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Janet Rice on IDAHOBIT and LGBTIQ equality

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 10 May 2018

Senator RICE:  Next Thursday, 17 May, is IDAHOBIT. IDAHOBIT is not something out of Middle Earth or The Lord of the Rings; it's the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia. It's a day to celebrate with our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities; it's a day to acknowledge their contribution; and it's a day to look forward to what still needs to be done for us to reach a society where same-sex attracted and gender diverse people are truly recognised and acknowledged as being equal members of our society.

Since IDAHOBIT last year there have been some pretty significant achievements in Australian society. Since 17 May last—12 months ago—transgender young people no longer have to get the approval of the Family Court before they are able to have the life-affirming hormones that they require to affirm their identity as the person they really are. There was a court case that enabled that to be achieved. There was another court case that said that trans young people, where they know that they are transgender, where their families support them and where their medical practitioners all support them, are able to have surgery without having to get Family Court approval. These are two really significant things that have been achieved.

We've had the first intersex focus event here at Parliament House, which put intersex issues on the agenda of politicians from across the spectrum. It was a really well attended event and got a lot of people in this place to think about intersex issues and people like they never have before. Intersex advocates are continuing to shine a light on the issues that they face and on the need to have greater acceptance of their rights, and with the affirmation of a statement that had intersex people from right around the country come together to produce what is called the Darlington Statement.

Of course, the big LGBTI achievement in Australia over the last 12 months was the achievement, finally, of marriage equality last December. I acknowledge Senator Dean Smith, who is in the chamber with me. It was huge. It has really changed the whole landscape for LGBTI people.

Senator Smith:  The sun's still coming up.

Senator RICE:  Yes, and here we are: the sun still comes up. In fact, I think it comes up brighter, shining more than it did before. Of course, we still don't quite have marriage equality, because we've still got forced divorce laws in place. The states have to change their laws for people who are married to a trans person partner, like my partner, Penny, and me. Penny still can't change her birth certificate, because the law has not yet been changed in Victoria. The law has been changed in the ACT and South Australia, but we are waiting for all states to come into line so we will finally, truly, have marriage equality for every single Australian.

The joy that we felt in this place with the achievement of marriage equality, despite the very hard road that we have been put through to achieve it, was pretty amazing. But for me it has been surpassed by the weddings that I've been to over the last six months, since we achieved marriage equality, and by one in particular that I went to in Euroa just a month ago. There was a beautiful couple, Damian and Chris, who are very good friends of mine. The thing that moved me the most was that it was just a bog standard Australian wedding. They're both country people. They had country families come around, joining together with friends and family as Damian and Chris declared their love for each other and the fact that they wanted to live together and wanted to be married. Their families were there. It was beautiful. To know that we have made such a change in people's lives, because the legislation went through the parliament last December, is a big thing.

But, of course, when acknowledging and celebrating IDAHOBIT next Thursday, we also need to think about all the things that still need to be done. We still have religious exemptions that discriminate against LGBTI people, and there was the case last year of teachers in Catholic schools who were sacked—they were fired from Catholic schools because they came out as being same-sex-attracted. These are the sorts of cases that the Greens are going to continue to pursue. We need to make sure that we genuinely have rights for all LGBTI people across the spectrum.

Essentially we need a charter of rights here in Australia. We need a comprehensive human rights framework so that, yes, we can have protection of religious freedom, but we can also have the rights of LGBTI people being upheld. We still have surgeries being performed on young intersex babies and infants. This is very distressing because at that stage of their life, unless it is required for medical purposes, there is no reason why a young intersex baby should have surgery performed obviously without their consent. We don't know how they will want to express their sexuality, their sexual identity, their gender identity. It is much, much more sensible to wait until that person is old enough to be able to give consent before any surgery is undertaken. In fact, we had recommendations from a 2013 Senate inquiry into the issues and medical treatment of intersex people that were very clear that such surgery should not take place unless it was medically required. The intersex community is working very hard on this. The very first step in the Darlington Statement is to have a protocol developed to make sure that these surgeries don't take place unless they are absolutely medically required. I am certainly going to commit to working to make sure that such a protocol is developed.

We've got trans and gender diverse people that still can't access the health care that they desperately need. They have limited access to health services. If you are a trans person or a gender diverse young person in Melbourne, you may be able to access all the services you need. But if you live in regional Australia, you are often left hanging out to dry. We need to have medical services available for our LGBTI community right across the country, for both mental health services and physical health services. We know that LGBTI people, because of discrimination that is still ongoing, can struggle with their mental health more than straight and cis people so we have to make sure those mental health services are available for them right across the country.

We still have the very real discrimination that goes on, the very real threat of violence, particularly against trans people. I have met so many trans people since May 2017 who have told me of their struggles and how they are still discriminated against, how that threat of violence is still there. So we need to be continuing to work in Australian society to be supporting them, to be advocating, to be out and proud and letting people know that trans and gender diverse people are to be celebrated and that their diversity is something to be welcomed, not something to be frightened of. Homophobia and transphobia are still very real. I heard an awful story just last week of a trans person who had undergone surgery, and their family had basically abandoned them so they were left to recover from their surgery without the support of their family, who basically said, 'We don't want to have anything more to do with you.' And it was only with the help of other trans people that they were able to feel supported. These are the sorts of attitudes that need to change.

Obviously it is a long process of social change, but we need to have resources being put into services.

We need to have Medicare coverage for all health services. We need to have support in our schools. The fact that the Safe Schools program is no longer funded at a federal level is a travesty. In yesterday's budget, there was almost a quarter of a billion dollars made available to the school chaplaincy program but no money for Safe Schools, which will support LGBTI people in a non-judgemental way. There is so much that can be done. Mental health services, funding for advocacy organisations and ending homelessness are all issues where trans and gender-diverse people are overwhelmingly affected. These are the things that the Greens will continue to focus on.

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