Australia’s first openly gay federal Member of Parliament says the country can be proud of how far anti-gay discrimination has been broken down.
But he says the journey is not complete.
Trent Zimmerman, the New South Wales Liberal Party president, replaced former treasurer Joe Hockey in the seat of North Sydney late last year.
Mr Zimmerman has used his first speech in parliament to deliver an emotional plea for Australians to see discrimination over sexuality like discrimination based on race or gender.
The speech comes after he won the seat of North Sydney in a by-election in 2015 following former federal treasurer Joe Hockey’s departure from politics.
Mr Zimmerman says some people had told him this was not the time to reflect on the issue and surely a person’s sexuality was irrelevant in this day and age.
“Discrimination remains, and too many people are prepared to peddle prejudice. Our laws still deny access to marriage, our society’s ultimate expression of love and commitment. Young gay men and women are more likely to suffer depression and other mental-health issues. They are more likely to be bullied at school, more are likely to attempt to take their own lives, and, tragically, some will succeed. Coming out remains hard for many people, and, believe me, I know what that’s like.”
Mr Zimmerman says Australia can be proud of how far it has progressed in breaking down centuries of discrimination against gay and lesbian people.
He says this weekend’s Mardi Gras in Sydney is a sign of the changes that have already occurred.
“This weekend, hundreds of thousands, gay and straight, will join together to recognise diversity acceptance and respect at the Sydney Mardi Gras. They will do so peacefully and in the spirit of celebration. It’s emblematic of the change that has occurred, and, in many respects, it’s no surprise and so very Australian.”
But he says, while Australia has made great progress, discrimination still remains.
He says too many people are still prepared to peddle prejudice, forcing many to hide their true identities.
“While people feel the need to suppress their identity, they will live in a life of fear and trepidation. They are denied the opportunity to love and be loved, to be full and flourishing members of our community, to simply be themselves. We will not have reached the end of the journey until no person feels compelled to live a life that is not their own, until we recognise that a person’s sexuality is not a choice or a preference, it is as innate as the colour of their skin.”
Mr Zimmerman has also spoken out about the debate surrounding the Safe Schools Program.
The gay- and lesbian-focused anti-bullying program has drawn criticism from a Coalition colleague.
Mr Zimmerman has told the ABC a comment by federal MP George Christensen comparing the program to paedophile grooming was deliberately inflammatory and unjustified.
He also says he is prepared to cross the floor in favour of same-sex marriage.