On straw men, cowardice – and proving them wrong

About five years ago I wrote about being a coward after a talk about sexual diversity at my high school:

When I was around fourteen three guest speakers visited my school. They were from SETA, the peak body promoting sexual equality in Finland. The guests were all young adults, and they talked about what it had been like growing up knowing they were different, the difficulties they had faced when they came out to the their family and friends and so on. I remember that two of them were siblings: the woman said she had felt particularly hurt that her brother, next to her on stage that day, had not been very supportive of her at first even though he was gay as well and would have known how vulnerable she felt at the time.

It was a phenomenal talk to listen to. I remember thinking how very, very brave all three had to be to come to a high school to talk about such private and sensitive things. I couldn’t imagine that talking freely about your sexuality would have been easy even for grown-ups, let alone in front of a faceless mass of teenagers. I wanted to just say thank you to the speakers and let them know I appreciated their openness.

After the talk they had lunch at school, and I saw them talking to a couple of teachers in the lunch room. I had my opportunity to say something, but I didn’t take it. Why? I didn’t want anyone to think I could be gay. I didn’t say anything to them, I just had my food and left, not entirely aware at that point that my cowardice rather defeated the purpose of the talk in the first place.

To recap: I didn’t go talk to a gay person in case I was judged for it. In an environment clearly supportive of different sexualities, after an event specifically designed to make teenagers rethink their prejudices.

Let’s take a moment, then, to consider how little support and friendship there might be for gay people growing up in less inclusive environments

I wrote that in the context of some ignorant blather from political performance artist Bob Katter and pet detective Barnaby Joyce. (I also wrote it in the context of me not quite having a full grasp of inclusive terminology, hence the focus on ‘gay’ throughout.) The key thing is that prejudices relating to gender and sexual diversity are so deeply internalised that inclusivity doesn’t just happen with the force of a pamphlet. It takes time, it requires support.

So here we are in 2016. The Safe Schools  anti-bullying program, which provides exactly that support, has been picked as the straw man to be torn apart in the Liberal/National coalition government’s ongoing efforts to prove that Malcolm Turnbull really is just Tony Abbott in a nicer suit. And more Mardi Gras glitter, because what’s an insult cake without icing?

I genuinely believe these buffoons have underestimated how inclusive we as a community want to be, and how important this is to us. I also think you have to have a pretty grim view of humanity to oppose the idea of safe educational spaces in the first place. So come, let’s prove them wrong.

Things you can/should do:


  • and also, if you can: tell your story. The personal is political.

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