Amnesty International LGBT Research Project
Monday, 15 October 2007 7:47 PM
Attached is a draft of the findings of the report. Please have a read through
this document if you wish to make any comments on how well it reflects your
views and contribution to the project.
Findings and discussion
The research conducted has revealed general support for a Human Rights Act for Queensland. However, people are generally not familiar with the idea of a Human Rights Act and want to know more about what it is, what might be included and what it could do. Though the People’s Charter campaign wants to have the content of a Human Rights Act determined by community needs and consultation, people need to become more familiar and knowledgeable about what a Human Rights Act is before they feel that they can contribute meaningfully to its content. The research also suggests that most people’s knowledge of discrimination is at the federal level, rather than on a state level. This does not mean that discrimination does not occur on a state level, as some respondents highlighted many ways in which state-based discrimination operates. This lack of awareness of state-based discrimination is an obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to generate evidence and community support for a Human Rights Act. Conversely, people were very aware of the effect of negative community attitudes that contribute to discrimination on a state level, suggesting education as a means through which to overcome these attitudes. Some potential problems for the campaign include perceptions that the LGBT community is not politically active on a wide scale, alongside mixed views on the level of division within the LGBT community.
Support for a Human Rights Act
There exists general support from the LGBT community for a Human Rights Act. Although it was suggested that some people were opposed to a Human Rights Act, none of the people interviewed expressed this sentiment themselves. It was suggested that some people may oppose a Human Rights Act because it could become too restrictive, however, one respondent claimed that they thought it possessed, “far more benefits than it does disadvantages”. A Human Rights Act was also seen by some people as a means through which to protect minority groups. One respondent said that,
A Human Rights Act will protect those people who need protecting. Without that, it’s open to people to think what they like. You can change the laws, exclude people, include people as much as you want to suit… issues of discrimination should not go to the vote of the people. That just defies the whole issue of discrimination. You’re relying on the majority to agree that the minority have a right, which is what politicians tend to do on so many issues. “Oh, the Australian people don’t want this”.
This suggests that whilst a Human Rights Act may protect minority groups such as the LGBT community, this argument may garner less support with the larger Queensland population and government. This may present an obstacle in the People’s Charter campaign. However, it does reinforce the need for a community-lead campaign that involves not only listening to the voices of the people, but also informing and educating the community into the wide range of benefits and rights that a Human Rights Act can deliver, as well as the need for the protection of minority groups such as the LGBT community.
Familiarity with a Human Rights Act
Although people expressed their general support for a Human Rights Act, this was accompanied by a general lack of familiarity and understanding of a Human Rights Act. People expressed their desire for more information about a Human Rights Act, specifically what it would include and what it could do to decrease discrimination against LGBT people. The researcher also perceived the need to communicate this information in an accessible format; even the term “Human Rights Act” alienated some people from the discussion, with several people stating that they did not know much about it and were not sure how they useful their responses could be. This widespread finding suggests a community-wide unfamiliarity with human rights discourse in general that needs to be addressed in the campaign.
People expressed greater awareness of discrimination that occurred at the federal level rather than the state level. This may be because of the report released last year by HREOC detailing 57 federal laws that discriminate against same-sex couples (reference). However, this report was perceived by some people as focusing only on LGB issues, with one respondent claiming that, “(HREOC) don’t have any idea where we’re (trans people) coming from or how they can help us at the moment”. This highlights the need to ensure that the experiences and issues relating to gender identity as well as sexual orientation are recognised addressed throughout the campaign. Although federal discrimination cannot be addressed through a state-based Human Rights Act, areas in which federal discrimination impacts upon state issues need to be considered. This may include where state benefits are accorded only to married couples, thereby discriminating against same-sex couples who are unable to marry due to discriminatory federal legislation.
Types of discrimination and their outcomes
State-based discriminatory practices identified through the research are not exhaustive due to methodological constraints, as well as a smaller awareness of state-based discrimination as compared with federal legislative discrimination. Discrimination against trans people was identified as particularly prevalent.
We’re discriminated against – highly… there’s not really much you can do… to prove discrimination against a government is very hard… our human rights are taken away. Our birth certificate is taken away, our passport’s taken away, our citizenship certificate is taken away until we’ve had surgery and after we’ve divorced and after then we are allowed to regain them.
Trans people who are married are judged to be in a same-sex relationship after they have affirmed their gender identity through surgery, effectively nullifying their marriage and the rights that they and their partner have been accorded. Some trans people choose to stay married, but are denied the right to reaffirm their gender identity in the process. This illustrates the difficulties and discrimination experienced by trans people in Queensland, particularly those born overseas, in reaffirming their gender identity.
In the area of same-sex relationships, some respondents claimed that, “Queensland is relatively progressive”. The anti-discrimination act recognises discrimination on the basis of “lawful sexual activity”, a phrasing that has been deemed problematic by several commentators (insert references). Several people also highlighted exemptions within the anti-discrimination act such as those allowed for religious organisations that perpetuate discrimination and at times vilification (incitement to hatred?) of LGBT people. Other areas of discrimination identified include unequal age of consent laws, with homosexual age of consent two years higher than heterosexual consent; access to IVF treatment for same-sex couples as well as the inefficacy of the anti-discrimination act (expand upon more – how could HRA improve on this?).
The current level of awareness of state-based discrimination was perceived by several people as incomplete.
It’s just getting worse and worse. The more you dig, the more you find. I don’t think I’m anywhere near the bottom of the pile yet. I’m only scratching the surface and I’ve already found too much that I don’t like.
The urgent need to address this discrimination is evidenced in the outcomes of such discrimination. For trans people who are discriminated against, “they become very frustrated, they become depressed, they then self-harm… all because they don’t have the backing, support and understanding”. The suicide rate for trans people is 40%; an almost inconceivable rate. Therefore the content of any potential Human Rights Act needs to reflect the needs of the LGBT community and help in the reduction of discrimination and its negative outcomes.
Respondents recognised that liberalisation of LGB laws has occurred in Queensland, commenting that, “the sky didn’t fall in” as some opponents had predicted. This reinforces the need for community education and support for LGBT people and the campaign in order for the content of any Human Rights Act to fully protect the rights of LGBT people in Queensland.
Content of a Human Rights Act
The lack of familiarity with a Human Rights Act lead to a smaller emphasis on content in the interviews and focus groups conducted. However, most people expressed their desire that it be broad and all-encompassing (ie. Covering lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people). However, the difficulty in articulating a broad document that also includes the relevant specificity was acknowledged, though necessary to achieve. One respondent stated that there was no point in a Human Rights Act that did not cover everyone; highlighting that in order to achieve broad support for a Human Rights Act, its content needs to ensure broad coverage of the community. Another respondent expressed the view that the rights of people as opposed to LGBT specific rights should be articulated, as sexuality should not be an issue (though cognizant of the level of discrimination against same-sex couples that suggests that some people do perceive it as an issue).
More specifically, the inclusion of the right to state-based civil unions or same-sex relationship registrations, the right to adopt your partner’s children as well as a special charter for catered specifically for trans people and trans issues, particularly for trans youth, as well as using the New Zealand Human Rights Act as a possible model were all mooted.
The level of legislative discrimination against LGBT people was accompanied by a wider recognition of the negative and homophobic attitudes within Queensland that contribute to this discrimination against LGBT people. There was a perceived lack of support and understanding of trans people and the issues that they face. Another respondent stated that discrimination continues to occur against LGB people because sexual orientation is “not on anyone’s horizon”. This suggests that perhaps if greater understanding and more positive attitudes towards LGBT people existed, than more action would be taken against examples of legalised discrimination. This emphasises the need to include community education as a substantial component of the campaign.
Respondents highlighted some issues within the LGBT community that may impede the campaign. Several respondents voiced their view that the wider LGBT community was not largely politically engaged or involved. Although respondents commented only on their perception of the LGBT community, this perception is applicable to other sectors of the community. This may be because the idea of a Human Rights Act and human rights discourse in general is unfamiliar to Queenslanders; a finding that is supported by the research. Indeed, the lack of a Human Rights Act on either a state of federal level makes this lack of awareness hardly surprising. However, the research also found that although people are not familiar with a Human Rights Act, they want to know more about the campaign and how a Human Rights Act could prevent discrimination against LGBT people, indicating a level of engagement with the campaign.
Another potential problem identified through the research was division with the LGBT community. Although some respondents articulated the view that this campaign could unite the LGBT community under the umbrella issue of a Human Rights Act, other respondents felt that any unity was impossible because of the diversity of the community and the perception that each group was too centred on their own issues.
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