Pride, passion and protest
7 February 2022 at 5:09 pm
It is thanks to the work of advocacy groups that strides have been made to advance the rights of LGBTIQA+ Australians. But what happens when those same organisations experience internal turmoil, asks Nevena Spirovska.
For those working in the social purpose sector at an organisational or community level, addressing complex and protracted challenges is central to what we do. Whether our core purpose is the advancement of LGBTIQA+ law reform, decreasing poverty by raising the rate of social security payments, or reducing the number of children and young people who enter the out-of-home care system, finding solutions to these issues requires a broad range of skills, expertise and intervention-types applied over years and decades. However, just as inevitable as progress is disagreement about how to advance our causes, which can lead to internal conflict and disaccord within a movement.
Thanks to more than half a century of tireless campaigning by community-controlled organisations, activists, and allies, enormous strides have been made to advance the rights of LGBTIQA+ Australians. Before the 1970s an openly gay life in Australia was inconceivable. Male homosexuality activity was a criminal offence, female homosexuality was either shrouded in silence or completely ignored, and same-sex attraction was considered a psychiatric illness. Any representation of queer love in mainstream media presented homosexuality as sick, criminal, and morally reprehensible. Now, Victoria is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the state with an enormous Pride party in the heart of the city.
The many slow but seismic shifts towards a fairer and more equitable experience for queer Australians can be traced back to Australia’s first advocacy groups like Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP), the ACT Homosexual Law Reform Society, and Daughters of Bilitis calling for same-sex attracted people to come out and join the fight for a fairer, more just society. But what happens when those organisations who do so much to support the communities they are a part of and are a beacon of LGBTIQA+ leadership experience internal turmoil?
Recent reports of animosity emanating from the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras board ahead of its annual general meeting has been met with an impassioned plea from the Mardi Gras 78ers – the LGBT+ activists who marched in the original 1978 Sydney Mardi Gras and also participated in the subsequent protests against police violence – to “reject internal conflict”. Mardi Gras is the world’s largest annual celebration of LGBT+ people and one of Australia’s biggest single tourist attractions, which also has its roots in protest. But how will the organisation deal with the internal conflict within its board constructively so that it can return to steering the annual celebration which launches in just a few weeks time?
Even at a grassroots level we see disagreement about how to address a much discussed issue of the police’s participation in Pride events. The group “No Police at Pride” has launched an Open Letter, signed by over 145 Victorian LGBTIQA+ activists, artists, lawyers, academics, performers and writers, and a petition, which collected 1,180 signatures in six days, calling for police to cease participating as an organisation at Pride March. The group states that while some people can safely interact with police, their presence makes many more people in LGBTIQA+ communities unsafe. It followed Brisbane Pride 2021 call for police officers to not march in uniform at its Pride event.
Despite overwhelming support for the campaign, some may feel this is not the right approach to deal with the distrust between LGBTIQA+ communities and the police force, however, all voices deserve to be heard and all manner of strategies ought to be employed to push the needle of social change.
One political tactic that has often been employed by LGBTIQA+ activists, called “the radical flank effect”, suggests that you can change mainstream attitudes and secure moderate reforms by demanding much more and taking a more extreme position that most people would not agree with but which helps shift attitudes because the moderate reform position emerges as the sensible middle ground.
In reality, it takes all manner of advocacy types working simultaneously, from the meek to the moderate, agreeable to activist, reactive to radical, to achieve change. However, so that our movements are continually moving forward, they must stay focused on the issues at hand and less occupied with the conflict within.