Writing by Aisling Grey // Illustration by Helena Ravenne
November 15, 2017 will go down in history as the day that Australia finally said YES to Marriage Equality. After a whirlwind campaign period followed by a tense 2 weeks of waiting; the result was announced at 10am across the nation and I haven’t stopped smiling since.
At the State Library in Melbourne, a crowd of thousands waited with bated breath. My sister held my hand and we were both on the brink of tears as the future of Australia hung in the balance. I have been embarrassed and ashamed of my country so many times over the past few years but this one hit closer to home than usual. Would Australia take a step towards being the inclusive, progressive society I believe it can be? Or would the status quo prevail and the YES campaign go down in history as another ‘activist campaign’ that had failed?
Then, after what felt like hours, the final result was read – 7.82 million people voted in favour of love and equality; 61.6% of the overall vote, ensuring a win for the YES campaign – and the crowd burst into cheers and I burst into tears, overwhelmed with the strength of my happiness and relief that Australia had come through for us.
The entire day was a whirlwind of celebrations, hugging friends and strangers, smiling so hard I thought my face would crack open and for a moment relaxing into the feeling of triumph. Even when I had to go to work in the afternoon the mood was light and nobody in the office got much done. In the Melbourne CBD the atmosphere was jubilant, people in the street calling out “Happy Equality! Congratulations!” to passers by and the mood was similarly celebratory elsewhere. While the YES vote doesn’t mean that Marriage Equality has been achieved yet, it is a huge step on the way and all that remains is for the Australian Government to actually pass the law that will make it possible for LGBTQIA+ couples to finally marry the people they love.
I saw many tears being shed throughout the day and it struck me that what was happening was more than just a celebration of equality-to-come. It was finally breathing a sigh of relief and feeling safe to momentarily reflect on the hatred and abuse the many people have learned to live with; like only realising how badly you’ve been suffering once things start to improve. The community was celebrating and simultaneously grieving that so much time has been lost and so much pain endured – the duality making it all the more powerful as friends clung together, laughing and crying all at once.
“We did it” echoed through the streets, “we actually did it”.
The battle for Marriage Equality has been long and fraught in Australia; there have been 23 Marriage Equality bills introduced in the Australian parliament since 2004, almost 2 per year up until this point. Few in the LGBTQIA+ community would tell you that the result was a landslide victory – after all almost 40% of voters said NO which is significant. And of course there is hard work ahead to get Marriage Equality actually legislated, not to mention the ongoing battles of living life as an LGBTQIA+ person which don’t go away overnight. Conservatives who opposed Marriage Equality are jumping into action to devise new ways of discriminating and the prevalence of outspoken hatred may rise but the core of the LGBTQIA+ community has been survival and resistance since the black trans activists of Stonewall.
Australia still has significant issues with racism, and discrimination along the lines of ability and gender; neglecting the specific concerns of transgender community members; and the ongoing inhumane treatment of Asylum Seekers and Indigenous people which is well documented. It is now time for us to turn to the rest of the country and ask “where can I help?” All of the groups making up society are intersectional – with individuals belonging to several groups based on race, sexuality, age, class; and all are affected by issues impacting on all elements of their identity. The LGBTQIA+ community like many other communities can be Eurocentric, Ciscentric and Ableist. We need to become an inclusive, intersectional, discursive community who value and love all of the diverse experiences of the people around us. We need to love each other, and keep each other safe.
If you’re LGBTQIA+, take the time to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling – do you need some rest? A break? Don’t feel ashamed of logging off and getting away from the media cycle for a while. Chat to a friend, go for a walk and do what you need to do to be your best, healthy, fantastic self. If you’re the friend or family member of an LGBTQIA+ person, ask them how they’re going and really listen, maybe take them out for coffee and tell them that you’re proud of them and love them.
This postal vote has been an exercise in humiliation and frustration at the best of times so I cannot understate how proud I am of every single LGBTQIA+ person who battled through it all. Whether you’re of the opinion that the worst is over, or like me you’re preparing for the hard fight ahead – I’m proud of you.
We’ve come so far and have so far still to go but I’m planning to take a minute to enjoy this. I’ll never stop campaigning but tonight is for celebration. This is a landmark day and I’m planning on celebrating well into next week – and every November 15 from now on.[share]