Marriage equality campaigner Ivan Hinton-Teoh
Ivan Hinton-Teoh has spent the last several months campaigning hard against the proposed marriage equality plebiscite.
The founder of advocacy group just.equal, former deputy director of Australian Marriage Equality and longtime campaigner for equality has accomplished a great deal since his closeted upbringing in Tumut, but he said he has a message for local LGBTI youth.
“I want LGBTI people in Tumut to know that they are loved,” he said. “That there are an enormous number of people that recognise their dignity, and that they are working very hard towards building an Australia that includes them completely.
“Whatever struggles they may be going through now, I share with them, I lived through it too. The only reason why I find myself in the privileged position that I’m now in – where I can make change for so many others – is because I survived. So it’s really important that they do too, because they can make a world of difference.”
He said that growing up in small communities presents challenges for young people who may be struggling with their sexual identities.
“Generally what we find in rural areas is that the greatest problem is having people feel comfortable enough to speak to someone in their community. These communities are small communities, and that sense of proximity creates fear – fear of their identity being disclosed to others. That’s something that I experienced. When I lived in Tumut, I didn’t come out to anybody, because I was scared that if I told even one person that everyone would know.
“It’s one reason why we find people will travel hundreds of kilometres to access services, because they’re confident that the distance will provide anonymity.”
Gay marriage has been legalised in 22 countries around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, and France.
Mr Hinton-Teoh said that while his experience with Australian parliamentarians has been mixed, he has seen a turning point in the national conversation.
“I was at a function at parliament house, it was a Parliamentary Friends of LGBTI event, and a senator who has recently retired came up and introduced himself, and he asked me if I was gay. I said that I was, and he told me that if he discovered that one of his rams were gay, he’d shoot it. So you understand the barriers that we face in trying to get parliamentarians to understand our shared humanity.
“The LGBTI community has always been treated in politics as another group, separate from other Australians. We’ve been seen more as an issue than as a family members. However, in recent times, there has been a moment. Politicians are finally recognising our humanity. They recognise that we matter. They acknowledge that we’re valued, and for me that’s a significant moment.”
Mr Hinton-Teoh married his partner Chris Hinton-Teoh in Canada eleven years ago, and repeated the ceremony for the short time same-sex marriage was legal in the Australian Capital Territory in 2013.
Struggling LGBTI people are encouraged to contact QLife, Australia’s national counselling and referral service, at 1800 184 527 or at qlife.org.au.