Examining Australia’s Gay Rights Movement

Gay rights
After the election (and subsequent removal) of Australia’s anti-gay Prime Minister Tony Abbott – how strong is the Australian gay rights movement in general?

The result of last month’s federal election is one that is a cause of concern for many within the LGBTIQ community. The Liberal and National parties haven’t exactly been supportive of gay rights in the past (and that’s putting it mildly).

There may also not be that much hope in the immediate future for the new government advancing, or even addressing, gay rights either. After all, there are more “important’ issues to address that aren’t just a “fashion of the time”, excuse my paraphrasing.

But that doesn’t mean that we should despair. Outside of the political sphere, an entire gay rights movement exists!

That’s why I think it’s timely to examine the gay rights movement here in Australia, look at who the major players are and assess their strong points, as well as look at areas where there may be room for improvement. As a community, we can use the multitude of avenues we have available to us and exercise our democratic rights to secure our human rights – right now!


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Gay Rights Activists

Gay Rights Activists
The heart and soul of Australia’s gay rights movement is clearly within the activist sphere. At a national level, some of the most well know activist organisations include Australian Marriage Equality (AME), Equal Love and GetUp!, which while not exclusively a gay rights organisation, does feature gay rights and did so quite prominently during the last federal election campaign.

The clear similarity between these national organisations is their strong focus on marriage, and more broadly, legislative equality. These organisations do amazing work. In many cases, there are hundreds of people who volunteer their time, energy and effort just to keep these organisations afloat. There are also thousands of people who donate their hard earned cash to these organisations to help them keep going. All of this is a good thing.

One thing that I do wonder about though, in relation to the last election campaign in particular, is the lack of breakthrough the issue of marriage equality got in the general campaign and mainstream media. Sure, Rudd came out in support of marriage equality and Abbott gaffed it up a bit, but neither of these stories got much air time beyond that day’s news really. Abbott’s ‘sex appeal’ comment got more airtime and analysis than the issue of granting a marriage license to 10% of the electorate. How does that work?

I also find it somewhat frustrating that despite marriage equality rallies happening all over the country pretty much all the time these days, there’s very little (if any) coverage of them in mainstream media. I know that’s a media issue (which will be examined in the section below), but I wonder whether there would be a benefit for activist organisations to reconsider or re-evaluate their media strategy? After all, a key component of their mission is to reach as many people as possible, and arguably, as many straight people as possible, in order to provide some information about this issue, and maybe change a few minds.

This isn’t happening. I don’t know the reasons behind this, but there are some very smart and media savvy people running and working for these organisations. Perhaps more effort can be placed on building relationships with media in order to get these issues the airtime they deserve? Either way, something needs to be done because for whatever weird reason, gay rights don’t seem to be getting much airtime in mainstream media.


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Media

Gay rightsNow, attacking the mainstream press in Australia is about as useful as eating a Big Mac to lose weight. There is so much wrong with it at the moment, it’s hard to know where to begin. From a clear media bias and skewed ownership concentration, to the pitfalls of keeping up a 24 hours news cycle (which is clearly not sustainable in this country – not enough happens!), to the fact that people are consuming media differently these days, requiring new business models to be adapted.

The bottom line is – mainstream media in Australia is like Miley Cyrus. It has issues. It’s too easy to make fun of, so let’s just leave it alone for now, OK?

Let’s take a look at the state of gay media. At a regional/city level all across the country, there was a good deal of coverage given to the election. A lot of the free magazines you can pick up in most major cities featured interviews with local candidates, information about marriage equality/pride rallies and general op-ed pieces covering the election from an LGBTIQ-perspective. State-based gay media seems to be going well. It’s got a strong presence, is relevant and has a high degree of reader engagement.

Unfortunately, we don’t have an equivalent of an SSO, SX or QNews at a national level. Pretty much the only national Aussie mag with significant reach is DNA. People tend to either love DNA or hate it to bits. I happen to fall into the former group. I enjoy reading it. And I’ll add this – have the people who are bagging DNA actually bothered to read it lately? In the current edition for instance (with Matt Chapman on the cover), there’s an editorial about athletes taking a stand against Russia’s so-called ‘anti-gay propaganda laws’, a profile on civil rights activist Mavis Staples, and articles about Tasmania’s gay rights art project, murdered African gay activist Eric Lembembe and Russia. Not bad for what some may dismiss as a soft core skin mag. Oh and hey, what’s wrong with hot cover guys and models anyway?

DNA knows its market and it caters to that. At the end of the day, it’s a business. Like any business, it needs to make money. What would be great to see is another magazine that does cater to another market. A market that may be really hungry for some interesting, engaging, challenging content and analysis of Australian and international stories, from an LGBTIQ perspective. There is a new magazine that seem to fit this description called Hello Mr. I haven’t read it myself, but from the looks of it on its website, it definitely looks like something that might be worth checking out. It sounds like it could be the alternate voice gay media in this country so desperately needs.

On that note, I’d like to give a shout out to a LGBTIQ news website that I contribute to occasionally (but don’t get paid for) – SameSame. You may not necessarily realise this, but a lot of the written submissions on SameSame are by new and emerging writers. This is great because not only do us newbies get a chance to develop and hone our writing skills, but it also allows for a wide diversity of content and ideas to be shared. And SameSame shares all of this lovely gay goodness for the bargain basement price of nothing at all. It’s surviving as a free media outlet in 2013. That’s a pretty amazing achievement on its own!


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Sport

naked-rugby-players_668630nAustralia is a sporting nation. And by sport, I mean the type that men play. Because women’s sport in this country is largely ignored to the point that a lot of people don’t know it even exists. Don’t believe me? Name one female cricket player. Did you even know we have a national cricket team? I rest my case. And male dominated sport is a bastion of macho, burly men. And all macho, burly men are straight – until they’re not.

While no currently playing, A-level male Australian sportsman has come out, they do exist. Statistically, they have to. There are three main codes of football, plus soccer and cricket. Let’s assume that means there are at least 500 players in total that we’re talking about here. From those 500, if even 1% were gay, that would mean 5 gay players. So, where are they? And more importantly, why aren’t they coming out? It doesn’t signal anything positive about our society if in 2013, coming out in male sports is still a taboo, and something people just don’t want to do.

Surprisingly (in a good way), the AFL is actually doing something about this. A few months ago, they launched a year long ‘No To Homophobia’ campaign. As far as I can tell, this all come out of the blue. That is, it wasn’t in response to a ‘gay’ scandal, or a slick PR attempt to cover some bad news up. It seems to be a real and genuine initiative. And what a bloody good idea it is too. It’s reaching the right demographic that really needs to hear and hopefully heed, this message. The AFL definitely wins the prize for best proactive attempt at addressing homophobia, and in a way, advancing gay rights.


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Gay Celebrities

Gay celebrityDo gay celebrities make a difference? That’s a tough question. We seem to have a slightly unusual relationship with the concept of celebrity in general in this country. Unlike the US, we don’t revere and worship stars as much as they do. Yet American culture is seeping through and we are seeing a rise in realty TV, and the concept of people wanting to be famous just for the sake of being famous, without actually having, you know…a talent.

Which begs the question, what is a celebrity? Is Anthony Callea a celebrity because he has a talent and is known for his singing? Is Alex Perry a celebrity because he’s a fashion designer (and yes, now an eyewear designer too)? The line is blurred. Celebrity today doesn’t mean what it did 10 years ago. In large part, this is because we’re confusing being famous with being well known. The former is not the same as the latter, except that now it is.

There are only really a small handful of Australian gay celebrities anyway (Ruby Rose, Bob Brown, Matthew Mitcham, Penny Wong Magda Szubanski). So let’s stick with looking at Anthony and Alex for a bit longer. Did Anthony’s decision to come out as gay cost him commercial success? When you look at his career by numbers, he’s definitely in a different place now than after he come off Idol. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of his sexuality. He’s made artistic decisions and changed direction. So, maybe his audience is smaller because his music now caters to a different (and possibly smaller) crowd.

Then there’s Alex Perry. I don’t know the guy at all (apart from the TV ads), so I have absolutely no beef with him. Yet a lot of gay guys I know, really don’t like him. Why is this? What is it about seeing a successful gay guy, who’s a bit camp, a bit showy, that drives some gay guys mad? Why aren’t we celebrating his success? Is it tall poppy syndrome, or are we just not comfortable seeing a gay guy, who doesn’t shy away from acting in, what some consider a stereotypically ‘gay’ way? It appears that in this country, being accepted as gay is still conditional. Conditional on the fact that you don’t act ‘too gay’… begs the question, what sort of acceptance is that really?


READ – Why Is Everyone Coming Out On YouTube – And Is That A Bad thing?


You!

You can be a gay rights activistActivism isn’t something that just happens ‘out there’. We can all be activists because these days, we all have avenues. Social media is a great example. How many people are you friends with on Facebook, or follow you on Twitter or Instagram? In some ways, this is a closed circuit audience, because it’s likely to be people you know. But come on, do you really know all your Facebook friends?

What you post, tweet, upload and share has the capacity to reach people – and spread. That’s how a viral campaign starts. It doesn’t need to be anything expensive, or too out there. Sometimes it’s the simple things that resonate the most. A touching photo, a personal story shared via video, a drawing you created. Whatever it is, it can make a difference.

As a community, we stand on the shoulders of great people. People who took risks and put themselves out there. Now we can all take action and not even get out of bed! Just a few clicks, a shared link, a forum post, signing a Change.org campaign can all make a difference. The butterfly effect of technology may mean that your little difference spreads, and ripples into one big and significant change. might spread online. But you won’t know unless you do something. Even something small.

The real question is – do you want to make a difference?

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