When the postal vote for gay marriage was first announced, I was enraged. I thought there were about 122 million better ways to spend $122 million dollars. Even as a romantic who loves love and has strived through both my creative practice and day to day life to fight for equality, my blood boiled. It was blatantly obvious the government was spending an exorbitant amount of money to appease the most conservative factions of both the government and our society.
While people were bickering about the rights of two consenting adults to tie the knot, refugees on Manus were self-harming, being tortured, and being sent back to hazardous situations – and that included queer refugees. Over the past eighteen years, 1,997 refugees have died on our shores, in our detention centres and in our waters. I hate reducing human suffering to numbers we can barely fathom – it is dehumanising and often counterproductive – but how else to make clear that ‘Love is Love’, except if you’re a refugee?
While people were bickering about the rights of two consenting adults to tie the knot, 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered at Uluru to hold a First Nations Convention. Intent on pushing through important reform on the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, the Convention developed the document The Uluru statement from the heart, which includes statements such as:
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
The request for self-determination of First Nations and First Nations children were unceremoniously rejected by Turnbull and his government. In other words, more oppression, more violence and more black-deaths-in-custody – since 1980, this country has seen more than 1,400 black-deaths-in-custody (more than the recorded number of black South Africans who died in prisons during Apartheid), and despite First Nations people being around just 3% of the population, they make up 27% of the population incarcerated by the state. The Turnbull government’s rejection means higher sustained rates of youth self-harm (75% of all youth suicides are Aboriginal), and it means the continued removal of Aboriginal children from their families at a rate higher than the first Stolen Generation –Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are being removed from their families at a rate nine times higher than non-Indigenous children; in 2017, an estimated 17,664 were living away from their families. And let us not so quickly forget Don Dale – one of multiple institutions dedicated to the abuse of Aboriginal children by the state. So ‘Love is Love’, except if you’re Indigenous and particularly if young and Indigenous.
While people were bickering about the rights of two consenting, adoring adults to tie the knot, more than one woman was (is) being murdered each week by her intimate or ex-intimate partner, one in three Australian women have experienced physical or sexual assault, women’s refuges are still seriously underfunded and discussions of domestic violence are predominantly reserved for White Ribbon Day – a time when men occupy most microphones and women sit in the background serving tea. The NSW government was incredibly quick to bring in lockout laws after two men were killed by king hits, and yet funding for much-needed women’s services continue to be reduced. Misogyny is so entrenched at both state and federal levels that politicians refuse to prioritise the safety of women. ‘Love is Love’, except if you’re a woman experiencing violence.
It would also be remiss of me not to point out that the pursuit of the heteronormative institution of marriage as some form of equality is hugely problematic in and of itself – it is, after all, an institution created as a way to pass ownership of women and property from fathers to husbands. Marriage has played a massive part in the subjugation of women for eons. We queers can and should celebrate our relationships with those we love, and fight for our rights to be seen as equal couples in the eyes of the law – but we cannot ignore the historical ramifications of what marriage actually was and, generally, still is.
I have been very public about my struggle with ovarian cancer and my many near brushes with death, most recently the end of last year when I was told I probably wasn’t going to make it. I have spoken candidly about the fact that if it weren’t for my community of family, friends and queers, I would be dead. This is not hyperbole; it is fact. Since 2014, when I was first diagnosed, there have been no less than a dozen fundraisers for me across the country, a plethora of letters, gifts, visits and a never-ending outpouring of love. In all honesty, I have no idea what I did to deserve so much love. I am most certainly living and breathing because of that love. When my body was giving up, my spirit completely broken and, for the first time ever, my will to live ebbing away, love buoyed me until I was strong enough to fight again. I felt it as a fully visceral and physical sensation. Most of that love came from queers; that is what we do well, we queers – love. We know what it is to exist on the outside, how it feels to be marginalised, what we need to do to support each other so that our suffering is less and our joy more. I feel so lucky to be a part of such an incredible community.
But this doesn’t mean I can’t hold up the mirror occasionally and say, this is not good enough. We’re not doing enough. It astounds me that we continue to look to the state, to the government, to affect the changes we know must come. The government is an institution dedicated to systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic homophobia. It maintains the status quo as a means to ensure power remains firmly in the grips of the powerful (predominantly white, male and heterosexual). We first have to acknowledge that state-sanctioned violence against the marginalised is not only real, but endemic. It’s uncomfortable to face, painful even, but we are being dishonest with ourselves if we do not acknowledge these things.
To acknowledge these things does not detract from the power of our community. It strengthens us. So the questions remain: how many thousands gathered in the marches for marriage equality across the nation? Now, how many for refugee rights? Indigenous rights? (The turnout for Invasion and Survival Day was great, but we need more.) How many of us engage with the battles of those unlike us but just as deserving of our love and support? Far from trying to polarise the beautiful community I belong to, I need to ask this: Why was the ‘Yes’ campaign so white? Where was the inclusion of queers of colour? Why were communities of non-English speaking backgrounds not canvassed or contacted? Don’t we matter? What stereotypes and racist undercurrent informed that decision? In the aftermath of the vote, the amount of vitriol directed at the Western suburbs for having the lowest ‘Yes’ vote was barely veiled classism and racism from within our own community. The ‘No’ campaign was incredibly active in those areas – printing pamphlets in multiple languages, door-knocking and engaging with non-English speaking communities. They were incredibly successful at spreading misinformation and fear. Personally, it felt like the ‘Yes’ campaign didn’t even know there were queers of colour; that we have families; that our lived experiences may be different to many white queers, and that doesn’t mean our communities should be excluded.
Perhaps this all feels redundant now that gay marriage has been legalised, but what it’s highlighted for me is that our love as a community cannot be so selective. It cannot be just for ourselves. We who have the greatest capacity for love must ensure that love informs action across all parts of our society that require change. If we claim to be the custodians of love, then that love must be extended to more than just our own.
Love is not passive. Love is not something we can just utter and magic into existence. Love is a fierce tool with which we must fight; we must wield it as a weapon and use it to battle hatred actively. Directly. And we must battle the hatred that affects the most at risk and marginalised people in our society. Because how can we celebrate love when it is reserved for only a few? For those most like us? For only our tribe?
We have the capacity to love better, and we must. In these lives filled with consumerism, soundbites and social-media psychosis, we must make room for those who have been unloved for too long. We must tap into our reserves, find those inner warriors and fight as allies for those whose rights are being systematically eroded. That includes our own – this ‘victory’ has shown us just how homophobic this nation is. If we want allies, then we must stand in solidarity with those who need allies. The government – Labor, Liberal, or other – is not going to protect us and others who need protection. It’s on us and the power we can wield as a community. The battle is far from over.
I love my community, it’s great we can marry and chant love into the ether, but what good is that if we are standing alone in the glow? I will chant ‘Love is Love’ when I know all my brothers and sisters are free from oppression, not just when we queers are free.
Image: Elvert Barnes / flickr