Australia, LGBTQ+ Equality, and the upcoming elections

Update ahead of the May 21st vote

The Religious Discrimination Bill

In our last update, we shared that the Australia Religious Discrimination Bill was being shelved by the ruling coalition with too little parliamentary time to resolve various issues before the May 21st election. The bill passed the house but was not presented to the Senate.

This is sadly just a temporary win which remains a warning sign that religious exemptions to human rights will continue to be a hot topic globally in the years ahead. (See Legal Aid’s summary of the saga). A defeat of the ruling coalition would bury the bill indefinitely. On the other hand, Prime Minister Morrison promised to pass it if elected.

Opposition Labor favorite to win May 21st election

Campaigning is now in full force for the general election on May 21st. The opposition Labor Party is ahead in the polls, and time is running out for the ruling Liberal-National coalition to close the gap. A Newspoll survey published by The Australian newspaper last week had the opposition still leading the government 53% to 47%. A separate opinion poll by Ipsos released in the Australian Financial Review had Labor at 55%.

The coalition government took a hit when the signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands emerged. Although the economy is performing strongly, with unemployment at an all-time low, accelerating inflation (at its highest in two decades) is driving cost-of-living concerns.

LGBTQ+ issues in the campaign

While it is easy to feel like LGBTQ+ issues are top of mind, the reality is that Australians are mostly looking at climate change (wildfires are out of control) and the response to Covid.

Yet the ruling coalition intentionally tried to divert attention using LGBTQ+ issues. The religious discrimination bill was a hot topic during the campaign, but it is trans issues and, in particular, participation in Sports that constituted the bulk of the conversation. As a reminder, in 2016 Australia reported only 1,260 ‘sex and/or gender diverse people in Australia’ (although there are some concerns with the methodology).

Some of the debate focused on a “save women’s sport bill,” which created dissension within the ruling coalition. Ultimately, Prime Minister Morrison distanced himself from the proposed bill by indicating the Coalition “does not have any plans” to sponsor the bill, which he had previously described as “terrific.” Australian superstar swimmer Emma McKeon recently expressed concerns about having trans women compete.

Two weeks ago, Scott Morrison’s hand-picked candidate for the Sydney seat of Warringah, was criticized for denouncing “gender extremism” and calling out Police’s support for “Wear It Purple Day” (read about it here) on Twitter. She doubled down in her response, and some lobby groups created a controversial billboard attacking her opponent’s views on trans women’s participation in sports. 

Similarly, last week, opposition leader Anthony Albanese was asked whether trans men were men in an interview recorded with a teenager (he responded the now usual “this is not for me to define people“).

The big picture

Whether it is the “religious discrimination bill” or trans participation in sports, LGBTQ+ people have become a wedge issue in elections worldwide. Manipulating fears of transgender people remains an easy way for politicians to divert attention from pressing crises such as climate change. In the absence of more favorable opinions, it is important for LGBTQ+ people to recenter the debate on human rights and economic empowerment topics which tend to be less divisive.

Post-election, Out Leadership, will encourage the winner to take steps to ensure Australia plays its role in advancing LGBTQ+ rights in the region by, among other initiatives, naming a Special Envoy on LGBTQ+ issues, supporting Taiwanese civil society, and engaging with the Asian Development Bank. 

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