By Anne von Fehrn
Community groups have this week welcomed the City of Sydney’s announcement to hold its first gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) forum on April 29.
Members of the local gay community say that although it’s long overdue, the forum will give them a chance to have their voices heard.
‘The City of Sydney’s decision to hold this forum is a recognition of the discrimination and harassment experienced by the gay and lesbian community and the need to do something about it,’ co-convenor of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL), Peter Johnson said.
Agenda topics will include the development of the Oxford Street district, implementing the ‘Oxford Street Safety Strategy’, suggested amendments to 58 pieces of federal legislation that discriminate against same sex couples and their children, as well as increased funding for the annual Mardi Gras festival.
Mr Johnson believes hate crimes against homosexuals is a major issue that also needs to be addressed. Although police presence on Oxford Street was increased following the brutal bashing of Craig Gee last year, Mr Johnson said there is more to improve. ‘All homophobic violence, from verbal harassment through to physical attacks, creates an environment of unsafety for lesbians and gays,’ he said.
‘We believe that these sorts of violence are currently highly underreported and work needs to be done to ensure that members of our community feel safe in public and supported by the police.’
The Aids Council of NSW’s CEO, Stevie Clayton, said he wants to see a plan that improves the Oxford Street district for both residents and only visitors.
‘We want to see planning decisions supporting a range of businesses, integrated with community needs and which actively work to reduce violence,’ he said. Mr Clayton also believes better lighting and street-scaping would make a difference. ‘Utilising laneways full of life are less of a place for bashers to hide,’ he said.
Ahead of next year’s Mardi Gras, Queer Screen festival director Lex Lindsay hopes that funding for the parade will increase in proportion to its economic contribution to the city.
‘The economic impact of this event is undeniable, yet none of those pink dollars find their way back to the various organisations responsible for the Mardi Gras season,’ Mr Lindsay said. While events of the GLBT community are largely self-sufficient, he said that they can’t be sustained without a genuine commitment of support from the State.
The Aids Council’s Mr Clayton advocates ongoing meetings between the GLBT community and the council, and not just a one-off forum. ‘The proof now will be in its implementation,’ he said.
The forum will be held on Tuesday April 29 at 6pm, Level 3 Town Hall House, 456 Kent Street.