I AM honoured to have been the Victorian Greens spokesperson for LGBTI affairs in State Parliament for the past eight years.

Like everyone, I have lots of LGBTI people in my life. The fact that the law discriminates against my friends has always been abhorrent to me, as well as mystifying. I really do not understand discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other reason. To me, everyone is equal and should be equal under the law.

I still remember attending the first Pride March in St Kilda and I have been at every Pride March since. Last year, I was chuffed to be asked to march at the head of the parade with Australian Marriage Equality, as I had introduced a same-sex marriage bill into Victorian Parliament in 2012 – the first of its kind in Victoria. When we got to the end, I ran back to the start in the 40 degree heat to do the march again with my fellow Greens. I couldn’t help but reflect on how events like Pride bring the incredibly diverse LGBTI community together and how much it has grown over the years.

Though much has changed, the Greens recognise that further law reform is needed to improve the lives of LGBTI Victorians. The Greens have advocated for these reforms throughout our two terms in State Parliament.

The Greens are fully committed to achieving marriage equality for all Australians and have introduced bills in the federal and state parliaments. I was incredibly proud to introduce the first marriage equality bill in Victoria in 2012. Following the High Court’s ruling on the 2013 ACT marriage bill, we now know this is something that can only be achieved at a federal level. However, more can still be achieved at the state level, including allowing for a civil notary to preside over a legally-binding ceremony when registering a relationship under Victoria’s relationship register and to remove the requirement that both applicants must reside in Victoria. I moved both these amendments when the Relationships Bill was debated in 2008, by this was opposed by the other parties.

Since being elected to Parliament in 2006, I have worked to remove laws that discriminate against LGBTI people. I moved amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act in 2007, 2010, and 2011 to remove exceptions that allow religious organisations to discriminate based on certain attributes including sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity. It is inappropriate for organisations to even ask these questions of prospective employees, or students in the case of schools, and it is unacceptable that religious organisations can arbitrarily discriminate against LGBTI people, such as sacking them, expelling them and refusing them accommodation. I cannot understand why the old parties insist on keeping these exemptions.

The Greens fully support amending the Adoption Act to allow same sex couples to adopt step children, foster children and infants. We know that the best interests of children are upheld when discrimination against same-sex couples is removed. I first spoke on this issue in 2008 and some six years later, the law is still lagging behind. The time for inquiries is over and the time for action is now. There are children all across Victoria right now that deserve the certainty that comes with legal recognition of their parents.

There have been complaints from schools, teachers and parents about the way Special Religious Instruction (SRI) has been conducted in Victorian government schools for years. However, both Labor and Liberal are committed to continuing to fund groups like Access Ministries hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide it. The Greens will end SRI in public schools and replace it with general and comparative religion and ethics education, delivered by qualified teachers, not volunteers. The money spent on paying religious instructors would be better redirected to providing qualified welfare officers and supporting programs like the Safe Schools Coalition.

The Greens are fully committed to the protection of human rights of trans* and intersex people and are committed to taking all possible actions to ensure trans* and gender-diverse young people can access the best possible health care, including removal of unnecessary legal obstacles to surgery that expose young trans* and gender diverse people to significant legal costs and lengthy life-threatening waiting times in accessing medical treatment.

We support the right of consenting persons to change their sex classification on their birth certificate to reflect their self-identified gender. Furthermore, we will advocate for the sex and gender identity of trans* and gender-diverse Australians to be recognised on all relevant government documents without the need for medical treatment, surgery or letters from a doctor as a pre-requisite to recognition.

You can trust the Greens to stand up for the rights of intersex, trans*, bi, lesbian and gay Victorians because we always have and always will. For us, this isn’t an issue of conscience, but is about human rights and equality.

My hope is that come Pride March in 2015, I’ll be walking alongside more elected Greens MPs who are committed to standing up for your rights.

Sue Pennicuik represents the Southern Metropolitan Region in the Legislative Council of Victorian Parliament. She is a member of the Greens. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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