“You can learn as much from your privilege as you can from your oppression,
but only if you’re aware of it and only if you have consciousness.” – Cheryl Strayed
If your friendship group is anything like mine, your Facebook feed is probably crowded with little rainbow covered profile pictures celebrating the equal rights to marriage laws that were passed recently in the USA. Maybe yours is too – just as mine is. Maybe you are gay, maybe you are straight, maybe you sit somewhere else on the sexuality spectrum – maybe you see yourself as an ally for LGBTIQ rights.
For those of you who may not know, when I get up and go to work I do so working in the LGBTIQ youth space. I work one on one with young people and our regional community to make this part of the world a safer place for queer kids to be themselves and to access services that will help them overcome the adversity that they often face growing up gay, bi, transgender in regional australia, where discrimination is rife and homophobia is more often than not seen as just a way of life. We aren’t Melbourne. We aren’t Sydney. We don’t have gay bars. The nightclubs can be a rough place down here if you don’t fit into the socially accepted boxes (or even if you do).
I work in this profession not only because I am an advocate for social change and because it’s an important cause… I work in this profession because I’m passionate about it, because of who I am and how I identify. I was marching in marriage equality rallies in my early twenties with my girlfriend and our friends, I was marching in marriage equality rallies in my late teens with my boyfriend, and more recently I’ve been marching in marriage equality rallies with my three year old child – I march not because I care that much about the sanctity of marriage, because I don’t. As a radical feminist who once married for cultural and religious reasons and is now divorced – it’s unlikely I’ll ever walk down the aisle again.
For most of us who are the voice of equality and diversity and social change in the country, marriage equality in Australia has very little to do with marriage at all.
It has very little to do with marriage and everything to do with true equality. It’s not going to solve the deep rooted problems of discrimination that have become the dirty vein that runs just under the surface of Australian modern culture… but it’s a bloody good step in the right direction.
Young people who are diverse in sexuality and gender (for those of you that aren’t up with the lingo: gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, pan romantic, asexual, transgender, intersex or a multitude of other terms that people are using to explain and explore their sexual and gender identities) are more likely to suffer from mental illness, they are more likely to be homeless, more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, to disengage from school, to engage in risky sexual activity, to disengage socially. This isn’t because they are diverse in sexuality or gender, it has nothing to do with who they are attracted to, who they sleep with or how they dress… it has everything to do with the shit they have to put up with from their families, from their teachers, from their society as a whole. These kids are at a higher risk of suicide than their peers because their society says they aren’t equal… because their society cares about who they want to sleep with.
One step in the right direction is marriage equality, it says once and for all – the way YOU love is equal to the way I love. You have the right to choose how and when you commit to the person you love in any way you want… you don’t have to explain that love to us.
Instead, Australia makes a joke out of marriage by creating a reality TV show out of the ‘supposed’ arranged marriages of heterosexual couples for ratings.
Another awesome thing you can do is support the equal opportunities commission and their safer schools project as it rolls out across the country, making school safer for queer kids to be who they are, to hold hands with who they want, to make out with whoever they want behind the bike shed just like every other kid who goes there. Unfortunately homophobia is most rife at school and often teachers are the worst culprits for the discrimination – either directly or indirectly.
Isn’t it time that we just love whoever we want to love without having to make such a big deal about it? I mean, what business is it of anyone else’s who I sleep with, who you sleep with, who that kid down the road wishes they could sleep with.
Our sexual and/or gender identity is only ONE part of who we are. It doesn’t define us as a whole, it’s just one little part making up a whole unique and individual being. Isn’t it time we stop with the pigeon holes and the oppression and we start loving people for who they are without condition?
Be radical. Be the straight ally that actually stands up and says ‘hey you know what, this doesn’t affect me personally but I really care.’
Recognise your privilege. If you are white, middle class, straight – raise your voice. Be willing to give up a bit of that privilege in order to be heard – sometimes standing up for what is important is uncomfortable. A true ally steps up to the plate instead of sitting on the sidelines – noone is going to make you kiss a girl or wear sequins or dance around in a g-string (though none of that would be a bad thing anyway).
Stop being patient. Being patient is not a political strategy. Telling people to be patient is not useful, it’s a sign of privelege and total disregard for the shit that someone else is feeling. There is no time like now.
Recognise discrimination when you see it. Homophobia, Biphobia and transphobia are very real – learn how to spot oppression when it’s happening and never sit by in silence when you hear it. Discrimination based on sexuality and/or gender is against the law in this country… don’t stand for it in the line for coffee, don’t stand for it at school, don’t stand for it in your friendship group or workplace – it’s bullshit and whoever is dishing it out deserves to be called out.
Love. Loving yourself, loving your friends, loving your neighbours. Love really is the answer. People are who they are, when we love them and accept them and celebrate them for exactly who they are – we give them the gift of acceptance, it’s a human need, it does a lot of good for the soul.
Maybe in the future, when everyone who truly believes in equality starts standing up for it, when we get equal marriage rights in Australia (I’m calling it by the end of the year, regardless of our ridiculous leadership) – maybe then it will start a butterfly effect that encourages a compassionate revolution that ends discrimination in general.
Last year we took a group of young people up to the city to the Perth Pride Parade. They were flying high on the sheer power of being seen as themselves. During the march one of the young people turned to me and said, ‘it’s as if it’s the first time I’ve ever walked.’ There is an enormous amount of power in being seen after being oppressed for so long…
Have you ever felt that way?
I truly believe that we have the balls to create an equal world where sexuality, race, gender and religion have no bearings on how a person is treated. That we can not only talk about equality, but really live in it too. Where our kids don’t have to apologise for who they love or who they are.
I might be then out of a job but that would be ok by me – I always liked pulling beers anyway.