It is almost trite to say that the ‘gayness’ of Sydney belies the homophobia that still permeates Australia. With Oxford Street’s golden mile, Clover Moore in office, and Michael Kirby at the forefront of public gay rights discourse, it is easy to assume that discrimination against LGBT people, outside of opposition to marriage equality, has largely petered out.
The issue was considered at a roundtable discussion at Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre last Saturday, August 18. Run by Twenty10, a community organisation supporting LGBT youth, the meeting comprised a who’s who of LGBT social service providers. Participants included Dr Sean Gallagher of the USSC as well as representatives from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), ACON (a health and HIV/AIDS organisation for LGBT people) and the NSW Police Force, amongst others.
Also present – indeed at centre stage – were Fred Hochberg, Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (an independent government body that finances the overseas purchase of American goods), and his partner, Tom Healy. Mr Healy is the current chairman of the Fulbright Scholarship Board and oversees worldwide administration of the famed bursary. In Australia, in respect of these positions, Mr Hochberg explained, “I always try to speak to an LGBT group or a women’s group while travelling.”
Talking to Mr Healy, it is clear that the problem of apparent LGBT acceptance in urban areas leading to apathy also exists in the US. In addition to his role with the Fulbright Board, Mr Healy teaches at New York University, and admits that “as an academic, I really have not experienced [homophobia]”. He makes clear that, while the absence of discrimination is to be lauded, people in other industries and other locations are not nearly as insulated from bigotry.
The roundtable considered whether the current debate on gay marriage, important though it undoubtedly is, risks sidelining other pressing LGBT issues such as drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, and homophobic violence. It was pointed out that for middle-class and middle-aged gay people who grew up at a time when marriage equality was not discussed, the mere presence of the debate can lead to the assumption that these other problems no longer affect Australian youth.