As the national marriage equality postal survey entered its final week, a leading organisation behind the “no” campaign zeroed in on a Sydney council’s annual grants program, urging councillors to reject the funding of LGBT programs.
But the bid by the n Christian Lobby proved unsuccessful on Tuesday night, as a majority block of the Inner West Council voted to approve more than $67,000 in funding for 13 LGBT programs for the upcoming year.
“We are giving out several hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to a wide range of organisations, some of which are LGBT organisations. So what?” mayor Darcy Byrne said.
The Inner West Council, which includes within its boundaries the gay-friendly suburb of Newtown, has been vocal in its support for marriage equality.
The Christian Lobby’s NSW director Kieren Jackson wrote to each of the 15 councillors on Monday, asking them to re-evaluate the use of ratepayer funds towards LGBT organisations in favour of prioritising “the most vulnerable in society, the sick and those with disabilities”.
The lobby group drew a link between the grants program and the postal survey, suggesting the council’s judgment had been compromised by its support for marriage equality.
“The question that needs to be asked is whether the Inner West Council’s energetic support of the ‘Yes’ campaign in the current postal survey is colouring the council’s judgment when it comes to being responsible with ratepayers’ money,” Mr Jackson said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Inner West Council has promoted a public position in favour of marriage equality – a position supported by a majority block of the councillors, who were elected in September.
As one of its first acts, the new council voted to allow same-sex couples free access to community facilities and halls for wedding ceremonies for 100 days if same-sex marriage is legalised following the postal survey.
The LGBT programs funded on Tuesday night accounted for 10 per cent of the total funding package of $742,847, which was shared between 127 community projects as varied as domestic violence support groups and music therapy programs for deaf children.
The programs were recommended for funding approval by assessment panels for each of the council’s six grant programs.
Mr Jackson took aim at the funding of $6500 towards a breast cancer awareness picnic hosted by ACON, an HIV prevention organisation, ahead of an unsuccessful $14,000 funding request from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
A council spokesman said the hospital’s grant application did not meet the eligibility criteria, which “clearly state that state or federal government departments or projects which fall under the responsibility of another tier of government are not eligible”.
“These are local grants, not designed to subsidise the state government’s public hospital system to purchase medical equipment.”
ACON chief executive Nicolas Parkhill said funding for the picnic was important because lesbian women experienced “higher risk factors relating to the development of breast cancer, and are an underscreened population for this type of cancer compared to heterosexual women”.
Other LGBT programs that received grants included $19,000 for a “Rainbow Tapestry project”, which aimed to reduce social isolation through weekly events, $7500 for a “Queer Formal” for high school students, and $4500 for an art exhibition by Aboriginal artists from the LGBT community.
Independent councillor Pauline Lockie rejected the Christian Lobby’s claim that the council was funding LGBT projects ahead of those for vulnerable people as “a misleading, dog-whistling political smear”.
“LGBTQI people are more likely to experience abuse, violence, discrimination, prejudice, and social and mental health issues than their heterosexual counterparts,” she said.
The council’s grants program did not receive unanimous support from the elected representatives.
Deputy mayor Julie Passas, a Liberal councillor, told Fairfax Media she could not “justify one certain group of people being singled out when there are more needy issues to be addressed”.
“I cannot see that gays are being treated badly,” she said.
“As far as I’m concerned, gay people aren’t different from me. I don’t believe the gays need help. What is the pressing need? A picnic, I don’t think, is pressing.”
Following a heated debate, the grants program was approved by a majority of 11 councillors, while the two Liberal councillors, Cr Passas and Vittoria Raciti, and independent Victor Macri voted against it.