The path to social inclusion (2009)

Thursday 14 May 2009

Click here to return to the Articles and Opinion Pieces Index

The path to social inclusion

By Graeme Innes, Australia’s Human Right Commissioner

Publication: Published in SX Magazine, 14 May 2009


Killing and physical violence, exclusion from families and local communities, bullying at school and in the workplace – these are all experiences of gay, lesbian and gender diverse people in various parts of the world.

I've just returned from Yogyakarta in Indonesia, where I participated in a workshop on these issues.  Human Rights Commissions from around the Asia-Pacific region were discussing how best to implement the Yogyakarta principles- a document drafted several years ago, which sets out how international human rights law applies to people who are gay, lesbian or gender diverse.

Some of the stories we heard were horrific:

  • Detained by police in Indonesia, a gay man and his partner were humiliated, beaten and sexually abused until they signed statements that they would not engage in homosexual acts again;

  • In Burma, a lesbian woman was raped by her male co-workers to ‘cure’ her of perceived ‘abnormal practices’;

  • Hospitalised after being beaten and detained by religious vigilantes, a transgender person in Malaysia was charged for violating the Sharia dress code.

Though this sort of persecution mostly doesn't occur in Australia, it doesn't mean gay, lesbian, or gender diverse people here don't experience discrimination and unacceptable treatment.

As we approach the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHo) this Sunday, it is important to recognise the successes that have occurred in Australia, but also to be aware of the challenges still to be overcome.

Yes, we've de-criminalised sexual acts between consenting same-sex adults, but we do not have laws at a federal level to deal with discrimination.

Yes, the current government has passed laws removing discrimination against same-sex couples, but relationship recognition is very different for a same-sex couple than for an opposite sex couple.

For people who are gender diverse, birth certificates may be changed, but the process is difficult, inconsistent across States and territories, requires surgery, and is not available to people who are married.

Children and young people who are gay, lesbian or gender diverse are still bullied at school.  And adults who are gay, lesbian or gender diverse are still discriminated against and excluded in the workplace.

IDAHo provides us all with the opportunity to think about our own experiences, and about how our human rights may have been violated.

Right now, Australians have the opportunity to share those experiences with the National Human Rights Consultation Committee that is considering whether Australia's human rights should be better protected and promoted.  I’m telling my story to the committee, and you can too at .  Would your experience have been different if we had broader federal discrimination legislation, a human rights education campaign, or a human rights act for Australia?

It is true that Australia's human rights record is not usually marked by killings, rapes or forced removals, such as the ones I heard about in Yogyakarta.  But there is no doubt that, for people who are gay, lesbian or gender diverse, human rights in Australia still require better protection.