AUSTRALIANS need to work with people that are here on the ground first in the push for LGBTI rights, according to acclaimed academic and gay rights activist Dennis Altman.
In his latest book Queer Wars, which was co-authored by Jonathan Symons, Altman explores the potential consequences that arise when Australia tries to impose arguments around LGBTI rights on non-western societies.
“There’s a huge variety of ways in which sexuality and gender are acted out in different cultures, but there’s a limit to what can be done through that international fora,” he told the Star Observer.
“How do we give support to groups that exist in countries where authorities can use our support to argue that it’s an instance of western imperialism?
“We need to work with people here on the ground first and listen to them, even though that can be difficult – there are many voices on the ground and often only the loudest are heard.”
The Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) recently put up a billboard inviting Russian citizens to watch the festival’s opening night film via Periscope, as a means to bypass the country’s anti-gay propaganda laws.
Altman highlighted this recent example to prove his point.
“We really have to be careful about how we do this stuff,” he said.
“It’s great that MQFF are doing it but on the other side, having a billboard up in St Kilda can be in turn used by the Russian government as an example of ‘decadent westerners’ trying to impose on them.
“There’s a lot more our government could do quietly – for example, I’d much rather [Foreign Minister] Julie Bishop quietly said to the Indonesian government, ‘look, Australia is concerned that there seems to be a growing wave of homophobia in Indonesia’.
“It would be much more effective if it was done privately and quietly.”
Altman wrote Queer Wars with Symons as a way to explore LGBTI issues and the way they are negotiated through international relations.
“About five or six years ago when John was at La Trobe we had a conversation about the international debate on whaling and that was one in which countries became increasingly polarised,” he said.
“John asked if I thought the same thing was happening with sexuality, and we wondered how we’d get people interested in international relations to think about queer issues.”
Altman said when addressing LGBTI rights overseas, individuals and groups must first think of the potential consequences.
“We need to think through the consequences of what we do, and about actually responding to what is possible for people who are in much worse situations, rather than just making ourselves feel good,” he said.
Dennis Altman and Jonathan Symons will be discussion Queer Wars at Readings in Carlton on Monday March 21 at 6.30PM. Book your free ticket here.