After marriage equality, the fight for justice continues

May 31, 2015
Protesters march for marriage equality in Sydney on May 31. Photo: Peter Boyle.

This speech was given by high-school student Lawson Tanner at a rally for marriage equality in Sydney on May 31.


The long road of changing public opinion and constant campaigning, which has brought us to now, a time where many believe this could be it.

The Greens have recently introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Marriage Act to remove restrictions on marriage being between a man and a woman, and Labor have also put in a similar bill.

There’s no doubt that when we finally achieve marriage equality, it will be cause for major celebration. The queer movement has worked tirelessly to persuade the public and politicians alike to reframe their thinking on marriage equality, and it could be soon that we will see the fruit of all this hard work and people will finally be able to marry anyone they want, regardless of gender (or lack thereof).

I've had many people come up to me and ask, “So, what next for the queer rights movement once marriage equality is legalised?”

I think there is a perception that once marriage equality is achieved, the oppression of queer people will finally have finished and we can all go home. Unfortunately though, while marriage equality will absolutely set a positive precedent and establish a generally more tolerant culture, there are many problems which will continue to remain and be virtually unaffected by this reform, which we must do what we can to solve.

Please be assured that I mean this not in a pessimistic way — there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that marriage equality will do so much for so many people, and I wouldn't have spent two years of my life helping with campaigning for it if I didn't wholeheartedly believe in it — however these are simply things which still need to be fixed, and it would weigh on my conscience heavily to not get the word out about these other queer issues while there is still a platform to do so.

Queer people can still be legally expelled from private and religious schools in NSW. Both Labor and the Liberal Parties have supported these exemptions from the Anti-Discrimination Act in order to appease the far-right and politicians like Fred Nile — and it doesn't look like it’s stopping any time soon.

This leaves queer students too scared to come out or try to change things at their respective schools, because these exemptions allow private and religious schools to just get rid of them with no legal repercussions.

The fact that schools are allowed to do this only adds fuel to the fire of bullying. How can both the Labor and Liberal Party speak of caring about bullying, when they themselves are passing exemptions to laws which actively exclude themselves?

Schools, like businesses, are in no position to be judging their students. They are merely providing a service to these students, and should not have the right to discriminate against anyone.

Trans* people still have to have sex reassignment surgery in order to have their gender legally recognised, and there is still no recognition for non-binary genders. However, luckily, intersex people who can now have an ‘X’ on their birth certificate following Norrie’s lengthy battle with the High Court.

In schools, we still have sexist and transphobic uniform codes which, in my experience as a student, shame and sexualise young women’s bodies and misgender students by making them wear the uniform of the sex listed on their birth certificate and not having gender neutral options for students like myself who don't fit into the binary and are uncomfortable in these uniforms.

At school, no matter how much I try to fight off my being read as a cisgender male, my school uniform always brings me back to square one in society’s reminder to me that my gender identity doesn't really exist and isn't worthy of recognition.

There is little to no sex education in schools which is inclusive of queer people. As a result, queer people grow up unsure of themselves and how to navigate sex and relationships and this teaches young people that only male and female exist, it’s only normal to be attracted to the opposite gender and that your genitals determine your gender.

It is isolating and queerphobic, as a young person, being told that your gender identity doesn't exist because of your physical sex and being labelled a particular gender simply because of how your body works.

Recently I endured a horrifically bad sex education class at a compulsory school camp which not only misgendered me repeatedly despite my numerous attempts to clarify my identity, and which glossed over the very existence of sex, sexuality and gender diverse people, except for once when they offered advice on “if a person of the same sex is attracted to you, here’s how to politely reject them.”

Queer refugees are still being sent to a country where homosexuality is illegal — and staff at the Manus Island detention centre are threatening to report them to Papua New Guinean police, putting them at risk of heavy prison sentences.

We’re still seeing terrible statistics surrounding queer young people’s mental health. The Growing Up Queer report from February last year, which based its findings on over 1000 queer identifying young people aged between 16 and 27, stated that 60% had experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic harassment or violence.

It also revealed that queer people are six times more likely to consider suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.

Think about how many lives statistics like these put in danger. Finally, we still have a severe shortage of gender neutral toilets which means that non-binary people are forced into this awkward choice between male and female every time they need to use a bathroom.

So, what do we need, in addition to important marriage reform? We need more funding to organisations such as Twenty10, who provide an important service for queer young people in the form of accommodation, counselling and other services.

We need better sex education that doesn't treat “sexuality education” as an optional topic which is down to the discretion of the individual teacher.

We need recognition for trans* people who do not want to have invasive surgery, and who identify as non-binary. We need to require schools to institute gender neutral uniforms and allow students to wear the uniform they are most comfortable with.

We need more studies into the prevalence and impact of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence and harassment — particularly the harassment of trans women on our streets.

We need an Anti-Discrimination Act which doesn't actively exclude queer people from private and religious schools. We need compulsory gender neutral toilets in public spaces.

Again, I'd like to reiterate that we have come so far after 11 years of campaigning for marriage reform, and now we’re seeing both sides of politics begin to give way. When we finally achieve marriage equality, what we fought for for so long will finally be won.

I simply hope that once we have achieved marriage equality, the discussion surrounding queer rights won't cease, and we will continue to fight for a more just Australia which doesn't rely on the passing of just one law to admit victory but instead sees marriage equality as an important piece of the puzzle which forms our rights as queer people.

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