At the end of a long week – which felt more like a month, and frankly had a year’s worth of ups and (mostly) downs – it’s time to take stock, and work out what we do next.
Thankfully, there are now two challenges to the Government’s pseudo postal plebiscite (aka the Australian Bureau of Statistics ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’), which will be heard by the High Court on September 5 and 6.
However, while we might hope for the best – that the judiciary finds this extraordinary and unprecedented process to be an unconstitutional abuse of executive power – we must also prepare ourselves for the worst.
In that context, I offer the following seven suggestions of how we should respond to Malcolm Turnbull’s supposed statistical survey:
The Government has already announced that, in order to participate in the ‘plebiscite’, you must be on the electoral roll by 6pm on Thursday 24 August.
So, the most immediate thing you need to do is:
- Check your enrolment here.
- If you aren’t enrolled, enrol to vote here.
Even if you are currently intending to boycott the ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’, you might end up changing your mind in the coming weeks and months, so please update your enrolment now and leave your options open in September and October.
This step is harder than the first, especially when emotions are understandably running high and we feel that the process that has been inflicted upon us is incredibly unfair (because it is). But that doesn’t mean the pseudo postal plebiscite is necessarily going away either.
Which means we need to engage, with our family members (including extended family), our friends, our colleagues, our peers, basically anyone and everyone we have connections with, to encourage them to support the fight for equality.
Of course, there are limits to this ask. Don’t engage with trolls, or with people who show they are unwilling to genuinely engage with you (neither group is worth your time). And don’t engage where you don’t feel comfortable, and above all, safe in doing so.
But, please have these conversations wherever and whenever you can, because that’s how we remind people who are already on our side what they need to do, and how we persuade the people who have yet to make up their minds.
This step, which is related to number two, is much more difficult again. It is hard when the decision by the Turnbull Coalition Government to hold this pseudo postal plebiscite has already politicised every minute, every hour and every day of our lives – politicised our mere existence – until this farce is over.
And there’s no denying the perennial problem that in struggles for justice, the burden of educating the oppressors falls disproportionately on the oppressed (when people should instead bear responsibility for educating themselves).
Nevertheless, there will still be many opportunities in the months ahead for genuine education. To provide information to people who may not have thought about LGBTIQ issues before. To answer questions from those who don’t know a lot about us, or our relationships, but who show a sincere desire to learn.
Of course, for many in our community, for different reasons, this task is not something they are willing or able to do – and that’s totally okay. And for anyone who does decide to engage in these discussions, you should always remember that your personal information is yours, and you should only disclose as much as you feel comfortable. Nobody has a ‘right’ to know everything about you.
But for those of us who are in a position to have these conversations, we should. And if you need help getting started, Australian Marriage Equality/The Equality Campaign have produced a number of useful resources (including translations into Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hindi, Greek, Italian, and Spanish).
We’ve reached the fourth step on my list, and the third most important: to vote (and obviously to vote yes).
Before I start, I’d like to say to anyone who is currently considering boycotting the pseudo postal plebiscite that I completely understand where you’re coming from. It is a bullshit process, imposed for bullshit reasons. It is inherently offensive to LGBTIQ people; it is insulting, and demeaning, to our relationships.
In fact, the decision by Liberal and National MPs and Senators to adopt a supposed statistical survey on marriage equality made me even more angry, and frustrated, about a subject that I thought had exhausted my reserves of both. Despite all this, I have decided that I will vote, and I urge you to do the same, for the following reasons:
a) Most LGBTIQ people think we should
Before the Government’s appalling actions this week, PFLAG and just.equal conducted a survey of 5,261 LGBTI Australians to ascertain their views about a possible postal vote, and how we should respond as a community.
Only 15.2% thought we should boycott such a vote, with more than half publicly opposed to a postal ballot but prepared to win it if it’s held. And, even though that survey was conducted based on a hypothetical, and the subsequent reality might have changed the depth of our feelings, I don’t think it has altered our thinking.
b) Most LGBTIQ community organisations think we should
For people who have been engaged in LGBTIQ advocacy for a while, it’s no secret we sometimes don’t play well together. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that nearly all major community organisations have come out in the past 24-48 hours to say that, while they oppose the pseudo postal plebiscite, they will fight to win it.
How ironic that Malcolm Turnbull’s divisive debate, that will cause such disharmony across Australian society, could end up being a powerful unifying moment within the LGBTIQ community itself.
c) Pragmatic politics
There are several political reasons why we should vote, including the obvious one: that a yes vote offers the best chance (albeit no guarantee) of marriage equality being passed this year. A significant yes majority will also diminish the influence of the groups that oppose LGBTIQ rights, like the Australian Christian Lobby, not just on this topic but across all issues.
But, even if we lose (which is a real possibility, given a voluntary postal opinion poll has significant flaws, and skews towards older, more conservative voters, effectively stacking the decks against us), the closer the loss the easier it will be for Labor and the Greens to introduce marriage equality in future.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a strong personal motivation to campaign for equality: the desire to finally marry my fiancé of seven and a half years. However, as much as I love Steven – and trust me, it’s a lot – he’s not the reason I will be voting, and voting yes.
Teenage Alastair is. Who realised he was gay on his first day at a religious boarding school in Brisbane in 1991. Who took about a month to understand just how homophobic his surrounding environment was, and became depressed. Who, from the second term of year 8, until the final term of year 12, thought about ending his life every day, multiple times a day, because he feared he would never find acceptance for who he was.
Alastair aged 12 to 17 probably wouldn’t have understood the ethical reasons why some people in the LGBTIQ community might have wanted to boycott a supposed statistical survey. But he definitely would have understood the message of a large no victory: that his country was explicitly rejecting him, and anyone like him.
So, I’m voting for him.
Many of us have been that person. Most of us know someone who has been through something similar. All of us can empathise with what that fear, that isolation, that loneliness, feels like. So let’s stand up for all of them – including those who tragically didn’t make it – and vote yes.
- Take Care of Yourself
We already know that, if the pseudo postal plebiscite is not rejected by the High Court, the next four months are going to be awful. There will be misinformation, and outright lies, spread against us by those who wish to do us harm. Indeed, their hate-based campaign has already started – so much for the Prime Minister’s so-called #respectfuldebate.
We should not underestimate the impact that this battle will have on all of us, or the fact it will disproportionately affect the more vulnerable groups within the LGBTIQ community itself (including young people, trans and gender diverse people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people and rainbow families and their children).
Throughout this process, we must all take care of ourselves.
There are services in place that can help if you need it, including:
- QLife, the national telephone and web counselling service for LGBTI people, families and friends. Call 1800 184 527, 3pm to midnight everyday.
For a longer list of the support services available to LGBTIQ+ community, see this article by SBS.
Beyond these formal services, however, there are plenty of other ways to practice self-care, and self-love, during this time. If you need to talk to someone, reach out to your friends and other people in your life. If you are finding yourself negatively affected by the public debate and/or social media, switch off. If you have to take a break from the campaign, do – drop out for as long as you need.
For other tips on what you can do to take care of yourself, see the helpful info-graphic produced by ACON at the end of this article. If you are a member of an LGBTIQ family, you can also check out this handy guide produced by Rainbow Families. And if you are aware of, or come across, other useful resources, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below.
- And Each Other
The other, equally important, part of this equation is to look out for, and take care of, each other.
It is difficult to imagine a process that causes more damage, or has the prospect for greater division, than the three-month long, voluntary, non-binding ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’ designed by the Turnbull Government.
Indeed, that may have been the intention of some of those who advocated this option. At best, Coalition MPs and Senators have shown that they are completely indifferent to the harm the pseudo postal plebiscite will cause the LGBTIQ community.
They don’t care about us. So we must care about each other.
Be pro-active. Check in with the people around you to see they are okay. If you notice someone struggling, ask how they’re going, give them a call, have a cup of tea, offer a helping hand – or a shoulder to cry on.
Over recent decades, the LGBTIQ community has had to endure many challenges, to show resilience in the face of adversity. We need to do so again now.
These last two steps – Take Care of Yourself. And Each Other – aren’t just the catchphrase of a trashy 90s talk-show host. They are also the two most important things we need to do in the coming weeks and months. Because while winning this vote, and achieving marriage equality, might be important, we – the members of the LGBTIQ community – are more important.
Before I finish, however, there is one last point that I need to make:
- Allies – It’s time to step up
I still remember early last year (although it seems longer) standing in front of a room full of mostly-cisgender, heterosexual activists and asking them for their help to win ‘Plebiscite 1.0’ – because the LGBTIQ community could not possibly win it on our own.
Well, that plea is just as relevant, probably even more so, for ‘Plebiscite 2.0’, especially with the challenges of voluntary postal voting, and an overall process engineered to benefit the side of those opposed to marriage equality.
If you consider yourself an ally of the LGBTIQ community, it’s time to step up. If you are a family member, friend, colleague or peer of an LGBTIQ person, it’s time to get involved.
Enrol. Engage and Educate (and, if you need to, educate yourselves). Vote, and encourage others to vote, too. I also have no doubt it will be an awful experience for many of you to see the trauma inflicted on the LGBTIQ people close to you – so look after them, as well as yourselves.
Most importantly, stand with us, by our sides, in this battle. Sit with us, and listen to us, if we ask you to. And fight for us, because we need you to.
And, if you’re not convinced by me, listen to the excellent advice of the even more excellent GetUp marriage equality campaigner, Sally Rugg:
“If you have ever put a rainbow filter on your Facebook profile picture, return your ballot paper the day you receive it.
If you have a friend, a family member or a co-worker who is LGBTIQ+, return your ballot paper the day you receive it.
If you have ever cringed at the words “one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” at a wedding, return your ballot paper the day you receive it…
The postal plebiscite will be won or lost on how allies of the LGBTIQ+ community step up over the next two months.”
Over to you.