Farewell to Ghassan kassisieh

Ghassan Kassisieh

Speech from Anna Brown:

"Over the past nearly five years, I’ve often had cause to ponder just what would we have done if Ghassan’s love life hadn’t taken a turn for the worse in 2019.  

In fact, we owe Ghassan’s Ex a debt of gratitude. A breakup precipitated by a third of life crisis or perhaps vice versa. Either way, because of it Ghassan appeared like an angel offering to volunteer as he worked out the next step with his career.  

And by the time our previous Legal Director Lee Carnie told me they were taking off to Legal Aid after helping to get EA off and running, Lee and I could already see in Ghassan the traits so crucial to the role. In fact, it’s probably the only reason Lee felt it was safe to resign.   

An earnest passion for LGBTIQ+ legal and policy issues and the communities impacted by them. He was one of us. He cared.  

And since then, and of course after a merit-based recruitment process, Ghassan has dedicated nearly half a decade to this role and made it his own.  

In many ways he picked up where he left off from his time at the NSW GLRL. And it’s fitting that his successor – Emily Gray – who you should all say hello tonight if you can – thank you for coming Emily - worked together with Ghassan at the Lobby during this time.  

We will be forever grateful for the incredible contribution Ghassan has made to our organisation, to our community and to our movement. And that’s why we are all here tonight – to honour that contribution.  

It really was a small group of us at the beginning. And one person in a three or four person organisation can have a giant sized impact.    

We became the small band who were trying to raise the alarm about the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.   

Together in those early days we fought the post marriage equality fatigue and complacency.   

Sometimes it felt like no one was listening.  

And Ghassan’s intimate knowledge of the legislation enabled us to craft scenarios that made the impact of the legislation meaningfully visceral.   

Helped to mobilise and galvanise our community once more.  

Getting Thorpey involved helped too. 

And eventually those five moderate liberal MPs did cross the floor and stand up for the rights and dignity of trans young people, and the Morrison Government shelved its damaging legislation. 

And I know it’s difficult for Ghassan finishing up when we have not yet won the federal discrimination law battle – changes needed to the Sex Discrimination Act to protect teachers and students in religious schools.  

Despite this, Ghassan has been a key part of the enormous success we’ve had across the country since 2019.  

From Queensland’s birth certificate laws, to NSW and Victorian conversion practices bans, to NT’s stronger anti-discrimination laws. His stamp is on so many laws in this country, more than perhaps a single Attorney-General in any one jurisdiction can claim credit for.  

His work on strategic litigation – the census matter – has been truly ground breaking, unleashing the potential of s.26 of the Sex Discrimination Act. 

Perhaps what I most admire and am in great awe of is Ghassan’s ability to think outside the box and develop legal solutions for the problems faced by our communities.  

I’ll choose one example – that I think is his biggest triumph.  

Medically unnecessary surgeries or other procedures performed on intersex infants.  

I first came across this issue when working for the Victorian Attorney-General in 2009.   

I’d witnessed solicitor generals, health departments, attorneys-general grappling with the complexity of developing a legal model.  

In my view – Ghassan really broke the back of this seemingly impossible task.  

Ghassan developed a proposal through many many conversations with intersex people and their parents, and deep conversations with intersex advocates, testing his thinking with clinicians and legal experts over months. He delivered a proposal for reform.  

The ACT Government was able to draw from the report in developing Australia’s first legislation to protect intersex children and young people from unnecessary medical procedures performed without their consent.   

And the Victorian Government (who commissioned the report) and governments from around the country will continue to draw from and build upon this work. 

This influence will largely happen behind the scenes, like much of our work. And we’ll continue to support intersex advocates on this journey until every last child in this country is protected from harm.   

This is a quiet but powerful legacy. One of which I hope Ghassan is very proud.  

This is but one example. Of many, many instances of careful, sensitive and innovative legal policy work.  

Then there’s the persuasion, the advocacy and political work. I’m sure Penny will speak more to this.  

As a CEO, one could not hope for a more dedicated, loyal and committed team member. 

He’s so committed to the job that he’s turned his work farewell into a de facto 40th birthday.   

With Ghassan leaving we are losing someone who has been a big part of the growth of Equality Australia.  

Externally, our brand and reputation as a credible, respected and let’s face it (despite our engagement team’s best efforts) slightly nerdy people powered movement for change has been driven and enhanced by Ghassan’s professionalism and the calibre of his work.  

Internally, Ghassan has truly shaped our DNA.     

During the early years when we all had to pitch in on everything, Ghassan has not only been instrumental at changing laws and lives, but no task was ever too big or small – he has contributed with intelligence and great skill - whether a workplace policy, a strategic plan, or talent contracts for drag queens.  

And while he will be remembered for his boomer tech moments (although I am the first to say I should not be the one casting stones here), his not so secret love for the mcdonalds drive through on the long drive back from Canberra, his ability to argue a point on ANYTHING – whether it’s the salesforce coding system or an unjust law, and the way small dogs belonging to others seem to find a special place in his heart, right next to the place for Toum and dumplings.  

It’s also not every day you have a Legal Director who performs musical numbers on the piano to keep MPs entertained during all night sittings of parliament.   

Ghassan will be remembered for all of these reasons.  

He will also be remembered for his prodigious work ethic and commitment to excellence.  

His powerful writing. 

His knack for a legal explainer. 

His ability to inspire trust and confidence in MPs and Government decision makers. 

His care and compassion for the people we work with day in day out.   

He is a deeply respected leader and ambassador for our movement  

So Ghassan, thank you to you, from all of us. 

A personal thank you from me of four and a half years as a deeply trusted colleague and friend. No matter what happened, I knew I could count on you. And I hope you knew you could count on me.  

And he will be sorely missed by me, and by all of us.  

Pease join me in thanking and raising a glass to Ghassan."

Speech from Ghassan Kassisieh:

“Under different stars, at the beginning of a new millennium, in an old land and a young nation, we join together in the hope and conviction that the future will be kinder and more just than the past.” 

Little did my 18-year-old self think, twenty two years ago, as I printed and pinned those words to the notice board above my deskKar, that I would be here today.  With the former Justice of the High Court whose words in opening the Sydney Gay Games in 2002 would inspire me to go on to study law and become an advocate. And that he would grant me two great honours.  

The first, to invite my parents, who are here tonight, to his chambers on the occasion of my admission as a lawyer.  The second, to pen the foreword to our groundbreaking report on religious discrimination, which had been my and my team’s work for more than two years. Thank you very much for being with us tonight, Michael. 

And thank you to all of you. There are many people in this room who have been part of my life. Some since birth. Some for decades. And some for days.  

All of you have been invited tonight because of the impact you have had on my life or the work we have done together, particularly in the last 4.5 years in my time as Legal Director of this great organisation.  

My sexuality has been the cause of some of the greatest hardships that I have faced, and also one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. 

For the years it took to come to terms with who I am, within the strictures of the expectations felt by a Palestinian Australian first generation migrant, I am not sure that I could have thought this possible.  

And yet, when I think of that speech on the noticeboard, next to my desk, and those wonderful public school teachers who encouraged my voice in those early days, this role was in some ways very predictable.   

Thinking back to the things that I am most proud of.  There are the reforms that affected thousands.  The seven jurisdictions where there are now laws that we helped write.  With our stories.  With our advocacy.  With our pain.  And with our strategic, careful persistence.  

Conversion practices banned in four jurisdictions.  Religious exemptions narrowed in 3.  The gay panic defence abolished across the country.  Gender recognition without surgery or medical treatment in every jurisdiction but one.  An ABS that regretted leaving us out of the last Census.  And Australia’s first intersex medical treatment protections that are world leading, and represent the most difficult legal work I have ever done. 

But it is often in the private and direct moments where our work as an organisation felt the most impactful and important. 

It was the Christmas card from the young trans man in South Australia who Kym – and his legal team – helped to finally access the healthcare that he so desperately needed and wanted. 

It was hearing David’s reaction to the letter from the Department of Justice which, after 62 years, had expunged his criminal conviction for homosexual offences, under laws that the Honourable Penny Sharpe helped deliver.  

It took me just one hour to write the application that would wipe away a 62 year injustice.  

It was the tears that Oliver and I could not hold back on the Zoom call when we first met James, who went to a school just down the road from where I did, as he shared with us the undeniable injustice of a young man being held back by shameful prejudice.  A school that still to this day has not held been to account for what it took away. 

It was working with the Karens, Teddys, Carlies and the Caros to find ways forward when laws or attitudes held us back. 

It was the chance conversation with Fiona Martin at the hotel gym the morning she would become the 3rd of 5 liberal MPs to cross the floor to protect trans kids and sink the Religious Discrimination Bill. 

That moment with Anna and Matt as we trundled back to our hotel in the dark at 4am thinking we had lost, and then suddenly the elation at 4:30am by the fact that we had won what was unwinnable, still brings the cheekiest of grins to my face.  

I am so proud of that work we did, in all the careful and minute details when they mattered.   

I take away so much gratitude for being given the chance to contribute to this movement at this time when reforms that we used to dream about finally fell into place. 

But there are also regrets.  Two years of work with Tammie (the secret weapon behind Alex’s incredible impact) to draft an Equality Bill that I won’t see pass before I go.  And leaving before we could close those carve-outs in our national laws that allow religious schools and organisations to discriminate.  I am so sorry for that.  

So, I want you all to now take out your phones and I ask that you do something very important for me.  This organisation is small but mighty.  We are on the precipice of two big campaigns – the biggest since marriage equality.  If we can get these done, that hope and conviction that the future will be kinder and more just than the past, will be realised.   

Just before tonight, I asked Sam and some friends to join in helping me smash Equality Australia’s end-of-financial-year appeal target.  Together we have contributed $3,900, which will be doubled by a generous donor. I ask that you join us and consider a gift tonight, as I would love Anna to tell me that we’ve hit the target before we start the drinks. 

I want to finish with some final thank yous and acknowledgements, so please bear with me. 

To all the MPs and advisors, thank you for your consensus building.  Consensus building involves learning to accept repeated indignities, hoping those indignities get smaller each time.  I admire those who are able to do it year on year, no one thanks you but its how change is practically achieved.  

To our community leaders, volunteers and friends, I’ve seen all the work that has gone unauthored, untold and given over for the betterment of our movement.  Please look after each other, and thank you for the work you do. 

To all our donors and work partners, I admire your commitment to our cause and the many ways you contribute to it, whether its with donations, pro bono work, opening doors or lending an ear for advice. 

I may not have named you all, but please know that you are all here tonight because I personally asked for each one of you to be invited.  

To the team at G+T where I learnt my craft.  When Anna asked me where I would like to host this evening, it was here, in the room where we hosted our marriage equality forum and where we farewelled Steven upon his retirement, so his spirit could be with us. He entirely colonised my writing, and my patience frays much too readily like his did.  

To my colleagues at Equality Australia. Our board and staff, past and present. I never underestimate the impact we are capable of. I’ve seen this organisation grow from 3 to 12 employees, give or take. To each of the parts of this organisation, but especially all the secondees and members of my team, including Oliver, Dani and Tom. I want to also honour Paige, Matt, Tara and most recently Emily. There is a very special relationship that emerges between communicators and lawyers. Storytelling is an art, and you are among our best artists. 

To our fearless leader, Anna. What is extraordinary is your ability to imagine realities that I can’t even let myself imagine, but you always have time for the little guy. Watching you take the time to gently encourage one of our community members take to the stage at Sydney World Pride, as you navigated the whirlwind of the Human Rights Conference was both humbling and inspiring. 

I wish this organisation, and our new Legal Director Emily Gray, the greatest success that I know you deserve and can achieve. 

But our work is only possible because of the people we love and who love us. To my family and friends, for all the support and encouragement. The debriefs and melt downs. 

And to Sam, late to the party, but nonetheless important. It was not until the NSW conversion debate that I felt viscerally how truly the personal is political, and the political can be deeply personal. I could not have been prouder of you and the change you’ve made within yourself and all around you. To have all members of your family sign and share the Cumberland petition. 

Our movement is full of people like you. Drops of red in an ocean of blues. But when you add red to blue, everything changes. The purples are only as strong as the bravery of all the reds insisting on being part of the ocean, and at the same time changing it so it tells our story too. 

Thank you very much. 


Equality, Without Exceptions

Three years ago, Ian Thorpe asked us to stand with him to stop Scott Morrison’s damaging religious discrimination Bill.

Now Ian is partnering with Equality Australia again to ask for your support.

Right now, Queer students and staff in religious schools can be expelled or fired, and women can be discriminated against for not being married or for being pregnant outside of marriage.

We need to keep the pressure on to ensure the Government fixes these laws. To do that, we'll need to ratchet up the campaign, with:

  • More attention-grabbing work in the media,
  • More expert legal resources and,
  • More first-person stories reaching decision makers.

Can you chip in now to make sure our call cuts through the noise and pressures the government to protect our community?

Until June 30, donations up to $100,000 will be matched by generous Equality Australia supporters, Carol and Skipp.