Whilst there have been great strides taken in the acceptance of gay men, lesbian women, and transsexual individuals within Australian society over the last generations, most would agree there is still much to be achieved, especially for younger LGBT people where experiences with bullying and self-harm are up to eight times more common than for heterosexual youth.
But the only way to have true mainstream acceptance of LGBT individuals and issues is to engage with all parts of the mainstream. All political parties. All occupations. Every civil rights issue in western history has been best advanced when barriers were brought down, and free debate was had in an open and engaging manner.
If people in the LGBT community do not feel supported by the Liberal Party, or the Police, or “big business”, they will not win that support by locking those groups out of the conversation. On the contrary, having the Chief Commissioner of VICPOL, or senior members of the Liberal Party at Midsumma – including new Victorian leader Michael O’Brien – is the best way to encourage better understanding between everyone in our community.
As Liberals we can understand that not every person will agree with every view expressed by every Liberal MP, and we embrace free debate of those issues. However, those criticising the Liberal Party for attending Pride events should also be fair and acknowledge that it was the Hamer Liberal Government which first decriminalised homosexuality in Victoria, it was Liberal Governments Federally and in Victoria which first provided equal recognition for same-sex couples in the public service, it was the Napthine Liberal Government which expunged previous homosexual convictions, and it was a Liberal Prime Minister who put his leadership on the line to make same-sex marriage the law of the land via the only mechanism available to him.
In addition, in an age when discussion about quotas is fashionable, without quotas the Liberal Party can still claim the first three openly gay members of the House of Representatives, and has more openly LGBT members of Parliament in Canberra than the other parties combined, and has run many other openly gay candidates at State and Federal elections.
At the 2018 State Conference of the Victorian Liberal Party, the Liberal Pride Branch was awarded as the fastest growing and most active branch in the Victorian Division. This is a trend which all members of the LGBT community should support, whatever their past reservations about the party. After all, it would send a profound but disappointing message if gay men were proven to be more welcome in the Liberal Party, than gay members of the Liberal Party were welcome in the gay community.
Pride March should be about freedom, and it should be about free speech, and it should celebrate the right to protest. These are values all who marched share. But most of all Pride should be a welcoming environment. If we truly want to advance LGBT individuals and causes, let’s never again use the phrase “you’re not welcome here”.
Ben Greenwood is president of Liberal Pride, a branch of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party with a focus on Liberals who are also members of the LGBTI community.