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LGBT Rights In NSW: A Guide For The Average Voter

Vote early, vote often!

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In recent years, LGBT reforms have been at the forefront of political debate in New South Wales and across the country. As the state prepares to vote this Saturday, BuzzFeed News has compiled this guide to party policy on LGBT issues.

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Which electorates have the most gay couples?

The 2011 census found the electorates with the highest number of gay couples are all in Sydney's inner suburbs. As the census only counts people who identify themselves as being same-sex couples, this data is non-inclusive of single LGB people, transgender or intersex people.

The new seat of Newtown contains a large number of both gay and lesbian couples. The progressive inner west seat is a contest between out lesbian Penny Sharpe of Labor and Jenny Leong of the Greens.

The seat of Sydney has very high numbers of gay male couples, who constitute approximately 18% of all couples in Darlinghurst and Potts Point, and 16% of those in Elizabeth Bay. The seat is currently held by out gay Independent MP Alex Greenwich. Meanwhile, Heffron and new electorate Summer Hill both have high numbers of lesbian couples.

Other gay candidates are contesting seats across the state. Liberal Bruce Notley-Smith is running in his current seat of Coogee, while Chris Brentin of the Greens is up against Alex Greenwich for the seat of Sydney.

This election has also seen the creation of new political action group 'OUT FOR', which aims to build support for out LGBT and intersex candidates.

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What are the issues?

Many laws pertaining to LBGT people have been overhauled in recent years. A host of federal reforms under Labor in 2008 led to equality in tax, superannuation, social security, immigration and other aspects of Commonwealth law. In 2010, also under Labor, the NSW Adoption Act was amended to afford same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex de facto couples. And in 2014, under the Baird government, people convicted of historical homosexual sex offences – which are no longer crimes – had the convictions expunged from their records.

However, several legislative and social barriers for LGBT people still exist. Beyond marriage equality – which is supported by Labor and the Greens – pressing legislative issues for LGBT and intersex people include:

- Religious exemptions in the NSW Anti-discrimination Act.

- Requirements of surgery and divorce for transgender people wanting to change the sex on their birth certificate.

- The involuntary sterilization of intersex people at birth.

There are also myriad social barriers for LGBT and intersex people, with bullying and stigma rife in schools and some workplaces and higher rates of mental health problems and drug and alcohol consumption.

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BuzzFeed News put questions to each major party running in the NSW election, quizzing them on their LGBT voting record and commitments going forward.

The NSW Greens unanimously voted in favor of all LGBT reforms in the last parliament, supporting bills to expunge historical gay sex offences, remove religious exemptions from the NSW Anti-discrimination Act and introduce same-sex marriage. The Greens also recently introduced an upper house bill to remove the requirement for transgender people to divorce before they can change the sex on their birth certificate. The same bill was introduced in the lower house by Alex Greenwich.

It was under the NSW Labor government that amendments to the NSW Adoption Act passed in 2010, with Labor members granted a conscience vote. Individual Labor members also voted in favour of the 2013 same-sex marriage bill, and Labor members have supported recent reforms such as the abolition of the "homosexual panic" defence and the expungement of historical gay sex convictions.

The NSW Liberals told BuzzFeed News two landmark law reforms have passed under the current Baird government, citing the abolition of the "homosexual panic" defence and the expungement of historical gay sex offences as two reforms supported unanimously by the Baird Liberal team. The Liberals have been granted conscience votes on previous LGBT reforms in NSW.

The NSW Nationals have had conscience votes on a number of recent LGBT bills, including the same-sex adoption bill, same-sex marriage bill and the expungment of historical convictions. A party spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that "on each of these occasions individual members of the NSW Nationals Parliamentary Party have voted in favour".

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Each party was asked if they would support the following legislative possibilities in the next NSW parliament.

1. Removal of exemptions allowing private schools to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers in the NSW anti-discrimination act.

2. Removal of exemptions allowing faith-based organisations to deny adoption to same-sex couples.

3. Removal of the requirement for transgender people in NSW to undergo sex reassignment surgery before they can change the sex on their birth certificate.

4. Removal of the requirement for married transgender people in NSW to divorce before they can change the sex on their birth certificate.

The Greens committed to reform on every point, saying they would support this legislation "every vote, every MP, every time" if it was brought to Parliament.

Labor did not respond to requests for comment. However, they told the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby they would commit to a full review of the NSW Anti-discrimination Act and "examine" the possibility of reform around transgender requirements if elected.

A spokesperson for the NSW Liberals told BuzzFeed News the Liberal/National government had no plans for reform in any of these areas, but would allow a conscience vote if the issues came to parliament.

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The parties were also canvassed on a number of issues in the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby election guide.

In the guide, each party indicated support for the Safe Schools Coalition Programme, designed to combat homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. Labor and the Greens offered an unequivocal "yes", while the Liberal/National coalition confirmed the program was available to all NSW schools.

The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby asked whether each party would support a ban on "sex normalisation" surgery and the involuntary sterilisation of people with intersex variations. The NSW Greens indicated they would, whereas NSW Labor and the Liberal/National coalition both said they would examine the matter and proceed with advice if elected.

There was unanimous support for current funding strategies around HIV treatment and prevention.

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The next NSW parliament could see bills on transgender and intersex rights, along with reviews of current anti-discrimination law.

The Greens' "every vote, every MP, every time" promise is a clear show of support for the LGBT community. Promises of conscience votes from the major parties can also work in the LGBT community's favour. Voters, even those in traditionally conservative electorates, can lobby their MP with the knowledge they are not bound to the party line.

The LGBTI Parliamentary Working Group – in the last parliament, consisting of Liberal Bruce Notley-Smith, National Trevor Khan, Labor's Penny Sharpe, the Greens' Mehreen Faruqi and Independent Alex Greenwich – identified anti-discrimination law and transgender and intersex reforms as priorities going forward. Watch this space in the next NSW parliament.