Hold The Cheers: We Haven’t Won Yet

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the sneak thief

We won equality. Now they are stealing it from us again. And some of us are helping them

AN OLD EVIL RISES ANEW

The campaign started well. I leafletted. I handed out badges. No-one was especially nasty. A lot of people were very nice. And then…

Rushing out of Coles one day with only two items, one person with a bulging trolley in front of me, I did what I’ve done many times before. I smiled, hoping to be invited to “go on ahead, you’ve only got two things.” Not this time. So I asked.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but would you mind if I went ahead of you? I only have these two things.”

There was a pause. A silence. She stared as if I’d said something insulting. Her eyes dropped briefly to my “Yes Equality” logo. She looked away, then turned back. Finally she muttered, “Oh I suppose so,” and with a heavy sigh, turned her back on me.

Previously my shirt had caused a smile, a nod, a thumbs up. At worst, an averted gaze.

Years fell away. I was back in my Gay Liberation Front days, proudly wearing my purple badge around London: being surrounded by packs of taunting boys; getting jostled “accidentally” on station platforms; being told, casually, by a barman, “I don’t mind, but if you touch anybody, you’re out.”

And I realised, “They haven’t gone away. They haven’t changed their minds. They haven’t got used to us. They’ve just been hiding. And now they think it’s OK to go on the attack again.” I always knew it, of course, but suddenly, it was real. An old evil has risen anew.

RETREAT AND SURVIVE

I became wary of going out in public. I shelved plans to fly a rainbow flag. I stopped wearing the shirt and the badges. I fell ill – I wrote about it at the time Lightly Butted Pollie Brings Heavy Weather. I packed up and went on holiday for a couple of weeks.

It seemed like an overreaction to such a trivial thing. I felt like a coward. I was angry with myself. But I also got well again.

I decided from then on I would guard my health, stick to what I do best these days, which is the stirrer, Facebook and to a lesser extent, twitter.

Meanwhile, I have also been dealing with a torn retina, and a diagnosis of asthma. It’s been a trifle rough.

So, my apologies to those people who asked me to speak on platforms, do radio interviews, hand out leaflets at railway stations. I’m sorry I let you down. And profoundly thankful you carried the fight while I hid in my bunker.

NOT CHEERING YET

You might have noticed that I haven’t been cheering and waving flags. Not because I’m a grumpy old pouf (although I am). The celebrating is premature. Yes, we won the survey, big deal. Despite giving way to some nervous moments, I was pretty confident we would. But we have not yet secured the prize.

The campaign had its problems: by concentrating on getting out the Yes vote, instead of trying to win over the Maybes, we missed a golden opportunity to spread the word and increase our support. As it was, our level of support barely changed from that recorded beforehand. We held the line, but we didn’t win anyone over.

We have not won. Not yet. The real prize, for which we’ve been scrapping since forever, is equal marriage right for everyone, on exactly the same terms and conditions.

Instead, we have on offer a flawed bill which, instead of celebrating our win, apologises for it. If we accept the Smith Bill as the best we can get, we are saying to the people we defeated by a landslide, “Awfully sorry, did we upset you? How can we make it better? Look, I know, how about if we give up some the equality we just won? Would you like that? How much would you like? Is this OK?” The time to be nice is after we get the silverware in the bag. Not before.

I get that we shouldn’t crow too much over our victory, but that doesn’t mean we have to grovel. Victory is within our grasp, as the cliche has it, but some of our advocates seem intent on diminishing it. They seem more interested in chalking up a ‘win’, regardless of what it costs the LGBTI community. To claim a political victory, even if it leaves the rest of us to patch up the leaky boat they’ve handed over, while they sail on into sunnier, richer waters.

EQUALITY CAN NEVER BE COMPROMISED

Equality can never be partial, or conditional. I understand that for people who have looked down on us their entire lives, suddenly having to face the fact they they are no better than us hurts. It’s our job to get them to come to terms with the pain, not try to take it away.

It’s our job to help them bury and grieve for their lost superiority, not to let them pretend it isn’t dead. Above all, not to keep it on life support or, heaven forbid, to give it a place to hide out or worse, a chance to survive and revive. They lost. They have to accept that, and adjust to the new world in which that is the truth.

Instead we have the likes of Lyle Shelton talking about building a standing army, fighting on, praising the guys who defaced gay murals in Sydney as true Christian warriors. We must not give him the slightest skerrick of aid and comfort, not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of Australian society as a whole.

The haters who never went away must now taste and accept defeat before society can heal. We must hold firm in the face of their demands for special treatment, exemptions, exclusions.

We won equality. Do not help them take it away again.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years.

“Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)