Book chapter

Australia's History of LGBTI Politics and Rights (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

In the past 50 years, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activism in Australia has grown from small, localized organizations to national campaigns calling on all Australians to affirm LGBTI people's equality. While the issues and activist strategies have evolved over the past 50 years, there have been two persistent patterns: most organizations and activism have been state based and have drawn on international influences, especially from the United Kingdom and United States. In the 1970s the organizations CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Persecution) and Gay Liberation presented competing visions of LGBTI equality, but both recognized the importance of visibility in order to change societal attitudes and influence law reform. Campaigns to decriminalize male homosexuality began in the 1970s and continued across the states through the 1980s and even into the 1990s in Tasmania. After law reform, activists shifted their advocacy to other areas including anti-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, and eventually marriage equality. HIV/AIDS was another important cause that generated grassroots activism within LGBTI communities. State AIDS councils worked in partnership with the federal government, and Australia had one of the world's best public health responses to the epidemic. Pop culture, international media, and visibility at events such as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras gradually shifted public opinions in favor of LGB equality by the 2000s. Transgender and intersex rights and acceptance were slower to enter the public agenda, but by the 2010s, those two groups had attained a level of visibility and were breaking down preconceived stereotypes and challenging prejudice. Indeed, politicians lagged behind public opinion on marriage equality, delaying and obfuscating the issue as the major political parties grappled with internal divisions. In 2017 the Commonwealth government held a postal survey asking Australian voters whether or not they supported same-sex marriage. This was an unprecedented exercise in Australian polity that was divisive, but LGBTI activists succeeded in their campaign and secured an overwhelming victory. The postal survey's outcome also set the stage for new political fights around LGBTI people's rights: so-called religious freedom, transgender birth certificates and support for LGBTI young people.