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April 04, 2000 09:39am
Perth Loses W.AUS Pride
Source: NewsPlanet

(PERTH, AU) -- After ten years of celebrating pride in the City of Perth municipal district, Lesbian and Gay Pride West Australia voted April 2 to move its parade to the City of Subiaco municipal district, fed up with the anti-gay attitudes expressed on the Perth City Council and glad for the eager welcome offered by Subiaco. The Perth City Council on March 28 actually took the unusual step of overriding its Lord Mayor Dr. Peter Nattrass 8 - 1 to approve a grant it denied Gay Pride WA last year, but only after Nattrass had read a two-page speech denouncing the pride parade. The City of Perth's business area, Northbridge, is reeling at the loss of its first- or second-biggest night of the year, which has rung up A$500,000 - A$1-million on cash registers there. The parade attracts about 100,000 free-spending spectators, mak! in! g it one of WA's largest annual events.

"We are sad to be leaving Northbridge, and we are not snubbing the traders who have supported us throughout the years ... but Subiaco extended its hand of friendship to us while the Perth City Council put up barriers," Lesbian and Gay Pride co-president Kerry McGuckin told The Australian. The City of Subiaco leaped forward last year when the Perth City Council rejected an A$10,000 grant for pride, and this year Subiaco offered a three-year deal from the city and its businesses totaling a minimum of A$20,000 per year plus personnel. She also noted that Nattrass' remarks had hurt.

Lord Mayor Nattrass was not the least perturbed by loss of Lesbian and Gay Pride. He not only maintained that he had represented his constituents' views, but added that, "I would suggest you could get 100,000 people if you held a public execution." At the March 28 Council meeting, he had called the parade ugly, crass, undignified, and borderline pornographic, adding concerns of other pride opponents that it promotes gross exhibitionism and promiscuity, satirizes the Church, sexually parodies leaders, and creates division and offense, while failing to send any responsible message to the community regarding either gays and lesbians or the AIDS problem. Nattrass included a denial that his remarks represented any homophobia on his part.

Despite Nattrass' oration, the Perth City Council did agree to a grant of A$10,000 plus another A$3,400 in in-kind services in support of Lesbian and Gay Pride. That reversed the Council's position of 1999, the first year Lesbian and Gay Pride had ever sought public funds for its event, and a time when the Council gave a much smaller event a larger grant. But it was too little too late. Embittered Perth City Councilor Bert Tudori told the West Australian of the loss of Lesbian and Gay Pride, "I'm very disappointed. I blame the councillors who over the years have tried to put a stop to it. Well, they've succeeded now."

Even more distressed was Northbridge Business and Community Association president Vincent Tan, who said, "Northbridge has lost the only major event it had. This just highlights how out of touch the ruling clique of the Perth City Council are with the needs of Northbridge." Nattrass did offer more Council financial support to Northbridge businesses, some of which will fail due to the loss of Lesbian and Gay Pride if Tan's projections are correct. The only day close to the profitability of the pride parade has been New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, West Australia's gays and lesbians are waiting hopefully on the fate of the Sexuality Discrimination Bill introduced by Australian Democrat Member of the Legislative Council Helen Hodgson. That bill would lower the age of consent for sex between men from 21 years -- one of the highest in the world -- to 16, equalizing it with that for heterosexual acts; include gays and lesbians in the protections from discrimination of the Equal Opportunity Act; and delete a statement of the WA Parliament's disapproval of same-gender relationships in a preamble to existing legislation. Although the bill lacks the support of the state Liberal/National coalition Government, a collection of members of other parties (Democrats, Labor, Greens) would have been enough to pass it out of the Legislative Council (upper house) when it was debated there March 21 -- except that one independent supporter, MLC Mark Nevill, was a shade too late to make it into the chambers before the doors ! we! re closed for a roll call. GALE-WA, the lobby group Gay and Lesbian Equality, believes this was an honest error on Nevill's part, although bells ring throughout the building for two minutes before the doors are locked. Hodgson came up with a procedural maneuver to keep the bill alive, returning it to a committee for clarification, and hopes to be able to convince the Government to bring it back to the floor of the Legislative Council within a few weeks.

The quality of the debate itself was discouraging. Liberal Party Attorney-General Peter Foss not only referred to the "impressionability" of young people who therefore required the protection of the age of consent law, but raised a number of unrelated topics such as incest and bestiality. (Sample quote: "Incest at 70 years of age may not have a bad effect on people. That is a possibility because it is unlikely that a person of 70 years of age will be affected by incest.") GALE in a statement demanded Foss explain his choice to bring in unrelated topics, but no explanation has been forthcoming. GALE has also called on Premier Richard Court to allow Liberal and National Party members to vote their consciences instead of forcing them to follow the party line.

Liberal MLC Derrick Tomlinson seemed to agree at least with the principle of the bill, realizing it is more about stopping discrimination than about sex, as he remarked, "This Bill is not about the decriminalization ... of sodomy, cunnilingus, fellatio, mutual masturbation, or that wonderful rich variety of sexual congress in which I was once able to participate."

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