THE Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has warned that the effects of a divisive public debate during a plebiscite on marriage equality could be devastating.

As an organisation at the “coalface of mental health in LGBTI communities”, VAC revealed it has met with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to provide feedback alongside other LGBTI organisations, on the negative impacts a plebiscite campaign could have on the LGBTI community.

Some of the other organisations included Drummond Street Services, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Parents of Gender Diverse Children, Rainbow Families Victoria and the Human Rights Law Centre.

“It is deliberately misleading to suggest that a plebiscite on marriage equality would be for the benefit of LGBTI people. Our communities do not want this,” VAC CEO Simon Ruth said.

“As we said to the Opposition Leader, we already see the terrible cost of homophobia and transphobia for LGBTI communities, and we can only imagine how much worse it could get during a divisive and vitriolic public debate.”

VAC manages an LGBTI counselling service, which sees clients from the community who are often dealing with the mental health impacts of homophobia and transphobia.

“Many of our clients struggle with the effects of homophobia and transphobia, which LGBTI people can encounter on a day-to-day basis. These messages of hate and fear understandably take their toll, and this is a major contributing factor to mental health issues within our communi es,” Ruth sid.

“The Australian Christian Lobby have already said that much more than marriage equality will be on the table during a plebiscite campaign—this will become a debate about our right to exist.”

VAC President Chad Hughes said VAC would continue to speak out against a national plebiscite on marriage equality.

“We are particularly disturbed that the Federal Government has committed to funding homophobia, with $7.5 million proposed for groups like the Australian Chris an Lobby to say that our relationships and our families are not valid. This would be nothing less than state-funded homophobia,” he said.

“Our community is united on this, and we have already waited too long for this basic right. It is insulting and unfair for Parliament to continue to delay what should be an easy reform. This could be taken care of tomorrow with a free vote.”

Tuesday’s meeting between Shorten and VAC follows the results of a new poll showing Australians support marriage equality, a parliamentary free vote on the issue and are concerned a plebiscite may result in anti-gay hate speech and abuse.

The Essential poll, also showed the public is strongly against funding for the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ cases if a plebiscite is held.

According to the poll, 60 per cent of Australians support marriage equality, with majority support across the supporters of all parties, including the Coalition.

53 per cent of Australians support a free vote in Parliament should a plebiscite be blocked and 48 per cent of people are concerned about hate campaigns during a plebiscite.

A massive 68 per cent reject the Government’s proposal for public funding for the respective sides.

“This poll shows Australians back marriage equality, support a free vote on the issue and are concerned about a plebiscite.” said Ivan Hinton-Tech, spokesperson for LGBTI advocacy group, just.equal.

“We will use this poll to lobby Coalition members to push for a free vote and to lobby Labor to finally close the door on a plebiscite.

“As Malcolm Turnbull says, a majority of Australians are sensible, fair-minded people. It is precisely these qualities that lead us to share a deep concern with a plebiscite.”

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