Why I’m an LGBT Ally
Updated: May 4
In 1978 when I was 10 years old, NSW police shut down Australia’s first #MardiGras and assaulted and arrested its participants. Now our police and armed forces join the celebrations. And this year when Sydney hosts #WorldPride2023 our Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong will march together in the parade. Australia has come a long way. And we’re going in the right direction.
But LGBT communities still need our active and moral support. Last year I wrote in the Canberra Times about how regressive politicians were trying to use freedom of faith as an excuse for freedom to hate. And in places like Ghana, where I represented Australia as our High Commissioner until the end of 2021, bigoted leaders are using religion and culture to criminalise LGBT peoples and their allies. Gay sex is already illegal in Ghana. But the new bill goes further. It will criminalise people based on their identity and force them to choose between jail or conversion therapy, which is assessed by United Nations experts as a form of torture. It also proposes 10 years jail for allies or anyone who supports LGBT peoples.
As our High Commissioner to Ghana, I was proud to support Ghana’s first LGBT safe space. We provided it with furniture. But after soon after opening in early 2021, it was unlawfully raided by the police and media and shut down. At a personal level, I posted an Ally heart on the front door of my residence. I wanted to let the LGBT community know that my residence and the High Commission were safe spaces. That Australia respected and supported them. I hosted a film night for the LGBT community and we watched Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I explained that it was a movie that had helped Australia move on from homophobia. My support as an ally came at a cost. I got a lot of hate. A prominent member of parliament threatened twice on radio to assault me. Pentecostal prayer vigils were even held against me. (I remember watching a video that LGBT community members shared of people singing, praying and speaking in tongues about me as a tool of the devil. While weirdly amusing, the video also made me feel sad and sick.)
But I was lucky. I had an Australian passport. I could go home and get away from the hate. The brave people were the members of Ghana’s LGBT communities who were trying to live their lives authentically and peacefully. In the name of religion and culture, they were being banished from their families and communities, fired from their jobs, blackmailed, arbitrarily arrested, assaulted, raped and killed. Simply for being who they are. I heard first-hand from women who were raped by men while in custody to teach them how not to be a lesbian. I saw footage of a young man being forced to strip naked and threatened by his own family with hot irons and machetes for being gay.
Like so many places where minority groups are targeted systematically, the abuse and discrimination in Ghana came from the top. The Speaker of Ghana’s parliament was on the record saying that LGBT people were an abomination and needed to be criminalised. Pentecostal and Catholic church leaders all promoted the same hate. (I’m not a Christian but I always wondered if they really believed Jesus would promote criminalising gay people. It seemed so out of character from what I understood about his teachings.)
I once spent a week at Auschwitz participating in genocide prevention training. The key thing I learned was that atrocities never happen overnight. They build up from small, incremental abuses of human rights. That’s why it’s so important to challenge anyone who tries to pick and choose who gets human rights and who doesn’t. Human rights belong to us all. Societies or nations that start separating them quickly head down a slippery slope.
So that’s why I am an LGBT Ally. And why I’m so happy for everyone celebrating #WorldPride and the #MardiGras this weekend. Australia has come a long way. We should celebrate and protect what we’ve achieved. We should keep moving forward. And we should send a message to the world about equality and kindness. Globally, so many LGBT people still face systemic and often horrific abuse and discrimination. I stand with them. Happy #MardiGras2023 and #HappyWorldPride2023.