Whose Streets? Our Streets! Why You Need to be An Activist for Queer Rights Today

Content Warning: Mentions of transphobia and homophobia

Madi Curkovic is one the MSA Queer Officers and a member of Socialist Alternative Monash

“Get those animals off those horses!” There were hundreds of pro-trans protesters, chanting, seething with rage at the sight of Victoria Police providing protection to Posie Parker’s transphobic event, ‘Let Women Speak’ at Parliament House. Behind police lines stood the transphobic activist from the United Kingdom at a microphone, and a piddly number of right-wing cranks, there to listen to her speech. To us, it was unbelievable. It was a galling step by the far-right’s campaign against queer rights across the world, brought to our city.

A few speakers into the event, we noticed around twenty or so neo-Nazis dressed in black sports gear, holding a massive banner that read: “Destroy Paedo Freaks”. Far from preventing them from standing on the steps of Parliament, Victoria Police officers escorted them in, as they marched up with their banner, performing the Hitler salute. The sheer sight of this enraged us. Photos of the neo-Nazis were posted online, and quickly became front-page news in the days following the protest.

But that wasn’t the end of it. After being outnumbered by protesters in every other city she held a speaking event in, Posie Parker left Auckland declaring to her livestream: “I have grave fears for this place. This country’s fucked.” She cancelled her last stop in Wellington.

Two weeks following the protest in Melbourne, trans rights protesters flocked to the streets in their thousands for Trans Day of Visibility, to oppose the far-right and stand in solidarity with trans people. The sea of trans flags, union flags, and homemade signs made their way from the State Library to Spring Street. Just a fortnight after the steps of Parliament had been the site of transphobic bigotry and neo-Nazism, we took the steps back, chanting a slogan commonly used at protests against the far-right: “Whose streets? Our streets!” 

That day was a win for the left and queer activism in Melbourne. We drove out a transphobe with protest, and (somewhat accidentally) sent the main party of the capitalist establishment into a spin when then Liberal MP Moira Deeming was found to have spoken at the event, and did not leave it after becoming aware of the neo-Nazis’ attendance. She was quickly expelled from the Liberal’s party room.

But the Posie Parker saga’s not the extent of it – still we see the rise of the far-right in Australia and internationally. Think of the new far-right government in Argentina headed by Javier Milei, or Trumpist politics in the US becoming more and more emboldened. In Scotland last year, the UK Government blocked a reform that would make it easier for people to change their legally recognised sex. right-wing politics is on the rise, and it includes homophobia and transphobia. 

Across the United States, 2023 saw the introduction of five times the number of anti-queer bills than in 2022. A key focus of many of these bills was to restrict access to gender-affirming care. While not all 510 bills designed to attack queer people passed, the 84 that did meant that by the end of the year, nearly half of the states had passed this kind of legislation in 2023 alone. It now means that if you grow up trans in Utah, your access to hormone treatment and surgical procedures for gender-affirming care are completely blocked. In some states, it is a felony for professionals to provide gender-affirming care to minors, and can have their medical licence revoked, and even face time in prison.

Here in Victoria over the last year, we’ve seen several far-right groups target drag storytime events and council meetings in an attempt to intimidate queer people. In Sydney, the far-right group Christian Lives Matter violently attacked a pro-trans protest in March last year. Clearly, groups like these are feeling confident that not only do their bigoted views have a legitimate place in society, but that they can also take real steps towards fighting for their agenda. 

To add to this toxic mix, in February, the Federal Government will be discussing the Religious Discrimination Bill. Contrary to its title, this bill does not aim to protect religious freedoms, rather empower institutions like Catholic schools to discriminate against queer people by having the freedom to expel or fire people on the basis of their gender or sexual identity. With the Liberal Party’s rightward shift and frequent use of bigotry towards most oppressed groups, there is pressure on the Albanese Government to legislate this bill. 

Meanwhile, living standards in Australia have taken a turn for the worse. In November last year, Australia won the medal for the biggest income decline in the developed world. Labor governments both at a state and federal level refuse to introduce a rent freeze, or to raise welfare payments above inflation has only made matters worse. A severely economically unequal society like Australia translates into even worse conditions for oppressed groups. 

Such a time calls for determined, left-wing activism. This year Kelly Cvetkova and I – as the MSA’s Queer Officers – plan on bringing more of what we saw when pro-trans protesters fought Posie Parker and won. We’re part of a new, left-wing faction that is running the MSA Queer Office, and we want to bring activism back to campus and the student union. We’ve been part of counterprotesting the neo-Nazis in Melbourne’s west, the Posie Parker protests, and the marriage equality campaign. All of these examples have been high points for the fight for queer rights in our city.

Right now, collective protest is a necessity if we’re to beat back the rise of transphobia and homophobia being used by far-right groups and governments across the world. After all, protests are the reason we have the right for homosexual couples to marry in Australia, and the history of queer activism in Australia stretches back many decades further. Take Stonewall, or the first Mardi Gras in Sydney in 1978; Activism has always been the key to winning queer rights. The overall picture for queer rights across the world is that they are far from being on a linear, upwards progression. In today’s political climate, the need for more queer activists is urgent.

Madi Curkovic

The author Madi Curkovic

Leave a Response