Real advances have been made by the lesbian and gay rights movement since the 60s. Age of consent laws have been implemented in all states of Australia now – even if some have very discriminatory unequal ages of consent such as in WA. Gay people have never been more ‘out’ than in the 90s and society has never been so accepting and inclusive. The huge attendances watching the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on the street and the fact that commercial TV is queuing for coverage of it is testament to that.
But the fight against homophobia is on-going. It is all too often that right-wing figures like WA state MP Peter Foss, pro-gun lobbyist Ted Drane and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party have come out with homophobic attacks in the media. These people use every trick in the book to maintain prejudice and homophobia.
Ted Drane during the gun debate last year, indicated that a ‘gay conspiracy’ was running the anti-gun lobby. In May 1997, Pauline Hanson’s advisor, a former Liberal Party advisor, David Oldfield, said in a commercial break on talk-back radio that a caller’s sexuality (homosexuality) was linked to his being raised by a single mother. The One Nation Party constantly points to same sex parents as ‘breaking down the family unit’, and that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt children.
‘Moral fabric of society’
Central to the arguments of the homophobes is the notion that homosexuals pose an attack on the ‘moral fabric of society’ and are aiding the ‘breakdown of the family unit’.
But it is the Liberals, these same hypocrites who say they stand for families, who are attacking the family with everything from cutting child care funding to increasing school fees and higher education costs.
To choose to raise a family is everyone’s right. How does the sexuality of the parents affect the ability of the parents to offer a loving, nurturing environment for children?
But more sinister than these figures is the likes of WA state MPs Peter Foss, Roger Nicholls and Graham Kierath. It is these people with their positions of power who have raged against the legitimate demands of gay people for decades. It was Peter Foss for instance who passed the Decriminalisation of Sodomy Act 1989 under extreme community pressure. He only gave consent to it on the condition that it included the homophobic preamble, stating that the WA Parliament disapproves of homosexual activity, the anti-proselytising section which makes it a criminal offence to promote homosexuality and the discriminatory age of consent set at 21 for gay men and 16 for women and heterosexuals.
Constant fear of abuse
It is the actions of these prominent homophobes and the mass media that perpetuates their views that maintains homophobia throughout society. The result is that Lesbian, Gay or Queer people, especially those whose looks or actions fit into the stereotyped mould, live in constant fear of verbal and physical abuse.
The recent surfacing of the connection between youth suicide and sexuality issues also indicates the devastating consequences of homophobia. Studies involving youth and sexuality over the past seven years reveal a disturbing picture. They indicate that between 25 and 40 per cent of young lesbians and gay men attempt suicide at some stage, while the number who had considered suicide was even higher, between 65 and 80 percent.
But as Graham Brown, a WA researcher in to suicide and sexuality in youth, said in August 1996, ‘With its shame and silence, however, homosexuality is significantly under-reported as a factor in suicide’.
But the call for the implementation of compulsory kits on homosexual vilification in all WA schools as part of the curriculum has been turned down by WA’s Education Minister, Colin Barnet,t on the ridiculous grounds that it is not appropriate to focus on homosexuality in a school environment.
The point is that full Gay and Lesbian Rights poses a threat to capitalism. Capitalism depends on the unpaid labour of the housewife to raise the next generation of workers. It is estimated that the cost of this unpaid labour could mount to tens of billions of dollars of the GDP annually. The demand for lesbian and Gay rights also incorporates women’s equality. Not only same sex families but also single parent families pose a threat to this system. The bosses and their friends in government need to systematically attack women’s access to child care, equal income levels, etc. to keep women in the home as unpaid housewives.
Capitalism around the world is in the throes of a long economic recession interrupted by small periods of up-swing. Unemployment is at levels not seen since the Great Depression. In order to maintain control over workers during this period of government cut-backs, privatisation, attacks on union rights, etc. the bosses must also use the divide and rule tactic.
Just as famous black rights activist Malcolm X said that ‘ You can’t have capitalism without racism’ so too you can’t have capitalism with homophobia and sexism.
As long as the rule of the few under capitalism exists it will always try to wind back freedoms during times of reaction. The recent moves by the Coalition state and federal governments to clamp down on censorship and access to sperm donor facilities for lesbian women are clear examples.
Alternatively, Militant believes it is socialism that has an integral interest in fighting for Lesbian and Gay rights. Workers have a natural interest in eliminating discrimination because it is a barrier to knowledge and united action against the bosses system.
Democratic worker’s control
Socialism is about nationalisation of the top monopolies under democratic workers’ control. This is necessary to share out work to eliminate underemployment and reduce the working week and to turn the huge profits made by the corporations towards paying decent wages and spending on much needed social services. It’s only through these means that the present inequalities that breed poverty and unemployment under capitalism which forms the basis for division, isolation and prejudice and eliminated forever.
That is why Militant is active in fighting for Lesbian and Gay rights and plays a key role in the radical activist group Queer Radical in WA and in forming the ‘Left Contingents’ for Pride parades in Melbourne and Perth.
Divide and rule
Militant sees that in the period we are entering of increasing economic and social crisis, the bosses will use any ploy to divide workers along racial, sexual and any other lines. In this context it is the duty of socialists to eliminate any remaining homophobia in the working class as soon as possible. . The most effective way to overcome homophobia is to organise for the active involvement of unions, progressive parties and community campaigns such as anti-racism campaigns in the gay rights issue. We call for union and progressive party involvement to strengthen gay and lesbian campaigns . We also call for the Lesbian, Gay and Queer community to look outward and demand solidarity from unions and progressive parties, etc. It was the key involvement of Militant that helped organise the Queer radical contingent in the successful anti-Hanson protests in Perth on 3 and 4 May.
In fact, it is quite possible that major gains for queer equality can be made in the present period. The recent successes in Tasmania are a case in point. The Tasmanian Government passed age of consent laws unamended in order to cut across community anger and to put an end to the damage done to the weak Tasmanian economy by produce and tourism boycotts for instance.
The specific demands of the Lesbian, Gay and Queer movement must be fought for. In this context the introduction of the Democrats Sexuality Discrimination Bill into the WA upper House to repeal the discriminatory Age of Consent laws and include sexuality in the state’s Equal Opportunity Act must be assisted with a strong community campaign.
Militant fights for:
-Opposition to all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual identity.
-Equal ages of consent nationally.
-The question of the age of consent to worked out by a nation committee comprising of youth, youth service professionals and community leaders.
-Repeal of all anti-homosexuality law.
-For union and community education and action to stop ‘gay bashing’. For the union, community groups and progressive parties to work actively with Lesbian, Gay and Queer communities to educate and act against homophobia.
By Neil Grey
Originally published in the September 1997 edition of The Militant, the predecessor of The Socialist.