It looks like the equal marriage plebiscite won't be going ahead, but that doesn't mean everything is hunky dory for LGBTQI Australians. Comedian Rebecca Shaw explains why she's sick and tired of the community being kicked around by all sides of government.
Rebecca Shaw

14 Sep 2016 - 2:33 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2016 - 2:43 PM

Wow, what a roller coaster we’ve all been on in the past little while. A roller coaster where you have to be ‘this LGBTQI’ to ride. A roller coaster called The Marriage Equality Debate that is mostly unpleasant and throws you around and makes you wonder if you will even survive. Even if you don’t want to be riding the roller coaster, even if you couldn’t give a shit about it, you are pretty much forced to ride it just by virtue of living your life in this country.


It’s probably on the Gold Coast somewhere.


The debate about the plebiscite and the debate about the debate about the debate about the plebiscite has today resulted in Malcolm Turnbull introducing legislation for the plebiscite, hours after Bill Shorten made moves to indicate that he would probably recommend that Labor block the plebiscite. Great work, team.


The government says they have no other plans to bring about marriage equality if it isn’t the plebiscite, but this will not stop activists, the Greens and Labor from trying to pressure them into allowing a free vote for MPs and passing a bill to legislate marriage equality. This could conceivably be done at any moment, except that the Prime Minister, who is secretly a jellyfish or other spineless creature in human form, is beholden to certain sections of his party who do not want marriage equality. 

 For their part, Bill Shorten and Labor are dragging out announcing formally if they will block the vote, instead taking weeks to ‘consult’ and ‘recommending’ and ‘milking every moment out of being on the right side of history’.


My position on all of this is:


I am so fucking tired.


I am so tired of us being stuck on this marriage equality issue, when there are so many other issues we need to address. I am so tired of having this debate. I am so tired at the thought of a plebiscite, and the complete awfulness that it would bring. I am so tired at the thought of no plebiscite, and the years of the same conversations to come. But most of all I am so tired of my community being used as a political football, by both sides. 


I am a lesbian in my 30s. I live in the inner west of Sydney. I have no internal conflict about being queer (now). I honestly and truly love being queer. I have a supportive family. I have a diverse and supportive group of friends. I don’t want to get married. I am not an emotional person.


And yesterday, because of the plebiscite, I cried a little bit at my desk.


I had been thinking about how tired I was of the constant discussion around this issue, and the thought of how we might have months of it at a more extreme level leading up to the plebiscite. I was thinking of the fact that if someone like me felt tired and sad and wary, how were other people in my community feeling? How was the closeted kid in country Queensland feeling? What about the same-sex parents of young kids who have to go to school in this climate?


I was thinking and worrying about all of this, when I happened to read this tweet.

So in the end, they weren’t tears of sadness necessarily. I think what happened was that my entire gay body got filled with rage, pushing gay tears out of my gay eyeballs because no more rage could fit inside me so something had to leak out in some form.


This is something that is seemingly very important to Malcolm Turnbull. This afternoon, as he introduced the plebiscite bill, I listened as he double-downed on this rhetoric. The main concerns he seemed to have about the whole thing were regarding the feelings of the anti-equality side. He spoke of respecting everyone’s opinions. He spoke of how someone’s position on the debate is ‘sincerely held’ and a ‘matter of conscience’, and that all sides should be respected. He said it is wrong to characterise people who oppose marriage equality as homophobic or hating homosexuals. He says it is ‘profoundly disrespectful’ to do so.


Firstly, I find it extremely strange that in introducing a bill regarding a plebiscite on marriage equality that the Prime Minister would spend far, far more time defending the anti-equality side and saying they deserve respect than he did saying the reverse.


Secondly, do you know what is ‘profoundly disrespectful’ in my eyes? Introducing a bill that allows the majority to vote on the rights and relationships of a minority. It seems disrespectful that my personal relationships would be examined and discussed and literally VOTED ON by other citizens I am supposedly equal to. What is disrespectful to me is introducing a bill that means a targeted campaign of negativity towards one section of the Australian population.  It’s giving millions of dollars to groups that have proven again and again that they will go to extreme lengths, that they will say the most awful things, that they will lie and manipulate information to serve their agenda, all to ensure that LGBTQI people aren’t given equal rights. Yeah, giving millions of dollars to these kinds of people to create advertisements that will disparage my community, that seems pretty disrespectful to me.  


Thirdly, if you are a person who believes that LGBTQI people should not have equal rights simply because they are a member of the LGBTQI community – guess what, you are a homophobe. I am too tired to indulge this argument any longer or to couch it in other terms. If you think being accused of being homophobic is a terrible slur, the simple answer is to stop being homophobic. Unless your politics are such that you think nobody should be allowed to be married, and that marriage as an institution should be destroyed (or a similar argument), you have no non-homophobic leg to stand on. If you believe that there should not be equal marriage simply because you think marriage should exclusively be the domain for one man and one woman, then you think of us as second-class citizens, and that makes you a homophobe. So I won’t call you a homophobe as long as you don’t say I can’t get married because I am a lesbian.

Turnbull also blatantly and boldly dismissed the claims that the plebiscite would not be respectful toward LGBTQI people. He spoke of ‘trusting the public’ to be civil, and essentially waved concerns away with a flap of his hand. What a life that must be, to be able to live in the world and be confident that LGBTQI people won’t suffer abuse and hate speech and insults and slurs. This is an especially bamboozling position when you consider that Turnbull is currently beholden to a man named Senator Cory Bernardi, who is well known for comparing homosexuality to bestiality in the Senate.  


It is an extremely strange claim to make when you consider that the main anti-equality campaigners from the Australian Christian Lobby and The Australian Marriage Forum, those that Turnbull probably would have given a lot of plebiscite money to, are on record comparing same-sex families to the stolen generation, equal marriage and the Safe Schools program to literal Nazis, and have accused the opposite side of ‘playing the suicide card’. A similar claim that was repeated today by MP Andrew Laming.

These are absolutely disgraceful things to say about a community that suffers higher rates of suicide and mental health issues, and contains a lot of vulnerable people in precarious situations. I have ‘played the mental health card’ myself, I suppose. By which I mean I once hated myself. I was unhappy, and severely anxious, and probably depressed, because I had to hide who I was, too scared of the reaction the world would have toward me if they knew the truth.


And these are the people in power, and the people who are essentially running the ‘no’ campaign. These are the people that you would expect and hope would be most respectful, and to be careful not to do harm. If these people are saying and doing things like this, what does Turnbull honestly think that homophobic people on the street and online, will say and do?


I know what they will do. So, do not tell me what to think or say. I will not be instructed by the Prime Minister on how to respond to homophobes and their arguments. I will not have my language policed by him, or anyone. I will not silently accept homophobic abuse, and slurs, and people espousing hate. I will not idly sit by and politely listen to people tell me why they think I shouldn’t be allowed to have equal rights, and to try and tell me that there is something wrong with my friends, and my community, and the loving families that we build, and then not respond. 


We are not the ones being disrespectful, we are being disrespected at every point. We are not ‘playing cards’, and we are not playing a game. We don’t want to be here. We do not want to go through what the plebiscite will bring. We don't want to wade through another three years of debate about our humanity, and our worth as people. We just want equal rights. This might be a game to you, but it is not a game to us, and it never has been. It's our relationships, our rights, our young people, our mental health, and our happiness. It's literally our lives. 


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