Following the successful Irish referendum for marriage equality, calls within Australia are growing for the Australian government to legalise same-sex marriage. Opinion polls even suggest public support for marriage equality is higher in Australia than it is in Ireland, at more than 70 per cent. This begs the question of what more can be done to reflect the Australian community in the leadership of our country.
Right Now spoke to Jason Tuazon-McCheyne about giving LGBTIQ persons a voice within Australian Federal Parliament. Jason is the leader and senate candidate for the Australian Equality Party, a political party that stands for the human rights, fairness and equality of all Australians.
Beginning his studies and career within the church, Jason was 28 when he came out. His church collectively dumped him soon after. A month later he met Adrian, who he is still with 17 years later. Jason and Adrian were married non-legally in 2000 and then legally in Canada in 2004.
While in Canada they started the process to have a family and two years later Ruben was born. Ruben is now nine. On their return to Australia they, along with another couple, asked the Family Court to validate their overseas marriage. The laws changed a week before their court date and their marriage remains invalid in Australia.
Right Now: You plan to run for senate in the 2016 Federal Election. What motivated you to start your political party?
Jason Tuazon-McCheyne: Adrian and I have been politically active since we asked the government, the Family Court, to validate our overseas marriage. Since then, we’ve done lots of things.
After the last election, I was sitting with the original family we did the Family Court thing with back in 2004, another family who Adrian and I had gotten really close to, and our kids. We were a bit distressed after the last election results. LGBTIQ rights weren’t going to change, federally.
That day, after I had been thinking about it for a while, I said to the other five people who were there: “I’m tired of marching and filling out petitions, I think we need an independent voice inside the federal parliament. Someone, in there, telling our stories and agitating for change where the decisions are made, which we don’t have.”
They laughed, but at the end of that conversation the party existed. Over that summer, I spoke with a whole stack of people and asked them what they thought, which led to the formation of a committee. We launched at Pride March last year in February. We registered in May, which came through in October. The Australian Equality Party is the name we chose. We had to work through everything from what we were called, to who are we speaking for – the LGBTIQ community.
What are the goals of your political party and how do you plan on achieving them?
The main goal is to get me elected next year. That’s the first step. It isn’t about me, but it is about getting me elected. So everything we do is around having that independent voice inside the parliament.
What is your experience within politics up until the formation of this party?
Adrian and I said we wanted to be part of a “gentle revolution”, as part of our non-legal wedding vows.
We have done stuff actively, but no one in the party, up until this point, has been actually employed in a political position. They are all talented and amazing people from other areas.
We really want to do it differently. We don’t want to be chauvinistic. We just don’t want it to be like it is now. That is really important, and the team feel that way too. We don’t have 28 million dollars to spend on a marketing budget, but we have something a bit more powerful than that – grassroots.
The word “equality” for me triggers the thought of other marginalised people. Your policy is very specific to LGBTIQ. Will the party branch out to include other marginalised communities?
We have that name and those key definitions because we do want to expand. We want to be a centrist party in the humanist area that says that no women are not treated equally in this country, indigenous people are not treated fairly in this county, the way we deal with asylum seekers is immoral, the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” keeps getting bigger and bigger, and it’s not healthy.
You can see quite clearly how we are going to vote about those things if there is something to be voted on. You can’t go from nothing to everything, but you can go from nothing to something. The party is set up in such a way that it will grow; it can grow into whatever it needs to be.
What is your take on LGBTIQ in Australian politics today?
I love the fact that we have a handful of out gay, lesbian and transgender politicians. There are not that many, but they are there. Though they are encumbered by their party platforms and they’ve had to do things that prevent them from having a clear voice on these issues. They are forced to work within the structures of what they’re doing.
People have said to me, “Why do we need this party? We have The Greens or The Sex Party.” I say, “Firstly, we need to speak for ourselves. Secondly, when other important agendas come up for those political parties, our priorities can get pushed to the side.”
If up to 10 per cent of the population are of diverse sexuality and gender, then that is approximately 2 million people, plus their friends and family. It will be better for everybody if we can fix this. We are equally right leaning as left leaning. If people want to vote economically to the right, they can now vote socially centrist and have both. It’s been really important, it’s been a missing gap.
As you can see with the way we present ourselves, we’re being honest. You can see what we stand for. And we do stand for something. Which is a refreshing change too.
If we don’t agitate for change, whatever area it is, it will not happen.
What do you think of Ireland passing the same-sex marriage referendum and do you think it will have an affect on policy here in Australia?
It’s exciting, in fact it’s outstanding to see a catholic country vote overwhelmingly for marriage equality. If the USA follows next month after the Supreme Court decision we will be the only western English speaking country left that discriminates. Surely this puts pressure on our government to actually represent the people. This is beginning to play out which is encouraging.
In an ideal world, what do you want to achieve by representing the LGBTIQ community? What would be success for you?
It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, because even though women are equal in Australia they are still not treated equally. I would love to think that one day an LGBTIQ person who is 10 or 12 years old can just think, “wow, I’m as normal as everyone else, and the pathways for me are as varied and available to me as they are to everyone else.”
Where I grew up there was no positive representation of a gay or lesbian person, ever. Now, the younger generation do have that, but it’s still not safe for them. I know that for a fact. We need to make it so that we are fully included.
That is the dream: that nobody gives a shit whether you are gay or straight because you are judged and assessed by the person you are and what you do. Those things have nothing to do with your gender, your orientation, your race, wealth status, or even how intelligent you are.