Candidates in the elections to the Upper House of the Tasmanian Legislative Council have  signed a pledge that they will not indulge in campaigns that lead to hate, inspire fear or demean LGBTQI people.

The pledge is an initiative of Equality Tasmania, formerly known as the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group.

“Demeaning, hateful and fear-based election campaigning against LGBTQI people causes great harm, particularly to young people. We want to reduce the chances of this kind of campaigning happening by showing that candidates stand shoulder-to-shoulder against anti-LGBTQI political fear-mongering, regardless of their political affiliation,” Equality Tasmania spokesperson Charlie Burton told Star Observer.

The pledge reads: “As a candidate I pledge That I will not authorise, distribute, or be in any way be involved with, election materials that humiliate, demean, ridicule or incite hatred or contempt against my fellow Tasmanians on the basis of their sexul orientation or gender identity. I also pledge that I will publicly repudiate any election material distributed or broadcast by any other individual or group which fosters such hatred, contempt or humiliation.”

 The response to the initiative has received an unanimous welcome with Liberal, Labor, Green and independent candidates who are contesting in the Huon and Rosevears elections coming out in support.

The seats to the legislative council of the Tasmanian Upper House are filled on an annual rotation basis. The elections, which were scheduled for May, were postponed to August this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor candidate Bastian Seidel and Greens candidate Pat Caruana who are contesting the Huon seat signed the pledge in a ceremony on Sunday. The sitting member for Huon, Robert Armstrong, independent candidate, Debbie Armstrong, and Shooters and Fishers candidate, Garrick Cameron were unable to attend the ceremony, but expressed their support.

Labor candidate Jess Greene, Greens candidate Jack Davenport, and independent candidate Janie Finlay for the Rosevears seat too signed the pledge. The Liberal candidate for the seat Jo Palmer backed the pledge as well.

 Australian elections in the past have seen campaigns that target the LGBTQI community or attacks on a rival candidate for their support of equal rights.

“We saw campaigning against trans people during the recent Eden Monaro by-election, against Safe Schools and trans folk at the last federal election and against marriage equality during many past elections. There have also been many local hate campaigns in past Tasmanian elections,” Burton pointed out.

The impact such hateful campaigns has on the LGBTQI community had led Equality Tasmania to call for candidates in state and federal elections in the past to sign the pledge.

“When hateful campaign ads appear on TV and in mailboxes it has a negative impact on the mental health of LGBTQI people, particularly young people coming to terms with their gender identity or sexual orientation. In Tasmania, successful discrimination complaints have been taken against such materials, but we also want to stop it before it actually happens. That is why we asked candidates to sign the pledge,” said Burton.

 Labor’s Seidel said he was “delighted” to sign the undertaking, while Greens candidate Caruna said politicians had an important role to play against hate and discrimination.

“As people seeking public office we have a responsibility to ensure that we do not demean others or sit silently while others are put down. We all have a role to play in stamping out hate speech,” said Caruna in a statement.

Rosevears Labor candidate Greene promised to “stand up and speak out against inequality and discrimination in our society.”

Independent candidate Finlay echoed the sentiments saying, “No-one ever deserves to feel humiliated or threatened.”

 Besides the pledge, Equality Tasmania has drawn up plans to conduct surveys and forums during the elections to create awareness and support for LGBTQI issues. As part of this initiative, the organisation will release a survey for the candidates to help voters take informed decisions.

Equality Tasmania hopes its lead is followed at  national level.

“We urge advocates in other states and at a national level to follow our lead. We have been asking candidates at successive elections to sign these kinds of pledges for many years now, and the amount of hateful election campaigning has decreased. We believe the same will happen elsewhere if advocates preempt hate campaigns in the way we have done,” added Burton.

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