How The West Was Lost

Carrie Hou says you can’t blame multiculturalism for the high NO vote in Western Sydney

Carrie was the Marriage Equality Campaign Organiser for Democracy in Colour

Can white lgbtq/allies who haven’t stepped a foot into Western Sydney once and are saying ‘multiculturalism is ruining Australia because of the high No turn out’ sit the fuck down?

If you didn’t do ANY campaigning in Western Sydney for the yes vote – also do me the favour. Stop blaming multiculturalism. You’re inadvertently perpetuating minority divide, pitting lgbtq folk against ethnic minorities. It fucks over queer people of colour and what should be a happy celebration of a yes vote has been soured by racist rhetoric I’ve seen from allies.

As someone who campaigned a whole month in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities the results in Western Sydney weren’t a huge surprise. Here’s why this happened:



The No campaign went hard into playing up migrants fears over marriage equality. In Western Sydney, they pumped out bilingual material and used fearful messaging that actually connected with the migrant community. The language barrier is a huge advantage when it comes to effective fear mongering.

The deceptive bilingual material pumped out of the No Campaign into these specific communities was old school shit like gay marriage = aids” “”gay marriage = rape of your children/wives”, “gay marriage = removing your son’s penis”. Many people I engaged with in mandarin had these weird fears until I explained to them what this survey actually meant and they said “oh shit I would have voted yes” and “this survey is incredibly confusing”.


Class divisions. Western Sydney is predominately working class inclduing lower access to education. This makes areas way more suspectible to fear campaigns. Homophobic fear campaigns have been galvanising since the moral panic relating to safe schools in a lot of these communities.


Yes Campaign did not bother engaging these communities as strongly. There were some amazing campaigners reaching out to these areas. They fought hard but it was not nearly as much as the east. The Yes campaign strategy was ensuring that Yes inclined voters would actually go out to vote in one of Australia’s first optional votes. There was already a yes inclined majority in Australia, so consolidating this base was essential as a political strategy.

But that meant that turning the no inclined votes around was deprioritised. That meant suburbs deemed too difficult were ignored. This is primarily to blame on how bullshit the roll out of this postal survey was, which blindside a lot of us and left those who needed it the most in the dust.


The YES campaign’s messaging was incredibly white. Saying “love is love” does NOT work on migrant communities – it’s confusing & it’s not translateable. From overseas data and surveys, messaging that does work in CALD communities is emphasising a narrative of equality and antidiscrimination to these migrant communities – which actually makes much more sense to their experiences. The yes campaign didn’t use that as effectively.


Invisibility of Queer PoC platforming is the main campaign to grab attention or care from migrants. If there was way more Queer PoC visibility, migrants would have engaged more. A lot of migrants disengaged from the issue as the media tends to position this as a “white issue” when there isn’t more diversity platformed.


Many many many multicultural communities around Australia voted yes. And yet we are coming down hard on ethnic minorities. You need to maybe think about WHY this specific multicultural community had such high no turn out rates.


Ethnic minorities make up less than 20% of the NSW voting population. Not all of us voted no. Remember that 42.2% of NSW voted No.

This does not discount homophobia, which is very much alive in these areas. As a queer Chinese Australian I can tell you this straight up. It sucks. It’s hard. It doesn’t let us off the hook, we have homophobes in our community. But let’s not deny the barriers and inequalities these areas face. Let’s not pin this on multiculturalism. And please don’t tie homophobia down to something inherent or unchangeable within our culture or race.

Lgbtq activism tends to be incredibly white (middle class and urban based) . The people being platformed, the stories being told, the language being used and the people being reached out to are white. That is literally why Australia transformed from 1970s, where homosexuality was a crime, to 2017 where Australia voted yes for gay marriage. Views changed with activism and education. This activism and access to education is inequally distributed.

We need to ask ourselves how we can reach out to these communities long term and take care of the queer (often people of colour) affected. We need to think, what intersectional ways can we make lgbtq activism more understandable to working class & migrants in these areas?