A Victorian city council has responded to allegations of homophobic bullying made by a resident over his gay nude events.
Kevin Smith, who runs NudeManFest near Benalla in the state’s north-east, said that the council had presented him with an escalating series of hurdles to continue holding the small events on his private property.
“A retrospective application for an amendment to the December 2015 permit and its conditions was lodged in 2016. This application for amendment was declined,” he said.
“Mr Smith then took the enforcement action by council and its declining of the amendments to VCAT.
“VCAT heard both matters on May 25 2017, and on May 30 2017 issued an order that the amendment could not be approved by the council or itself without a Cultural Heritage Management Plan assessing the proposal to ensure the NudeManFest did not impact on Indigenous values.
“The applicant was not prepared to do this Cultural Heritage Management Plan and undertook not to hold any further NudeManFest events on the site.”
McIlroy said the VCAT ruling means the council is now legally unable to issue any more event permits without a Cultural Heritage Management Plan.
“The Council assesses all event applications according to the obligations of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Benalla Planning Scheme,” he said.
“Neither the Planning and Environment Act 1987 nor the Benalla Planning Scheme have allowances for assessment based on nudity or sexuality.”
In response, Smith said that the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and its definition of areas of heritage importance around waterways has only been invoked in relation to NudeManFest.
“The council admitted at VCAT that they had misinterpreted the Act and did not understand its implications,” he said, adding that other festivals endorsed by the council had not been required to seek permits or Cultural Heritage Management Plans.
“How convenient that only NudeManFest was checked for compliance. Another case of homophobia,” he said.
The council has denied any discriminatory treatment, with McIlroy saying that the council treats all members of the community equally and fairly, including LGBTQI people.
“The council works with many young people in the LGBTQI community to create safe and inclusive spaces,” he said.
“To say that the council has a homophobic agenda is both incorrect and has the potential to create unsubstantiated fear and doubt in the minds of young LGBTQI community members with whom the council is currently working.”