The Importance of Equality: Interviews with Bill Shorten, Alex Greenwich, & the Australian Marriage Equality Organisation

Thomas Birch asks the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, the NSW Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, and the Co-Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, Shirleene Robinson, why Mardi Gras and equality are so important.

On the weekend the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras held its 38th annual parade with at least 300,000 people lining the streets to witness the occasion.


Photo: @christopher__p/Instagram

Among those in attendance was Malcolm Turnbull, becoming the first sitting Australian Prime Minister to attend the event.


Photo: Malcolm Turnbull/Facebook

The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, was also present. He marched in the parade alongside his wife, children and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek. Bill Shorten is the first major federal party leader to march in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.


Photo: Bill Shorten/Twitter

The past couple of weeks have seen significant developments for the LGBTIQ community with the NSW Government and NSW Police Force apologising to the first generation of protesters, known as the “78ers”, for the arrests, bashings, and humiliation they received as a result of marching in protest against the discrimination that the gay community faced; Sydney’s first Mardi Gras.

More than three decades on, we have undoubtedly come a long way, so is Mardi Gras still relevant?

The short answer: Absolutely.

Mardi Gras is a symbol to everyone, young and old, that being attracted to the same sex is okay. That being different is okay. That being true to yourself is okay.

It says to that young guy sitting at home in his bedroom in a rural town, feeling confused and alone, that he is in fact, not alone. It says to that young girl who was kicked out of home because she likes other girls, that there is nothing wrong with the way she feels. No one should be persecuted for loving someone of the same sex.

We still don’t have marriage equality in Australia, and quite frankly, that is unacceptable.

Mardi Gras was, and still is, a political protest.

It is relevant because homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination still exist today.

I asked the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, the NSW Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, and the Co-Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, Shirleene Robinson, their thoughts on Mardi Gras and marriage equality.

Here’s what they had to say:

Is Mardi Gras still relevant? If so, why?

Bill Shorten: Mardi Gras started in 1978 as a protest against discrimination and harassment of the LGBTI community.  The brave activists that marched in the first parade in 1978 faced violence, abuse and arrest.  The fact that the Federal Leader of a major political party is now joining the Parade shows us just how far we’ve come in the fight for equality and inclusion.  This is why a festival like Mardi Gras is so important.

Alex Greenwich: It’s taken 38 years for an official apology to the 78ers for the police and media brutality and abuse they suffered for standing up for equality. People in same-sex couples still don’t have the same rights as heterosexual couples. LGBTIQ people still face discrimination, abuse and violence; too many young people face depression and self-harm because others’ hatred and phobias are endorsed and weighs them down.

In some countries you can be executed and your family imprisoned, just for being gay. Others have long prison and physical abuse penalties for loving someone of the same gender. We must keep up the momentum for reform inside and outside Australia.

Shirleene Robinson: I think it’s definitely still very relevant. I think it’s the biggest event of the yearly calendar in Australia that draws attention to LGBTI issues and you can see from the level of attention that it gets in the mainstream media just how central it is in drawing attention to a lot of the ongoing issues that LGBTI people still face in Australian society, and marriage equality obviously is one of those issues.

Why is marriage equality such an important issue?

Bill Shorten: I have dedicated my working life to ensuring Australians from all walks of life receive a fair go. I have fought for workers to receive fair pay and conditions and decent treatment in the workplace. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities I worked with my Labor Party colleagues to establish the National Disability Insurance Scheme, to provide a better future for Australians living with a disability and their families. Now I’m using my status as Leader of the Australian Labor Party to fight for LGBTI Australians to have the same rights as everybody else. I am committed to delivering equality for LGBTI Australians in all aspects of life, including the right to marry the person they love.

Alex Greenwich: Equality is important. It was for inter-racial couples who weren’t allowed to marry, and it is for same-sex couples.

Equal rights means that our community no longer says LGBTIQ people are worth less or don’t deserve the same respect and fair treatment.

Shirleene Robinson: I think it’s a big issue because the fact that we don’t have it in Australia when so many culturally similar countries do, it sends a message, particularly to young people growing up who are attracted to the same sex, that their relationships aren’t the same and that they’re not given that legal recognition. I think that is increasingly seen as quite unfair, that LGBTI people can’t have that same level of recognition in Australian society, and that’s why I think it’s become something that is really galvanising a lot of people today and support just keeps growing every year.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Bill Shorten: The Australian Labor Party has a proud record of delivering for LGBTI Australians that is unmatched by any other political party and I want to see that momentum continue. I am proud to have been a member of the previous Labor Government which changed around 100 Federal laws to remove discrimination against LGBTI Australians in all aspects of public life, including in tax, superannuation and family benefits. But it is now time to make marriage equality a reality. If Labor wins the next election, we will introduce a Bill into Parliament within 100 days of taking office – that’s my commitment to your readers.  If you want marriage equality in Australia, vote Labor at the next election.

Alex Greenwich: The 2015 Human Rights Commission report on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex rights (SOGII) identified extensive reforms needed to remove state-sanctioned discrimination of trans and intersex communities. We have to align discrimination provisions across all states.

Mardi Gras is a celebration of survival and resilience, creativity and community spirit.


To learn more about the history of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, click here.

Feature Image: Flickr, Newtown graffiti, no changes made.

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