So here is the thing, I used to be a homophobe. I was by all accounts a right-wing conservative who didn’t support marriage equality and made cringe worthy jokes about people who I suspected were gay. This isn’t an easy thing for me to admit and looking back I am deeply ashamed, not the least of all because I am gay.
When I started university I met a lot of people, some who laughed at my awful jokes and some who just ignored me. What it really took though was one particular friend in first year to sit me down and tell me that my behaviour was unacceptable. To say that I was shocked that someone was defending the gay community was an understatement; it was just not my learned experience. It remains one of the defining moments in my life – it’s ok to be gay.
I believe that many of us are a product of our upbringing and being from a small, sheltered country town in Victoria I don’t think I am any different: before university I had never even met a gay person. I don’t blame my parents for my homophobia, as much of it stemmed from my own paralysing fear of being different. Even after this confrontation with my friend, it still took a solid two years of internal struggle and anxiety for me to come out. This resulted in a few things: my first girlfriend and a temporary breakdown of relationship and communication with my parents.
However, after months of difficulty and many tears, the relationship slowly began to mend. But, at this point I was very lost, even though I had embraced my sexuality, I didn’t know where I belonged and how to express myself. Although at first it scared me, I met some gay people and then some more and eventually I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin. Then it dawned on me, I had gone to bed one night with rights and woken up the next day without them. At first I didn’t really mind because I had no intention of getting married before 30, but as the years got on it started to drag me down. I had grown up in a Christian family and had assumed that I would at some point get an opportunity to get married and commit to someone I loved for life – I had taken it for granted. I started to get mad. Other than my sexual orientation (and a more rounded view of the world), what about me had really changed? I looked and sounded the same, I was still a poor student who played basketball, listened to The Waifs and went red talking to somebody I liked. The only fundamental thing that had changed was the gender of the person I liked.
Now, some out there may argue that in making this “choice” to become gay I knew what I was getting myself into. This is simply uninformed and offensive to every single person in the LGBTIQ* community. Why would anyone actively choose to be discriminated against by people like I used to be? I sure wouldn’t. Being liberated from my blind hate was one of the most positive experiences in my life as I learned to accept people for who they were and whom they loved. I am absolutely, definitely and unequivocally gay and I cannot help but thank my friend for standing up to me. Without him I would either still be off hiding in Narnia… or married to someone whose love I could never fully return. What sort of an existence is that?
As we come up to the end of this election year marriage equality will be on the political cards yet again in some way, shape or form. If I could say one thing to those who are unconvinced about amendment to the Marriage Act it would be this: love is love and intolerance does not make you happier or more fulfilled person. Trust me, I know. In the end, everyone deserves the chance to be happy and express their love whichever way they choose in this secular country. Ultimately, marriage equality isn’t about taking away rights, it’s about enhancing them. So go on, I dare you, stand up to that one friend who still thinks that discrimination is funny.