This year is the 30th anniversary of one of the worst episodes in modern Tasmanian history.
In June 1989, Ulverstone hosted Australia’s first ever public rally against decriminalising homosexuality with rallies to follow in Burnie, Launceston and Hobart.
A particularly nasty aspect of these rallies was how Liberal MPs sat in the front row applauding anti-gay speakers because the plan to decriminalise had been proposed by Labor and the Greens.
Those angry rallies tore communities and families apart, and most Tasmanians hope they never happen again.
But tragically, we are seeing a return to politicised prejudice against LGBTI people.
The Liberal Government is deeply hostile to Labor and Green transgender law reform proposals that will basically do two things:
First, remove the requirement that transgender people have surgery before they can amend their birth certificates to recognise their true gender.
Second, allow people to choose not to have gender marked on their birth certificates, including allowing parents that choice in the case of children.
The government says these proposals have no place in its original legislation about bringing Tasmania into line with marriage equality at a federal level.
But when you look at what the government’s legislation actually deals with that objection makes no sense.
The government’s original legislation was about removing the brutal requirement that married transgender partners must divorce before their birth certificate can be amended.
If we are going to remove that hurdle, why would we leave in place an even more brutal hurdle that affects far more transgender people, namely the legal requirement that they have invasive, expensive and dangerous surgery before they can change their birth certificate?
It is bizarre that the government is happy to remove an old law that discriminates against transgender people while insisting an even worse law remain.
The government says the proposed Labor and Green reforms require further consultation, which also makes no sense.
The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission conducted a public inquiry in 2016 that recommended the reforms currently on the table.
At the end of last year, the Northern Territory adopted, and the West Australian Law Reform Commission recommended, just the kind of reforms being debated in Tasmania.
Clearly, these reforms are not as complex or as unpopular as the Tasmanian Government wants us to believe.
What mystifies me most of all are those Liberals who say this is “cultural Marxism” when it is actually a classic liberal reform.
By allowing transgender people to amend their birth certificates without the need for divorce or surgery, we are giving them more choice, greater control over their own lives, and the same opportunities as other people.
By giving trans folk the choice to remove gender from their birth certificates, the law is effectively saying “it’s not the government’s role to decide who you are, it’s yours”.
Giving everyday people greater choice and getting government out of their lives is the fundamental principle behind these reforms.
Any Liberal worthy of that label should be an enthusiastic supporter of Tasmania's transgender reforms.
So why aren’t they?
A recent opinion poll commissioned by the Liberal Party caused me great concern.
The poll question targeted Labor and the Greens, and reporting of it included long responses from North-West Liberal politicians like Leonie Hiscutt and Gavin Pearce who are not deeply involved with the issue.
It looked like the Liberal Party was using community misunderstanding about transgender reform to give their candidates a boost ahead of the federal and state Upper House elections in May. It looked like a return to the politicisation of discrimination.
Transgender and gender diverse Tasmanians had their identities and rights demonised during the postal survey.
They rightly believed the Yes vote brought that to an end, especially in Tasmania where the vote was above the national average.
The last thing they need is for their hopeful bid at equality and dignity turned into the postal survey version 2.0.
The way to prevent this is simple: a Liberal conscience vote.
In 1996, after years of polarisation in regard to decriminalising homosexuality, the Liberal Party adopted a conscience vote, leading to gay law reform being embraced by most Tasmanians.
By allowing a conscience vote on LGBTI law reform ever since, including on same-sex parenting and marriage, the Liberal Party has helped forge the more inclusive and tolerant Tasmania we all enjoy today.
If the Liberal Party allows a conscience vote on transgender reform it will immediately stop the gathering hate campaigns and help foster greater community understanding, just as it did in the 90s.
My plea to Tasmania’s Liberals is not to go back to a time when fear was whipped up to win a few votes. Instead, let’s keep moving forward to a Tasmania where we are all treated with respect and dignity.
- Rodney Croome is Equality Tasmania's spokesman.