The very nice people of the Aurora Group invited me to deliver the keynote address at their annual dinner this year. I was very much flattered to have been asked and it was a genuinely terrific evening.
I hope you like the below (some of the jokes might not read well, sorry) and, if you can spare it, chuck ‘em a few dollars to help them in their very, very worthy cause.
LOVE AND EQUALITY AND DIVERSITY AND BULLSHIT
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen: it’s a pleasure to be here and I’d like to thank the Aurora Group very much for having me.
I’m quite nervous, to be honest; I’ve heard that Sir Ian MacKellan delivered this keynote address in 2010, when the dinner’s theme was All You Need Is Love. So two years ago you had Gandalf and The Beatles, this year you’re all stuck on a giant doomed ship that’s going to crash into an iceberg, killing everyone on board, and all you have for entertainment is a guy from Warrnambool who went out with Josh Thomas.
You guys got boned.
(If you didn’t laugh at that because you’re too old to know who Josh Thomas is – hey, at least you can remember the Titanic.)
I do have big shoes to fill; in 2006 this address was delivered by now-High Court Justice Virginia Bell and the following year it was delivered by Georgina Beyer, the world’s first openly transsexual mayor and Member of Parliament.
YEAH – BUT NEITHER OF THEM HAVE BEEN ON THE CIRCLE, AMMIRIGHT?!
This address has also previously been delivered by one of my personal heroes, David Marr, and please do dig deep tonight because 100% of all funds raised at this event will go directly to teaching gay Fairfax journalists like David how to use the Internet, so that he may continue to eat.
I do love the theme for this evening, though when I heard that I was attending a fundraising night with a Titanic theme, I was worried that Clive Palmer was going to be here and there wouldn’t be enough food. Fortunately it all seems to have worked out fine.
So thank you and good evening, brothers and sisters and brothers in dresses and sister in tuxedos, for having me here tonight; it is an honour. Like many of you here tonight, I identity as “gay”; I’m a gay, vegetarian, atheist who works for the ABC. I’ll be running for Prime Minister in 2000-and-unlikely.
I appreciate your support.
It’s quite interesting how I became gay; there came a point for me when I just became sick of being seen as too perfect in the eyes of Hitler.
No that’s a lie, I don’t know why I am who I am; I wasn’t dropped as a child; I wasn’t touched; I haven’t been corrupted by Satan; I’m not “confused”; my parents weren’t killed by a vagina.
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I’m gay or bi or straight or transgendered or intersex or queer-identifying or a transvestite, it simply doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is I’m white. Regardless of what I do in my bedroom, I’m still a white, middle-class male, which means I still get invited to dinner parties; that’s my rock. Until the carbon tax rips this country in two in a giant explosion of lava and death and zombies and hell, I’m going to be just fine.
The title of my speech tonight is Love and Equality and Diversity and Bullshit because I felt that was the most succinct way to sum up the state of play in regards to the challenges the queer community faces in 2012. Following queer politics is a rollercoaster. One day you’re marching for marriage equality, buoyed by hope and joy and a sense of impending progressive change in the air, the next you’re listening to every political commentator saying that the likelihood of any same-sex marriage legislation passing through the parliament is little more than zero. One day the Finance Minister Penny Wong announces that she and her partner are going to be parents, the next day Campbell Newman is stripping away the rights of same sex couples in Queensland to access altruistic surrogacy. One day Bob Katter is spluttering like a kettle on national television, laughing at the very idea of discussing the needs of his GLTBTIQ constituents, the next day Alan Jones is performing in a production of ANNIE the Musical – WHAT THE SHIT’S UP WITH THAT?!
We are presented with small victories and volatile controversies, we fight for recognition, for political correctness, for equality, both symbolic and genuine. While the issue of marriage equality looms large in all our minds, above it hovers a cloud of perhaps darker, more pressing issues, such as the poor standard of sexual education in our public schools and the heartbreaking statistic that the rate of suicide amongst same-sex attracted young people is up to eight times higher than their heterosexual peers.
There is love in our community; you can’t help but feel it at events such as tonight or at rallies or at Mardi Gras or when you come out and you’re embraced by supportive friends and family or when you’re on pills at Midnight Shift. We strive for equality, just as our predecessors have done for hundreds of years. We celebrate diversity. And now, more than ever, we must continue to do all in our power to ruthlessly dispel the odious bullshit that stands in the way of a common goal: justice.
I think my story is one of hope; a story of how things are changing and what future generations might hold. I grew up in Warrnambool in country Victoria. It’s a town of about 30,000 people, so not quite the sticks, but not exactly the most enlightened place in the world. To give you a point of reference – Dave Hughes is from Warrnambool. And as a former bong-head who played Aussie Rules football and lost his virginity at age 21 to a prostitute, he’s probably a bit more representative of the kind of place Warrnambool is than I. (For the record, I really like Hughesy, but that man is beautifully, beautifully bogan, just like Warrnambool.)
I came out when I was 18, just as I’d finished Year 12. I don’t think it was a huge surprise; I’d never had a girlfriend, was rubbish at all sports and was very enthusiastic about musical theatre. My entire secondary school life was peppered with the sneering of the word “gay” derisively, occasionally directed towards me, but more used just generally, applied to all things that were considered bad or boring or disgusting. For in the ego-centric monoculture of a country high school, surely the worst thing to be in the world was a fag.
So homophobia, like love, was in the air, but it seemed to be only in an abstract sense, because when I came out, I received almost nothing but love and support. My footy-playing, staunchly heterosexual mates, whilst a little taken aback, remained my mates and assured me that my orientation towards doodles changed nothing about our friendship or how much they liked me.
When the “boogie man” of a homosexual became a tangible person they knew, their attitudes changed.
Similarly, when I came out to my parents, they showered me with love and support and an appropriate level of awkwardness. I don’t think it was much a of a surprise for them either: when I came out to my mum, she told that that was fine and I was her son and she’d love me no matter what…then she went up to her bedroom and brought back a book that she’d purchased recently entitled My Child Is Gay. Which is not a book you buy at the airport on a whim, for some light reading.
The fact that I’m same-sex attracted is a big part of my life; I’ve written a whole lot of jokes about it, I advocate for GLBTIQ issues and I wear great shirts. But it is just a part of who I am. It hasn’t negatively affected my career opportunities or my friendships or my self-worth. If you’ll allow me to brag for a moment, I am perhaps an ideal example of what’s it like to be a gay member of Generation Y in 2012.
The past 18 months have been a crazy time for gay rights.
Gay marriage was legalized in New York, Queensland legalized same-sex civil unions, New South Wales recently passed legislation calling on the federal government to change the Marriage Act…as did Tasmania. TASMANIA. A state that didn’t decriminalize homosexuality until 1997. 1997. That means if you were a gay dude in Tasmania in the 90s, you could buy the Spice Girls’ 1996 breakthrough debut album “Spice” before you could legally suck a dick.
And now, 14 years later, that state is on board with the idea of gay people getting married; that shit’s cray cray. And there are still douchebags on the mainland who oppose that idea. Sorry, if you’re less progressive on an issue than Tasmania, you need to reconsider every decision you’ve ever made…then kill yourself. Being less progressive on an issue than Tasmania? That’s like a football player beating you at a public speaking competition.
Andrew Bolt is one of those douchebags. He’s worried about the slippery slope with gay marriage. He says if we allow gay marriage, what’s next? WHAT’S NEXT? People marrying dogs? If we allow gay people to get married, will we allow people to marry their dogs?
And I say – yes, Andrew, that is precisely the plan. People who want to marry their dogs said to each other, “Okay people; if we want this to happen, let’s just take it one step at a time. If we start just marrying our dogs willy nilly, people are going to freak out. Hey, you know who kind of look like dogs when they’re having sex? GAY MEN. Let’s spend the next 30 years campaigning for their right to get married. Then, provided my dog is still alive by that point, we’re going to tie the knot and I’m going to be MRS. Hairy McClary!”
Things are definitely getting better every day and there’s lot that I think Harvey Milk would be proud to see in our world today if he were still with us. But growing up, I got the occasional glimpse into dark, dark bullshit that is still out there, sometimes lurking beneath the surface, sometimes oozing to the top. A friend of mine who grew up just outside of Warrnambool, in a place called Koroit, where sensitivity and progressive thought is even a little rarer, told me that a friend’s dad once sat down a group of the boys and told them, “If any of you boys turn out to be gay, I won’t shoot ya…but I’ll give ya the shotgun.”
Which is…well, it’s empowering. Sometimes you’ve just got to cut the apron strings and let your children shoot themselves in the face because of your own ignorant prejudice.
Speaking of ignorant prejudice, let’s talk about the church. Now certainly, homophobia comes from lots of different places: from ignorance, from fear. But let’s be frank: religion and its dogma has a lot to answer for. If you are religious, my aim here is not to offend you and I am fully aware that there are religious people and organizations that do incredible work for great causes that are dear to our heart. I am an atheist, but if you’re religious, I’m not saying you’re an idiot, but I am thinking that.
All that aside, it has to be said: there seems to be problems specific to the teachings of religions and the privileged position of religious leaders that visit continuing grief upon GLBTIQ Australians. The tripe spilt forth by the likes of Cardinal George Pell, Jim Wallace and the Australian Christian Lobby, Margaret Court, Peter Jensen – this is not a misinterpretation of the words of Christ and a message of all-encompassing love, this is a waste of language and a waste of oxygen. Religious exemptions in anti-discrimination legislation persists; in the state of New South Wales, it is legally possible for a religious school to expel a student simply for being gay. Campbell Newman openly admitted his government’s recent backflip on Queensland’s civil union legislation was a result of pressure from Christian lobby groups, who were “offended” at how similar a secular, state-sanctioned ceremony for same sex couples was to marriage.
The Salvation Army received some heat this week as Darren Hayes drew attention to the Christian charities’ less-than-flattering position on homosexuality. According to the Salvos’ now-updated website, the stated position has been on the website since the early 1990s and does not accurately reflect the organization’s attitudes, as all the Salvo’s charity work is based entirely on need and is non-discriminatory.
As a young gay person who has always been taught to see the Salvos as the prime example of community welfare and charity at work, the position in question was depressing to read. I’m glad the Salvos seem to have taken the time to rectify the situation, now, in 2012, thanks to public pressure applied by the lead singer of Savage Garden, but it’s undeniably too late and an indication of institutionalized homophobia that the Lord seems to have blessed some of us with.
This is real and to me, the most insidious form of homophobia of all. Other kinds of ignorance can be combatted with facts and science and common sense; people who think gay people are dirty or unnatural or perverse or dangerous can quite simply be proven wrong with evidence, evidence such as the widespread accepted scientific opinion that same-sex couples are every bit as capable of raising healthy, well-balanced children as opposite-sex couples are (that’s a fact – tell people, that’s a fact, not a matter of opinion). But I think we need to remain vigilant when it comes to church leaders’ participation in debates around these issues because we are conditioned to associate such leaders and organizations with wholesome morality, as if they alone are the defenders of the good life and proper values.
We know what the key elements of the good life and proper values are. We figured them out ages ago, on our own, without divine intervention. The good life is about love and respect for one another and community and intellectual honesty and inclusion, not exclusion and division. We are so-called “queer” because we are unique and different to the norm, with our unique set of challenges to face. But first and foremost we are human beings and we are citizens and by fostering that community through activism, commentary, donations of time and money and quite simply by not shutting up about the things that we believe in and know are right, together we can be stronger than bullshit will ever be.
Thank you again for having me here tonight, it truly is an honour. Please have a great evening and here’s to many more years of the vital work of the Aurora Group and its friends.