Ballarat says no to homophobia, historic council vote

February 28, 2014

A historic motion for Ballarat was put forth to affirm support for a “No to Homophobia” campaign at a City of Ballarat council meeting on Febraury 12. The motion was carried unanimously.

Greens councillor Belinda Coates put the motion. She said after the meeting: “It was fantastic to get unanimous support for this motion to affirm support for the 'No to Homophobia' campaign and their 'Promise' campaign.

“It's really important for the community to see strong leadership from local government on human rights issues and I'm looking forward to building on this position statement with local actions to make our community more inclusive, safer and welcoming of everyone.”

It is a huge, symbolic step for a regional city to take. It represents the idea that the city is behind the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community and sends a message that discrimination is not OK. Local governments can influence what happens at a state and federal level. It is great to see a regional city leading the way.

Ballarat council runs a support group for local LGBTIQ youth called “ZAQUE”. It has been called on to support those over 25 as well. Ballarat has hosted numerous rallies for marriage equality over the past four years. The Equal Love Ballarat committee recently formed to continue campaigning for marriage justice.

Coates was the first council member to be present and show her support for equal marriage rights at the most recent rally in December. She was a supporter before her election as well.

Discrimination is ever present in Ballarat and around the country. Only last Friday I was seriously attacked for my sexual orientation in my neighbourhood. The success of the council’s motion gives hope that homophobia will be stamped out in Ballarat and be a place for other cities to aspire to be like, but we still have a lot of work to do. We all deserve to feel and be safe in our homes.

Democratic Labour Party Senator John Madigan, a blacksmith and Catholic who resides in Ballarat, has been open about his views opposing same-sex marriage. He put forward a motion last December to hold an inquiry into a referendum on marriage equality and spoke against the marriage equality bill put by the Greens last year. Madigan should now think about whether he is in fact representing the people of Ballarat.

Coates said: “There has been an incredible amount of positive feedback in response to this which demonstrates the need for proactive community leadership to combat discrimination and to break down barriers in regional communities. We are currently exploring follow up actions like a community forum and policy to add weight to our position.”

After the vote was carried, the council chamber audience applauded. Council members were presented with rainbow pins and wrist bands to be worn at special LGBTIQ events or on important LGBTIQ community dates. They couldn't wait to put them on in the chambers with their arms in the the air, immediately showing their proud support.

To have the council stand in unanimous support and recognise the difficulties the LGBTIQ community face in regional areas such as Ballarat after years of lobbying by dedicated community members and leaders is historic. I hope to see the council members continue this support and echo the voice of equality and work hard to end discrimination to all.

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