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Petitioning Melbourne Inner City Management Property Owners Corporation

Allow Murray Sheldrick and James Bellia to display a rainbow flag on their balcony.

 

* A rainbow flag is not an advertising symbol. 

* Don't bully older people, don't bully LGBTI people, and don't abuse the law to justify your bullying. 

* Let Murray and James fly the flag on their balcony. 

An elderly gay couple has been ordered to take down a gay pride flag from their apartment balcony in Port Melbourne, with the body corporate threatening them with legal action if they did not comply.

Murray Sheldrick, 78, and James Bellia, 72, received what they said was a "nasty" email from the Melbourne Inner City Management Property Owners Corporation on Wednesday last week, demanding that the couple remove the flag from their Rouse Street balcony, or risk a legal case in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The letter warned the couple were in breach of the owner's corporation rules affecting the "peaceful enjoyment" of the other residents.  The breach was described as "displaying advertising material" and the residents were instructed to remove the flag immediately. It was unclear from the letter what was being advertised.

Mr Bellia said the couple, who have been in a relationship for 50 years, and own their property, bought the flag in February. They have since complied with the demand and removed it from their balcony.

They said they had unfurled it on special occasions, including Australia Day, Queen's Birthday and the Midsumma Festival, but this was first time they received a complaint.

The couple wrote a letter to the Victorian Ombudsman last week about the incident, but were referred to Consumer Affairs Victoria.

They also contacted Port Philip Council, and are awaiting a response.

Mr Bellia said he and his partner, who are former interior designers, were in no doubt that the email was homophobic.

They said their flag had nothing to do with advertising, as the body corporation suggested, nor was it obstructing someone's view.

"We are positive it is homophobia, there is no doubt about it. Why else would they bother us? The flag is on a huge terrace, it's not in anyone's view."

The couple moved to the Port Melbourne apartment in 2004, after Mr Sheldrick endured a traumatic homophobic attack in Mansfield, in 1998.

Mr Sheldrick was staying in the couple's country holiday house, when two locals invaded and attacked him. The incident left him in intensive care for three-and-a-half weeks.

"They invaded our house to 'teach us a lesson', because we were poofters. They bashed the hell out of him [Mr Sheldrick] he was brutally bashed, and finished up in intensive care," he said.

"It's not a very nice experience, it ruined his life altogether. He has never been himself since the home invasion. That's why we sold the property and moved into an apartment ...we didn't feel safe in a house anymore."

Mr Bellia said Mr Sheldrick, who has Parkinson's Disease, was feeling upset by the incident.

The Melbourne Inner City Management Property Owners Corporation would not provide comment to Fairfax Media.

Justin Koonin, convenor of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said questioning an LGBTI person's right to express themselves could be very damaging. 

"There is no legal or moral justification for preventing people from being proud of who they are," he said.

"Elderly LGBTI people in particular have suffered discrimination and invisibility for many years, often decades. This is not caused by their identity, but by living in a society which does not accept their identity." 

 

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