Ally from Jenny Leong
Ex-Greenie Andy Zephyr takes a stand.
Let’s be short on the context. I was in the Greens, and now I’m not. There are some amazing intersectional feminists, unionists, and effective advocates in the Greens, but frankly I’d had enough. The other 90% of the party is middle-to-upper class members whose idea of societal change lacks in class, on-the-grounds activism, or any support for my LGBTQIA+ community, continuing to drive me to my wit’s end. This was nowhere more apparent than in the fight for the new state seat of Newtown, in March of this year.
During this NSW state election campaign, Leong and Sharpe faced off to try and win the seat of Newtown. Penny Sharpe may have disagreed with me on how to make NSW a better place, but she talked to me. I continued, whilst I was in the Greens, to avidly explain why I wasn’t blindly voting for a fellow queer woman, but Sharpe continued to provide me with dialogue and respect me, significantly enough to engage with me; oppositional to the lacklustre response Leong has given our community, particularly in the seat of Newtown.
A considerable amount of time and energy was invested in the state seat, giving Leong the win, however it was at the high-energy cost of LGBTQIA+ Greens representation, and connection within our community at large. Whilst Leong can claim to be an ally, her actual energy amounts to little when it comes to removing bigotry such as homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and intersexphobia, let alone the knowledge to replace these systems with appropriate counter-measures. Not only has she failed to claim any such wins over Sharpe, the party also collectively realised they didn’t need to in order to effectively win the LGBTQIA+ vote.
Being a main organiser for the NSW Greens LGBTI group before, during, and after Jenny won in the 2015 election, I constantly faced issues regarding the representation of anything other than “vote-winning strategies”. I hoped for discussions of youth homelessness, transgender legislation around forced divorces, gender transition support and removing some of the lengthy bureaucracy, and accepting queer, asexual and aromantic identities as part of The Greens election policies. Instead, I was faced with hostility when attempting to draw anything away from the idea of Greens Marriage Equality.
Not only this, but those in higher political and social standings used dodgy tactics to control this discourse to focus it all around Leong, and ignore any other candidates across NSW who were queer, gay, bisexual and agender. I personally know of four candidates who ran who aren’t straight or cisgender, and have subsequently been pushed aside in the blind rush towards winning Newtown votes.
Mardi Gras was another horrible occasion, dominated by middle-class, white cisgender gays and lesbians at the expense of democratically decided slogans, campaigns and pre-prepared ideas. Marriage had to dominate the entire discourse of LGBTQIA+ issues, and was reinforced by those higher up in NSW Greens social hierarchies, who apparently consider Social Justice a pillar to use when it’s politically convenient. It seemed to me that I was in a party that marketed itself for social justice, rather than using it as a strategy for changing society and connecting with communities to improve standards of living.
All efforts for the Sexuality and Gender organisation in the NSW Greens to be redirected towards ideology, and focus on running a pluralist campaign that included (but did not focus) on marriage, were blocked at every stage. After seeing that the considerable amount of resistance came from the socially and economically strong, the working group was made up of those who were young, erased from society based on gender and sexuality, and every single one an activist, who had been spending their time supporting candidates like Leong. Despite this, the work and consultation done by organisers in the NSW Greens turned into bullet points for Fair Day, amid claims that a new campaign had been developed by Leong and the current LGBTI portfolio holder Mehreen Faruqi.
Skip to post-election. Portfolios for different issues are allocated, and at no point did LGBTQIA+ folks get a chance to say who they’d like to work with. Out of the eight potential members, no accessible discussion was had in respect to the specific portfolio, instead fought for by Leong behind closed doors and with the help of Newtown’s queer aspects. Not only was there no consultation with LGBTQIA+ organisers in the NSW Greens, but the potential for MPs who are a part of the community was never followed through on. Instead, others are silenced and potentially erased so an ally can continue to speak on issues she has continually used as a vote-winner, rather than treating them as legitimate.
Most lacklustre was the failure to communicate, turn up to meetings, or engage with issues, such as the bashing of a transgender woman, in the seat of Newtown. Instead of engaging the victim and supporting her, Leong’s words were short and failed to be followed through by members of her office. It felt instead like I was chasing her, trying to put these issues on her agenda when she’d prefer instead to ignore them. Again, there is a two-faced attitude, when this is the role she asked to be in. Unless there was constant engagement on these issues, she’d still have not have written a public letter, unless their was public pressure that questioned why she was ignoring this situation or not taking it seriously.
Her claims to humanitarian rights begin and end with marriage for my community. Her maiden speech included the announcement that she wouldn’t consider marriage with her partner until everyone could marry. This idle gesture meant nothing, particularly for me at the time: a Greens member who was part of the large queer youth homelessness epidemic during this period of her rise to glory, on the back of my community. I fought, I supported, I was conquered and I thankfully am out of that toxic environment of pretending to engage with LGBTQIA+ issues.
The University of Sydney sits in the seat of Newtown, so this affects us very directly. I am tired of seeing half-arsed work from the political sphere that is ally-focused, and ignores the plights of my community. Would I still vote for Leong over Penny? Potentially not. But will I stay quiet whilst Leong fails my community? To do so would be complicit with such failures. We have to start realising that perhaps none of the solutions we are looking for have anything to do with Labor, Liberals, the Greens or any partisan group. We, as always, will continue to do it ourselves. That’s all we have left.
To those in the Greens, Labor, or Liberals: stop talking and do something.