Australia urged to champion LGBTQI rights in Asia-Pacific.

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Date: Feb. 20, 2023
Publisher: Fairfax Media Publications Pty Limited
Document Type: Article
Length: 494 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1570L

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Byline: Matthew Knott Foreign affairs correspondent

Australia is being urged to use its diplomatic and economic clout in the Pacific and South-East Asia to push for progress on LGBTQI rights and commit millions more to fund grassroots groups driving change in neighbouring countries.

As Sydney celebrates hosting World Pride, a coalition of eight civil society and philanthropic groups is calling on the federal government to make promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex rights a foreign policy priority and reject using a reluctance to lecture countries as an excuse for inaction. Gay, lesbian and transgender people are among the most marginalised citizens in the Asia-Pacific, and consensual same-sex sexual relations remain illegal in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Palau, Tuvalu and Kiribati.

A detailed report to be released today finds Australia spent just $700,000 on grants for LGBTQI rights work outside of Australia in 2019 and 2020. That is far below the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada which spent $75 million, $34 million and $25 million respectively.

Ymania Brown, a Samoan-born transgender woman and human rights activist, said Australia could make a "huge difference" in the region if it took a more active stance.

"Australia plays a leadership role in so many other areas so why not on LGBTQ rights?"

Brown said Foreign Minister Penny Wong was ideally placed to drive change on the issue. "To have an Asian, lesbian minister from Australia leading on foreign affairs is someone the Asia-Pacific can look up to," she said.

Brown said World Pride should be a vehicle to promote human rights across the region as well as celebration and partying.

The coalition of groups - the Pacific Sexual and Gender Diversity Network, the Asia Pacific Transgender Network, the Global Philanthropy Project and Equality Australia - is calling on the government to provide targeted funding of $15 million a year to local LGBTQI civil society groups in the Asia-Pacific.

It is also calling on the government to appoint a special envoy or other high-level representative dedicated to LGBTQI rights and establish an expert advisory panel to guide its work.

Ryan Silverio, executive director of the ASEAN sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression caucus, said South-East Asia still largely remains a "hostile environment" for many LGBTQI people.

"Beyond political talking we need resources. More assistance from Australia would matter a lot."

Silverio, a leading Philippines human rights activist, said it was understandable that Australia would feel reluctant about preaching to developing nations about social issues, especially given many neighbouring countries are deeply religious. That is why it should focus on funding and empowering local groups with on-the-ground expertise, he said.

Equality Australia executive director Anna Brown said Australia had played a strong role in promoting LGBTQI rights through forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, but should take more practical action.

"In our region, we know LGBTQI+ people are more likely to be poor, homeless and struggle to get health care," she said.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A737799373