Is this the most homophobic corner of Australia?
A recent study discovered only one electorate where the majority of constituents were opposed to same sex marriage: Maranoa. Patrick Abboud headed there to ask locals: why can't he marry his boyfriend?
Living in my happy homo inner Sydney circle, it’s easy to forget there’s a lot of people outside of my rainbow bubble. So I’m taking my gay pride on a schlep across this great Queensland electorate of Maranoa to see if I can change some minds. Or, who knows? Maybe they’ll change mine.
My first port of call is Liberal National Party Federal MP David Littleproud. He’s a freshly minted parliamentarian, succeeding the previous minister Bruce Scott in the 2016 election. He’s young, too – my guess is mid-thirties. Will his views mirror that of his electorate, or will he be a breath of fresh air?
“David, are you opposed to same-sex marriage?” I ask, for the first of many times I’ll ask this question over the next few days.
“As it stands at the moment, yes I am,” he tells me.
“I think as a society we have moved a significant long way into respecting same-sex relationships,” he continues. “And I think that same-sex couples need to understand and reciprocate that respect in appreciating the sanctity of marriage to millions of people around this country."
There’s that 'respect' word again, but I’m not quite feeling it. He's friendly and polite, but can there be a line between respecting me as a person and respecting my relationship?
So I head off to meet one of the local church pastors. Perhaps Trevor's belief in love and family will include me too.
Maybe he’ll be worldlier than the church he represents?
male and female family unit.
If you play around with it,
where's it going to end?
Hearing this from David and Trevor wasn’t easy. It feels like homophobia in politically correct clothing. It doesn't feel like respect.
It leaves me wondering what it would be like if you were gay and had to live here. And there’s one man who can tell me.
Dave Graham says he's the only openly gay farmer in the village. It's an exaggeration, but it's not far off. He has had more experience with what seems to be entrenched homophobia of the region than most.
Ten years ago, aged 26, Dave left and moved to an unexpected place – the Big Brother house, pledging to come out not only to his family and his hometown, but to the entire nation.
Now, Dave refers to coming out on TV as "the best decision I ever made".
“It took the gorilla off my back,” he says. “And it allowed me to get on with my life”.
David moved back to Maranoa soon after, returning both to his farm and to the unwelcoming environment he’d fled.
I want to take a walk in his cowboy boots, so he takes me to the weekly pig, calf, sheep (and a few other animals) auction about three hours from his farm, in Warwick. It’s where all kinds of locals come to flog their flock or haggle for a herd, and it’s the perfect place for me to press the flesh.
I’m greeted by the sound of chickens squawking in cages, the stench of cow dung, and a whole lot of men in akubras shouting numbers that mean nothing to me.
With a little trepidation in my step, I walk around with my mic blurting the question out, again and again.
"So what do you reckon about same sex marriage?"
One response sums up most.
People indulging in those
behaviours will go to hell."
After a couple of hours I'm not sure if I'm sunburned, or whether I’ve been cursed for my homosexual sins and will burn to death right here.
But the heavens send me Malika. I get a more open vibe from her as soon as we meet.
Given she’s one of the few here who don't have a problem with me marrying my man, it’s fair to say it’s going to take a lot more than a road trip out here to change more minds.
But maybe it’s not up to me to do that. Maybe they need to hear it from one of their own.
Farmer Dave has been a member of the National Party since he was 15, and has followed David Littleproud's rise from pre-selection through to parliament. They went to school together.
"The homophobia was violent. I can't remember a day where I wasn't called a faggot, where I wasn't punched in the head, where I wasn't pushed to the side, where I wasn't spat on.
"It was daily. David Littleproud was part of that culture."
As one might expect, his opinion of Littleproud isn’t kind.
“He's a fucking c*nt” he says.
There's only one way through this: to bring Farmer Dave and MP David head to head to have it out. Dave's waited two decades to say his piece, and to my surprise, when I ask him, Littleproud agrees to listen.
Watch the story leading up to their meeting.
I was hoping to learn something new on this road trip.
I was hoping to change some minds.
Not sure I did that.
I was hoping to convince a few that it’s okay for me to marry my boyfriend.
I mostly failed.
But what I did win is a new friend. Dave is just one of so many living in regional Australia who live with homophobic abuse. Young LBTQI people are four times more likely to attempt suicide than other Australians.
It’s stories like Dave’s that save lives. His spirit is strong. His heart is golden. His resilience and bravery is inspiring. A genuinely beautiful man I can now call my mate. (And yes boys, he’s taken).
I can only hope that if anything comes from this it’s that our most vulnerable and our most at risk, especially in regional areas, see that despite being in a place that makes it even harder to be yourself… you can be.
You can be beautiful, free, gay, and happy, and there is always someone that is going to love you just the way you are.
When same sex marriage is made legal - because it will be - my first story to celebrate will be back in Maranoa on Dave’s farm for the wedding of the century, and you’re all invited. Here’s to equal rights. Cheers darlings.