Last week saw the appointment of the world’s first openly gay prime minister. On Monday, the Social Democratic Alliance Party in Iceland chose Johanna Sigurdardottir, the former social affairs minister, to lead the Government.

Among friends, colleagues and family last week a palpable sense of pride emerged as the news spread. Undoubtedly for many young gays and lesbians coming out, Sigaurdardottir will send a message that anything is possible.

It got me thinking about the state of affairs in Australia. Since the first Mardi Gras protest march in 1978, we’ve come a long way towards equality for gay men and lesbians. We’ve seen the age of consent equalised in NSW; we’ve seen state laws to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexuality; we’ve seen lesbian mothers being recognised as legal parents; and we’ve seen the removal of more than 80 pieces of discriminatory legislation at a federal level.

We are currently working on adoption reform, surrogacy reform, federal anti-discrimination legislation, social security reform, and same-sex marriage. These are some of the remaining obstacles we need to overcome to achieve full legal equality.

Once the laws have changed we also need to reach into the minds of all Australians to change deep-seated attitudes of homophobia -“ some based on ignorance, some based on religion, and some based on fear.

While we have a few openly gay politicians and other public figures in Australia, we need more. I admire greatly the candour of people like Penny Wong, Bob Brown, Matthew Mitcham, Penny Sharpe and Anthony Callea. But I also respect the hard work of those public figures who contribute enormously to Australian public life, but who do not feel our society has progressed enough to accept them for who they are.

Legal equality will go a long way to create the right climate for social equality for gay and lesbian Australians. But to get to full and lasting equality we need all leaders in this country across government, business and the community to create an inclusive dialogue.

We will know we have achieved this goal when gay and lesbian people wake up in a world where they can pursue their aspirations, without having to hide an important part of who they are. Leaders like Ms Sigurdardottir tell us that we are getting there.

Emily Gray is co-convenor of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

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