Last January at Midsumma carnival, the former Premier committed to erasing historical convictions for homosexual conduct from the criminal records of older gay men, alleviating the shame, stigma and practical difficulties caused by these left-over convictions.
Championed by former member for Prahran, Clem Newton-Brown, this legislation achieved passage in the final days of the last parliament, including some improvements secured by the then Labor Opposition, who have also committed to apologising formally for the discriminatory laws of the past.
We also saw Victoria Police apologise for the raid of Tasty nightclub, 20 years after 463 patrons were detained against their will and strip searched. The apology marked an historical turning point in relations between our law enforcers and the LGBTI community, and coincided with the launch of a new LGBTI community reference group to oversee further change in policing.
The fierce three-way contest for the seat of the Prahran was a focal point for the election and shone a spotlight on LGBTI issues, including the announcement of a comprehensive package of LGBTI reforms by the ALP. The model of community engagement announced by Daniel Andrews is unprecedented and finally recognises our community equitably with other diversity groups. In a first for Australia, we have a ‘Minister for Equality’ responsible for LGBTI issues. Minister Foley will work with a new ‘Gender & Sexuality Commissioner’ and a whole-of-government advisory committee to oversee legislative and programmatic reform on issues affecting LGBTI people.
Minister Foley’s agenda includes adoption reform to recognise our many diverse families; new birth certificate laws to afford the dignity of recognition to transgender and gender diverse people; and a review of discriminatory laws. The government will also reverse the wind-back of Victoria’s equal opportunity laws overseen by former Attorney-General Robert Clark in 2011.
Amending our equal opportunity laws also presents the opportunity to bring Victoria into line with the new national standard set by federal discrimination laws introduced with bi-partisan support in 2013. With the passage of these reforms the Federal Parliament outlawed religious discrimination in public aged care services and, without stating the obvious, the sky hasn’t fallen in. At a bare minimum, these lessons should be applied in Victoria to other vulnerable groups such as people with disability, young people and the homeless. Greater transparency is also needed, such as a ‘notice of intention discriminate’ to be published by religious organisations that wish to discriminate – after all, it’s only fair that we can make an informed decision about whether to subject ourselves to harm, whether it’s buying a coffee or applying for a job.
The HRLC will continue to work with LGBTI groups to advocate for change on these and other issues, such as the treatment of intersex infants. We need to embrace the incredible opportunity presented by the next four years under our new State Government and work constructively with our allies and the critical collection of MPs in the new upper house, to make Victoria the leader in equality for LGBTI people.
Anna Brown is Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation at the Human Rights Law Centre. This piece was first published by Gay News Network.