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Senator Rice speaks about LGBTIQ human rights

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 17 May 2017

Recently reports from around the world have reminded us of the ongoing and deeply frightening human rights abuses of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Tonight I want to bear witness to those atrocities and call on Australia to stand firm and to defend the rights of all people to respect, dignity and legal protection, especially in their own homelands across the globe.

From Chechnya we hear reports of over a hundred men suspected of being gay who have been imprisoned in at least six concentration camps, tortured and some even killed, by their own government. Families of men suspected of being gay have been told that, if they do not kill them, the authorities will. They call it 'cleaning your honour with blood'. It is too horrific to even think about. Credible sources from within the autonomous region say that the government has ordered what the police have called a 'preventative mopping up' of people they consider undesirable. This has included beatings and electroshock torture, with three men confirmed as having been killed and one gay teen killed after his uncle pushed him off a ninth floor balcony. The Chechen president first claimed that 'you cannot arrest or repress people who don't exist' before later announcing that by Ramadan, later this month, Chechnya would have no gay people left.

My colleague Senator Ludlam and I wrote to our government upon hearing the first reports of these horrific incidents, and I was pleased to hear that our foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has condemned this violence and abuse and has raised our government's concerns directly with the Russian government. I want to note for the Senate that I have given notice of a motion to be moved tomorrow on just this issue. I hope to secure my Senate colleagues' backing for this important motion which calls on the government to work internationally to condemn the Chechen government's actions, and the Russian government's support for these actions, and to accept gay people from Chechnya as refugees. I also commend those in my home town of Melbourne who have organised a vigil for next week to gather in solidarity with the Chechen LGBTI community, who are being captured and tortured because of who they are and who they love. I look forward to joining my friends in Melbourne next week.

Around the same time as reports emerged from Chechnya, we heard from Aceh province in Indonesia that two men were arrested and faced punishment for allegedly having same-sex relations, punished by up to 100 lashes in public. This constitutes torture under international law. Following this incident, 14 men were detained in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, for taking part in a gay party. All 14 were forced to undergo HIV tests and eight men were charged, and the two men accused of hosting and organising the party could face up to 15 years in jail.

In Uganda, academic and outspoken LGBTI ally Dr Stella Nyanzi was arrested and charged for criticising the President. Not only has she experienced reprisals, such as questioning by authorities, she has had her passport confiscated, she has been prevented from travelling to the Netherlands for a conference and she has been placed on a no-fly list. She has also stated that her sister's car was followed and her home raided by armed men.

Each of these examples highlights the appalling treatment of LGBTI people and our allies in many places around the world for simply being who we are. But more than that, the truly horrifying similarity between these is that the human rights abuses and persecution of LGBTI people and our allies is state sanctioned abuse. Imprisonment, torture, harassment and death at the hands of government or incited by government for being an LGBTI person is horrific and wrong.

We must never stand by and be silent when countries, regimes and governments contravene the human rights of LGBTI people, people who cannot change who they are and who are not doing anything wrong. In fact, there are 76 countries around the world where it is still illegal to be homosexual. In the context of these atrocious abuses of the human rights of LGBTI people I want to make sure that your calendars are marked in preparation for the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, IDAHOBIT day, which is held on 17 May. Since 2004, IDAHOBIT has drawn attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people around the world and it is now celebrated in more than 130 countries, including 37 where homosexuality is illegal. The date of 17 May was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization's 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

As the human rights abuse examples I have mentioned demonstrate, there has never been a more important time for us to recognise IDAHOBIT day and shine a spotlight on human rights abuses and discrimination of LGBTI people around the world. It breaks my heart to hear these stories of people being persecuted when they just want to live their lives in peace and feel safe with who they are and to love who they love. So let us all commit to bearing witness, to speaking out and to standing firm for the safety and the lives of our friends across the globe.

In Australia we can be proud that we are a long way down the road of recognising and celebrating LGBTIQ people, proud that because of the persistent campaigning by many people and organisations over decades we have moved from the days when homosexuality was illegal here too. South Australia was the first to decriminalise male homosexuality in 1975, but it was not until 1997 that the last state, Tasmania, followed suit.

But unlike 23 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, New Zealand and Canada, and even Catholic Spain and Portugal, we have not taken the final step of allowing people to marry regardless of their sex, sexuality or gender identity. It is way past time. We know the support is there in the Australian community and, indeed, in this parliament. A free vote would do it, Mr Turnbull. And every day that we wait, someone's heart is broken.

I was recently contacted by a couple, Peter de Waal and Peter Bonsall-Boone, who have been together for 50 years—50 years of partnership. Bon, 78, was diagnosed with aggressive cancer two years ago and has been through rounds of treatment but is now living on borrowed time. He was given only months to live last November. He is now preparing to die without his last wish being granted—to be able to marry his partner.

Peter and Bon wrote to the Prime Minister just before Easter, begging him to allow a free vote in the parliament as soon as possible to allow Bon's dying wish to be granted. But they have not yet heard back from Mr Turnbull. So just in case their letter has been overlooked, I will personally deliver another copy to the Prime Minister this week. Fulfilling Peter and Bon's wish to be married would be a fitting way for Australia to finally acknowledge that love is love and that we as Australians value the relationships of all couples. Peter and Bon have spent 50 years together. They deserve to have their relationship recognised. Mr Turnbull, it is time.

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