You know the TV show “Survivor,” where competitors are set various challenges in some of the most inhospitable places in the world. Not only do they have to survive the location, but they have to survive the judgement of the other competitors.
Generally, competitors work hard to make friends and alliances but, one by one, they’re voted off the island until there’s just one left. Each week millions tune in because many find it both entertaining and fascinating. There has been no parallel to this game show until now.
Unfortunately, it’s set in Australia and could play out nationally over coming months, challenging competitors to seek the support of others, in some cases just hoping to survive until the end.
Opponents of marriage equality have pushed Australia down a path without precedence and are challenging the Australian Bureau of Statistics to do something this government agency has never been asked to do before.
Make no mistake, this is not business as usual and it is not “democracy” as some have claimed it to be.
If this was any of the other questions that have arisen over 116 years of relatively successful representative democracy, we would have seen each of our elected representatives weigh up the pros and cons of this issue, review proposed legislation, debate it in parliament and let it go to a vote.
The only reason why we find ourselves in this place is because opponents of marriage equality have upturned the table through a fear of our parliament, our democracy and our conventions that would have, most likely, seen this reform passed years ago.
Not once in our nation’s remarkable history has a government worked so hard to subvert our democratic processes.
As I said, this has never been done before and, because it is so unusual and without precedent, I’m hopeful the High Court will declare the government has overstepped its authority to do so. But, let’s get back to “Survivor: Australia”, what, to many Australians, may be entertainment over the coming months.
On this one issue, the rights of LGBTI Australians to be treated equally to married couples under secular law, the government has passed the buck in this “postal survey”, once intended to be a plebiscite.
The game show is already rigged in the favour of opponents through its design. The only people that will participate are those who have strong feelings one way or the other, not the relaxed majority in the middle. The result will simply be a comparison of mobilised supporters versus opponents, so clearly it won’t be a reflection of the national will.
It’s also designed to cater for older Australians over younger ones, being postal and without an online mechanism, despite it arguably being within the technical capacity of the AEC.
But this isn’t the biggest issue with “Survivor: Australia” and it’s not the reason why 89.7% of LGBTI Australians are absolutely opposed.
For a moment, imagine you are an LGBTI “contestant” and imagine it’s not “Survivor: Australia” but “Survivor: Tumut”, or any one of thousands of country towns across the country.
Perfectly wonderful, remarkable and productive members of your community could be about to face a myriad of conversations, many judgemental, about their place in society, in our legal system, in the nation and, most importantly, in Tumut.
They are likely to face not just judgement for being LGBTI, but scaremongering about “their agenda” and the claims there is something dangerous about them, all because we are seeking equal protection and treatment under the law.
Like the 25 nations, including every English speaking western nation that has already had the discussion, passed the laws and moved on, we just want to remove unjust discrimination that impacts the lives of LGBTI people.
It’s not scary. But this process is.
It will challenge the confidence your LGBTI friends have in their standing in your community. It may confront them with empowered and vocal opinion where, usually, we have the grace to keep our opinions to ourselves. It may have them feel less safe, less welcome, less home.
“Survivor: Tumut” will play out in pubs, in shops, in schools and across the kitchen tables at home. It will be less about legal equality and, in many cases, come down to “do we accept gay people?”
Many of you now know the struggle I went through growing up in Tumut. Every day I lived in a state of terror that someone could find out I was gay. Being in the closet didn’t stop the taunts, the accusations, the violence, the judgement. It was an isolated life, one that challenged my resolve to keep going, one that had me entertain ending it all, without ever asking for help.
The love of my parents and the love for my parents kept me going. The death of my brother Corey is honestly what saved me. I couldn’t replicate the horror my parents had faced by having them lose another son, their only remaining son, despite being so desperate to go. It’s only now I realise how much I owe my brother. His death saved my life.
I won’t dwell much on my experience, but I challenge you to consider the struggles of LGBTI people currently living in Tumut.
Some are out and proud, others are not. Some are living the isolated life I once did and are desperately looking for reasons not to end it all, as I once did. What do they have in their lives that helps them survive one day more?
You. Be kind. Be gentle.
Open your arms to our shared humanity and, in some cases, our fragile state. If you’re unsure about equality, open your mind to the idea that we are largely like you. What you seek in life is what we seek. What you see in marriage is what we see. What you hope for the future, we hope.
What marriage equality will achieve is drawing closer the promise that what you seek we can seek, what you hope for we can hope for and what you take for granted in legal protection and recognition will, hopefully, be ours too.
If you support the equal dignity of your LGBTI friends; now is the time to say so, no matter who you’re talking to because you don’t know who’s listening. Talk about it in the street, talk about it amongst friends, write a letter to the editor, talk about it with your kids so that they may stand up in the playground and defend a young friend from the barbs of childhood.
The life that I speak of by experience doesn’t need to be replicated for a single extra generation and I hope those I went to school with, who are now parents to their own beautiful children, will lead the charge.
As far as “Survivor: Australia”, I desperately hope the High Court rules that the government has gone beyond its authority. It says a lot that our federal government can send your kids to war without asking you but won’t legislate to acknowledge the legal status of LGBTI relationships.
Equally, it says a lot about some of us that we demand a say on the lives of LGBTI Australians and the legal standing of their relationships, but we don’t demand a similar say on sending your kids to war.
For now we must hope that reason prevails and parliament is soon challenged to deal with this issue like they have adequately dealt with countless others for the last 116 years. As much as we should all feel entitled to equality under the law, we should all feel entitled to having our parliament empowered to do its job for all of us, including LGBTI Australians.
My message to LGBTI people in Tumut is to remind them, as always, that they are loved. They deserve dignity and respect. They deserve equal treatment under law. They deserve to be treated with kindness and to feel at home in Tumut.
Their humanity and frailty should be recognised in the way in which we develop social policy and process.
This current government is likely to be the last in Australian history to treat LGBTI people with such callous disregard. I see that in my meetings with Federal Labor, The Greens and a growing number of Liberal MPs who are, frankly, horrified with their party right now.
Regardless of this largely illegitimate and divisive moment, I want to give you absolute confidence that we will achieve marriage equality and move on very soon. You are not in a fight of your life. There is no “if” at this point, rather a frustrating debate around “how” and “when”. We will get there.
My message to non-LGBTI people in Tumut is to be kind and gentle. Speak up. Support your friends and assure them they deserve better than being unwittingly cast in a dodgy version of reality TV show.