“Many of you have advanced civil rights at great expense. If I had to use one adjective to describe this community it’d be courage. You have summoned the courage to speak out, to come out. We owe you.”
His remarks were a milestone, the first time I can remember a major political figure anywhere speaking to the GLBTI community, not to tell us how wonderful HE is standing up for our rights, but to remind us how wonderful WE are, and how much we give to the world.
Now I don’t usually have a problem accepting compliments. I get too few of them not to cherish every single syllable. But this one gives me pause. I look around at the various organisations and campaigns that make up ‘the gay movement’ in Australia, and I feel a sense of disquiet.
Too much of our effort, it seems to me, goes into making ourselves out to be special, but not in a good way. Instead there’s an air of special pleading, a sense of victimhood, pervading the atmosphere. Cast your eye over our campaigning organisations, and there’s very little joyous or celebratory, once you get past Mardi Gras.
Instead, we’re painted as bullied, suicidal, reckless, promiscuous, unhealthy, lonely, drug addled, racist, ageist, sexist . . . . .the list goes on. Too often we are cast as victims and supplicants, rather than deserving of respect and admiration. And all too often, we play along. This is fine when a sympathetic regime is in power, but an anti-gay government could use the same stereotypes to harm rather than help us.
Whilst I’m the last person to underplay the terrible mental health toll on some of us, especially our young, I’m becoming more than a little tired, even angry, at the way some advocates overplay that hand. To hear some of them talk, you’d think we were hurling ourselves off the Harbour Bridge in our thousands every time some boofhead footballer makes an ill-considered remark. Sure, every remark adds to the burden. But come on people – not THAT much. We are a strong proud, people – we can take it. We can deal with it. Or have we forgotten?
Part of this is the fault of successive governments. During the Howard years (when it was almost as taboo to mention the word ‘gay’ to government as it was during the Reagan era in the US), the only way we could gain attention and assistance was to talk ‘health’. The talk was of ‘special needs’ – code-speech for HIV/AIDS. We are suicide-prone. We smoke and drink too much. Our seniors in care are neglected.
Here in Victoria the only way to get anything substantial from the Baillieu government has been to cry out at the horrendous same-sex attracted youth suicide rate: and even there, the answer was not to try to change the environment that makes kids feel their lives are worth nothing, it was to fix the kids up after they’ve been broken.
Don’t get me wrong. Prejudice, discrimination, marginalisation . . . whatever buzzwords one chooses to use . . . do exist, and they do take their toll. But we are so much more than that. We are not all victims. We are so much better and stronger than that.
So why are we still playing the ‘sick puppy’ game? Why do we still define ‘successful’ gay organisations as those who have successfully attached themselves to the governments teats? Why have we willingly reduced ourselves to a bunch of whingeing clients, beggars at the gates, grateful for whatever crumbs are left once everyone else has taken their share?
Anyone who lives in Melbourne or Sydney knows there are some very wealthy gays around. A few of them are very generous with their support for GLBTI organisations. Former Deputy Lord Mayor Gary SInger has probably given over $100k to Joy 94.9 over the years, for example, and helped raise even more. But for every Gary Singer, there are dozens more across our major cities who give little or nothing. Why not?
It’s time we had a more prideful agenda. We want to take our rightful place at every table: for example
- A Minister for GLBTIQ Affairs alongside the Ministers for Women & Aboriginal Affairs
- Full equality in marriage & adoption
- Participation in the ‘whole of government’ Social Inclusion policy, which currently does nothing for us
- Visa priority for gays and lesbians fleeing murderous regimes at home
- An end to the right of religious bodies to discriminate against us
- AFL, NRL, Australian Open, golf, swimming – all the peak sporting bodies – running GLBTI-themed events every year
We are one of the best educated, most intelligent, creative, resourceful, tough and engaged groups in Australia. This is not a myth. It’s a fact. But we seem to have misplaced our proper pride somewhere down the line.
We have valuable lessons to teach the mainstream:
- about friendship,love,families and parenting.
- about building and holding together a diverse and often fractious community.
- about being open to learning and change.
- about challenging our own prejudices, along with everyone else’s.
- about managing respectful diversity in the workplace
We have a great deal to offer the world, a world that is a far better place because we are out in it.
This is the truth that Joe Biden acknowledged, and paid respect to. Respect, and honour. It’s about time the likes of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott paid us that respect and honour, talking to us as a community they hold in high esteem, whose support and contribution they actively seek and welcome. Instead of which, they treat us like an embarrassing relative they rather wish they didn’t have to invite to their Party.
We need to rediscover our justified pride in who we are and demand the proper respect we are owed.