Have you ever asked somebody what their lowest point in their life has been? Are you or someone you know living through that right now? Recently I was asked this very question. I was sitting on top of the Grampians in Victoria surrounded by a group of Year 9 boys, all of which had been asked the same question. It was an exercise in empathy and understanding and brought the group of students closer together. I, as their teacher, observed from afar.
However, watching how they responded to this question enabled me to reflect on the lowest point in my life. Would it have been the time when I was devastated that I didn’t get school captain during high school? Was it the time I failed to be picked to umpire in the VFL after months of training? Or was it seeing the people I love the most, in pain due to tragedy or illness? Or is this low moment happening right now, as the validity of my relationship with the person I love is the question being put to the whole nation?
Only now have I realised that these moments in my life aren’t low moments, but are defining moments that have enabled me to grow based on how I have responded to them. The current fight for marriage equality in Australia has been one of the hardest things that I have ever had to experience. It is a topic that I am passionate about, but it is also a topic that impacts me directly.
When it comes to social justice and social inequality, I can get pretty angry. Our treatment of the world’s most vulnerable people is beyond abhorrent, yet we continue to lock up fellow human beings as if they were criminals. Our treatment of the environment and our thirst to abuse the Earth’s resources without thought seems to me like we have signed our very own death wish. The fact that 1% of people in the world own more wealth than the other 99% combined is the real crime against humanity.
All of these issues (and so many more) make me truly angry and hugely saddened. I have always been brought up to stand up for what I believe in and to use my voice for the power of good. But I am extremely lucky to not be impacted directly by these inequalities. I have a roof over my head, a steady source of income and I don’t have water lapping at my door from rising sea levels. I am beyond lucky, but I’m also in the minority. And I really shouldn’t be. However, in the current ‘debate’ over marriage equality, I am the one that the ‘No’ campaign are talking about. Me, a 26-year-old high school teacher that just wants to make the world a better place, oh- and also happens to be gay.
It has been enormously distressing to turn on the TV, open the newspaper, scroll down Facebook and see the ‘Coalition for Marriage’ denying my right to be equal to everyone else. ‘They’ (whoever they are: Tony Abbott, John Howard, etc) believe that same-sex marriage will lead to ‘radical sex education’ in schools, that children will be forced to pretend to be gay in classrooms and that boys will wear dresses. The last time I checked, being gay wasn’t super radical, empathy is a really great skill to have in accepting people’s differences, and anyone who can pull off a dress should be able to wear it!
The hardest thing about this whole situation is that the Australian Government has allowed it to happened. They have allowed people who are fundamentally homophobic a platform to spout their hate and bigotry directly at those who it impacts the most and who already suffer discrimination at alarming rates. To even have a postal survey at all suggests that this is an ‘issue’ that needs to be ‘debated’. It assumes that we- as the Australia population- need to decide if it is right or wrong that two people of the same sex who love each other should marry. What does this then say to the 15-year-old boy or girl sitting at home, who is starting to figure out their own sexuality? Or to the year 11 student who has just started to transition? Or to the grade 5 student that has two mums who just want to get married to be fully protected under the law?
It is for me, my partner, my friends, the students I teach and strangers on the street that I am now fighting for. So, how have I responded to a part of me being questioned by the whole of Australia? With love and rainbows, of course.
I could have very easily hidden in bed under the covers for the next 6 weeks while this campaign is going on, and shelter myself from homophobia. It would have been a lot warmer and cosier there. I could have shut myself off from the ‘debate’ because it is too painful otherwise (an option I still consider daily). Or I could do what I do best and use my voice as a force of good.
A few days after the "plebishite" was announced, my partner and I painted our front fence rainbow and painted a big YES on it. We’re on a main road so plenty of people have seen it. We can tell because every so often we get a happy ‘toot’ from a passing car or a lovely note in our letterbox.
My partner and a group of teachers from her school began making rainbow badges to spread love, inclusion and diversity at their school. It was, and is supported by their principal, teachers and students alike.
This has now turned into a small not for profit business that we run out of our rainbow painted home. It’s called @craft_for_equality and we bloody love it! In just over a month we have made and sent out over 700 rainbow badges and donated over $700 to the Yes Campaign. We’ve interacted with people all across Australia, and the world!
We do these things because we can and because we must. As the old saying goes, “the standard you walk past are the standard you accept”. This is something that I cannot and will not accept. I will keep fighting for the Australia that I want to live in, an Australia that is diverse, inclusive and accepting of everyone!
So, when I’m 70 years old, I will look back, with my wife by my side and our grandchildren running around the backyard, and I will tell them what we did in 2017. I will tell them of the adversities we endured, of the immense love and support we felt from our families and that in that year, Australians chose to be on the right side of history.
P.s. If you’d like to buy a badge to show your support for equality, head to @craft_for_equality on Instagram. All profits go to the Yes Campaign.