Green Left Weekly spoke to Evan McHugh, the co-organiser of the first Equal Love rally in the Albury-Wodonga area that took place on November 17.
Why did you organise this protest?
Albury-Wodonga [on the border of Victoria and NSW] was where I grew up. I live in Melbourne now, but I have been affected by homophobia happening either to myself or my friends. When I moved away, it didn't stop, my friends had to deal with it and were outraged by the general sense of injustice. They couldn't always come to the Melbourne rallies, so I said, "why not do it in Albury?" It has popular support.
What is the experience like of being queer in the area?
It's better now than it was growing up. Before the internet, people relied on known cruising spots. There was a lot of homophobia at school. A lot of teachers that were gay weren't allowed to talk about it, and those that weren't probably didn't realise they had queer students. Homophobia was rife, and people were targeted. It's difficult now, but it's definitely much better.
Who helped put the rally together?
It was initiated by my friend Rhiannon Konigson, a heterosexual woman who had gay friends growing up and was outraged by the injustices that she saw. I said I know people and have been doing activist stuff for a while. You are keen to do it, and it's surprisingly easy to organise. Once you have a time and a place, make a Facebook group and people will come because it's an issue that affects a lot of people.
Who sponsored the rally?
We reached out early to the NTEU, who had a speaker come down. We are reaching out to other unions in the area. We managed to get a few people that are SDA members at a local supermarket, so they will hopefully go back and raise that in their union.
Early on we tried to branch out to make the rally not only gay, but LGBTQI. Sally Goeldner from TransVictoria came and gave a really awesome speech. We also got enquiries from the local trans community asking if they could come and we said: "Of course!" We wanted the rally to be as inclusive as possible.
How did the rally turn out?
It went great. All the press were on our side which helped advertise the rally. The local papers and the nearby Wangarratta Chronicle covered it. The ABC covered it nationally. Some of the media want to do more follow-up pieces on the campaign.
We got 300 signatures to support the campaign, which I never thought I would see in Albury-Wodonga. Even after the event people were saying: "I wish I'd known, would have come". It's the tip of the iceberg.
Are there plans for more action in the area?
Without a doubt. We want to choreograph it with all the other rallies that happen around the country.
Also, Wodonga had a council election, so the next step is to reach out to them. We are also working with sympathetic people from the local churches, the CFA and the SES in the area to try and get them to bring their
friends and workmates.
What's your advice to young activists?
Nowdays it's easy to make connections with people via the internet. You can now get advice from people across the country as if they are in the same room. If someone in authority tries to intimidate you, you can Google info on your rights or email others to get advice on how best to respond.