When he spoke, he was heard. And that is precisely why Australia needs a Dan Savage.
I caught Dan on a panel discussion program on ABC called Q&A. Dan was simultaneously smart, sharp and sassy. He easily shifted gears from outrageous and cheeky (“I give a wicked blow job”) to constructing a well thought out argument outlining the way heterosexuals have already redefined marriage themselves (by choosing whether or not to have children, what religion to be married in, getting divorced and being re-married).
In many ways, Dan Savage is the penultimate gay rights warrior for the new millennium. In addition to reaching a worldwide audience through his regular weekly podcast Savage Lovecast, he’s a pro-active and creative leader. In response to teen bullying and suicide, he started the It Gets Better campaign in 2010. He’s also not afraid to get political, as Republican Rick Santorum found out. Dan’s got balls, but just as importantly, he’s got the brains to back it up.
And it’s that unique combination of balls and brains that we’re missing here in the gay rights movement in Australia. Maybe it’s the reservedness of our British heritage that keeps us from acting out and rebelling against the system. We seem to be afraid of ruffling feathers and causing a stir. Why?…
The state of Australia’s gay rights movement is, in my opinion, still in its early stages. While we have a number of organisations working on advancing legal rights, health issues, education and support services, we lack distinct personalities and voices. This may have been one of the reasons why despite public support and popularity, the issue of marriage equality didn’t break through and feature prominently in our recent federal election.
That’s why we need a Dan Savage, or possibly even a few Dan Savages. We need voices that are strong, stand out and are smart. We need leaders who can make things happen and focus people’s attention, and the broader public discourse in a way that is compelling, and actually works towards bringing about real change.
I am sure there are many people within the Australian gay community who would be able to achieve great things for the gay rights movement The gay business and media communities are filled with exceptionally bright, creative and talented people. These are the same people who could be amazing role models and leaders. They’re already doing great work within their own spheres of influence. If they managed to broaden their reach, they could make a huge difference.
There’s just one problem. Us. The Australian tall poppy syndrome is alive and well in contemporary Australia. America celebrates (and rewards) people who have drive, ambition and work hard to achieve their goals. Here, we tear down people who a) dare to dream big in the first place and then b) actually have the audacity to achieve their dreams.
Little wonder our movement lacks strong leadership. Who would want to step up and lead our community when they can reasonably expect to face a constant stream of negativity and undue criticism? What’s the point of having the strongest, smartest and sassiest leaders, if all we’re going to do is tear them down?
So maybe we all need to channel a little bit of Dan Savage into our own lives. Let’s start to create the conditions we need to develop a genuinely strong and empowered movement. Let’s let go of fear and judgement directed towards one another, and embrace and celebrate who we are, our differences, similarities, points of agreement and points of disagreement. Let’s unite and make our voices heard!