‘Politics should steer clear’: Rainbow flag set to fly over Wimmera

A special meeting of West Wimmera Shire council has overturned a decision against flying the rainbow flag.

The council ruling clears the way for the internationally recognised pride flag to fly above the rural Victorian council region for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 17 May.

Patrick Quaine of the Wimmera Pride Project said two motions were debated by council on 9 May.

The first was that the council would erect a community flagpole at the local government area’s biggest towns: Edenhope, Kaniva, Apsley, Garoke and Harrow.

“Community members could then seek approval from the council to fly a flag they provide to council on days of significance to them,” Quaine told Guardian Australia.

“This motion passed unanimously.”

Quaine said the second motion was put that if the community flagpoles could not be erected before 17 May, council would fly the rainbow flag outside the shire offices in Kaniva and Edenhope on IDAHOBIT 2022.

“That motion passed four to one with Cr Bruce Meyer voting against it,” he said.

‘A bit of respect’

Meyer sparked outrage from many in rural Victoria and beyond after an ABC interview in April in which he spoke about the West Wimmera Shire council’s initial decision against raising the rainbow flag.

“Gay marriage has been legalised, it’s not the domain of local government, there are lots of issues, you’ve got to equate this to … there are many people who want the Marriage Act changed so that 12-year-old girls can marry,” he told ABC listeners on 21 April.

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Quaine said the Wimmera Pride Project is relieved the council has now chosen to project a positive sign of hope and inclusion for LGBTQ+ residents.

“We are excited for the people in the community that asked for this and we will be celebrating with them in Edenhope on 17 May,” he said.

“It has been incredible to see the allies in the West Wimmera Shire and their LGBTIQ+ community rally together to show the country Bruce’s comments do not reflect their community.

“The outpouring of support from LGBTIQ+ communities around the state has been very inspiring and uplifting.”

But the group said it had been an exhausting process.

“We can’t help but ask, is all of this necessary?” Quaine said. “Can’t we all just show each other a bit of respect?”

‘Political stunts’

The Wimmera Pride Project has been lobbying all levels of government in rural western Victoria, including Nationals member for Mallee, Anne Webster, about LGBTQ+ equality.

They have called on politicians to show leadership on the stalled religious discrimination bill, the “save women’s sports” bill proposed by Tasmanian senator Claire Chandler, and the Liberal party’s endorsement of Katherine Deves as candidate for the federal electorate of Warringah, considering her offensive comments on the trans community.

“Claire Chandler’s bill and the preselection of Katherine Deves are just political stunts to create a wedge issue, on topics where there is fear and misunderstanding,” Quaine said.

Webster serves as chair of a parliamentary joint committee on human rights, and told Guardian Australia there are many protections in place for Mallee’s LGBTQ+ constituents.

“They need to be respected, as everybody else needs to be respected,” she said.

“The issue for the sports bill that Claire raised is that we wanted to ensure that women and girls are not sidelined in sports, because trans women are much stronger and they are more powerful, generally speaking.

“As a society, we should be able to have a discussion without being shut down because we raise questions or don’t agree with a particular side. All too often these discussions become polarising, they are binary, there is no middle ground.”

Webster had no comment about Deves’ endorsement.

“I’m not in the Liberal party. I think there has been enough commentary. The prime minister is the one who has supported Katherine Deves,” she said.

‘Causes real harm’

Quaine said that by choosing to remain silent, MPs “are still participating”.

“They are allowing LGBTIQ+ lives, particularly trans lives, to be politicised, which causes real harm to vulnerable people in our society.

“They need to stand up and say the lives of trans Australians are something politics should steer clear of.”

Independent candidate for Mallee Sophie Baldwin told Guardian Australia the religious discrimination bill concerns her.

“Everyone deserves to live a life free of discrimination, including the LGBTIQ+ community, and sadly I think this bill is way off the mark, it is draconian and from the dark ages,” she said.

“I can’t speak for mayor Bruce Meyer, but personally I would be proud to see the rainbow flag flying.

“People are people and I don’t understand why can’t we just embrace a person for who they are and let them live their life as they choose, free of judgment and discrimination.”

Quaine said the Wimmera Pride Project would be donating rainbow flags to West Wimmera Shire council.

“We have ordered two flags and they are being delivered directly to the council.

“The Wimmera Pride Project received a donation from a community member to cover the cost,’ he said.

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