When, about 10 years ago, the push for marriage equality first emerged, the “establishment” gay and lesbian rights groups such as the NSW gay and lesbian rights lobby were caught on the hop. They were still focussing on substantive and de facto equality. It’s not as if they weren’t opposed to John Howard’s (with the ALP’s complicity) entrenchment of inequality by the amendment of the statutory definition of marriage (which would preclude any judge-made evolution of the definition of marriage at common low), but at that time gay marriage seemed like a symbolic and aspirational goal when there were so many other changes needed. Why try to run before you can walk?
That was my view, too. The most urgent need in gay rights was to improve the situation of gay adolescents in their high school years. That was based on my own experience at school and also as a teacher – experiencing homophobic abuse myself and witnessing the plight of the more obviously effete in the boys’ school where I taught for a bit over 10 years.
In your adult life, you can to an extent determine your social environment. You can seek out like-minded friends and to that extent protect yourself from direct abuse, though there remain some workplaces which are best avoided. It’s not that that prejudice against gays and lesbians (let alone (btqi people) does not exist, but abuse is rarely directed to your face except from strangers in public places.
School, however, is a bit like prison; it is a place you are forced to be by virtue of compulsory education, with company not of your own choosing. The same applies to your family whilst you are still a child/teenager. If there were any doubt about how tough adolescence is for gay [shorthand here] people, the statistics for youth suicide make the situation plain. And who can doubt that this trauma has a lasting effect into adult life for many?
But formal equality – where the availability of same-sex marriage is the great hold out, is also important – even if, in most respects, same-sex partners can arrange their affairs to achieve de facto equality. Even then such de facto equality is not even de facto equality because you have to take those steps. What it’s about is R.E.S.P.E.C.T..
Progress for LGBTIQ requires a pincer movement: on the one hand, the on the ground things like improving the plight of young LBGTIQ people; on the other, the higher order symbolic changes, like marriage equality.
That’s confirmed when the Tony Abbotts of this world obviously see things the same way, from the opposite point of view.
In part what they are reacting against, in the latest nasty political bout against the “Safe Schools” program is the fact that even anti-bullying requires higher-order attitude changing. You don’t change the situation for kids in a school by saying “don’t bully [x] or [y]’ where X or Y are the specific children being bullied – although you also have to do that sometimes. You have to change the children’s attitudes to the sorts of people that [x] and [y] are – create a more tolerant atmosphere generally.
That’s just what the reactionaries – truly, the homophobes – don’t like. And we see it coming out in the arguments mounted against gay marriage/marriage equality, all about children when of course regardless of whether their parents are married or not there already are and will continue to be children with same-sex-partnered parents.
Right now I can’t be bothered spelling out more. It makes me so angry.
I’ve used the picture above before. In fact it’s of my elder sister in her Socialist Worker’s Party phase. I’ve not asked her if she got up in time to go to the morning march and as she was a musician it seems unlikely to me. But she was at the original 1978 Mardi Gras parade and a band she was in played at the first party in 1980. Earlier this year she mentioned to me that the police violence was so unpleasant that it was 20 years before she could bring herself to take part in any demonstration/rally/march.