Wednesday, November 15 in 2017 was a momentous day for the LGBTQI community. We won, through a postal survey, Australia’s acceptance for us to marry our same-sex partners. It was glorious.
But for Daniel Comensoli, that day unfolded quite unexpectedly.
“When I woke up that morning I was really, really anxious and scared about the result,” he says, ‘But when the result was announced it was quite an overwhelming feeling of relief and happiness that we got there.”
“I had the day off work, so I went back home and already had a large rainbow flag that I used to take to protests and thought it would be wonderful to hang it outside our balcony. Pretty harmless, right?”
His neighbour, former deputy mayor and current Liberal Inner West councillor Julie Passas, didn’t think so.
“I think she saw the flag when she was coming home that day,” Daniel continues.
“Me and my housemate were going to Oxford Street that night to catch up with friends to celebrate the win and attend the march. And then [Julie] came out and aggressively demanded us to remove the flag.”
Daniel says that if Julie was just a normal neighbour, he wouldn’t have gone public. But because she was ‒ and still is ‒ a senior public official with the Inner West Council, Daniel knew it was necessary to go public.
“I was inundated with people messaging me on Facebook after I put that post up, thanking me for standing up to her because they have copped similar abuse from her in the past,” he says.
“The fact she had this history of awful behaviour and that she was rewarded with this position on council, I thought that was unacceptable.”
“Your religious beliefs don’t give you a licence to discriminate against someone because they’re gay or trans or any other attribute. I just worry that any future law will enable that, or legitimise that.”
Daniel also went public because he had exhausted all his avenues through Inner West Council to hold her accountable.
“We lodged a complaint to [the Inner West Council] on two occasions; one of those complaints hadn’t received a reply and the other one resulted in an email and telephone call notifying us she wasn’t acting in an official capacity as deputy mayor,” he says.
“I was just really disappointed with the council’s response. I just had this really strong urge to hold her accountable and to ensure she wouldn’t feel empowered to do this again.”
Daniel says he was fueled by the support around him to take this matter to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
He had the knowledge thanks to his position as a policy and research officer at the National LGBTI Health Alliance where his job is to literally study legislation.
But fighting to hold an aggressive neighbour accountable for their homophobic actions was a whole new ball game for him.
“I wasn’t aware of that whole process,” says Daniel, “There are avenues that you can utilize when something like this happens.”
“I reckon it’s very important for LGBTI communities and people to know that they are around and they exist and they are there to help you and guide you around that process.”
In the end, Daniel is glad that he took the matter to court. Following two years of fighting, arguing and waiting, Daniel won the battle. Julie Passas was ordered to pay $2,500 in damages and to publish an apology in the Inner West Courier.
“I wasn’t expecting to go down the path that I did,” says Daniel, “I would never have thought that on the day of the yes vote win that I would end up in a tribunal hearing, trying to argue that [Julie Passas] had breached the law.”
“I’m still coming to terms with it. I was speaking with a friend recently around some of the comments I’ve seen on social media, and seeing the words thrown around like ‘brave’ and ‘strong’. I get a bit emotional talking about it, but I haven’t kind of come to feeling those things yet.”
“I wasn’t expecting to win. Of course I wanted to win, but it wasn’t the main reason to bring it, but I just hope this outcome really has a positive impact on our communities, and make people like her and others think twice before they engage in homophobic behaviour.”
And for anyone dealing with issues like this, Daniel shares some final words of wisdom.
“Don’t sit quietly,” he says, “You need to stand up against bigotry and homophobia. It may be a long and hard process, but you may get the outcome that you deserve. And that will have an enormous impact on our communities.”
Julie Passas has said she intends to appeal the ruling to a higher court.