EQUALITY SCORECARD | FAIL! Fairfield Council gets 3 out of 13

NO RESPONSE: Mayor Frank Carbone (top, from left), Deputy Mayor Kien Ly, Paul Azzo, Peter Grippaudo, Anita Kazi, Ninos Khoshaba (bottom, from left), Joe Molluso, Andrew Rohan, Sharbel Saliba and Sera Yilmaz.
NO RESPONSE: Mayor Frank Carbone (top, from left), Deputy Mayor Kien Ly, Paul Azzo, Peter Grippaudo, Anita Kazi, Ninos Khoshaba (bottom, from left), Joe Molluso, Andrew Rohan, Sharbel Saliba and Sera Yilmaz.

OPINION

Fairfield Council scores 3 out of 13 when it comes to promoting diversity, inclusion, equality and acceptance for LGBTQ residents.

Equality Ute guy Geoff Thomas, just back from his road trip promoting marriage equality around southern NSW, Victoria and southern South Australia, challenged Fairfield Council to support it, too.

Most councillors ignored him.

So we threw our weight behind the challenge, asking our leaders if they'd support LGBTQ equality – even if they were reluctant to go all the way on same-sex marriage.

We are one of the most culturally diverse regions in the country and Fairfield Council prides itself on supporting and promoting that.

FAIRFIELD COUNCIL CELEBRATING DIVERSITY | "No they don't," Geoff Thomas says. Picture: Ian Horner

FAIRFIELD COUNCIL CELEBRATING DIVERSITY | "No they don't," Geoff Thomas says. Picture: Ian Horner

The council has erected signs around the city proclaiming: “Fairfield Council – celebrating diversity.”

But it appears they don’t.

When given the opportunity to go on the record as supporting equality for LGBTQ residents 10 out of the 13 on the council – including the mayor and the deputy mayor – ignored us.

But three councillors did respond – Cr Del Bennett, Cr Dai Le and Cr Adran Wong.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Three councillors were quick to throw their weight behind LGBTQ equality in Fairfield and, to varying degrees, marriage equality.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Three councillors were quick to throw their weight behind LGBTQ equality in Fairfield and, to varying degrees, marriage equality.

Scroll down to read their responses in full.

So, it seems there are limits as to how much acceptance and diversity the council will support. And LGBTQ acceptance and support are outside the city limits.

It’s an excuse to say LGBTQ rights are not a matter for the council – when the council has erected signs all over the city declaring unequivocally that they celebrate diversity.

Geoff's son Nathan Thomas (right), with partner Maokil Nobrega. Picture: supplied by Nathan Thomas

Geoff's son Nathan Thomas (right), with partner Maokil Nobrega. Picture: supplied by Nathan Thomas

We recently told Geoff’s story about how he changed from being a “bigoted pig” when his own son Nathan came out to him and Geoff had to recalibrate his thinking on the subject.

Nathan tells us: “My partner Maikol and I always hold hands wherever we go and we do it regardless of where we are, even in Fairfield.

“But a lot of our friends would be uncomfortable to do that. There are plenty of gay people living in the south-west but they can’t afford to be as visible.

“They’re uncomfortable to be visible for fear of violence and being ostracised.

“We were called ‘f – – – ing faggots’ in Westfield at Parramatta. They were laughing, thinking it was really funny. Look, we’re resilient but not everyone is.

“The vast majority are very accepting these days. To get just three councillors to put up their hands in some degree of support for equality just isn’t good enough.

“Our elected representatives should be prepared to represent everybody. To think in 2017 we get 3 out of 13. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs for Fairfield. And for gays and lesbians living in the south-west.”

» Tell us what you think here:

Geoff’s challenge to the council

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

My name is Geoff Thomas. I live at Abbotsbury. I have a gay son. I am a member of PFLAG NSW and Australian Marriage Equality. I have been a long-time campaigner for Marriage Equality and the rights of LGBTQ citizens.

I am conducting a survey of Fairfield City Councillors to see if you (a) support marriage equality and (b) would endorse a vote in the council for marriage equality.

I would note that there is within the LGA a Mayors for Equality group and that the LGA itself endorses marriage equality with a large number of councils around Australia endorsing marriage equality..

I would appreciate your response and or any comments by return email. – Regards, Geoff Thomas

The Champion’s letter to the council

Recently the Champion ran a story about resident and Vietnam vet Geoff Thomas as he left on an extended public-awareness trip for marriage equality with his Equality Ute.

He used to be adamantly opposed to marriage equality and the rights of gay people until his son came out to him and he had to re-evaluate what he believed and recalibrate his whole thinking.

Geoff is now as fiercely supportive of all LGBTQ people as he once was opposed and dismissive.

He tells me he's canvassed you all to see if you, too, support marriage equality and would support a vote in the council for marriage equality. He says the initial number of responses to his email from you all was rather underwhelming.

Geoff, like the Fairfield Champion, supports all LGBTQ people in Fairfield as much as we support the expansive multicultural make up of this thriving diverse region.

I invite you to respond to this email with a statement for publication expressing your commitment, or otherwise, to:

(a) marriage equality;

(b) a vote in the council for marriage equality; and

(c) equal rights and equal treatment of all LGBTQ people in Fairfield City.

I'm hoping you all would be keen to take this opportunity to let your City know where you stand on these important matters. Please note I plan to publish your responses online and in print – or note that a response was not received. I'm looking to publish next week.

Is it true that there are no LGBTQ programs or contacts within Fairfield City Council? – Sincerely, Ian Horner, Editor

The Champion writes again

Heartened to have received three responses so far – plus some verbal feedback.

Yesterday was International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Co-incidentally, the New York Times carried this piece:

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Two men were each sentenced on Wednesday to 85 lashes in public, the first case of people being punished for homosexuality in the Indonesian province of Aceh . . .

That's our close neighbour.

You are community leaders and you set the guidelines as to how our community should accept, support and embrace or reject, judge and marginalise individuals in our community.

Is there ever an excuse not to extend acceptance and support to any law-abiding citizen of Fairfield?

Would we withhold support and acceptance of anyone in Fairfield because of their racial background? Or their religion? Or their economic circumstances? The colour of their skin? The language they speak? Their professional qualifications – or lack?

Is it conscionable to treat anyone with less respect because of their sexuality?

Yes, these are matters of conscience. But would we let people off the hook for claiming racism is a matter of conscience?

Why would we let anyone claim homophobia can be acceptable in any circumstances?

The Champion challenges you to go on the public record in support of complete acceptance and support for everyone in our community, including LGBTQ.

Many of you have come from overseas or were born into migrant families, and are in your positions because the hand of friendship, acceptance, opportunity and support for your cultural background has been extended unequivocally by this community. Could you deny that same opportunity to anyone in our community on the basis of their sexuality?

If you haven't yet responded, please do so, by COB tomorrow, Friday.

It would be great to be able to say we had 100 per cent response. We will publish all names and responses and note if a response was not received, in the interest of fairness.

You do not have to support marriage equality in order to respond, though it would be a positive if you did. But this is an opportunity to go on record saying how far you are prepared to extend acceptance of diversity and to promote inclusion. How far are you prepared to commit . . . ? – Sincerely, Ian Horner, Editor

Geoff responds

So many politicians are wimps. Sadly, we have federal and state politicians who are opposed to equality. I say to them they don’t believe in the principle that all Australians are entitled to be treated equally in law and that they support discrimination in law.

They don’t respect our constitution or their oath to Parliament in that they do not respect the separation between church and state embedded in our constitution.

Frankly I do not think any of these people are worthy of their seats in any of our parliaments – local, state or federal – if they’re not willing to accept all Australians as being equal in law.​

While it’s disappointing that two thirds of Fairfield councillors oppose recognition and inclusion of the LGBTQ community in Fairfield we should congratulate and recognise the support of those councillors who do embrace the basic principles of diversity and respect for all Australians without being selective and who are free of prejudice as to those in our community who are in need of government support.

My sincere thanks to Cr Del Bennett, Cr Dai Le and Cr Adrian Wong for doing what most people expect of their elected officials. – Geoff Thomas, Abbotsbury

THREE COUNCILLORS RESPOND:

Del Bennett

Please see below my response to your questions:

1. I am, and have always been, committed to marriage equality for all.

2. While this is a matter that falls under federal legislation, I have no problem with a vote on marriage equality at the council to symbolise our support for the LGBTQ community.

3. All people should be treated with equal rights and equal treatment, regardless of their sexual preference, gender, race, age or any other distinguishing factor.

Fairfield City Council's slogan is "Celebrating Diversity". It is our diversity that makes us unique and is one of our great strengths.

Fairfield City is one of the most diverse places in Australia, a place of multiculturalism, which shows that we embrace each other's differences and live together harmoniously. – Regards, Del Bennett

Dai Le

Thank you for your email.

I'm a firm believer in diversity and inclusion, especially in the leadership space. There is a lack of people from culturally diverse backgrounds in leadership roles across our mainstream institutions. I have often heard the reference “white, male and pale" in terms of the current leadership representation. It's a cause I'm championing as you might be aware, through my not-for-profit DAWN.

In terms of marriage equality, I believe people have the choice to choose whom they want to marry.  

In terms of a vote on the issue in the council our focus is to vote on matters that have an impact on the infrastructure and public amenities.

Marriage equality is not a local government matter. I personally don't believe that any level of government should intervene on this personal issue.

At the end of the day it's the religious institutions that would have to be convinced! If same-sex couples want to marry in a church, then they would need to fight on that front. 

Fairfield City Council is one of the most multicultural regions in the country. We embrace people from all walks of life. We celebrate the different cultures that have come to call Fairfield home.

I believe that everyone should be treated fairly and given equal opportunity to succeed and flourish.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my views. – Warm regards, Dai Le

Adrian Wong

Thank you for your email and raising this important subject. The following is my reply:

As a local resident, I know many people hold different views on this important matter and I respect their private beliefs.

When Geoff Thomas contacted me, I replied with my own personal view and I hope people who are opposed, respect my personal belief, too.

Over the years, many local residents have told me that they support the traditional definition of marriage.

However, many people like Mr Thomas have also explained to me that our local community's views are slowly changing and that this right should be extended equally to all Australians.

I believe this will help foster more acceptance, social inclusiveness and community harmony throughout Fairfield City. Thank you again. – Best regards, Adrian Wong

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