lives of gay and lesbian people across the state, and the nation. More so that GLRL’s outgoing leader could escort the NSW Governor Marie Bashir to the party.
Those celebrating the decades of achievement and hard work on the evening of October 23 were as diverse as they were steeped in gravitas. Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham joined Labor Senator Penny Wong, Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith, Labor MLC Penny Sharpe, Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, and Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
Hosted by eminent journalist David Marr, the evening also saw a prized dinner for two with former High Court judge, Michael Kirby, and his partner, Johan van Vloten, at the two-hatted restaurant, The Bridge Room, auctioned off. A special booklet, ‘Celebrating 25 Years: A Tribute to the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby’, was also produced to mark the occasion, including contributions from NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson, federal Greens leader Christine Milne and high-profile Labor MPs Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese.
Re-formed in 1988 after the original Gay Rights Lobby had disbanded soon after laws introduced in 1984 in NSW saw the decriminalisation of homosexual activity, the GLRL has been involved in all major social and legal battles that have affected members of the state’s gay and lesbian community over the past 25 years.
During the night, some of those highlights were rattled off by a number of guests, including the introduction of anti-vilification legislation in NSW, introduction of an equal age of consent in NSW, the recognition of same-sex relationships in Federal legislation as well as passage of a motion through the NSW Legislative Council last year endorsing marriage equality.
The breadth of the GLRL’s work over the years was emphasised with the role it played in the passage of historic federal anti-discrimination legislation earlier this year, which for the first time provided protection on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, as well as removing religious exceptions for Commonwealth-funded aged-care services.
GLRL co-conveners, Laine Arnold and Justin Koonin, said while the community now stood on the brink of legislative equality for gay and lesbian people in this state, the job of the Lobby was far from over.
“Our young people continue to face high levels of discrimination in their school environment. Our elderly people are often forced back into the closet when they enter aged care facilities. People from certain religious and cultural backgrounds continue to face physical and emotional violence of alarming intensity,” Koonin said.
“The situation in rural Australia is far removed from that of inner city Sydney, and our friends in the intersex, trans and gender diverse community still face an uphill battle for acceptance.
“So no, our work is not yet done. When we said we wanted equal rights, we did not mean equal rights for some of us. We meant equal rights for all of us.”
Ahead of its AGM on November 6, the GLRL has flagged changes to its future leadership team with co-convener, Lainie Arnold, announcing she will be retiring from the position after two years. It is expected Koonin will again be nominating for the position.
Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna