Where to next for Australia's rainbow communities? Let's think about "how to..."


(As always, opinions on this blog are my own).

Recently, I attended the Thrive symposium, a fantastic weekend of workshops on self-care for those involved in the diversity of social justice campaigns. One great workshop was a visualisation across generations where history students seven generations (say 200 years) from now are able to talk to campaigners of 2017 and ask questions like “things looked a bit cactus in 2017, what kept you going? How did you do it?” It was just the tonic (no gin) I needed after the last 3 months. And led me to think: what will rainbow community look like in 200 years’ time? How do we start getting there? What do we need to do?


WE are the generation to start the progress to give those future students the history to study.


It’s hardly rocket science to say that the whole marriage campaign, especially the last 3 months –has been difficult for most if not all of rainbow people, families and allies. Thing is, there has been an extra layer of difficulty for bi, trans and gender diverse (TGD) people and family members of TGD, especially TGD minors. (It’s also probably been there for other parts of the rainbow with which I can’t directly identify; thoughts from others who do identify with these parts of the rainbow most welcome). I communicated with many bi, trans and families over this period and heard a common theme: erasure of bi and TGD by some prominent yes campaigners made this period even more difficult. We believe the treatment was less than equal; the feelings associated with that belief range from disappointment and sadness, through frustration, rejection, betrayal and abandonment to outright anger and indignation. We have a right to those opinions and those feelings; I have sadly had mine dismissed, no matter how “well-meaning” people were in so doing.


It’s not just bi, trans and families who expressed this viewpoint. As an example, I had a great conversation at the GLOBE awards 3 weeks ago with a guy – I’m not assuming gender because his first words to me were “I am a rich white gay man. 🙂 ” Seriously, he then went on to say that he felt sad about how we continually leave people behind in our communities. He also said he worked with refugees – and that what was happening on Manus Island was a disgrace. Hear hear. So it’s reassuring to find the true allies are there. A special thank you to those who spoke publicly about this aspect of the campaign over the last 3 months. Happily, it seems some in positions of prominence and influence are aware of this issue as acknowledged at the panel discussion Thursday 16 November: Equality - no exceptions (hosted by the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby).

I could spend a lot of keystrokes analysing the marriage campaign; I may do that later, but not now; that’s a separate topic. I bring this up now for one reason and only one reason: it gives us a pointer for the future. In the words of George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I’m willing to leave the past in the past on one strict non-negotiable condition that the future is better - and the future begins now.


Unfortunately the past of the rainbow world often boils down to the reality that some people (I’m including organisations as well as individuals here) in positions of prominence and influence, when it boils down to it, demonstrate by their actions, that, at the rock bottom core of their beliefs is a belief that groups such as bi and trans are less than equal. We try to build a queer house and we paper over the cracks that appear as a result of building on shaky foundations. (We don’t even try to fill the cracks – that would involve using POLYfilla – and we erase polyamory as well :)). And then we wonder why the queer house falls down rather than having more rooms and more levels.


Rather than paper over the cracks we need to properly fix the foundations so this doesn’t happen EVER again - using the theme of the VGLRL panel discussion - no exceptions.


We need to start from the basis of shared values - and equality, respect and inclusivity could be part of that. The absolutely critical factor is walking the talk rather than just having nice words that are all very warm and fuzzy but are used tokenistically and inconsistently.


Before, going further, I am all for the concept of there are things that we “don’t know that we don’t know.” That includes diversity. If it’s pointed out that a statement or belief may be inappropriate re diversity, then, the same as any mistake: admit it, fix it, learn from it and prevent it happening again. I’m happy to educate and “call in” people.


What are some mistakes that happen?:

  1. Bi, trans and families are not even consulted on issues that directly affect us, or we make efforts to sit at the table and are locked out of the room.
  1. We have a seat at the table, but are treated less than equally, often in a patronising way. I was in a meeting less than 12 months months ago with a range of people discussing a TGD issue. A cisgender person said, in a horribly patronising tone “well, I’m not trans – but if I WAS trans, I’d do such-and-such.” I’m going to ask people to contact me privately if they don’t understand that.
  1. Consultation processes happen but people believe they can ignore agreements and do what they want anyway.

Like any realignment of values, it is a change process which may have its tensions. That is a tiny price to pay for a more effective community that can achieve more results. I looove the words of trans woman of colour Andrea Jenkins, elected recently to Minneapolis City Council “We don’t just want a seat at the table, we want to set the table.” I’ll take those words further: “I want a full carte blanche menu of equality and equity on which to dine.” We need to work out a common base to translate the agreed values into practical language so we can work on multiple campaigns simultaneously. The “supermarket delicatessen” approach of “take a number and wait for your human rights” – the human rights that are our birthright that were stolen from so many of us – never worked and certainly can’t work now. To name only a few groups: I am both trans and bi. I am acutely aware of the abuse still faced by people experiencing intersex and the blatant discrimination faced by those working in the sex industry. Going beyond the rainbow and into the broader community, how do we work effectively on racial respect and respect for youth?


Thing is, when we do it right, the difference is tangible. At an event at Collingwood town hall this year the process was set up well with encouragement to speak up even things may have been “unpopular”– and the difference was blatantly obvious. To quote that great Australian philosopher - Dennis Denauto from “The Castle - the “vibe” was tangible. Ideas flowed easily. When implemented lives will be saved and changed.


There would be other broader benefits: if we start it in one place, it could boost other parts of the country and go worldwide. We also shut down a line of attack from the far right (not that we need to be reactive to them, rather we do this because it benefits us) about “you lot are divided.”


Let’s do it all the time. Let’s be the generation that starts that change in November 2017. Let’s be on the right side of rainbow history  - starting now.