Regional queers fight for marriage rights

Saturday, September 14, 2013
The first marriage equality rally in Nowra was held on September 6. Photo: Paola Harvey.

The first marriage equality rally in Nowra, south of Wollongong, was held on September 6. About 100 people attended the rally and chalk rainbows were drawn on the footpath.

Rally organiser Tobi Harris told the Illawarra Mercury: “The seat of Gilmore has been held by the Liberals for 17 years, and we want to remind them to stand up for the gay community.”

Long-time queer rights activist Paola Harvey addressed the crowd. Her speech is reprinted below.

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The marriage equality campaign has been going for nine years now. Nine years of getting out on the streets and calling for equal human rights and an end to discrimination in the marriage act. And that’s what this campaign is about, it’s about human rights. It’s about equality, nothing more and nothing less.

We’ve made huge gains, including the repeal of homophobic laws, changes to adoption legislation, and the sex and gender diverse community has also won the right to have their passports list their gender as unspecified if that is how they identify. We’ve also seen support for the campaign grow. Galaxy polls found only 30% of Australians supported marriage equality when the campaign began. This is now over 60% and rising.

The most significant gain has been the extension of the campaign into regional communities. A subject that for so long has been “don’t ask, don’t tell” is being discussed. Rallies and events have happened around the country, including in places like Lismore, Bendigo and Ballarat, to name a few.

Today, we’re making history. I’m pretty sure this is the first queer rights rally that there has ever been in Nowra, and that’s something that we’re all a part of and we should be proud of that.

Queers in regional areas face more challenges than those in the cities. Living outside the big cities can be difficult to begin with: it’s more isolated, further away from events and also from things like support services. Even being queer in cities, where different sexualities are generally more accepted, can be difficult if you don’t have people that support you or you deal with a homophobic work environment.

But being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) and also living in a regional area compounds all of that. For some, fear of reprisal from others in the community can make people feel that they have to hide who they are: keep it secret, keep it safe. We also struggle with isolation, a lack of a visible queer community, in some places a lack of support services and lack of doctors or counsellors trained to support LGBTI people.

All this can really make you feel like you’re the only gay in the village. I’ve been there. I wasn’t the only gay in the village, but the only other one was a gay man so that wasn’t much use for either of us, but at least we had someone to talk to who was in the same situation.

Living in that town was only short-term for me, just three months, and I knew that going into it. But it’s different when it’s your home, the place where you’ve grown up, the only place you’ve ever known. When your small town is your whole world, that’s a different story. You’re really left with two options: leaving, or creating your own bubble of supportive people. What we’re doing here today, showing our support for the human rights of LGBTI people, is a step in developing that supportive bubble here in Nowra. We are here, publicly showing to the world that we give a shit, and that LGBTI people here are not alone.

But while things can be tough for queers in regional areas in Australia, it’s important to remember that in other countries things are even tougher. Recently in Russia, the parliament voted unanimously to outlaw what it termed "propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations." US sports journalist Dave Zirin said this law was so broad “it threatens prison time for anyone who acknowledges the mere existence of LGBTI people in any public forum such as the internet, a classroom, or even a street corner”.

But the queer community there is resisting and fighting back, and we stand in solidarity with them. As they fight for their human rights, we too are fighting for ours.

It’s been a long fight for us. It may be good to be here, but we shouldn’t have to be.

What is wrong with our politicians? They have no problem legislating for war, but they can’t legislate in favour of love? Is it really easier for them to send people to kill than to recognise people’s love?

Labor and the Liberals are behind the times. We’re even behind New Zealand. They beat us in the rugby and they beat us on marriage equality. We need to lift our game.

I watched Kevin Rudd’s impassioned response to a question about marriage equality on Q&A and I applaud him for it. I think it’s a wonderful thing that he’s changed his views on the issue, he’s a bit late to the party but the important thing is that he made it.

But the reality is that neither Labor nor Liberal support marriage equality. The best that we’ve been offered is a conscience vote. It’s spineless. Our rights are not a matter of their conscience. It should be a policy platform of both parties, anything less is insulting.

Various politicians have said that “the time’s not right”, “it’s not important”, “there’s more pressing things to do”, and expect us to go home, shut up and be good.

Well screw that. I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. Our mischief will not be managed. We’re in this for the long haul and together we will win. As Albus Dumbledore said: “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

Bit by bit we’re getting there and together we will win.

It’s clear that the times are changing. Actually, that’s not true. It’s not the times that are changing; it’s us that are changing the times.

From GLW issue 981