Darebin Council hoping to ban ‘No’ same-sex marriage campaigners

Darebin Council in Melbourne’s north is attempting to take heavy-handed action to silence ‘No’ proponents on the issue of marriage equality.

Independent councillor Susan Rennie and her colleagues are set to vote on an emergency motion next week to ban ‘No’ campaigners from using council facilities.

In an interview with Neil Mitchell on 3AW last Monday Cr Rennie said: “We won’t allow council spaces to be used by groups campaigning against marriage equality.”

“We will make those spaces available to local LGBTIQ organisations so that they can organise activities that support the community and marriage equality,” Cr Rennie said.

A recently married couple (Credit: Flickr)

Darebin Council is offering free venue hire for locations including  Northcote Town Hall and Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre for ‘Yes’ campaigners.

Venue hire rates in Darebin Council vary, but can be up to $2000 per day for some locations.

An online petition seeking to counter Darebin Council’s proposal has achieved more than  2,000 digital signatures so far. 

The Good Governance Charter of the Darebin Council is comprised of six principles, one of which is equity and inclusion.

In endeavouring to achieve equity and inclusion, the council’s charter proposes the council is “responsive to and inclusive of Darebin’s diverse community needs and aspirations.”

The council’s services and resources are also said to be “equitably distributed”.

Cr Rennie and her counterparts are choosing when and how to invoke their charter and this is to the detriment of the marriage equality debate.

The Darebin Council is attempting to censor the ‘No’ campaigners, but has little justification to do so.

Cr Rennie told Neil Mitchell that she wrote to local church groups to outline the “potentially harmful impacts of campaigning against marriage equality.”

She went on to make unsubstantiated claims that she has seen no evidence that ‘No’ supporters of the marriage equality campaign will do so with decency.

Neil Mitchell then asked, “have your local churches been indecent in their campaign?”

“No, not at all. They’ve actually been quite silent and we’re grateful for that,” Cr Rennie said.

Regardless of individual council views on marriage in Australia, in seeking to achieve equality, Darebin Council is acting in a divisive, unfair and ironically inequitable manner.

Robert Gibson, a member of the gay community who works in the City of Yarra has called the intentions of the Darebin Council as “a travesty of democracy”.

“They are showing a lack of tolerance. Tolerance is the key. That is what my community wants,” Mr Gibson said.

The Darebin Council’s stance aligns with recent hatred and vitriol received by prominent Australian people and corporations, who are ‘No’ campaigners.

Australian tennis champion Margaret Court has experienced the intolerance of the gay marriage movement.

Ms Court, a Grand Slam champion turned Christian pastor, famously voiced her opinions against gay marriage earlier this year when she said that gay people were “aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take”.

She openly criticised Qantas, saying that she will avoid flying with the Australian airline due to its public support for gay marriage.

The hysteria around Ms Court’s statements prompted outrage, with calls for Melbourne Park Precinct to change the name of Margaret Court Arena.

Similarly, there have been attempts to trash the reputation of the beer company Coopers Brewery, because its product appeared in a short Bible Society video debate about gay marriage between Liberal MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie.

Social media went into a frenzy and accused Coopers of being a catalyst for homophobia by letting its product feature in a debate about gay marriage between two politicians.

In a knee-jerk reaction, instigated by the gay community, bars and restaurants began to throw out all of their Coopers stock, boycotting the South Australian brewer.

The high-profile examples of Ms Court and Coopers Brewery demonstrate the issue of intolerance against those who are opposed to same-sex marriage.

Similarly, Darebin Council has demonstrated its double-standard in its advocacy for a diversity of community views this week by ostracising a subsection of their community from engaging in democratic, fair and peaceful campaigning.

“Excluding an argument categorically is dangerous and completely nullifies the position of the council,” Mr Gibson said.

Darebin Council’s meeting to discuss their proposals will be held on Monday 21st of August at 6 pm. The meeting is being held at the Darebin Civic Centre 350 High Street, Preston, Victoria 3072.

Written by Nicholas Nakos and Deniz Karaman.

The Arts and Activism: a profile of Equal Love’s Anthony Wallace

In 2004, Prime Minister John Howard tabled the Marriage Amendment Act 2004, which banned gay couples from marrying or having their overseas marriage recognised by Australian law.

Fitzroy local Anthony Wallace’s interest in marriage equality peaked when he sat outraged and perplexed with his partner at Prime Minister Howard’s decision in 2004.

Over nine years later, Mr Wallace is the campaign manager of Equal Love, the Victorian arm of a nationwide campaign to achieve marriage equality in Australia.

“I was walking down Smith Street and saw a poster for a same sex marriage rally. I asked if there was anything I could do to help,” says Mr Wallace.

After attending his first marriage equality rally with a CD player in hand, Mr Wallace saw enormous scope for improvement in the staging of Equal Love’s rallies.

Addressing the crowd with a megaphone was simply not going to cut it.

Although at a busy time in his life, between performing as an actor in stage shows and finding his feet in the bar ownership caper, Mr Wallace took on a more prominent role with Equal Love.

As campaign manager, one of his greatest achievements is the staging of a rally in conjunction with the Sydney based Community Action Against Homophobia.

Anthony Wallace (centre) at a Marriage Equality rally. Photo: Anthony Wallace

In 2011, thousands marched from Hyde Park to Darling Harbour to the Labour Party Conference in support of marriage equality.

“It remains the biggest march for marriage equality in Australian history,” Mr Wallace recalls proudly.

“When I joined the campaign, public support for marriage equality was as low as 23 per cent. We can champion this until we are at 99 per cent, but the government has to act.”

Remaining motivated to campaign for marriage equality is easy and it is people like Peter and Bon who inspire him to do so.

Peter de Waal and Peter (Bon) Bonsall-Boone are two men who have loved each other for over 50 years.

Recently featured in a video on the Equal Love website, they have become well known to Mr Wallace and Equal Love.

Bon recently lost his battle with terminal cancer, with his final wish to be legally married to his partner Peter going unfulfilled.

Mr Wallace recalls the story of Peter and Bon to me, his tone changing from optimistic to outraged.

It is beyond his belief that these two men aren’t married, despite the tenure of their relationship and the love they have for one another.

It is clear in Mr Wallace’s exasperation that Peter and Bon’s story, and many others like it, are what keeps him fighting for marriage equality.

“Until you get what you are entitled to, you keep fighting for it. We won’t give up. I won’t give up. I’ll tire, but new people will come in and join the fight,” he says.

“We know what the word husband or wife means. That is a significant person in someone’s life. Nothing compares to that,” he says.

Mr Wallace angrily describes the marriage equality issue in Australia as “embarrassing” and “shameful”.

Recent remarks by former tennis great Margaret Court only served to incense him further.

Mr Wallace and his Equal Love comrades protested Margaret Court being the keynote speaker at a Liberal Party fundraiser in Melbourne on the 22nd of June this year.

“The Liberal Party endorsing Court as their keynote speaker was worse than broadcasters airing her views. It was more endorsement for her,” he says.

Ali Hogg, convenor of the Equal Love campaign describes Mr Wallace’s involvement as “lifesaving.”

“He organises a lot of the sound and stage aspects of our rallies. His background in event management has helped us tremendously with our campaigns,” Ms Hogg says.

His expertise in sound and the stage was cultivated in his teenage years, where he chose to forgo admission to the prestigious Melbourne High School in favour of the performing arts focused Northcote Technical School.

“I did my orientation at Northcote Tech and fell in love,” he says.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Performing Arts from Ballarat University, he worked as an actor in stage shows and created a children’s touring theatre company, Jumpin’ Theatre.

As work in the performing arts dried up, he opened the 86, a cabaret bar in Fitzroy.

Anthony Wallace, owner of the 86. Photo: Anthony Wallace

“I shook a lot of cocktails in my time, but had very little cabaret bar experience,” he chuckles.

Nearly six years later, the 86 is the holder of a Guinness World Record for the staging of the longest non-stop Drag Queen and King stage show in the world at 36 hours, 36 minutes and 40 seconds.

“88 drag queens performed, with a drag queen on stage the whole time,” he says gleefully.

When Ms Hogg was asked to use three words to describe Mr Wallace she said, “he’s passionate, he’s driven and he’s opinionated.”

Passion, drive and opinion have been the ingredients to Anthony Wallace’s success and long may it continue.

The next Equal Love rally for marriage equality is on the 26th of August at the Victorian State Library, a Mass Illegal Wedding commemorating 13 years since the amended Marriage Act was legalised. 

Written by Nicholas Nakos

Gay blood is good blood

One in three Australians will need donated blood in their lifetime. Its uses range from treating cancer patients to severe bouts of the flu, and we’re told it’s always in short supply. This month the Australian Red Cross estimates an additional 3000 donations are needed to fill the demand.

Yet when Adam Rustov, a 22-year-old Melbourne man recently went to a Red Cross Blood Centre wishing to donate blood, he was denied the opportunity to do so.

“I was filling out the paperwork before the donation started and read some questions about HIV, hepatitis and other diseases,” 22-year-old Adam Rustov told the Yarra Reporter.

“I soon realised that any gay man who had been sexually active in the last 12 months couldn’t donate blood,” Mr Rustov said. “So I got up, made an excuse that I wasn’t feeling well and walked out. I felt second-rate. I was trying to do a good thing and I felt inferior,” he said.

Mr Rustov’s experience is all too common and despite the need for blood, willing donors are being turned away.

Blood donation test tubes. Photo: Creative Commons

The Australian Red Cross in late May 2017 issued an urgent SOS for type-O blood donors as stores were at critically low levels heading into winter. Today, its home page has a large banner reading ‘3000 more blood donations needed in July’.

The 12 month exclusion period is not unique to Australia and also exists in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. However, Italy, Poland and Russia are among the European countries that don’t impose restrictions on gay and bisexual blood donations.

Although gay men make up 68% of those infected with HIV, as opposed to an estimated 20% of heterosexual couples, 92% of those with HIV are receiving antiretroviral treatment and have an undetectable viral load, which reduces transmission of HIV to HIV-negative people by 92-96% and is a key treatment goal.

In 2012, the Australian Red Cross commissioned an independent review of Australian blood donor deferral periods. Its review recommended a reduction in the donation exclusion period from 12 months to six months.

Colin Batrouney is the Director of Policy at the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), an organisation that aims to improve the health outcomes for gender and sexually diverse communities.

Rainbow flag. Photo: Creative Commons

“We absolutely agreed with the panel recommendation in 2012 to reduce the exclusion period,” Mr Batrouney said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia is tasked with the supply, import, export and manufacturing of therapeutic goods. Blood is classified as a therapeutic good.

The TGA has the ultimate say when it comes to changing the donation exclusion period and chose not to accept the Red Cross’ expert review in 2012 and the exclusion period remains at 12 months.

The TGA could not be reached for comment, but Mr Batrouney said, “We are disappointed in the TGA. It hasn’t  justified its position. TGA has rejected the recommendations of the review, without providing a reason why”.

In 2014, the 20th annual AIDS conference was held in Melbourne and served as an opportunity for the Victorian AIDS Council to bring further attention to this issue.

Mr Batrouney and members of the VAC led a demonstration through the streets of Melbourne, with the hope of agitating change and drawing attention to their plight.

“This issue is one that the VAC has always considered important and will continue to see as important until there is change,” Mr Batrouney said.

With the Australian Red Cross continually seeking to recruit new donors, many healthy gay and bisexual men are prohibited from being blood donors due to bureaucracy being misaligned with scientific evidence.

“The science is clear to see. It isn’t an unsafe practice for gay men to donate blood. Those in charge of making change are well behind the scientific facts that are undisputed and unambiguous,” Mr Batrouney said.

“We will continue to fight for the rights of gay men on this issue. It’s a discriminatory practice and we must stand up to it,” Mr Batrouney said.

If one in three Australians will one day require blood, you’re almost guaranteed to know someone in need. The science and statistical data has shown that the current exclusionary periods do not reduce the risk of unwanted infection. The only losers here are Australians in need of blood and the men willing to help them.

Written by Nicholas Nakos