Now is not the time to be silent.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What would I have done during the civil rights movement?”, what you do in the next few months is your answer.
History reminds us that discrimination and hatred flourish when the privileged majority act as passive bystanders.
LGBT+ Australians are under siege, facing an onslaught of vilification ahead of a national opinion poll on their human rights.
In Melbourne this week, “Stop the Fags” posters appeared in an inner city laneway, falsely claiming most children with gay parents are victims of abuse.
There is no excuse to sit back and say, “Not my fight” when this type of hatred is being unleashed.
When our fellow citizens are denied equality, have their relationships compared to pedophilia and bestiality, and their children branded “another stolen generation”, silence is complicity.
Every one of us who enjoys the right to marry the person we love has a duty to step up, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because those on the frontline are exhausted.
As my friend and writer Benjamin Law wrote this week, “Straight mates, please do the heavy lifting. Queers are tired. We’ve been fighting since we were born and there are more of you.”
Another close friend – a fierce and tireless advocate for the LGBTI community – broke down in tears after days of homophobic rhetoric rocketed him all the way back to high school, when he wondered if it would be better if he didn’t exist.
This is not an intellectual argument about language, political correctness or religious freedom. Lives are at stake.
Research shows that LGBTI Australian – particularly young people struggling with their identity – suffer disproportionately high rates of suicide, depression and self-harm as a direct result of discrimination.
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Right now, they’re being told on a daily basis – by public figures as notable as former Prime Ministers – that they are worth far less than their fellow Australians.
This cannot be a burden they carry alone. Inequality diminishes us all. We must not sit on the fence.
And that includes the media. We should not be obliged to give equal airtime to people peddling outright lies or propagating hate speech.
The Australian Christian Lobby – leading the fight against marriage equality despite representing a small minority of Christian people – has aligned itself with an American hate group that campaigned for the criminalisation of homosexuality.
Its leader, Lyle Shelton, has compared the advance of gay rights to the march of Nazism, likens marriage equality to the Holocaust and is waging an ideological war against rainbow families.
This is the type of group ABC management last week promised will be “given a fair hearing and treated with respect”. In an all-staff directive, employees were told the national broadcaster “does not have a position” on the same-sex marriage postal survey and warned them to remain impartial.
What a cop-out from an organisation that could be using its position to show leadership. Instead, it’s gagging its staff on a matter of basic human rights.
Our job as journalists is to present the public with the facts, shine a light on injustice and stand up for the voiceless.
It is not to our job to provide a platform for hatred nor give false equivalence to a side of a “debate”, which is fundamentally discriminatory, disseminates falsehoods and causes profound harm to an already vulnerable community.
In what is the most significant civil rights movement of a generation, remaining impartial is a dereliction of duty and an act of moral cowardice.
Every journalist must make a conscience call on whether they stand up against discrimination or entrench it by giving comfort to extremists.
For reporters funded by the public purse, the threat of losing their job for not upholding objectivity looms large. But if remaining impartial means giving a green light to vilification and legitimising an element of a “debate” that increasingly looks and acts like an extremist group, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your position.
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During the fight to end segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, journalists risked their lives to report on the injustice and violence being perpetrated against African-Americans.
Reporters were threatened and beaten for trying to tell the stories of people enduring the worst kind of bigotry. But they persisted and it helped ignite a movement that brought sweeping social change.
As civil rights leader John Lewis said in an interview last year, “If it hadn’t been for the media, for brave, courageous journalists, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”
Allies will not be the ones to win this fight but we can help carry some of the weight for those at the sharp end of a gruelling battle which has triggering a level of trauma we can’t possibly comprehend.
While it’s a vote Australia should not have to have, if it goes ahead, the strength of our response will directly reflect the kind of community we want to live in.
A resounding Yes vote is the only way to show young LGBTI people – and their straight peers – that love, acceptance and fairness are the values that matter and make us stronger.
But it will take effort. Our advocacy has to be more than updating a Facebook profile with a rainbow flag. It’s time to get organised.
Check your enrolment details are up date. Make sure your friends and family members are ready to vote. Speak out against discrimination and have those difficult conversations with colleagues, relatives and strangers.
Attend rallies, donate to fighting funds, knock on doors with equality campaigners and explain that the sky will not fall in if two people who love each other are allowed to marry.
And remember to check in with your LGBTI friends, listen to what they need, remind them they are loved and they are not alone.
We are at a crossroads here. The direction we take next is down to all of us. Love can win but only if we give it a fighting chance.