The country historically voted to legalise gay marriage - we photographed a dozen young LGBT Australians about what it means to them
Love is love is love is love. Today, the last Western country in the world to legalise gay marriage voted a 61.6 per cent YES for marriage equality, voted YES to recognising the basic human rights of its LGBTQI+ community, YES to the raw power of love and YES to equality. But with the result being non-binding, can the Australian government commit to its people’s wishes and change the future of its queer community forever?
The Australian government’s commitment to the progression of queer rights in the past has been shameful. In 2004, the liberal Australian government headed by John Howard amended the country’s marriage law to explicitly exclude same-sex couples from marriage. It’s shocking to believe that it’s taken 13 years for the Australia to recognise its queer community’s rights.
Channeling the same vigour as Australia’s 70s Gay Liberation movement, Australia’s youngest LGBTQI+ community has spearheaded the recent marriage equality debate with total power. Despite being faced with deeply disturbing shit from the NO opposition – ’Stop the fags’ posters with sharp spikes attached to them and planes writing NO in the sky (WTF!) – they have been relentless in advocating for issues around mental health, homophobic discrimination, trans rights, and indigenous queer rights. Dazed spoke with twelve young, brave and queer Australians to hear their experiences, discuss their activism and to ask them what it’s like to make history and change Australia’s future.
LOUIS HANSON, WRITER + ACTIVIST
“It’s embarrassing that we are so late to the vote. We have so many more pertinent issues to face than marriage equality, but the Australian government is exceptional at dragging out an issue longer than it needs to be. It’s mind-blowing that $122 million has been spent in conducting a non-binding vote – that’s $122 million that could be spent on refugee rights, queer homelessness, trans rights or the Australian mental illness epidemic. There’s been some hilarious hate-mongering and fear tactics employed by conservative associations. There were the “Stop the fags” posters and the commercial of a mother saying, “school told my son he could wear a dress next year if he felt like it” – which, mind you, sounds like a fucking incredible school. A lot of this stuff just makes me laugh, but it makes me so scared to think about at-risk or questioning youth who are exposed to this.
Legalising gay marriage will mean young, queer Australians will grow up feeling more accepted, more able to express their love for one another and more worthy of equal rights. It will also be a reaffirming step for at-risk or questioning youth in terms of feeling comfortable enough to embrace their sexuality. If anything, I feel comfort in knowing that the government is starting to acknowledge LGBTQI+ Australians as equal and worthy citizens. But there’s definitely a long way to go before Australia recognises how it’s heterocentric mindset marginalises LGBTQI+ youth.”
MONTANA KITCHING, ARTIST
“The government is not doing enough to help Australia’s queer community – absolutely not. For one, this plebeshite happened way too late. Also, giving this topic to the public to vote on was obscene. It’s caused so much social exclusion, and fear and harmed so many people. I mean it’s good that at least something is being done, but I think it’s just being done wrong. Being one of the last Western countries to legalise gay marriage makes me really embarrassed, frustrated and upset. Australia prides itself on its tolerance and celebration of diversity and claims to be the most livable country in the world… guess just not for everyone.
I didn’t “come out” until I had left high-school because I was scared. Cut it to basics, ‘illegal’ means forbidden to law and wrong. Illegal means criminal. Gay marriage being illegal is a slap in the face. I was terrified of being judged and of people not accepting me if I was honest and open about my sexuality. Legalising gay marriage is a starting point for eradicating that intense fog of “wrong” that I felt in who I was.”
BROOKE POWERS & MILO LOVE
Brooke: “I was with some close friends in my kitchen and when it got announced I just felt like I had no idea what to feel. Then I started thinking about the queers in my family, what this must mean to older queers, to queer parents, to queer youth, and the waterworks broke out and I couldn’t stop crying for ages! My brother’s partner is just over 60 years old. He once told me how when he was younger his friends used to take him out gay bashing. They’d go out to where they knew the gay beats were and he’d tell his friends that he was gonna run ahead and find them. When he did, he’d whisper to them to run before his friends found him. I can’t stop thinking about what this must mean to queers of his generation, how far we’ve come, how much this means, and how far we still have to go. As a younger trans person, I now inherit the strength and resilience of our older community in fighting for trans rights and recognition in Australia.”
Milo: “As a child I would never have pictured myself as like a lesbian woman, and a lot of that has to do with like the social expectations that would put onto me. I think today with this Yes vote, it gives me so much hope that children will be able to see what is possible for them without the same restrictions I faced, and hopefully adults won't be enforcing those restrictions because they will be seeing the positive effects being proud of your identity can have on people. I've never had so much love in my life before truly embracing who I am, and today I feel connected to every queer, and all my sisters out there. This love feels huge.”
NICOLAS RIVET, STUDENT & STEVE FERNANDO, DANCER
“Legalising same-sex marriage doesn’t validate our commitment to one another, but it means that our relationship will soon be recognised by law in the same way that a straight couple’s relationship is – that’s really important. Our society has been conditioned to believe that same-sex relationships aren't normal. Knowing that this isn't the case would have helped tremendously growing up, but as long as same-sex marriage is illegal in Australia, the idea that being gay is wrong still exists. Now that we have achieved marriage equality, we can only hope that the LGBTQI+ youth will be able to exist in a society that is free from discrimination and is far better educated than we are today – a society that makes them feel safe and loved for who they are.”
LYU MASUDA, DANCER
“I think it’s actually ridiculous that it has taken so long. I just don’t get it. But by legalising gay marriage, young LGBTQI+ people won’t feel like they are second class citizens. It will teach kids that they are allowed to be who they are and not have to hide their identity. Im not necessarily a huge fan of marriage but I think it’s so so important that people are able to marry whoever they want. And it’s really more about when someone gets sick or is dying and they can’t have their partner be with them that it’s just so sad. I definitely think it would have helped me come to terms with my sexuality if gay marriage was legal when I was growing up. There was so much bullying and ridiculing of LGBTQI+ kids and no one seemed to intervene. I think if I had grown up with gay marriage being legal it may have been different. I’m glad that the majority voted yes! I hope that we create a much more inclusive and safe space for ALL LGBTQI+ people. By all I mean the indigenous LGBTQI+ people, Black LGBTQI+ people and LGBTQI+ people of colour. We can do so much more!”
ARETHA BROWN, STUDENT + ACTIVIST
“Legalising gay marriage gives me a future I am a part of, one I can actually imagine myself in. I was forced into this idea that society had no plans for me, that I was without a real purpose. The thing is, governments, politicians and educators can offer the best services and 'solutions' for queer young people, with us positioned inside some of the most successful first world conditions. But if you are living without hope, in a future you are not featured in, thats when you begin to feel lesser as a person. So I guess now I can say things are going to get better and actually mean it.”
SHAUNA SIEGER & MADISON WILDAY
“We feel the plebiscite is the biggest issue that has arisen for young LGBTQI+ Australians. It has devalued the worth of LGBTQI relationships with lacking support from a government who has triggered this vote. It has come at a price for the young LGBTQI+ Australians who are struggling right now with understanding who they are. We feel disappointed that we are one of the last Western countries to legalise gay marriage. Regardless of not being able to marry in our own country, we see the value in our relationship – so does our family, friends and communities. At the end of the day, that's really all that matters. Nothing can change or devalue that. We were in front of the State Library when we heard the result and we both felt very emotional and overwhelmed. Feeling the energy amongst the community was incredible.”
DAVE MURPHY, CLUB NIGHT ORGANISER
“I've always accepted that gay people couldnt get married and I never really wanted to do it myself, so I didnt think I would be too bothered with the outcome personally. I feel like that was some sort of defence mechanism to not be too disappointed with a No' result. But, it turns out - I'm stoked! I do feel bad for heterosexual people because their weddings are going to be so basic compared to ours. I think if gay marriage was legal when I was growing up, it would have made for a softer landing, after coming out. But even though some straight/cis people may have voted ýes' I still feel like heteronormativity is so deeply embedded into our society, people still dont really even know how deep the problems are. Any gay man who isnt masculine (and white), any lesbian that isnt feminine (and white) and any non-binary people could still possibly have a hard time with how they fit in/come out.”
VIV NGUYEN, GRAPHIC DESIGNER
“I’m shook at the results. Words cannot explain how happy I am. I feel like I live in this super cute queer bubble and for that to extend to other parts of Australia is really heartwarming. I’m really proud of everyone that actually helped make this possible. Now the government just needs to do right by us, for once. Statistically LGBTQI+ Australians are 3 times more likely to experience depression and that comes with feelings of suicide, loneliness and identity issues. I also think bullying and discrimination are major issues when it comes to our community too. The government clearly aren’t doing enough. 80% of homophobic bullying occurs in schools and I’m fairly certain that hasn’t changed much since I was in high school. With the plebiscite, the government gave people who are uneducated about the LGBTQI+ community and bigots an opportunity to have a say in something that literally doesn’t affect them. Legalising gay marriage isn’t going to mean that boys will be forced to start wearing dresses, it’s not going to pave the way for polygamy and it’s not going to affect your religious freedom (you do u babe). Legalising gay marriage literally won’t affect anyone that isn’t part of the LGBTQI+ community.”