Aids Action Council Candlelight Memorial at University House

This candlelight memorial provides us with an opportunity to honour, support and advocate for those affected by the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Acknowledgements

 

  • Traditional owners
  • Philippa Moss and Dr Nathan Boyle and the team at the AIDS Action Council
  • Fellow guest speakers
  • Distinguished Guests - MLAs and Ambassadors/ High Commissioners/ Representatives from the Diplomatic Community

 

I’m honoured to be speaking here today.

This candlelight memorial provides us with an opportunity to honour, support and advocate for those affected by the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The theme for this year’s event – “supporting the future” – also prompts us to reflect on our achievements, embrace the challenges, and renew our ongoing commitment to HIV prevention.

Renewal of our effort is needed because HIV notifications in the ACT, and in Australia, have increased in recent years and we are now experiencing the highest rates of new HIV infections in twenty years.

This highlights the need for ongoing support and advocacy for those affected by HIV/AIDS here in our community; for those affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the globe; and, most importantly on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia, for those who face the double impact of being isolated from seeking support and treatment by intolerance and fear.

It’s rare that homophobia happens when we’re together. More often it happens when people are alone, isolated. Walking on the street at night. Confronted by a colleague at work. Bullied at school.

And yes, this still happens, with unacceptable regularity in Australia and in Canberra. We’ve seen the research to prove this—if we needed any. 

Released just this year from BeyondBlue, was a helpful report on the depths and frequency of homophobic bullying in our schools.

It’s happening, and it has an effect—a damaging and lasting effect for kids.

We usually experience this homophobia, this biphobia, this transphobia, when we’re isolated.

But that’s what this IDAHOT’s about changing.

It’s about speaking out together. And that’s why it’s the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia—it’s all of us speaking out together against discrimination. So that we’re not alone, and the people experiencing the discrimination don’t feel alone.

It’s important we don’t let days like these pass as one-off moments of inclusion. We need to make sure we express our community’s commitment to diversity and inclusion often and proudly.

I’m proud that we have events like today and events like SpringOUT, our Queer Cultural Festival, to help us celebrate the strength of diversity in our community - and I’m proud that today I’ve committed my Government to becoming a major partner and financial supporter of SpringOUT into the future.

Sometimes, people will remind us of just how good we have it here in Australia. Particularly, I must say, here in Canberra, compared to other parts of the world. And implicit in this is that we should be more appreciative. But of course we needn’t listen to that—nothing but full equality will ever be good enough.

But they’re right in one respect—there are countries where there is open violence to LGBTI people, that can unfortunately come with the support of authorities.

We’re all too aware of the horrific situation in Russia—a place that has chosen to use hate as a cultural propaganda tool.

It’s the desperation of a deeply insecure government.

And what we know about homophobic violence is the sad reality that often the perpetrators are homosexual themselves. Internalised homophobia is the huge cost of an intolerant society.

On the IDAHOT website, a person in Egypt wrote: “There’s very little coverage about homosexuality or HIV/AIDS in Egypt, even negative. But authorities cannot censor international coverage of IDAHOT. Some forms of visibility have to come from outside.”

That’s a powerful statement that gives real purpose and value to the work we’re doing today.

We must always remember that fighting HIV/AIDS, just like fighting intolerance, means working with the whole community, and carrying the whole community with us in the fight against stigma, discrimination and ignorance.

It’s a fight that’s a long way from over.

If we’re going to prevent the spread of HIV, we must work together as a community.

In all of our work - like the Ending HIV campaign and the ACT Testing Month—the Government works closely with the AIDS Action Council, with Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, with ACT Medicare Local, with Canberra Sexual Health Care, and with our community pharmacies and ACT Health.

If we are to continue to work towards the goal of HIV prevention, such collaborations must continue to be nurtured and supported.

In thinking about “supporting the future”, we must acknowledge the numerous opportunities and challenges that lie before us.  So too, we must recognise that each opportunity is accompanied by responsibilities.

With new and emerging rapid HIV testing options, we have an opportunity to work together to find innovative ways to reach and support high risk groups and vulnerable members of our community. 

We must also ensure that new testing technologies and opportunities are accompanied by appropriate levels of support and follow-up.

We know from the evidence that new treatments and early commencement of treatment can support people living with HIV to live longer, healthier lives.

However, we know that people living with HIV tend to experience chronic disease at younger ages, and this will present us with new challenges and responsibilities as our population ages.

We must also continue to work with the whole community, not just those affected by HIV, to tackle ongoing issues of stigma and discrimination.

We need to remove the institutional barriers to the equal treatment of people living with HIV, most especially discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender diversity. 

The challenges are considerable.  Just this year, Monash University researchers identified the ‘gay pay gap’.

Gay men, in particular, are denied opportunities because of homophobia in the workplace.  The situation for transgender Australians is even more acute.

This is something we are tackling directly in the ACT.

I was pleased to announce earlier today that the ACT Government will become a member of Pride In Diversity.

Pride in Diversity is Australia’s first and only not-for-profit workplace program designed specifically to assist Australian employers with the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) employees.  

Other Members include:

 

  • AFP
  • Department of Defence
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Human Services
  • Attorney Generals Department
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)
  • Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)
  • Australian National University
  • KPMG
  • PWC
  • EY
  • Deloitte

 

We join to make sure our ACT Government workplaces and front-line public service staff are welcoming and respectful to their colleagues and clients.

And there’s a role for everyone in our community. I want the Canberra Business Chamber and the Community Sector to work with us by nominating ‘Diversity Champions’ to work with our ACT Government champions to promote social inclusion and equality.

Some will no doubt ask why we need to do this?

Why is this so important?

Equality activist Rory O’Neill summed it up quite well I thought.  

He said:  “I have never un-self-consciously held hands with my husband.”

It’s a simple thing— it doesn’t sound like it means that much—but it’s something that should come without hesitation.

And what he means by ‘un-self-consciously’ is that, in that split second before you show that affection which comes so naturally —and is derived from our deep love, and care— you “check-in”.

You “check-in” because you are aware it’s a statement to hold hands.

It’s like waving a great big pride flag.  You check-in with what it means to the people around you, and how they will react.

But it shouldn’t be a statement. What it should be is a connection between two people.

But it never is just that for people who are not straight.

I’m also conscious that to a certain extent I’m waving the pride flag just by being openly gay and in public life.

Because I know that this means something to people experiencing homophobia.

It’s important for LGBTI people to know that you can be successfully involved in ANY field of endeavour and be gay.

I hope that more high profile people can come out. Because it’s solidarity—that togetherness— that is most effective in the fight against homophobia.

Being isolated is what makes homophobia so hard.

To end homophobia, we need places where we accept people and their differences. Because we know that a person who’s different doesn’t threaten us and how we ourselves would like to live.  

But rather, being different makes life a little more interesting.

Frankly, if everybody looked and acted the same, we would all get tired of looking at each other.

The unhindered ability for anyone to be themselves is just another iteration of freedom—just another step on our long climb to greater freedom for all.

It’s the right of people to make their own decisions about matters that affect only them. It’s our society embracing another layer of diversity; so all of us can be included, contribute, and be rewarded fairly.

Sometimes we all need a small helping hand to make sure we’re including those around us.

We must help our LGBTI community groups mature in their ability to support the community. Sometimes that’s about coming together to express support, like we are doing right now.

Sometimes it will be about small levels of assistance to help take the work our community do to the next level, and the ACT Government will make sure that support is available, too.

Embracing diversity is obvious. For challenging our thinking. For creating warm, welcoming communities. And just because it’s the right thing to do. 

Laws can make a big difference to changing social attitudes—we here in Canberra have made in-roads in that area. Being the first place in Australia to introduce full marriage equality, which has sent a powerful signal that this is a friendly place where everyone is equal.

But laws can’t do it alone.

What I’m hoping for isn’t about a change in who we are, I’m hoping for a change in attitudes. That is to say, we are diverse already.

What we hope to do is celebrate what already exists.

Not deny and undermine it.

Ending discrimination benefits the thousands of parents who want their sons and daughters to live happy, productive and healthy lives without experiencing fear, hate or exclusion.

It benefits the brothers and sisters who have seen their gay and lesbian siblings struggle.

It benefits everyone who has felt uncomfortable about the unequal treatment society dishes out.

Ending discrimination benefits everyone.

Less isolation, more togetherness and more un-self-conscious holding of hands: these are what we can achieve with IDAHOT and with tonight’s candlelight vigil.

Tonight is a time to honour those who have passed, support those presently affected, and reaffirm our commitment to HIV prevention and “supporting the future” through inclusion.

These are things we have achieved today. 

So, thank you.