Tasmania took a giant leap toward equality last week by electing the first lesbian representative to the local Parliament.
In a March 14 Facebook post, Labor Party candidate Alison Standen confirmed she had won election to the bicameral legislature. Standen claimed she was “honored and humbled to receive the support of the people of Franklin,” a small township located along the island’s southern shore. It counted just 337 people in the last census.
“Thank you to my family and all who have supported and encouraged me over this long campaign,” she wrote. “Together we share core values of service to the community, hard work, and compassion, and today I share my success with you.”
Prior to her bid for Parliament, Standen told The Mercury, a daily newspaper in the capital of Hobart, she expected a “mixed reaction” from voters.
But her fears did not materialize. The candidate and her family were out and visible throughout the campaign with little backlash. Standen met her partner, Kate Grady, a decade ago when they were introduced by mutual friends. The two are raising a nine-year-old son together.
Rodney Croome, a spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, claimed Standen’s election is a sign of progress for a country which once struggled to embrace LGBTQ rights.
“Although there were some anti-LGBTQ leaflets distributed in northern electorates by the Australian Christian Lobby, there were no locally-based attacks against the positive record on LGBTQ human rights of any candidate or party,” Croome told Australia’s Star Observer.
“This is the first time this has happened since LGBTQ human rights became a public issue in Tasmania in the 1980s,” he claims.
Tasmania, a semi-independent territory under the Commonwealth of Australia, was the last state in the country to decriminalize same-sex activity. If found guilty of homosexual intercourse, gay and bisexual men could receive up to 21 years in prison. The prohibition on sodomy wasn’t lifted until 1997, almost two decades after the Australian Capital Territory legalized sex acts between male partners.
Due to its hesitancy in lifting the ban, Tasmania was formerly dubbed “Bigots’ Island” by U.K. newspapers.
But in recent years, the island of 515,000 people has attempted to make amends for its past persecution of LGBTQ people. The state government issued a formal apology to those targeted by the criminal codes in 2017, claiming anyone jailed under the defunct laws would have their records expunged.
“We are sorry,” said former MP Matthew Groom in an address to Tasmania’s Parliament. “We hope those affected will accept our acknowledgement that those laws were wrong.”
The major gains achieved by Tasmania’s LGBTQ rights movement were reflected in Australia’s contentious marriage equality referendum.
In November, voters sounded off in a mail-in ballot on whether same-sex unions should be legalized. Sixty-two percent of Australians voted in favor of the freedom to marry, but support among Tasmanians was even higher: 63.6 percent of residents who cast a ballot in the referendum voted “Yes.”
Standen and her family were major voices in the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.
“We want to stand up and be counted,” the politician told The Mercury in October. “We also want people to understand the people behind this debate, the sorts of families that are being affected.”
Standen added it was the “right thing to do to stand up for our community.”
“In years to come, whether I’m elected or not, I want to be able to look into my son’s eyes and say I stood up for my community,” she claimed.
The 49-year-old will be one of just a handful of LGBTQ people ever elected to the Tasmanian Parliament. Former Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Greens Bob Brown became the state’s first openly gay PM in 1983.