She who should not be named (on a tennis stadium)

The 2020 Australian Open starts tomorrow. As a long-term tennis fan, it is one of my favourite times of the year (although sadly I won’t be there in person this time around). As a long-term LGBTI advocate, however, I am not looking forward to the next fortnight – primarily because there will be considerable attention on a certain former Australian women’s tennis player.

Not just because the third largest court is named after her, but also because this year marks the 50th anniversary of her calendar-year grand slam – which was, admittedly, a remarkable achievement (for context, only one singles player, male or female, has repeated this feat in the half-century since: Steffi Graf in 1988).

Given we won’t be able to avoid this topic in the days ahead, I thought I would share my perspective on what should happen when Tennis Australia commemorates Margaret Court’s accomplishment, and why they should permanently remove her name from Margaret Court Arena.

I should start by saying what this is not about. It’s not about her opposition to marriage equality. Despite seeking to discriminate against LGBTI couples under secular law, she was entitled to her opinion, no matter how wrong it was (and thankfully the majority of Australians decided she was indeed very wrong).

On the other hand, it is about Margaret Court being a vocal opponent of the equalisation of the age of consent in Western Australia in 2002 (which is actually when, as a queer activist at university, I first came across her bigoted views). For those who don’t know, she literally campaigned for young gay and bisexual men, aged 16 to 20, to remain subject to criminalisation, including the threat of imprisonment, simply because of who they were.

That, to me, went beyond the pale. This was not simply a difference in policy – she used her position of influence in political debate to target vulnerable members of our community. That incident alone should be sufficient to mean she is not celebrated by Tennis Australia – or indeed anyone with a conscience.

Although unfortunately it was not the last time Margaret Court would attack LGBT young people. As recently as three weeks ago, she reportedly described trans kids as being the work of the devil (“That LGBT in the schools, it’s of the devil, it’s not of God… you know when children are making the decision at seven or eight years of age to change their sex. Just read the first two chapters of Genesis, that’s all I say. God made male and female”).

Court’s list of tennis records might be long, but her record of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic statements is much, much longer (noting that these are just a couple of examples out of many I could have chosen).

Of course, some people might respond by saying that the above actions are unrelated to tennis, and she should be judged solely on her sporting career. The only problem with this defence is that she has an equally lengthy history of anti-LGBT prejudice in relation to tennis.

As far back as 1990, Court criticised out lesbian champion Martina Navratilova (“a great player but I’d like someone at the top who the young players can look up to. It’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality. Martina is a nice person. Her life has just gone astray”) and famously said that lesbians were ruining tennis.

In the three decades since, her views have not evolved, although who she attacks has – Margaret Court now adds trans tennis players, and trans women athletes in particular – to her growing list of targets (“ And you know with that LGBT, they’ll wish they never put the T on the end of it because, particularly in women’s sports, they’re going to have so many problems”).

But, out of the many hateful and hurtful ‘contributions’ Margaret Court has made to public life over the years, there is one that stands out in my memory, for all the wrong reasons. In 2013, following the birth of Casey Dellacqua and her partner Amanda Judd’s first child, Margaret Court wrote the following newspaper letter to the editor:

 

Fathers for babies

The article (Dellacqua, partner welcome baby boy, 29/8) rightly celebrates the birth of a child. Yet it is with sadness that I see that this baby has seemingly been deprived of his father.

If we continue to dismantle the traditional family unit as old fashioned, archaic and no longer even necessary or relevant, we will create a fatherless generation.

Indeed, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred as the march towards such partnerships, even gay marriage, is fuelled by minority voices rising in opposition to respected Christian beliefs which many cultures also believe.

For the person who is birthed with no exposure, or even acknowledgement, of their natural dad there will always remain questions as to their identity and background.

Personally, I have nothing against Casey Dellacqua or her “partner”.

I simply want to champion the rights of the family over the rights of the individual to engineer social norms and produce children into their relationships.

As a patron of the Australian Family Association, I really want to see a society where traditional family values are still celebrated and every child has the best possible start in life.

Margaret Court, Victory Life Centre

 

Note this was not simply an expression of her views about ‘rainbow families’ in general, it was specific criticism of one such family in particular. It was a pre-meditated attack on a couple at a time when they should have been celebrating something precious and wonderful, not being subjected to unfair commentary because of their sexual orientation.

And, contrary to Court’s protestations (‘I have nothing against Casey Dellacqua or her “partner”’), the use of scare quotes there says everything you need to know about her level of disrespect towards them.

Nor can this episode be divorced from Court’s tennis career. The letter was written by a former Australian tennis player, about a then-current Australian player – and this context was no doubt influential in ensuring it was published.

The truth is that, as much as Margaret Court was a champion on the tennis court, she has been the exact opposite off it. And, because of her actions – including the attack on Casey Dellacqua and her family – it is impossible to separate the two.

That is why, whenever Tennis Australia chooses to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Margaret Court’s calendar grand slam during the next fortnight, I hope the crowd at Melbourne Park (respectfully) turn their backs on her. And if she is given the opportunity to speak, I hope they cover their ears too – because she has abused far too many platforms, over far too many years, to demean and denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians.

It is also why she should not be named above the third largest court there. While Court may have been a tennis star in the 1960s and 1970s, everything she has done since means she has nothing to offer in the 2020s and beyond (she is definitely not a role model for the current generation of players – ask yourself, have you ever heard any Australian player, including our recent champions Sam Stosur and Ash Barty, say they look up to Margaret Court? Definitely not).

What makes this decision even easier is that there is such a clear alternative. A seven-time major winner in singles, and former world number one, from the 1970s and 1980s. An Aboriginal champion, who used her post-playing career to give back to Aboriginal young people (her Companion of the Order of Australia recognised her “eminent service to tennis as a player at the national and international level, [and] as an ambassador, supporter and advocate for the health, education and wellbeing of young Indigenous people through participation in sport, and as a role model”).

Once the 2020 Australian Open wraps up on Sunday February 2, it’s time to take down the signage for Margaret Court Arena, and put up a new name in its place: Evonne Goolagong Cawley Arena.

Margaret-Court-Arena-Gal2

2020 should be the last year Margaret Court’s name appears above the third court at Melbourne Park.

Census 2021 – Count Us In

It may not seem all that important right now, with everything else going on, but whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians are included in the 2021 Census will have a long-term impact on the health of our communities.

The Commonwealth Treasury Department is currently conducting a public consultation on Exposure Draft Census and Statistics Amendment (Statistical Information) Regulations 2019.

Submissions close next Friday, 10 January 2020. If you have the time, please consider making a short submission, asking them to #CountUsIn. More information about how to make your voice heard, from the National LGBTI Health Alliance, is provided below.

Here’s my letter:

 

Division Head
Macroeconomic Modelling and Policy Division
Treasury
Langton Cres
Parkes ACT 2600

Submitted via: 2021CensusRegulations@treasury.gov.au

Friday 3 January 2020

 

To Whom It May Concern

Re: Census of Population and Housing

I am writing to you as a long-term advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, to bring to your attention my personal view about the importance of including questions on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in the 2021 Census.

For me, a census that captures sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex data will enable us all to better manage our health. It is important for governments at Commonwealth and state and territory level, and service providers, to have access to this data, so that I and my family and friends have the same access to targeted health services as all other Australians.

I am aware that the ABS itself asked the Commonwealth Government to consider sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status questions to be included in the census based on an overwhelming need for this data to be collected.

I also note that in 2017 the Commonwealth Government spent $80.5 million in engaging the ABS to conduct the same-sex marriage law postal survey.

Apparently, asking all Australians to express their opinion about the relationships, and lives, of LGBTI people and their families was acceptable then.

It would be an incredible, and unjustifiable, double-standard to decide that asking people about their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status is unacceptable now.

LGBTI people are part of every Australian community, and everyone deserves to be counted.

We count. Our lives count. Our health counts. Our futures count. It’s time to count us in.

I respectfully ask that you reconsider the inclusion of these questions in the 2021 Census.

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

Take Action

One of my main objectives for the blog this year is to include practical information on as many posts as possible about actions readers can take.

In this case, I strongly encourage you to visit the National LGBTI Health Alliance website, where they have provided a draft template letter on which the one above is based.

Please download it, add your own personal message and lodge it by Friday 10 January 2020. As requested by the Alliance, if you are emailing it, please also copy info@lgbtihealth.org.au and ask for your submission to be made public on the Treasury website.

Make your voice heard. Make sure our community is counted. #CountUsIn2021

ABS

What Gender Reveal Parties Actually Reveal

If the Germans hadn’t invented the term schadenfreude several centuries ago, we would have needed to create it to describe the most 21st century of phenomena: laughing at gender reveal fail videos.

 

These videos are (unintentionally) hilarious not just because when they go wrong, they go very wrong. With people coming up with increasingly intricate and in many cases bizarre scenarios to ‘stand out’, the potential for things to go awry has grown exponentially.

 

They are also deeply funny because the concept of a gender reveal party itself is inherently problematic, which means that laughing at the misfortunate of those involved is usually a guilt-free pleasure.

 

If you’re reading this and still think gender reveal parties are just a bit of harmless fun, perhaps it is useful to consider what exactly it is these parties are revealing – which is far more about the parent(s) than about their child(ren).

 

First, they reveal that some parents don’t seem to understand the difference between sex and gender.

 

Sex is biological (defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions’).

 

On the other hand, gender is identity-based (with the Yogyakarta Principles defining gender identity as ‘each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms’).[i]

 

Given it is impossible to know a child’s gender identity before or at birth (and usually for years after that), this means these celebrations should at the very least be renamed ‘sex reveal parties’.

 

Second, they reveal that some parents don’t seem to understand that both sex and gender are much more complicated than just male and female.

 

At its very core, a gender reveal party is an attempt to place an unborn child (or children) into one of two boxes: boy or girl.

 

And yet, in 2019, we know that gender identity is a spectrum, and there is a wide range of other options, including non-binary.

 

We also know that some children will be ‘born with physical sex characteristics that don’t fit medical and social norms for female or male bodies’ (the definition of intersex from Intersex Human Rights Australia).[ii]

 

Gender reveal parties therefore deliberately exclude some of the beautiful diversity of the human experience.[iii]

 

Third, they reveal that some parents are willing participants in a reductivist view of gender.

 

Gender reveal parties simplify the concepts of male and female into blue and pink respectively, as though entire genders can be signified by, even summed up by, a colour. When there is obviously more diversity within genders, and more similarities across people of different genders, than such a basic dichotomy can hope to represent.

 

Somewhat amusingly, these colours are also the exact opposite of those from just a century ago. From US Ladies Home Journal in June 1918:

 

‘The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’

 

Mush less amusingly, while the colours have changed, some of those gender stereotypes remain and gender reveal parties tend to entrench, rather than question, them.

 

Based on these three factors, gender reveal parties can actually be harmful. By supporting a view that gender will match sex assigned at birth, they can make life much more difficult for trans and gender diverse children.

 

By raising expectations that babies will be born with sex characteristics that are exclusively male or female, they can erase intersex children (and even potentially increase pressure for unnecessary surgeries post-birth to ensure their bodies match these societal ‘norms’).

 

And by entrenching the notion that boys and girls are inherently different, and reinforcing stereotypes about how they will (or should) behave, gender reveal parties place artificial restrictions on all of us, and our behaviours.

 

It may sound like I am unsympathetic to the parents who hold gender reveal parties. I’m not, at least in part because most are simply replicating the actions of those around them (and those they follow on social media), and probably haven’t considered any of the issues described above. They are acting out of ignorance rather than malice.[iv]

 

I’m also sympathetic because, as a society, we seem to be placing an ever-greater emphasis on gender, certainly much more than I can remember as a child growing up in the 1980s. From unnecessarily gendered toys, to unnecessarily gendered toiletries, and even unnecessarily gendered grocery items, heightened expectations of ‘gender conformity’ are all around us – so it is perhaps only natural they will be felt most keenly by expecting parents.

 

The challenge then is what we can do to overcome these norms, especially the emerging norm that parents will hold gender reveal parties in the first place.

 

I have four suggestions to start, from the easiest to the most difficult:

 

  1. Don’t hold a gender reveal party

 

If you are having a child, simply refuse to have one of these ‘celebrations’. Which is easy for someone like me to say (a cis gay man who has decided, with his partner, not to have children, at least in part because of the climate emergency), so let’s move on…

 

  1. Don’t attend gender reveal parties

 

If you are invited to one of these ‘celebrations’, don’t attend. If people all stopped going, parents would stop holding them.

 

  1. Let the person know why you’re not attending

 

This is clearly more difficult than simply not turning up, especially because many of us prefer to avoid confrontation. But if we are to do the hard yards of ending this social norm, then we should take the time to explain to the person who has sent the invitation why you won’t be there.

 

  1. Stop asking ‘What are you having?’

 

Obviously, this is another degree of difficulty again, especially because this is something we’ve been conditioned to ask, usually first, when someone says they are pregnant (and something I have been guilty of, on more than one occasion).

 

But what does it actually matter? And aren’t there more interesting and/or important questions to ask, like ‘What are you looking forward to?’ ‘What are you nervous about?’ ‘Are you prepared?’ and ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’

 

For those having difficulty making this mental adjustment, consider thinking of it this way. When you are asking ‘What are you having?’ what you’re really asking is ‘What are your child’s sex chromosomes and/or genitalia?’ and ‘What gender do you currently intend to raise your child even though you cannot know now their eventual gender identity?’

 

Rationally, an expecting parent who knows the difference between sex and gender could also respond to the ‘What are you having?’ inquiry by saying that they’ll get back to the questioner in five, ten, 15 or even 20 years, when the child decides for themself.

 

Which brings me to the primary exception to my ‘no gender reveal parties’ stance: where trans and gender diverse people announce their own gender identity. This is truly something to celebrate, especially for those who’ve overcome years or even decades of transphobia from families, schools, and society in general.

 

[I suppose I would also make an exception for parents who hold a gender reveal party and then release a colour like green or brown and tell attendees that they’ll let their child determine their identity for themselves.]

 

Other than that, gender reveal parties are a social phenomenon that has risen to prominence incredibly quickly over the past decade – and hopefully will recede just as quickly in the early 2020s.

 

Indeed, that’s the view of the woman whose 2008 post is widely-credited as popularising ‘gender reveal parties’, Jenna Karvunidis. From NPR in July 2019:[v]

 

‘Plot twist! The baby from the original gender reveal party is a girl who wears suits,’ Karvunidis says. ‘She says ‘she’ and ‘her’ and all that, but you know she really goes outside gender norms’.

 

… Karvunidis says her views on sex and gender have changed, especially when she’s talking to her daughter.

 

‘She’s telling me ‘Mom, there are many genders. Mom, there’s many different sexualities and all different types,’ and I take her lead on that,’ Karvunidis says.

 

She says she does have some regrets and understands these parties aren’t beneficial to everyone.

 

‘I know it’s been harmful to some individuals. It’s 2019, we don’t need to get our joy by giving others pain,’ she says. ‘I think there’s a new way to have these parties.’

 

And that idea is as simple as just eating cake.

 

‘Celebrate the baby,’ she says. ‘There’s no way to have a cake cut into it, to see if they’re going to like chess. Let’s just have a cake.’

 

Which is a great idea. And then to eat any leftovers while watching videos of gender reveal party fails because, let’s face it, some of them are funny as hell.

 

Untitled design (5)

An infamous 2017 gender reveal party fail, which caused a 47,000 acre fire in Arizona.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Yes, I’m aware that both the concepts of sex and gender, and the relationship between them, are far more complex. However, in the context of ‘gender reveal parties’ it’s clear these celebrations are based on biological sex (chromosomes and/or genitalia) rather than identity-based ideas of gender.

[ii] IHRA website, here.

[iii] We should note here that variations in sex characteristics is separate to non-binary gender identities, with many intersex people identifying with the ‘sex’ they were assigned at birth. Again for the Intersex Human Rights Australia website:

‘Some intersex people and some non-intersex (‘endosex’) people use nonbinary terms to describe their identities and sex classifications. Often, however, we encounter assumptions that to be intersex is to be nonbinary, or to be nonbinary is to be intersex. These assumptions are harmful. They fail to recognize the diversity of the intersex population, and in this case even the existence of intersex boys and girls, and intersex women and men.’

[iv] Of course, some parents possibly are deliberately setting expectations that their children will be either male or female, and that they will ‘act accordingly’ (including not identifying as trans or gender diverse), to which I say ‘fuck you’.

[v] Woman who popularized gender reveal parties says her views on gender have changed.

Stonewall 50: Bouquets & Bricks

Today marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, a key moment in the history of LGBTI rights activism, both in the United States and around the world.

 

In a different world I had hoped to be in New York, attending the World Pride celebrations marking this significant anniversary – although unfortunately sometimes the more mundane parts of life, like mortgage payments, have other plans.

 

I wanted to be there to pay my respects to the activists who have come before us, and on whose shoulders we stand, who have paved the way towards the improved rights and increased acceptance many of us enjoy today.

 

Even though I may not be there in person I can still honour their achievements in my own small way, on this somewhat niche LGBTI rights blog, on the other side of the globe.

 

Thank you to the brave people at the Stonewall Inn who, in the early hours of June 28 1969, fought back against police oppression, and fought to end the injustice that was ubiquitous in the lives of queer people at that time.

 

Thank you to the trans and gender diverse people, the drag queens and the people of colour who have been at the forefront of this battle from the very beginning.

 

Of course, the Stonewall Riots was not the first instance of LGBTI people fighting back against abuse and mistreatment. Thank you too to the people at Compton’s Cafeteria, and Cooper Do-nuts, and likely other instances of queer rebellion that have been lost to history, because we were not the ones who were writing it.

 

Nor was Stonewall the starting point for LGBTI rights within the United States, with groups like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis undertaking the comparatively-boring legal reform work – but who, in doing so, took far greater risks than we could possibly appreciate today.

 

Obviously, the story of LGBTI activism did not begin and does not end with the US either (a mistake we make all-too-often, especially on anniversaries like this).

 

Thank you as well to the countless campaigners for our rights around the world, from the advocates for homosexual recognition in Germany in the second half of the 19th century, to the courageous people fighting for decriminalisation in the 69 countries where homosexuality remains illegal today (hopefully 68 later this year, if Bhutan’s upper house passes the Bill before it).

 

Looking closer to home, Australia’s most-famous instance of queer people celebrating amidst the spectre of police brutality had its own 40th anniversary just last year. Thank you to the 78ers, whose courage at that first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras helped inspire the generations here that followed.

 

Just as in the US, however, Mardi Gras was not the starting point for LGBTI rights in Australia.

 

Thank you to the people who stood up in the preceding decade, from the formation of the Homosexual Law Reform Society of the ACT in July 1969 (just one month after Stonewall, and who will celebrate their own 50th anniversary in four weeks’ time), through the early 70s activism of groups like Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP for short), to the decriminalisation advocates in South Australia and elsewhere.

 

Thank you to the people who responded to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, which decimated our community when it had only just begun to emerge from the darkness. You fought for your lives – and for all of us – and in doing so you kept the (candle)light alive.

 

Thank you to the HIV activists today, who understand that this struggle is not over.

 

Thank you to the law reformers, who over decades have secured the building blocks of legal equality, from anti-discrimination protections, to relationship recognition and most recently the right to marry the person we love.

 

Thank you to the trans and gender diverse activists, who have been fighting – against even greater resistance – for the right to live the lives you were always meant to. The battles for access to birth certificates and identity documentation, and health care, are not over.

 

Thank you to the intersex activists whose struggles seem bigger still. Many of whom are survivors of gross violations of the human right to bodily autonomy, but who speak out to stop those same coercive surgeries and treatments from being inflicted on others. And who must fight against the indifference of politicians, the arrogance of medical professionals and too-often the ignorance of other members of the LGBTI community.

 

Thank you to the queer people of colour, and especially to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI people, who fight not just against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia, but also against the racism that lies at the heart of our country (and, sadly, within our own community too).

 

As can be seen from the above, the incredible progress made so far on LGBTI rights has been achieved because of the work of more than any one particular individual or organisation. We have all played a role.

 

From the brave people who threw the first bricks at Stonewall. To others who have thrown bricks through the legal, social and cultural discrimination which LGBTI people all-too-commonly faced. And everyone who has thrown their own bricks through the closet of invisibility and shame that too many people have endured.

 

With those bricks we have built ourselves a community, and a home, where more people than at any point in history can feel accepted for who they are, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

But, as we all know, the house of LGBTI rights remains incomplete – there is still much unfinished business, in Australia, the United States and around the world, before all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can finally be considered ‘free & equal’.

 

Which means we need more (metaphorical) brick-throwers, to smash down the walls of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia that keep many LGBTI community members imprisoned.

 

So today, as we celebrate Stonewall 50, and give thanks to the LGBTI activists who have made our world a better place, we should take a moment to reflect on what each of us can do, what we should do, and what we must do, to carry on their work.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

 

the_stonewall_riots_didnt_start_the_gay_rights_movement_1050x700

Twenty years

 

Like most people, different people would describe me in different ways. Earnest. Passionate. Opinionated. I’m sure some there’d be some less flattering terms too. One adjective that I don’t think would be used very often is melodramatic. Yet that is exactly the right word to describe my coming out experience.

 

Twenty years ago tonight I told my parents I was gay. The anniversary of that personally momentous occasion (as well as another upcoming ‘round number’, my 40th birthday) has prompted me to reflect both on what happened then, and how much has changed since. So here is my somewhat over-the-top, but very true, coming out story…

 

**********

 

Fenner_Hall_North_Tower

 

In 1998, I was a second year student at the Australian National University in Canberra. I lived in one of the larger student residences (Fenner Hall), and was a bit of a ‘joiner’ – signing up to countless clubs and societies, and participating in various sporting and cultural activities.

 

One such endeavour was the annual college theatre production. That year it was a not-especially memorable play called ‘The Prodigal Son’, about the return of a gay man to his estranged family following the death of his father.

 

I was cast as the prodigal son’s boyfriend (a role made slightly more complicated by the fact one of the first men I had ever slept with played the title character, although he is now one of my best friends).

 

As the ‘outsider’ in the play, my character’s main function was to observe the family’s interactions and offer insights like ‘Why can’t parents accept their children for who they are?’ and ‘Despite their differences I know they actually love each other.’

 

My personal response to this situation was to decide that this was the perfect opportunity to come out to my parents. So I convinced them to come down to see me perform, without explaining why.

 

**********

 

Now, that sounds like a terrible decision. Probably because, well, it was. But, while the thought processes involved only ever really made sense in the conflicted mind of a closeted 19 year old, I do recall at least some of the reasons why.

 

First, it gave me the firm push I required. I had actually tried to tell my parents the summer beforehand, but always found an excuse to back out. The play served as a necessary self-imposed deadline – it’s hard to completely avoid the topic of sexuality after you’re parents have already seen you as a gay man (even if it was only on stage).

 

Second, it was on my ‘home turf’. The play was an excuse to get my parents to Canberra, which was important because, if they disowned me, I would still have accommodation, and money (I was fortunate enough to be on a scholarship), in place. In short, I wouldn’t be homeless.

 

Again, that might seem a bit melodramatic to some readers, especially in this post-same sex marriage haze. I can assure you it was a legitimate fear, not just because of the time period (this was early John Howard-era Australia after all) but especially because of my family background.

 

I grew up on a cattle property outside Blackwater, a small town about two hours west of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. As well as being a farmer, my dad was heavily involved in agri-politics, and had stood for pre-selection for the National Party in the federal electorate of Maranoa (he would later be an unsuccessful candidate in the state seat of Fitzroy, parts of which are now included in Mirani, the only Queensland seat currently held by One Nation).

 

My mum, a nurse at one of the local coal mines, was also very conservative. In fact, my entire extended family were right-wing; my sister was the next most progressive after me, and that was because she voted Liberal!

 

Oh, and given where we lived, my parents had sent all three children to a Lutheran boarding school in Brisbane for five years, where we were indoctrinated with German efficiency (although the full horrors of my time there are for another post, at another time).

 

Based on this up-bringing, the idea that my parents would react badly to their son’s homosexuality was definitely not implausible.

 

The third reason why I chose to tell them in this way was because it meant I had a support system in place. I had only come out to a few close friends late in the previous year. Through the play I found another close-knit group of accepting people. Together they gave me the confidence, and courage, to finally follow through.

 

**********

 

Before we get to the ‘big night’ itself, there’s one other consequential choice I made: to disclose my sexuality to my sister beforehand. By that stage, she was in her 7th year of university. I figured that, if anyone in my family was ever going to be okay with me being gay, it was her.

 

And she was. Within 15 minutes of me telling her over the phone, she was joking around (in a light-hearted manner), putting me at ease.

 

What I didn’t learn until afterwards though, was that she then decided to let my parents know before they headed down to Canberra, including telling my mum as she recovered in hospital from elective surgery.

 

**********

 

Like most life-changing events, I don’t actually remember much detail about what happened the night of the play (the final performance of its short and, as far as I’m aware, only run), just certain moments and particular emotions.

 

The adrenaline kicking in back-stage. The words of encouragement from my cast-mates before the curtains went up. The odd mixture of sheer terror and profound relief as I looked out under the lights and saw that my parents were indeed in the audience. The surreal-ness of my character asking parents to accept their children no matter who they are – as I did exactly that.

 

Afterwards, I took them out for a predictably awkward dinner, and we had ‘the chat’. Again, most of what followed was a blur, although they made sure to let me know that they loved me – even if they did so in their own reserved, country kind of way.

 

By the time I re-joined the rest of the cast for the after-party, [cliché alert] it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders, and I could exhale – properly – for the first time in a long time, maybe ever.

 

**********

 

As other members of our community know all too well, ‘coming out’ is never a one-off event, but a life-long process, especially as you continually meet new people, or enter novel situations.

 

Even with people to whom you have already disclosed, there are degrees of being out, and a spectrum of acceptance. So it was with my parents.

 

They had said ‘all the rights things’ that frosty May night in Canberra because they had been forewarned by my sister. But that wasn’t necessarily a true reflection of how they really felt – as I discovered during the June/July holidays when I headed back to the farm.

 

The reception there was much, much colder, including from my brother who was then working on the farm (although he is much more accepting now, primarily thanks to the influence of a good woman).

 

Things deteriorated rapidly, and to such an extent that one day, in the car with my mum driving home from town, she said something especially egregious – which I won’t repeat here – and I had to tearfully, but forcefully, threaten to turn the car around and head all the way back to uni (two full days’ drive away) if she didn’t want me, all of me, in her life anymore.

 

It was the emotional confrontation that hadn’t happened the night of the play, but that was essential for things to improve. She backed down, and our relationship slowly but surely improved over the years that followed, a process that was greatly accelerated by the arrival of my fiancé Steve on the scene, ten years later.

 

**********

 

Now, two decades on, and my mum and dad are proud, yes-voting folks, very much looking forward to attending Steve and my wedding (I think they are especially pleased at the idea of him being their son-in-law – but then, who wouldn’t be?)

 

Indeed, so much has changed in those twenty years that even writing this post has been challenging. Because it’s difficult to remember a time when, far from being comfortable in my skin, I buried myself in so many layers just to make sure nobody could see who I really was.

 

Twenty years ago the idea that I would meet someone to share my life with, all of my life, and that he would be accepted as an integral part of my family, and me in his, seemed preposterous. Today it is as normal, as fundamental, as breathing.

 

Twenty years ago I could not conceive of a time, a place, any context, in which I would be so happy. That life could be, would be, so beautiful. I wish he could have known that back then…

 

**********

 

As a long-term activist and advocate on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBTI) community, I am not nearly naïve enough to underestimate the challenges that are still faced by many young people today.

 

Some parents do still disown their children. Or send them to gay or trans conversion (so-called) therapy. Some young people, especially those who are trans and gender diverse, from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Indigenous, or live in rural and regional Australia, can and do still face significant barriers just to become who they are. Too many tragically never make it.

 

So, I cannot say that #itgetsbetter for everyone. But I can speak from my own experience: it got better for me. Much, much better. Although, perhaps a little disappointingly, much less melodramatic too.

Lyle Who?

With the postal survey complete, and LGBTI marriage passed by Commonwealth Parliament, it’s time for us to ignore Lyle Shelton.

 

Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) since May 2013, and their Chief of Staff for six years prior to that, the events of the past few months have – thankfully – seen him suffer defeat after defeat.

 

First, he, the ACL and the wider ‘Coalition for Marriage’ (aka the No campaign) comprehensively lost the postal survey:

 

By 2,943,260 votes (or more than the entire population of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, combined),

 

In every state and territory, and

 

In an overwhelming 133 out of 150 electorates across the country.

 

We should remember that this was the process they asked for, one that completely stacked the decks in their favour.

 

An optional vote, with older Australians, who are more likely to oppose marriage equality, also more likely to participate.

 

A postal ballot, with many younger Australians, who are more likely to support marriage equality, also less familiar with ‘physical’ mail.

 

A simple Yes/No question, with the long history of failed referenda in Australia demonstrating it is much easier to run a scare campaign, and sow seeds of doubt, than to convince people to vote for positive change.

 

Rules requiring equal media coverage of the Yes and No cases, even when the No campaign had nothing to say relating to the question of same-sex marriage itself, only misinformation and manipulation about trans and gender diverse kids, and Safe Schools.

 

Even with all of these advantages, the No campaign experienced what can only be described as a drubbing: 61.6% to 38.4%.

 

To add insult to (their) injury, they then lost again in the Parliament, where they sought numerous additional special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples – and were denied.

 

Despite having a conservative Government, including a Liberal and National majority in the House of Representatives.

 

Despite intense lobbying to provide civil celebrants, and wedding-related businesses, and religious schools, and parents, and charities, with new legal authority to treat same-sex marriages as second-class.

 

Despite having Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull support at least some of these special religious privileges.

 

All of these amendments were voted down in the Senate. And then again in the House of Representatives for good measure.

 

Shelton, the ACL and the Coalition for Marriage comprehensively failed in their mission to ‘defend traditional marriage’.

 

However, as enjoyable as it was to write the above – and the temptation toward schadenfreude is admittedly strong right now – that is not actually the reason we should ignore him.

 

After all, there is nothing wrong with losing in a democracy. As an LGBTI advocate, and a ‘progressive’ more broadly, my own history of involvement in Australian politics is littered with many more defeats than victories. And I’m sure there will be plenty more of the former in coming years too.

 

On the other hand, there is plenty of justification for ignoring him on the basis of how he went about the campaign itself, and the Australian Christian Lobby’s offensive conduct for many years beforehand.

 

Because of his (infamous) oft-repeated comments that rainbow families having children was creating a new Stolen Generation.

 

Because of his rhetorical link between marriage equality and Nazi Germany (“Changing the definition of marriage to entrench motherless and fatherlessness in public policy and teaching our kids their gender is fluid should be opposed. The cowardice and weakness of Australia’s ‘gatekeepers’ is causing unthinkable things to happen, just as unthinkable things happened in Germany in the 1930s”).

 

Because of his incitement of ‘bathroom panic’ against trans women (“Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym or a domestic violence shelter? Why should biological males identifying as women be allowed into women’s public toilets and shower facilities?”).

 

Especially because of their ongoing attacks on trans and gender diverse young people. In the words of Georgie Stone:

 

“Although there is so much we have achieved there is still this social stigma in Australia against trans kids. That needs to change, especially in the light of the same-sex marriage debate. The No campaign used trans kids as cannon fodder” [emphasis added].

 

But, with the postal survey now over, and with all couples now permitted to marry, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, there is no compelling reason to continue to pay attention to the likes of Lyle Shelton.

 

It’s time we allowed his discriminatory viewpoint to recede to the fringes of society, where it rightfully belongs.

 

For my part, that means ignoring his attention-seeking public commentary. And not sharing articles, posts or tweets in which he and the ACL simply perpetuate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

 

Which means that, from today, Lyle Shelton will join an ‘exclusive’ group of people who I vow to never amplify via social media.

 

Alongside a certain former leader of the Australian Labor Party, turned media ‘outsider’.

 

And a notorious internet troll, who was recently in the country and who shares a name with a breakfast beverage.

 

After exerting disproportionate influence on public policy over the past decade, I think we should collectively say ‘Bye Fe-Lyle-cia’. Or should that be ‘Bye Feli-Shelton’? Either way, Lyle, it’s time for you to sashay away.

 

Lyle Shelton