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Senator Robert Simms takes the ACL to task for homophobia

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Robert Simms 25 Nov 2015

Thank you acting deputy president.

This afternoon I rise to speak about an event I recently attended in my home state hosted by an organisation doing good work across our country, Minus 18's Same-Sex and Gender Diverse Formal.
 I attended this event in Adelaide on the 13th of November. This was the first time a Same-Sex and Gender Diverse formal has been hosted in Adelaide and it was attended by 120Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender young people.

Members of this place may be aware that similar events have been hosted in Victoria but this was a first for South Australia. I do hope it is the first of many such events in the future.

I have to say Mr Acting Deputy President, I was very moved by this event. It was a powerful thing to see so many young people, out and proud, comfortable in their own skin. And celebrating diversity at an important social ritual like a formal.

School formals are all too often the source of a lot of anxiety for LGBT young people. We still hear of schools preventing students from being able to bring same-sex partners to formals. We still hear of homophobia within schools making the idea of bringing a partner of the same-sex to a formal almost impossible. So this formal is an opportunity to do things differently and an opportunity for young LGBT people to come together in a safe and inclusive environment. And that's a wonderful thing.

I do remember my own school formal. Not that long ago but much has changed since then, alas I still can't dance to save my life. But I do wish when I was in school there was a program like this in place at that time.

Minus 18 is Australia's largest youth led organisation for gay, lesbian, bisexual and Trans youth. It provides a range of important support and assistance to young LGBT people.

This includes:
- Mental Health Support and peer mentoring to thousands of LGBT young people from across the country
- Regular social events - breaking down social isolation
- Dance events
- Online Support - connecting with more than 5,000 same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people
- The Same-Sex and Gender Diverse Formal
This is an organisation that is run by youth volunteers and receives some funding from The City of Melbourne, The Victorian Government's Office for Youth and The Victorian department of Health. A truly great initiative runs by young people.

The event in Adelaide I had the privilege of speaking at earlier this month, was organised in Collaboration with the Safe Schools Coalition. The Safe Schools coalition is comprised of schools that have access to resources and support aimed to improve safety and inclusivity for LGBTI young people at schools and to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools. There are 470 member schools, 13,516 staff have been involved in this and almost 330,000 students in member schools. So a coalition that is having a wide reach.

Mr Acting Deputy President, this is very important work. I've remarked before in this place that homophobia and transphobia still persist in this country. These things still create a lot of harm. One way to combat that is by addressing this in our schools.
I read a beautiful article on BuzzFeed by Lane Saintly, who talks to Margot who is a nominee for the 2016 Young Australian of the Year Award and works with Minus 18 and I quote from that article:
Margot says:

"For me growing up, I had no one I could look to. That sucked because I was like, OK I can be open with who I am and what I am, but I probably won't be successful in my career, I'll probably lose a bunch of friends, my family might reject me. In hindsight those weren't correct assumptions. But because there was no one I could relate to, that's the only thing I could believe. Being able to break that down for other people is huge."
Mr Acting Deputy President, I think Margot's words would resonate with many Gay, Lesbian and Transgender people. I certainly remember that sense of fear and isolation as a young person. It can be a challenging time, it can be an an isolating time so anything that helps to overcome that isolation is really welcome.
Given the value of work of Minus 18 and the Safe Schools Coalition you can imagine my horror when I saw that the Australian Christian Lobby has been advocating for the safe schools coalition to be axed because apparently it is "potentially damaging to students," apparently it "teaches kids gay and lesbian techniques." That's a quote from the ACL in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Now Mr Acting Deputy President I'm reluctant to give these absurd views more of an airing, but sunlight is the best disinfectant and I do think the ACL should be held to account for the homophobia they fan in our community. Held to account for the brazen lies they tell and misinformation they spread.

Now, despite their name we know the Australian Christian Lobby don't represent Christians in this country. Indeed, a vast masjority of Australian Christians reject their world view. This group are completely unrepresentative - they are simply an extreme fringe group. An extreme fringe group that promotes a world view that is as dangerous and divisive.

I guess I should hardly be surprised that the ACL have taken aim at an organisation that seeks to combat bullying, given the ACL promote sexism, homophobia and transphobia. The currency of bullies. That's the business model of the ACL.

But let me address this suggestion that the safe schools coalition somehow promotes homosexuality. I am intrigued by this idea that simply by talking about being gay, simply by talking about difference you're somehow going to convert people. It's as if it's something that you can catch.

I've spent my whole life exposed to heterosexuality; we live in a heteronormative society. Indeed, it seems you can't turn on a TV or pick up a magazine without being exposed to rampant heterosexuality! It's everywhere Mr Acting Deputy Speaker. It's everywhere I look! Straight couples holding hands. Straight couples getting married. The other day, Mr Acting Deputy President I even saw a straight couple kissing on the streets of Adelaide. It's everywhere I look. They are on a recruitment drive! It's a miracle that I've reached age 31 and I still haven't been recruited. I haven't caught it yet!

What a nonsense this is. How reckless to be pushing this in the national discourse. Next they'll be saying "gay marriage is more dangerous than smoking." Oh wait, they have, they have made that claim. They have made that hurtful, nasty claim back in 2012. That's also a view espoused by the ACL.

In a world rocked by poverty and injustice, one might ask why the ACL refuse to use their resources and profile to campaign on something meaningful. Something that might actually make a positive contribution. War, poverty, famine, climate change, economic inequality. So much injustice in this world. If the ACL want to take on moral decay, may be they should tackle those issues, may be they should deal with these moral challenges and drop this obsession with the gay and lesbian community.

Mr Acting Deputy President, the reckless comments of the ACL are a reminder of why the work of the Safe Schools Coalition is so important. Why the work of Minus 18 is so important. For as long as there is prejudice and discrimination in this world, we need good people to come together and try to bring about change. And I commend the volunteers of Minus 18 and Safe Schools for doing that.

I'm tremendously proud of the young people who are doing this good work. I have no doubt they are changing lives for the better and making our country a more safe and inclusive place and what a great thing that is.

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