by CHRISTINE MILNE
“Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother”.- Lin Yutang, Chinese writer
The Australian people may know me as a politician but I am, and will always be, a mother first.
I am incredibly proud of both my sons and love them both equally and passionately.
Both my children were brought up in a household where there was a very clear ethic of no discrimination against anyone; an ethic of women’s rights and environmentalism.
The children were always aware that my close friend Bob Brown, former Leader of the Australian Greens, was a gay man and that wasn’t a matter of conversation in any shape or form – it was just totally accepted.
So unlike a lot of other young gay people, who go through the trauma of having to tell their families and worry about what the consequences might be at a family level, there was always total acceptance.
Both my ex-husband and I embraced the fact Tom was gay. We never felt Tom was any different from his brother or his friends. Sexuality never came into it.
So when Tom came out at 15 or 16, the most confronting thing for him was the level of discrimination in the broader community.
When Tom was only four, I was elected to the Tasmanian Parliament. Back then there was much vitriolic anti-gay debate. In fact, LGBTI people were ostracised and subjected to abuse and discrimination. To be openly gay in Tasmania was very hard and made worse because you could be jailed for 21 years!
Both issues were central to the election in 1989 when Bob Brown and I ran with three other independents, on a platform including gay law reform. It was extremely nasty and divisive.
Being both an advocate of gay law reform and protection of forests and farmlands, as well as an anti pulp mill activist, like Bob Brown and so many others, I was the target of death threats and warnings that my family home was going to be burnt down.
I remember a time when I had a plain clothes police officer in my waiting room pretending to be a constituent and a police car parked in the driveway opposite my home.
At one stage the police rang and told me not to take the children home. These were very confronting times for gay activists and environmentalists alike, including my family.
I remember, not long after I was elected, a public meeting was called in my home town of Ulverstone to protest against gay rights. Some of the gay activists, including Rodney Croome, travelled from Hobart and very bravely tried to hand out information to those attending. The crowd chanted, Kill Them, Kill Them..
This is why I’m incredibly proud, after such a long struggle by so many, that it was my Private Members Bill that decriminalised homosexuality in Tasmania in 1997. I was the Leader of the Greens in Tasmania and used our position in balance of power with a minority Liberal government to make it happen. We went from having the worst laws in the Commonwealth in relation to the severity of punishment for, and discrimination against, gay, lesbian and transgender people to having the best laws.