Support for LGBTIQ+ people and relationships has come a long way in Australia - but there's much more work to be done, writes one young gay man.
Content warning: Contains reference to abusive language
"It was a crisp winter’s night in Mooloolaba on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
My boyfriend and I were walking down a quiet street on the way to the supermarket. We strolled past a man in his thirties standing under a tree, wearing daggy sweatpants and a hoodie.
“You got a spare cigarette at all?” he grumbled.
“No, we don’t, sorry,” I replied as we continued to walk by.
Then something shifted.
“Hey … what the f**k are yas doin’ holding hands for?!” he yelled out.
No… did someone really just say that, in 2019? Maybe he's drunk, I thought, but you’ve got to be kidding me.
We kept walking, not engaging. But he followed us.
We didn't see his face, instead just his croaky, slurring voice as he continued.
“Hey! Did you hear me?! … F***ing faggots!”
I began to shake, anger brewing inside me like a ticking bomb. I began to look at the discarded furniture left outside some of the houses we were walking past that I could use to enforce on the man if needed.
My boyfriend could feel that anger and gripped my hand tighter as I tried to wriggle free.
“Babe … just ignore him … he’s not worth it,” he said.
“Yeah … keep walking you f***ing faggots!” the man bellowed once more.
We reached the supermarket and he disappeared. I took some deep breaths.
Reflecting on what happened, the Morgan Freeman quote comes to mind -
'I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole'
- but I just didn’t have the words or the strength at the time.
It disgusted me to think that there were still people out there who despised us for who we were, who’d throw stones at us if they had them handy, who’d rather exact their disagreement on us with violence instead of letting us live in peace.
It was only about a month prior to that incident that two women were viciously attacked on a train in London for holding hands, with a photo of their bloody faces was shared around the world. Around the same time, rugby player Israel Folau’s homophobic Instagram post caused an uproar in Australia. Now I had experienced homophobia first-hand.
Growing up gay in regional Australia had its limitations – one being that we didn’t have any pride events like Mardi Gras in the Northern Rivers region. We had to rely on the inclusion of our friends, family and peers.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 80 per cent of homophobic bullying occurs in schools. It makes sense, as I didn’t come out until I was 20. I felt that I wouldn’t be accepted for who I was regardless of whether I came out or not, which is why I waited to surround myself with the right people.
Eleven per cent of Australians are of diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity, and six in 10 experience verbal homophobic abuse.
In 2010, the then-largest Australian study of its kind found 72 per cent of LGBTIQ people had experienced verbal abuse, 41 per cent had experienced threats of physical violence and 23 per cent physical assault.
Same-sex marriage was only legalised in Australia in December 2017, and while the country’s hate crime laws vary from state to state and include sexuality along with race and religion, as of May last year only 21 people had ever been convicted of breaking them.
Pride events such as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras do help though. And acceptance grows with each edition as the country evolves. It doesn’t just combat the negative attitudes and ridicule many in the LGBTIQ+ community experience but it creates a safe space for freedom and equality, to truly take pride in who you are.
Various events are being held in Sydney this week and having recently relocated to the city it will be the first time I attend the festival.
I'm no longer with the boyfriend I was with that night in Mooloolaba but the memory will be with me as I watch the parade on Saturday.
I look forward to seeing many same-sex couples holding hands and showing their love with pride."
Jordan Clayden-Lewis is a 24-year-old content author and editor based in Sydney. He is currently writing his second novel, a queer fiction project.
The Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras 2020: Live Stream will be available to watch on SBS TV and here from 7.30pm AEDT on Saturday 29 February.
LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking support with mental health can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit qlife.org.au
If you would like to share your story with SBS News email firstname.lastname@example.org