Dr. Alan Berman (Senior Lecturer in Law, Newcastle University; Australia)

03.10.2010 - Interview conducted by Joel MacMillan

Q1. You were in Australia when Kevin Rudd apologized to all Aboriginals. What did that apology mean to aboriginals, not only in Australia, but throughout the world?

I would say they were very happy with it, and felt it was long overdue. Perhaps this led to greater ability for reconciliation, and there are others who perhaps were cynical about it. So there is probably a split of opinion about it within the indigenous community. But Rudd cried when he realized he longer had the numbers in parliament to remain prime-minister and said ďI gave a national apologyĒ.

Q2. You spoke about George Bush Sr. creating a national hate crimes act. How effective would you say this has been in terms of combating hate crimes in the United States and why canít such an act be implemented in places such as Queensland, which is the focus of your book?

Well thatís one of the recommendations that we made that they pass a Queensland hate crimes statistic act. It is possible to distinguish because we asked the people in the survey was your incident preceded by homophobic language, and 79% of the people said yes, so it is possible to distinguish between common crimes and crimes committed based on sexual orientation. We have urged them to implement a new computer system that has the ability to collect this data. They showed me the form, but they wonít release any statistics. We have urged them to release these to promote transparency and accountability in government, and pending the passage of a Queensland hate crimes statistic act. The one in the United States is voluntary, not compulsory, but by the year 2000, all 50 states were voluntarily supplying statistics to the federal government. Interestingly, I believe 80% of states reported that no hate crimes were committed, so a number of studies have been undertaken to isolate the factors to determine the ability to enforce, identify, and prosecute hate crimes. It is effective in the sense that it can track the number of hate crimes. Sexual orientation is the third highest category of hate crimes since they started gathering statistics in 1991.

Q3. You state that the Northern Territories and Queensland are the most homophobic states according to your study. Why do you think there is such a disconnect between Victoria, which is the least homophobic state, and Queensland and the Northern Territories?

Victoria decriminalized homosexuality in 1981 and this was before Queensland did, so thatís one factor. The Queensland police brochure explicitly mentions the devastating impact of the state having been the perpetrator of violence against sexual minorities and that caused a lack of trust from the public and created problems with non reporting. Attitudes are slow to change because it wasnít too long ago when they started arresting people for this. Queensland has nothing about this in their liaison brochure. Victoria is much more progressive and enlightened than Queensland as they donít have one gay officer on their police force. Some of the statements and statistics about barriers to reporting were astonishing as 49% cited that police themselves as the main barrier to reporting.

Q4. Your book brought to light a lot of these issues in Queensland where very few studies had been done. Going forward, what impact do you think this book will have on the issues you examined in your book, and what can be done by institutions and governments in Queensland to improve the safety and acceptance of the LGBT community in Queensland?

Well that is an educational initiative and I expressed disappointment because I was led to believe that they are undergoing a national curriculum review at the moment for science and math. They were supposed to include health and physical education and the UNESCO guidelines provide that sexuality education should begin being taught by the ages of 5 to 8, and now they have scrapped it. Thatís one thing, you have to start when they are kids. We suggested they should adopt school-wide policies, practices, suggested guides, training programs and resources that are used in other jurisdictions for supporting homosexual students. Also we want mandatory reporting procedures on the outcomes of anti-bullying procedures which are currently implemented in New South Wales. More funding from Queensland governments for homosexual through media campaigns such as radio ads, placards and advertisements. We also recommended that all universities in Queensland who are educating teachers, because we found they were also a problem and our focus group showed that homophobia and sexism is rewarded in the classroom setting, that they should have to take compulsory classes in sexual education based on UN Guidelines. We also wanted all equity officers at Universities undergo special training on a nationwide basis level of awareness. They only recognize gender and aboriginals, but the sexuality issue is swept under the carpet because it is seen as too difficult. The Queensland government and national government should launch a media campaign similar to the ones for drug abuse and domestic violence. We want lawmakers to adopt a holistic approach to address violence, and by holistic approach that means recognizing that it just not a problem for law enforcement, but you also need the health department and the support of the attorney general. They should create a senior policy advisor in the department of justice that deals with just gay and lesbian issues. In 1990 under the Keating government they created such a position, and they have since added another one. These positions play a leading role in the attorney generalís department on the issues relating to the prevention of prejudice motivated violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We also urged for more funding to undertake a national project through a linkage grant to look at best practice models in relation to the handling of hate crimes.

Thank you very much for your time.