I hate to ruin the start of an election year, but I have a serious problem with recent legal changes regarding gays and lesbians. I know it’s supposed to be all hugs and puppies for the gay community these days and that we have allegedly entered a new era of tolerance and acceptance, but I’m not buying it.
Hatred, suspicion and discrimination take a long time to die and you’d have to be criminally naïve to think otherwise. The Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws Reform Bill of 2008 was meant to remove inequalities in the way gays and lesbians were treated. Sadly, that is not the case.
I know a lot of gays and lesbians have celebrated these changes and see them as a great move forward, but that doesn’t hold for the whole community. While the wealthier end of the spectrum can have their faux marriages, reorganise their superannuation and start claiming their idiot toy boys as dependants, things aren’t so jolly at the other end of the economic spectrum.
The key difference is choice. Wealthy people can choose to use these laws, or they can stay closeted and private. Poorer gays and lesbians who rely on Centrelink have no such choice. We are being forced to come out and go on the lower couple rate or face massive financial penalties later if we get busted.
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We weren’t even notified by official letters. Centrelink put ads in various papers and then expected us to dob ourselves in.
And that’s not the worst of it. If we come out to Centrelink, that information will be put on a government database for all time. That database will contain not just the fact that we’re gay, but our home address, phone number, Centrelink reference number and bank details.
Gathering this information in one place is inherently dangerous and stupid. It is, in effect, a pink list and this government will be holding gays and lesbians on the list hostage to any future government who may not be as tolerant.
It’s no use saying that this information will be kept private and confidential. In a paper given at a banking and identity conference at RMIT in 2006 it was revealed that in a three-year period from 2003 there were 858 breaches of privacy cases at Centrelink. Investigations resulted in 19 staff being sacked, 92 resigning when confronted with information and a further 346 were either fined or reprimanded. And that’s just one government department.
That database can also be hacked by malicious outsiders, or information can be “accidentally” released in the course of exchanging information with the welfare departments of other nations. How bad would this government feel if someone’s gay status was accidentally revealed to a country that still applies criminal charges or the death penalty to gay people? No hugs and puppies there.
If you think I’m being too alarmist, let me remind you of what happened in Germany in the 1930s. Once the Nazis got into power they devoted a whole division of the Gestapo to creating a “pink list”. The reason they were able to do this was because under the previous, tolerant Weimar regime, gays and lesbians felt confident enough to emerge from their closets and form clubs and associations. That’s how they were found.
Gays and lesbians trusted their government and were horribly betrayed. More than 9000 ended up in concentration camps. That might not be a huge number, but bear in mind that gays were the only group refused compensation after the war. Right up until the 1960s they were considered common criminals who received appropriate treatment.
This partly explains why Centrelink hasn’t got the response it was expecting. These changes have scared the pants off people. They don’t trust any government to protect them or keep that information private.
So even though I’ve been out for years, on behalf of the people who want to stay private and can’t even complain publicly about these changes (for fear of being identified as gay), I’m telling the government: I will not dob myself in and I will not be on your pink list.
This whole debacle could have been avoided if Centrelink, instead of trying to force more people onto the lower couple payment, just abolished the stupid couple rate instead — for all couples, not just gay ones. Recent suggestions point to the possibility that whatever paltry amount is saved by having couples rates the government could actually save more by not conducting expensive and intrusive investigations into people’s living arrangements.
Why on earth does the government need to know what consenting adults get up to in private? It’s none of their business.