Australia is meant to be a socially progressive country, and in many ways it is. But LGBTQI rights and gay pride in Australia continue to face significant challenges compared to similar western countries like New Zealand, Canada, France and Britain.

The Australian LGBTQI community endures gay pride inertia from:

  • A conservative Liberal Government, with a small but belligerent and influential right
  • Current law which allows religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers for their sexual orientation
  • Government aversion for the Safe Schools Program, a program which helps to protect LGBTQI students
  • Active Christian lobby groups campaigning for religious freedoms
  • Few openly gay media personalities or sports people championing gay and lesbian causes

Countries like Australia must be vigilant, and continue to strive for equality for its citizens. It needs to separate church from state, and be an example to leaders of other governments and their LGBTQI populations, who may be suffering oppression.

By no means does Australia have it the worst. Gay pride doesn’t exist in China, Russia, and Indonesia, and even entire regions like Africa and the Middle East.

Man in born this way jacket with gay pride flags in background

Gay pride around the globe – Australia. Photo by Levi Saunders on Unsplash

Conservative Government with outdated gay pride views

Until 2017, marriage equality didn’t exist in Australia. Former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott (a Christian Liberal conservative) refused to put a conscience vote before parliament, instead insisting on a costly and divisive public vote – a plebiscite.

Despite a growing public sentiment for marriage equality, and a personal relationship (Abbott’s sister is gay) which could have influenced how marriage equality could be passed, Abbott pushed for the non-binding plebiscite, essentially a £94m opinion poll.

Before the plebiscite could be put in motion, however, he was ousted. Hope appeared in the form of Malcolm Turnbull, a more progressive and centre-leaning PM. Many marriage equality advocates hoped his appointment could mean a conscience vote by parliament, but hopes were dashed. Turnbull towed the party line, and the plebiscite was initiated.

Mental health in the LGBTQI community suffered. Vice wrote about youth mental health at the time of the plebiscite; requests for mental health services surged by 40% according to Government-funded, ReachOut Australia.

Fortunately, gay pride won and the country voted 61.6% in favour of marriage equality – legalisation was immediately passed.

Ironically and frustratingly for many, Turnbull continues to claim success for achieving marriage equality but he’s broadly derided for this. The Australian gay community, led by extraordinary LGBTQI rights advocates, achieved this.

 

Religious schools may legally discriminate against LGBTQI students and teachers

Australia faces a gay pride identity crisis. Whilst the country voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality in November 2017, a year later there is still an ongoing debate about an existing law which allows religious schools to expel or deny employment to staff based on their sexual orientation.

The current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (a Christian conservative Liberal) did himself and the Liberal party no favours when questioned about the law. Morrison repeatedly stated that it was “existing law”, refusing to answer if he thought it was right that students could be expelled based on their sexual orientation.

The following day, he back-flipped, stating:

“I don’t think if someone’s at a school they should be kicked out because they have a different sexuality to what might be believed to be the appropriate thing by a particular religious group.” And that “We do not think that children should be discriminated against.”

The law remains unchanged.

 

A youthful beacon of hope

Under the backdrop of a Government propping up discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, a beacon of hope has appeared.

Finn Stannard is a final year student at Catholic high school in Sydney. At his school assembly Finn came out. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive; Finn received a standing ovation from his peers and staff.

Despite the political and media storm surrounding this debate, as well as the potential negative response from his school and peers, Finn told the world who he is. A true leader. A champion who is proud and loved by his family, friends and peers.

Meanwhile in the political wild west, two of his school’s political alumni, Tony Abbott (Liberal) and Barnaby Joyce (National Party), are actively campaigning to maintain the religious freedom status quo.

Finn Stannard, student, stands at podium in front of peers and teachers

Finn Stannard comes out at Sydney high school. Image: St Ignatius’ / SBS News

Australia’s gay pride future

Australia has so much to offer, and it’s a great place for many. For the Australian LGBTQI community, they enjoy relative freedom and openness compared to other nations and cultures. But this country has a lot of growing up to do. Minorities, and even women for that matter, continue to fight for equality. It’s an enduring cultural paradigm that Australia needs to address if they wish to realise true gay pride and international high standing.