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New book on human rights of homosexuals by Southern Cross University lecturer


11 June 2003
'How can we be fully human unless we act sexually?' South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu asked when interviewed in Sydney in 1999 by the author of a new book on homosexual rights and a lecturer at Southern Cross University (SCU) in Lismore.

Yet for a significant proportion of society, to fulfil their sexuality still means they experience discrimination and hostility: a phenomenon Bishop Tutu referred to as the 'apartheid of homosexuality', with Dr Baden Offord.

It was only in May this year that the NSW Parliament voted to lower the legal age of consent for homosexual males from 18 to 16, bringing it in line with the age of consent for heterosexuals, 20 years after homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW.

Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies and a Principal Researcher in SCU’s Centre for Law, Politics and Culture, Dr Offord, looks at the subject in his new book, ‘Homosexual Rights as Human Rights: Activism in Indonesia, Singapore and Australia’. The book is based on his PhD and four years of research, including in Indonesia and Singapore.

The book was launched on June 10 at Gleebooks in Sydney by Chris Puplick, former president of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW, and former NSW Privacy Commissioner (see his speech under 'Feature Stories'). The Hon Justice Michael Kirby, AC CMG, wrote the book's forward and was among the 100 people at the launch.

"Australia is a hostile place for diverse sexualities," Dr Offord said. "When it comes to explicit recognition of same-sex love, for example, there are entrenched discriminatory social and cultural practices that basically keep homosexuals apart from the mainstream.

"I have been with my partner for 20 years, but I'm well aware of the parameters that exist through laws on superannuation, or when Archbishop Pell speaks, or when I read the tragic statistics on youth suicides among males. Walking in the street hand in hand is not always safe even in so-called 'designated' areas like Oxford Street.

"Whether in popular culture, playing AFL, kissing in a public place, taking out a bank loan, attending Church, visiting the relatives, or going to the corner store for milk, being explicitly homosexual still means often facing hostility, stigmatisation and alienation."

Justice Kirby says in the foreword that Dr Offord makes an important and new contribution to the subject, and that the book is an illuminating study in contrasts of the three, very different, societies.

"In Indonesia the exact legal positioning on homosexual conduct is unclear, but the personal stories of Dr Offord's interviewees bear out his conclusion that tolerance is often bought at a price of silence," Justice Kirby says.

"Cultural, religious and other factors still reinforce the shame that homosexuals (and their families) are taught to feel on this score. In Singapore, such feelings are reinforced by colonial laws, governmental hostility, and occasional talk about 'Asian values'. This last excuse is invoked to portray homosexuality as a Western phenomenon. Leaders of Africa and Latin America have expressed similar views. But, go behind the veil of shame and silence, and, unsurprisingly, the universality of sexual variance is quickly discovered in every land."

However, gay bashing is unheard of in Indonesia and Singapore, in contrast with Sydney and the bashings reported soon after the 1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

"By sharing with us his research and deriving common themes, Baden Offord has pushed forward the boundaries of understanding, knowledge and acceptance. These are words that have a stronger foundation in love than in mere tolerance. Love for each other, I believe, is the ultimate foundation of our felt need to observe universal human rights."

Contact: Sara Crowe, Southern Cross University Media Unit, Ph: 02 6620 3144, email: