Wedding Bell Blues

Wedding Bell Blues

To tell this story properly I have to take you back to my first day at uni, in 2015. My first lecture was at 4pm on a Monday. But on that specific day, I decided to make my way there at 11am. Why?

UNSW had decided to raise the rainbow flag in honour of Mardi Gras, which was that weekend. Attending that flag raising, as the guest of honour, was former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. To set the scene; I am a big Michael Kirby fan. Australia’s first openly gay High Court Justice and I do not see eye to eye on every issue, but as my Legal Studies teacher put it back when I was in high school, for the most part, “if Michael Kirby says that the sky is green, there’s probably something wrong with my eyes.”

Which puts a fine point on my abject disappointment today after reading his public statements suggesting that the best course of action is to abstain from the upcoming postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

To be candid, I do not support the idea of putting this question to a plebiscite. Not solely because of the kind of awful rhetoric we’ll see in this campaign – the type we’re starting to see already, courtesy of Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop, among others – but also because the fundamental notion of our parliamentary democracy does not give our politicians a free pass on hard questions whenever they feel like it.

At the same time, the Commonwealth Government, in their wisdom, has decided to put my fate into my hands. And I don’t intend to let it go by resting on my laurels, content in how wonderful my principles are and how smart I am not playing the Government’s game.

Yes, there is a chance that a yes vote will not lead to a yes outcome. But by my estimation, there is a much greater chance that a yes vote will inspire our politicians to do the right thing. (Maybe. Just the once.)

It’s disheartening to see this position being taken up not just by Justice Kirby, but by the leadership of marriage equality campaign groups. I understand and agree with Australian Marriage Equality and the Equality Campaign’s principled opposition to the plebiscite. I understand their decision to go to court and challenge it. But on the 12th of September, more likely than not, ballots will go out in the mail. We have 14 days to ensure that the more than 200,000 young people who are eligible to vote and are not registered get their name on the roll. Tony Abbott is on television telling people to vote no if they want to take a stand against “political correctness.” The Prime Minister, when asked if he would campaign for the Yes vote, would only say that there were many demands on his time.

The No campaign is out ahead. There is no Yes campaign.

So here is what I propose to do:

  • In the next two weeks, pester all of my friends to ensure that they are on the electoral roll. Get them registered, and get them ready.
  • Once ballots are out in the mail, I will organise a big party to collect my friends’ ballots – and the ballots of their families and friends and everyone they know – and raise money for Minus18, so that LGBTQI young people have someone to reach out to, and so that they know that they don’t have to feel alone.
  • I will make an effort to collect a ballot from every single registered voter I know. No ifs or buts about it. Every single one.

There is, I’m sad to say, no leadership on the yes side of this debate. We all need to be leaders in the next three months. There’s no two ways about it.

Get registered. Get voting. Get ballots. Get equality.


Courting Controversy

Courting Controversy

It’s been a slow time for marriage equality since the plebiscite bill went down in the Senate back in November. (It seems as though it’s been years since November, for unrelated and obvious reasons.) There was that flare up back in March when suddenly Peter Dutton thought the situation was a problem but that passed us by about as quickly as it appeared. (Did it ever appear? These days, one reads so many reports from anonymous sources that provide a detailed timeline of events, only for it all to come to nothing. The tree may not have fallen down in the forest. Who can tell?)

So it doesn’t entirely beggar belief that we’ve spent the last six days talking about Margaret Court not wanting to fly Qantas because gay people or whatever. We’ve endured a great deal of the typical cycle; comment that offends one side of the divide comes up, person who made the comment ends up on The Project and then The Bolt Report, op-eds saying that the person who made the comment should be stripped of honours, op-eds saying that the response is overblown, etc etc. (It almost seems as though this was the only thing that could take the conversation off Yasmin Abdel-Magied. That was two weeks of the news cycle we’ll never get back.)

But ultimately, even if we’re being vilified, there is still something gratifying about being back on the national conversation. Even Tim Wilson seems to acknowledge that we’re only talking about it this much because we haven’t talked about it anywhere else – like, say, in a large Canberran enclave with green (or red) seats for members.

Should Margaret Court Arena be renamed? In all honesty, I’m not that sure. The arena was nominally given that name in recognition of Court’s tennis achievements, which are considerable and praiseworthy. The argument then goes that we shouldn’t judge peoples’ professional achievements based on their character.

But fundamentally, the decision to name a stadium or an arena after a sportsperson is about more than just how well they played. John McEnroe only has a tennis academy named after him because he founded it. It’s unlikely that we’d see a Lance Armstrong Velodrome or, as was suggested around my Friday night dinner table, a Ben Cousins Stadium. That’s obviously not to suggest that choosing not to support same-sex marriage is the same as using drugs, but to speak to a larger point.

Sporting heroes are not honoured merely for achievement, but for sportsmanship.

Inevitably, skeletons emerge under scrutiny. This is not the first time Margaret Court has made comments that deserve a second look. In an interview with The Guardian in 1970, she described apartheid as South Africa having race relations “better organised than any other country, particularly America”. And whilst people are entitled to their religious practice, there is something inherently uncomfortable about someone leveraging their sporting profile to argue that their religious beliefs be imposed on the rest of civil society.

The voices of sportspeople on all topics carry weight, but we have seen the impact that they have on this topic in particular. Riding the wave of Ian Thorpe’s coming out in July 2014, marriage equality reached its zenith of popularity; 72% in a Crosby/Textor poll. The numbers have ebbed and dipped since; the issue makes it in the news, then disappears for months.

It’s always worth it to consider what it is we truly, honestly want, at the end of the day. It’s like when I bust my guts trying to do nice things for attractive straight boys; you need sometimes to take a moment to centre, and acknowledge: “even if I do this, he’s not going to sleep with me.” Changing the name of Margaret Court Arena isn’t going to marry a single same-sex couple in this country. We might claim some kind of moral victory, but at the end of the day, we’ll be no closer to full equality than at the start.

The Security of a Free State

I wonder today, as I do whenever I hear news of a mass shooting in the United States, if this might be the one. If this might be the moment where that nation is so appalled by the suffering and pain wrought by guns that a push for change doesn’t just sweep politicians, but rises from the people like a tide. I often wonder and I am often disappointed.

I wonder if the fact that this latest shooting occurred in a centre that provides services to disabled people might provoke an emotional response – where shootings in churches, women’s health clinics, shopping centres, movie theaters, even schools, have not. I wonder if the steadily rising number of gun massacres – already outnumbering the days passed this year – will inflame public concern. I wonder if the fact that the San Bernadino mass shooting was not even the first that day will flicker across the radar of some peoples’ periphery, or whether they’ll notice that ten more people across the country have died as a result of gun violence in the time since. I wonder.

I perused the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, wondering what all the fuss is about. What piece of text could provide so conclusive an argument for the possession of lethal weapons around a country? I did not find it largely compelling.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

One sentence. One concise sentence that has given license to millions of murders since it was added to the Constitution in 1791. I am extensively aware that guns have been debated in legislative arenas, courts, and universities in the years since. That the limitations and protections that the Amendment affords have been assessed, tested, evaluated and reinforced. If anything, this makes it worse. A world in which America is responsible for the most defense spending, and has the most powerful army in the world, still has room for there to be a gun for every man, woman and child? A world in which theaters and methods of warfare have changed so dramatically, still relies on guns to create security for American citizens?

The Constitution gives room for Americans to have guns so as to safeguard a free state – to ensure protection of one another. But overwhelmingly, the use of guns has nothing to do with protection. This year the US has seen 2,708 incidents of home invasion involving guns; the deaths of 640 children (between the ages of 0-11) and 2,422 teenagers involving guns; 52% of suicides caused by guns; all out of a staggering 48,297 incidents involving guns.

How many more times, in how many more ways, can it be said? The NRA smirks that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But in the United States, more often than not, people kill people with guns.

I wonder if that will ever change.

8 DOWN: Collective of lions

It’s the question on every social conservative’s lips when it becomes time again for Sydney to whip out the Dame Edna specs and assorted feather boas:

“Why do you get a gay pride parade when I don’t get a straight pride parade?”

And to some gay people, it’s an excellent question. To the tongue tied homosexual, a blushing violet, (and, contrary to popular belief, the more common exemplar of the tribe) there is little to offer but embarrassment, or shame, or indignation at being asked at all. So why is it so important that we have a day to dress up like a member of the Village People and walk through a crowded population zone throwing condoms at unsuspecting revellers?

Well, there are multiple very good reasons. One of them is because a prospective straight pride parade would likely be organised by Cory Bernardi, and look a little something like this:

Another is this: because there is such a thing as a straight pride parade. It’s what I call a “day of the week that ends in y”, and it often features such events as

  • heterosexual couples walking down the street holding hands without fear of persecution or judgement
  • heterosexual couples celebrating their unions by calling them ‘marriages’ without having to justify themselves or even establish to the population at large that it is humanly possible for them to feel love for each other
  • lawn bowls
  • etc.

The straight pride parade runs for 364 days a year, and crosses most if not all known language and geographical barriers. The straight pride parade is something that happens all around us, all the time, always. We live on Planet Straight-Pride-Parade. That’s the status quo.

To invalidate a night where one group that doesn’t fit into the heteronormative, cisnormative pigeonhole gets to march through the streets proudly and defiantly celebrating their diversity is not only insensitive – it’s dangerous. Advocating a culture of indifference about expression and representation – in whatever complacent, ignorant and sometimes well meaning language one wishes to use – spreads the idea that diversity should be tolerated, where in actual fact it should be celebrated. Research now tells us that gay men are earning 13% less than their heterosexual counterparts. We do not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand and telling ourselves that respect and equal treatment abound in our world.

Whilst the parade exists on the macro level to express pride about being different, about being unique and individual, on the micro level it can have a vastly different impact. Gay and genderqueer visibility is an important part of asserting that sexualities and gender identities that do not conform are valid, and a part of society with an established place and voice. For some, the pride parade is not just about dancing through the streets, laughing and singing – it is an opportunity to affirm that they are not alone, that they exist as part of a community of people with shared experiences and shared struggles. The pride parade is an expression of frivolity, but nonetheless an essential expression of cultural identity.

But culture at the Mardi Gras does not begin or end with the parade. It is a cultural festival – where films (including the much-lauded Brazilian The Way He Looks) and theatre (Belvoir’s Blue Wizard, Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Gaybies and the Old Fitzroy Theatre’s Playing Rock Hudson among them) provide an opportunity to celebrate gay stories in an open and honest way.

Culture is defined by who is creating content and who wants to see it; the Mardi Gras creates opportunities for queer creators to distribute their works to new audiences, and for the [insert giant inclusive acronym here] community to feel safe and included within the sphere of popular culture. Not as background players in someone else’s story, not as an abstract idea or construct, but as people with defined identities, challenges and lives. We get the chance to show a wider variety of traits and personalities; without being effeminophobic, because heaven knows we’ve had enough of that this week, it’s not enough to just show the sassy gay friend telling the white girl that her outfit doesn’t work.

So when someone asks you why we have a Mardi Gras, tell them all of these things. Tell them of the wonder of showing pride in your identity; tell them of the need to scream from the rooftops (be those rooftops tall and broad or small, intimate and quiet); tell them of how Mardi Gras is about changing minds and saving lives.

Or if you can’t be bothered, just say “why not?” Because really, why not?

Hasta mañana, interwebs.

P.S. Props to SBS for hosting the parade on Sunday night, but I honestly think you gave up your biggest draw when this lady left the station.

Bigotry, Defamation and Sodastream

A lot of those who label themselves pro-Palestinian hold the belief that this means being anti-Israeli. To put it mildly, that’s like saying that a requirement for being a feminist is being a misandrist, or that to be in favour of same-sex marriage you must believe that heterosexual couples are not worthy of the same treatment. It is possible to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine; that’s what’s commonly referred to as the advocation for a two-state solution. The only requirement for being both is not being blind to the positive and negative attributes of either side.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a testament to the double standards held by the international community against Israel. Women are stoned for being raped in the Middle East, and yet the hipster-left doesn’t advocate not flying Emirates or buying electric cars specifically to avoid having to fill up with oil from Saudi Arabian reservoirs. People complain about being labelled anti-Semitic for speaking against Israel, and then try to cite the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Dredging up old blood libels and using anti-Semitic rhetoric is, surprise surprise, going to invite an anti-Semitic label.

It’s not by any means true to say that criticising Israel makes one anti-Semitic, or indeed anti-Zionist. As a Zionist myself, I believe that the only way to properly support Israel is to criticise it when it does the wrong thing. That’s called being reasonable. My personal view is that recent settlement activity made by Israeli authority undermines efforts to achieve peace; I also see the recent UN vote granting Palestine non-voting member status as having the same purpose. Every nation and every group needs to be held accountable for everything that they do. The nature of democratic discourse and the right to free speech entitles us to argue, and to criticise, and even to condemn; but it is an affront to free speech and to democratic discourse to simply boycott one voice.

I respect the majority opinion enough to believe that myopic criticism of Israel is not rooted in anti-Semitism, and I believe that the root of this prejudice lies in the convenience of criticising Israel. The Israelis as a people tend not to see need to explain themselves to foreign powers or the media. They do what they do and then they rely on people like me, Jews living in the Diaspora, to proliferate the clear reasoning behind their actions, which filters down to us from our schools and our community leaders. To us, Israel’s actions are usually very straightforward; a flotilla arrives in their waters full of weapons, for example, and the army boards that flotilla and disarms it with what could probably be regarded as very minimal force, for example. To those of us who have watched the footage, who understand the real and present need to protect Israelis in the wake of constant threat of a third intifada, Israel’s actions are quite reasonable. The same is true of Israel; and it thus does not believe that it needs to explain itself to the media or to foreign powers. Israel does not factor in the massive bias that exists against it in the media, because it does what it does not for the benefit of the international community but for the safety of its citizens. This is the reason it is easy to criticise; it doesn’t explain it’s actions because it doesn’t feel that it needs to. On another level, Israel is easy to criticise because it does not declare war on those who believe it to be wrong. It is not founded on or run by fundamentalists whose priority is to attain supremacy over the ideological discourse of the international community. It accepts criticism and then gets on with the business of government.

I think that only supporting the good things that a nation does is the only way of continuing conversation and dialogue. I applauded the recent decision made by Scarlett Johansson to withdraw from her position as Oxfam ambassador to appear in advertisements for Sodastream, an Israeli endeavour that provides jobs for hundreds of Palestinian workers in the West Bank. Instead of standing by an organisation which would rather see those Palestinians destitute and without work simply to prove an inflammatory point, Johansson stood by the people giving Palestinians the means to work to put, as the great George W. Bush once put it, food on their families.

It’s kind of a paradox, but the only people who shouldn’t be allowed to engage in conversation are those that believe that some voices shouldn’t be heard. We need to have rational conversations, like the ones Eva Cox argued for this evening on Q&A; ones that eschew labels and partisan support and simply argue for each side on its merits, with the ultimate aim being a fair and balanced conversation. Inflammatory rhetoric like “apartheid state”, designed to evoke comparisons to a regime that subjugated its citizens to a way of life not experienced by the Palestinian people living in Israel, does not get anyone anywhere. On an aside, the use of that assertion, that Israel is an apartheid state, is not only inflammatory but also supported by no evidence. There are currently twelve members of the Knesset who are Israeli Arabs, a right that would never have been afforded to black people in South Africa. The only possible reason this phraseology could be used would be to curry myopic favour for the BDS movement, and I err on the side of caution against those who would try to deliver their message through the use of buzz phrases that aren’t relevant to the conversation.

My support for Israel remains not because of some kind of deeply seeded belief that God entitled the Jewish people to that specific plot of land thousands of years ago. It remains because Israel stands as a reasonable, open force for change not just as the only democratic nation in the Middle East, but across the scope of the globe. Recent common law decisions about the way that the fashion industry portrays body image with regard to BMI limits and warnings about doctored images are measures strides ahead of any action taken by other governments on this issue. Israel’s recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other countries reflects a commitment to equality not even taken by our own government. The nation that provides the most humanitarian aid to Palestinians? Israel. Whilst many sit and blindly condemn Israel and its people, choosing to disallow their voices instead of accepting their obvious experience and ability in many nuanced fields, they damage the credibility of their own commitment to education, to diversity, and indeed to open democratic discourse.

I support the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, and I think that makes me pro-the-Palestinian-people. I choose to identify as pro-everyone-who-isn’t-a-convicted-criminal-even-though-that’s-problematic-as-some-convicted-criminals-have-been-rehabilitated-just-look-at-Orange-is-the-New-Black-that’s-got-to-be-an-example-of-how-the-judicial-system-can-inspire-fear-of-recidivism. A rather straightforward position, I think.