A more rainbow parliament could light the way
Victoria is currently leading the country on LGBTIQ+ legislative reforms. In February of this year, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 was passed, representing an important step towards preventing and responding to the serious damage and trauma caused by change or suppression practices. It ensures LGBTQ people are able to live their lives authentically with pride, and makes clear that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are not broken and do not need to be fixed.
Just last week, the government committed to extending the state’s anti-vilification protections to cover sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS status, which recognises that everyone should be able to participate in community life without fear or attack. The government was also commended for leadership on intersex rights, increasing awareness of innate variations of sex characteristics, supporting intersex health and wellbeing services, and legislating to improve healthcare for intersex children, including by introducing a prohibition on deferrable medical interventions without personal consent.
However, there is one measure in which the state falls drastically behind. The Victorian Parliament has one of the lowest numbers of LGBTIQ+ people of any parliament in Australia, sitting around 2 per cent. There are currently no openly LGBTIQ+ people in the ministry or the shadow ministry. The crossbench isn’t much better. Both the equality minister and shadow equality minister are allies, not members of the LGBTIQ+ community, and Victoria has never elected a trans, non-binary, or intersex person nor an out lesbian to the lower house.
Comparatively, the ACT has 16 per cent of MPs and 33 per cent of ministers identifying as LGBTIQ+. Western Australia has 11 per cent of the Cabinet. Abroad, the UK House of Lords has five times more lesbians in their Chamber than in both houses of the Victorian Parliament combined, and New Zealand has 10 per cent LGBTIQ+ MPs. As well as representation, these numbers illustrate the meaningful inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people in decision making about the lives and interests of their communities as well as the opportunity to advocate and stand for other important issues too.
An Essential Research poll found 71 per cent of Australians believe the country would benefit from a greater representation of under-represented groups in parliament. So how do we get there?
The Victorian Pride Lobby just released the first-of-its-kind research into the barriers and motivators for lesbian, bi+ and queer (LBQ+) women to stand for office. Although focusing on the experiences of LBQ+ women, broader lessons can be applied for all LGBTIQ+ candidates running for office across the country. The key themes which emerged included; a need for diversity and a desire to represent their communities; the desire for change and to be in a position of power from which positive changes could be enacted; challenging the status quo; the capacity to contribute their unique skills and experiences; and having the competencies to make a positive difference to their communities.
Political parties across all states and territories need to rise to the challenge of increasing LGBTIQ+ representation in public office, especially in Victoria. With a state election scheduled for November 2022 and a federal election that could happen within months, political parties can, and must, take immediate steps to boost the diversity of candidates’ gender, gender identity, intersex status, and sexuality.
Community organisations, the social services sector, and peak bodies have a role to play in supporting LGBTIQ+ people to successfully stand for office. We know that when LGBTIQ+ people are elected, they are capable of working across the political divide to win significant reforms for our communities. Those organisations involved in the political sphere can be positive champions not just for LGBTIQ+ candidates but also people from First Nations, multicultural, multifaith, migrant, disability, refugee, asylum seeker, and varied socioeconomic backgrounds.
The benefits of a more representative parliament are many. At the core of electing more LGBTIQ+ people is the fact that representation matters. The composition of parliaments which better reflect our wider community enables parliament to make decisions and provide scrutiny which better represents the experiences, needs, views and aspirations of the population it serves. Further, a greater diversity of elected representatives is a significant step towards a healthier democracy. Having people at the table with significantly different backgrounds and perspectives can facilitate a more dynamic and productive conversation – one that is fundamental to a constructive and constructively critical exchange of views. However, all this remains aspirational until we collectively take the steps to actualise them.
It is important that we continue to strive for a fully representative democracy so that we can move beyond having just one equality state and step toward more equitable parliaments all across the country.