Friday, 16 August 2013

Mainstreaming marriage equality needed to erase gay stigma

It's with relief that I find this morning a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by writer Paul Paech that echoes what I've been telling people for years. Paech correctly attributes to discrimination embedded in Australia's marriage laws an affirmation for bigots - who are frequently violent, even today - who target homosexuals for special treatment. Violence of this kind is something I have always known even though I am not gay. In the 1980s living in Sydney's inner suburban liberal heartland - I lived in Glebe, Newtown, Paddington, Centennial Park, Bondi and Woollahra at different times - I frequently came across the kind of threats that gays in those days - we learn this year in a Fairfax expose of gay bashings and murders of gay men in Sydney's eastern suburbs - experienced all too often.

I remember myself one day queueing at a fast-food outlet in Bondi Junction. I was still at school and I felt the menace of the boy standing in the line behind me who, with his mates, was giving me the eye and making remarks under his breath. Was I dressed wrongly? I asked myself. What was it about me that had attracted the unwanted attention of this tough? I trembled and stayed silent; got my food and got out as soon as possible.

Another time as I was walking back to my Glebe apartment a carful of young men drove past and one of them leaned out the passenger-side front window. As the car went by he verbalised the sound "poof" while making an exploding gesture with his hand: fingers releasing outward as he move his hand upwards. What could I do? I lived in Glebe and went to university; of course I was fair game along with any other fashionable-looking young man in that area. At least for the bogans driving past in their Torana.

I graduated in 1985. One of the jobs I got after that was in a Paddington cafe situated right next-door to a well-known gay pub (it's now something else but the art deco exterior still stands). After work I would go down the road to an Oxford Street disco and there I met several people who were homosexuals - they still are as far as I know, if they're still around - and I'd sometimes go to the home of one of these men, who was kind and funny. In those years I did have some homosexual experiences but it was not serious; I was just a lonely young man looking for companionship and took it where I found it.

Because of these experiences it is not surprising that, in 1989, I took my camera to Oxford Street to chronicle an anti-gay march that was organised by religious conservatives living in Sydney. The following photographs show some of the people who attended, on both sides. First, here are the young, trendy people (the words we used in those days instead of "hipster") who supported gay rights. In the first five photos here you can see their good fashion sense, their sense of fun, their outgoing temperaments.

The next five photos show the people on the other side of the equation: the religious conservatives. They are badly dressed, earnest, combative and sometimes show hatred openly.

It's not remarkable that I identified strongly with the first group and completely failed then - as I do now - to understand the way of thinking of the second group. Later, in 1991, just before my marriage to a young woman, I staged my buck's night in that same art deco Paddington pub I had frequented years before. Now, with two adult children, it is even easier for me than it was then - in my creative and confusing years of youthful discovery - to pronounce on the one hand and censure on the other. It's second nature for me. It's the way I am. It's me, so get used to it. Tony Abbott's comments on marriage equality are so abhorrent to me that it makes me physically ill to even read his words in the media. People like Paul Paech are the ones I identify with. Some things - good things - often never change.

1 comment:

bondi said...

Hi Happy Antipod, pleased to know you appreciated my piece from 2013 in SMH, and to read your own stories. We've got to keep reminding ourselves that our stories, our own experiences are good and true and real, no matter how much we feel conspired against. Hope things are good for you. Paul Paech