Australia: City council faces backlash for telling LGBT charity not to display ‘offensive’ banner

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A city council in Australia is facing criticism after asking an LGBT support charity to take down signage displayed at a family festival, as it was deemed “offensive”.

A representative of the Lord Mayor of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney, John Chedid, instructed volunteers for the LGBT support charity, Twenty10, to remove a banner which described the kind of work the charity did, at the Rediscover the River festival, which is frequented by families.

The banner read: “Support services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, same-sex attracted and gender-diverse young people, their families and communities”, and was deemed “offensive” by a city council official who said they had received complaints.

Terence Humphreys said those present had feared “a potentially toxic environment”, after being approached by a representative of Parramatta’s Lord Mayor, John Chedid, and so volunteers decided to no longer participate in the festival.

“We had school-aged clients there, volunteers and staff who were very distressed by the incident,” Mr Humphreys said.

“It sends a really horrible message to the people of Parramatta that it wasn’t OK to be same-sex attracted, gender diverse in a family event like the Rediscover the River.”

The charity had been invited to the Rediscover the River festival, to run a kite-making stall, but decided to pack up and leave once they were asked to take down the signage, a decision which was supported by some attendees, who thought it was wrong to ask them to take it down, reports SMH.

Many Facebook users had commented on the Parramatta City Council page, urging them to issue an apology to Twenty10 for the incident.

A petition calling for an apology had received almost 10,000 signatures, and read: “To Parramatta city council, Mayor’s Office, Your behaviour at a recent community event in relation to the LGBT organisation Twenty10 was appalling. Twenty10 and the LGBT community deserve an apology at the very least.”

A statement from the council said it had asked the banners to be taken down “in response to numerous complaints by members of the public”, but said that the group were not asked to leave.

“Council regrets any inconvenience or offence taken by its actions and values the efforts and contribution of Twenty10 in servicing at-risk youth,” it said.

“Council has enjoyed a positive relationship with Twenty10 over some time and hopes to continue to work in partnership over the coming years.”

Twenty10 were expecting an apology, otherwise it may lodge a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination board.

“We specifically want an apology and reassurance from the Lord Mayor’s office that their staff will undertake some anti-discrimination training,” Mr Humphreys said.

Councillor and former mayor Lorraine Wearne said she said she would apologise for the incident, but that the reaction to it was an overreaction.

“These things can generate a life of their own and can feed off themselves and that’s what concerns me here – that this is going to be bigger than Ben-Hur with no cause other than the fact that someone asked a stall to please take down a banner,” she said.

“If they had [refused to pull] the banner down, that would have been the end of it.”

Labor’s Julia Finn said the incident was unreasonable, and shouldn’t have happened. She said: “I think it’s quite disgraceful and embarrassing that we did this,” she said.

But independent councillor, Paul Garrard, said the council had made the right call as the family day was no place for “semi-political” groups.

“They shouldn’t have been there, in the same fashion Right to Life weren’t there,” he said.

“Whether one is for or against the issues the gays were pushing on that occasion, that was not the place to be doing it.”

According to its website, Twenty10, it “is a community based, non profit state-wide organisation.  We work with and support young people of diverse genders, sexes and sexualities, their families and friends. We aim to be a beacon of strength and acceptance – supporting young people to build resilience and achieve their potential.”