Dancing with Speeches #48 Jay Weatherill

Premier of South Australia Hon Jay Weatherill put a motion to Parliament seconded by the Leader of the Opposition to say sorry for the discrimination embedded in SA legislation against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community members.

Saying sorry never goes out of fashion and the real and felt experience of exclusion runs deep.  On hearing this apology my mind went to all South Australian LGBTIQ people I have known and loved in my own life – from my uncle who grew up in post-war years in Pt Pirie in the shadow of the smelters and railway yards –  all the way through to the young transgender child whose mum I knew when she was a young mum – all the ones in between who have made incredible contributions to our State in leadership, in the arts, public policy, business, the law and the environment.   So this week it is a line dance taking steps together and having more people join along the way.

Do you remember the scene from Priscilla Queen of the Desert in the movie under the desert night sky when the touring troupe have their turn around the campfire with local Aboringal people strutting their stuff performing I will Survive? If not take a couple of minutes to check it out.  It is a beautiful capture of inclusion, diversity and the outback; going from the dark to the dawn. The didgeridoo in the soundtrack melds in Gloria Gaynor’s classic until the fade out when you hear the sound of the local language. The music and environment births inclusion, through harmony and the beauty of belonging. No one is left behind in the scene. This is what it means to take sorry to the next level – to celebrate.

Laws come last – long before legislation there is acceptance, practices and processes. So it is too with this apology – long before the parliamentary apology there has been the sorrys in the lounge rooms, across kitchen tables, cafes and bars – where families and friends have expressed their sorrow for not being the best friend, sister, brother, mother, daughter, cousin in coming to terms with their loved one for coming out. For all the sadness and suffering felt in these relationships, there have also been many glorious acts of reconciliation, healing and acceptance.

We build spaces for these conversations where understanding and trust can grow when see one another for who they are regardless of who they love, or what their sexual orientation or who they have as parents. I have said before God loves diversity and that is why each and everyone of us is totally unique – what better evidence do we need! Making our laws more inclusive is vital to heal our democracy for those citizens who have been left out or left behind and the lesson the LGBTIQ have offered and continue to offer our public policy is to find ways to have room for all the rich diversity we have on offer in our citizenry. We need to harness what it means to have a big enough democracy with room for all.

Saying sorry goes beyond symbolism, it is accompanied by acts of contrition in my religious tradition and restorative justice. Parliaments and courts can offer some of the infrastructure to improve behaviour for those who are not yet fully ready to embrace change.

The wrongs of the past are gradually being repealed in my State and I am glad of that – it is 40 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in South Australia – and now a sorry – I am sure all those older LGBTIQ who remember that law changing (and I can remember the day very clearly) – are celebrating this week with this sorry. But I especially think of the current and next generation who will be spared some of what you had to bare.

To the pioneers, to the advocates, to those who have lost their lives, those who despaired and took their own lives, to the mums and dads, brothers and sisters who comforted and encouraged, to the places and spaces that offered safety and promises of better days – I give thanks. I am truly grateful to the LGBTIQ people I have had and have in my life – their courage and tenacity has humbled me on many occasions. I give gratitude I have you in my life as friends, healers and people of hope.  And I want to say thank you.

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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: I will Survive

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