Rodney Croome: What Julia should have said on ‘Q+A’

OPINION: Rodney Croome is a long-time LGBTIQ equality advocate

On the ABC’s Q+A recently, Kate Rowe, a 78er, asked former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, this question about marriage equality…

“Whilst I did and I still do admire and respect you for your time as Prime Minister and a member of Parliament, it still puzzles me why you chose not to support same-sex marriage. It may have saved a lot of us in the LGBTQI community much abuse and heartache with the postal survey had you chosen to be more supportive at your time in office. Do you hold the same view now that a marriage is between a man and a woman?”

Gillard said she voted Yes in the postal survey and then gave a long, convoluted answer about how she would have preferred a debate about civil unions and that if she had brought forward marriage legislation it would have failed.

The answer satisfied neither Kate, nor the many LGBTIQ Australians who have heard it since.

This is what Julia Gillard should have said…

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for not enacting marriage equality when I had the chance.

I’m sorry for trying to make it about my views on marriage when it was about your equality.

I’m sorry for trying to make it about my feminism when it was about your choice.

I’m sorry for saying civil unions were the moral and legal solution for you, when they were actually just a political solution for me.

I’m sorry for telling you the problem was Tony Abbott, the cross bench and/or the Senate, when it was actually division in my own party between the inclusive majority and the noisy minority of Catholic traditionalists.

I’m sorry I did a deal with that noisy minority to become leader, a deal I was not able to liberate myself from.

I’m sorry that the absurdity of an atheist, feminist, Labor Prime Minister in a de facto relationship upholding “traditional marriage” undermined public trust in my Government.

Achieving marriage equality had the potential to unite the nation behind my Government’s progressive agenda, but I squandered that opportunity.

I’m sorry I worked against the Labor Party adopting a pro-marriage equality policy, and against a binding vote on that policy when it was adopted at the 2011 Party conference.

This undermined the aspirations of the majority of Labor Party voters, members and conference delegates who wanted marriage equality, as well as the Labor principle that conscience votes are only for life and death issues.

I’m sorry I was against same-sex marriage in places like Tasmania and the ACT.

I urge these small progressive Labor Parties to throw off the dead hand of Labor’s Sydney headquarters and lead the ALP to the same enlightened place as New Zealand Labour.

I’m sorry on behalf of the people who wanted to protect me from criticism, for example by trying, unsuccessfully, to outbid same-sex couples in an online auction for dinner with me at the Lodge.

I did meet marriage equality advocates in Parliament, but the nation wasn’t watching when I did that.

Most of all I am sorry to all those people whose lives I made harder: the couples and families who experienced discrimination and disadvantage because they were excluded from marriage; the partners who married overseas, away from family and friends, because their own country wouldn’t treat them fairly; the LGBTIQ people and their families who suffered through that grinding and unnecessary public vote; and the LGBTIQ people whose partners died before they could wed.

To you I say, I am deeply sorry I only became your ally after I had the opportunity to make a real difference.

I urge Anthony Albanese not to make the mistakes I made.

I urge him to take a strong stand against the current backlash to marriage equality while he has the power and authority to make a difference.

I urge him to speak out against privilege and prejudice masquerading as “religious freedom”.

I urge him to speak out for the dignity and equal rights of transgender and gender diverse Australians and to denounce the hate campaigns against them.

I urge him to take a lead on ensuring every Australian school is an inclusive learning environment for LGBTIQ students and an inclusive workplace for LGBTIQ staff.

I urge him not to be intimidated by the threats of religious conservatives because they never vote Labor and because they do not have the power or influence they claim.

Most of all, I urge him to drop the small-target strategy on LGBTIQ issues.

This approach was a mistake when it was adopted by the Yes campaign during the postal survey.

It didn’t increase support for marriage equality, it just threw trans people under the bus and strengthened the disingenuous “religious freedom” narrative.

Labor adoption of this strategy since the 2019 election has had exactly the same effect: abandoning the vulnerable and encouraging the worst.

I urge Labor to be a true ally to LGBTIQ people, to act on the principles we talk so much about, to show voters what we stand for and to lead the nation to a more inclusive, rainbow future.

Finally, I apologise for not being honest before now.

In political life, and as a member of a party, you learn how to put what’s necessary over what’s right.

But after hearing what Kate said, and seeing the pain so many of my LGBTIQ friends still feel, it’s important for me to stop dissembling and tell the truth.

By doing so I want to encourage Australia’s current political leaders to show the courage and compassion I didn’t.

Rodney Croome

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