A landmark demonstration was held on July 5 in Perth. The crowd of about 5000 people — in the rain — made it the biggest protest for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights that has ever happened in Perth.
It was also the biggest LGBTI protest across the country so far this year. The rally was organized by GetUp! and Australian Marriage Equality.
There was a broad cross section of the community in the crowd. There were queer couples with their children; straight parents of queer children; drag queens; a priest with members of his congregation; transgender people; partying queer youth; homeless people; and people of all cultural backgrounds, occupations and political leanings.
No matter who you were or what “label” you identified with, you were there on that day if you supported marriage equality. Australia’s funniest Prime Minister “Baloney Abbott” was even caught in an illicit encounter with one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
The rally clearly expressed community feeling in Australia. Ireland has marriage equality. The United States does too. It is high time we had it in Australia because public support for marriage equality is even higher in Australia than it is in the United States.
Every day the government delays marriage equality, Australia becomes more isolated. Every day the government fails to act on majority opinion, it becomes clearer that they do not care about democracy.
The rally heard from eight speakers. Ingrid Cumming gave a spirited welcome to country, emphasising that hatred and discrimination are not part of Nyungar tradition. Alannah MacTiernan spoke on behalf of the ALP. Rachel Siewert spoke on behalf of the Greens. Former Democrats senator Brian Grieg spoke about the early days of the equal marriage rights campaign and how far we have come. Ivan Hinton Teoh spoke on behalf of organising group Australian Marriage Equality. Sally Rugg from GetUp! chaired the rally.
But we did not just hear from politicians and professional activists. The grassroots voice of the queer community came through loud and proud. The rally heard from Joey Cookman-McAuley from Playgroups with Pride and Anglican priest Reverend Peter Emmanuel. Samantha Davies spoke on transgender rights.
Stephanie Hastings called for civil rights for her two queer sons. She reminded us that it was mass demonstrations in the 1960s and ’70s that won rights for women and racial minorities. The mass demonstrations now for marriage equality are a continuation of that tradition.
The demonstration was a huge success, and the organisers should be commended, however there were some shortcomings.
The Labor Party was let off the hook. The rally organisers called for a free vote in August when the marriage equality bills are put to parliament. If there is a free vote in the Liberal Party that is all well and good. Liberal Party politicians should defy party policy and vote for marriage equality. If PM Tony Abbott does not allow them a free vote they should cross the floor.
But we don’t want a free vote in the Labor Party. That could be a disaster. Labor needs to bind its vote so that all of its MPs vote according to party policy, which is for marriage equality. They should not be free to vote for discriminatory legislation.
Also the rally was not organised by an open committee. Local grassroots activists who have been working for years were shut out of the organising and from the speaking platform. The movement needs to be democratised so that we can exercise maximum strength.
The next rally in Perth will be held by Equal Love WA on August 9 in the Murray Street Mall at 1pm. This is two days before the beginning of the spring session of parliament, when it is expected that marriage equality will be debated.
This rally will probably also be large. Attendance on the Facebook event is already 3000 and climbing. We can also expect huge rallies across the country in the coming months.
All photos below by Alex Bainbridge.