I know from personal experience that sometimes in life, gifts come in unexpected ways and unattractive packages. I wrote about this in my autobiography A Life of Unlearning concerning my first gay relationship. It was an unhealthy, co-dependent, physically and emotionally abusive relationship. But I had an experience which changed my perspective. I shared it in Chapter 18 called Evolution.
I had just visited Jason’s graveside for the first time.
‘Jason gave you a gift.’ Standing looking at the picture where his ashes were laid, the words came from somewhere with amazing clarity, breaking through the many other thoughts and sad memories. It didn’t make sense. I shook my head as I thought of the heartache, stress, pain and black eyes that Jason had given me –nothing I could call a gift. What had Jason given me? Nothing! Not even a birthday or Christmas present as his gambling habit always ensured he was broke.
‘Jason gave you a gift.’ Walking back to the car the phrase rolled repeatedly in my mind. I was getting more and more frustrated with this statement and every time wondered, what gift did Jason give me?
Stepping off the lawn onto the gravel car park the answer came with same clarity as the statement: Jason gave you the gift of honesty and realised immediately the truth of that statement.
Until I’d met Jason I’d lived in denial, deceiving my wife, children and friends, but most of all, lying to myself and always pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Then I met Jason, and, for the first time in my life, I was forced to face the truth; then to live it by being honest with myself and others.
Thank God for Jason, I thought, as I imagined what my life would be like if I hadn’t met him and fallen in love. Quite possibly I’d still be married, never being able to be the husband my wife deserved or longed for, even more tortured I guessed, preaching words to others I couldn’t live myself and desperately struggling to live with integrity—but being a fake.
What a tragic life that would have been?”
Yes gifts can come to us in unexpected ways.
Australia’s recent debate on marriage equality was extremely stressful for LGBTI people and the community; particularly the past few months of the postal survey. A spike in counselling and other support services reflected how harmful it was becoming for many.
As I have listened to responses from the No Campaign during this time I have no doubt it has been challenging for them as well. On radio, TV and the news print spokespeople like Lyle Sheldon often lamented the way he and his campaign supporters were being treated.
Students of the Bible will know that a theme that flows through the New Testament is that Jesus was God and took on human flesh. God took on humanity for a reason. It says in Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
Empathy is a beautiful thing and is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Of course you can’t really share or understand totally without the actual experience. You must walk in another’s shoes to really empathize. I’m going to make an assumption that the majority of No Campaign leaders and supporters actually have little or no understanding of what life is like for LGBTI people. But what if their recent experience was a gift from God so that might have a deeper insight into our lives.
According to the No Campaign this is what they have experienced
Yes there was lots of that. It’s pretty childish behaviour. Repeatedly we were told they didn’t like being called homophobes, bigots and haters. LGBTI people are very familiar with name calling and the pain and harm it causes. For us, it begins in school (which is what the Safe Schools program was actually addressing). Queer, faggot, poo-packer, pillow-biter; there’s quite a spectrum including pervert and paedophile. And then there’s the lovely religious terms like abomination and sodomite. I’ve been getting unsolicited emails calling me those names, including demon possessed for decades, not months, and no doubt will continue for some time to come. Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt me’, Mum told me repeatedly as a young child but it’s not true. Yes being called derogatory names is not only hurtful but harmful. I sincerely hope you remember that.
BTW I’m not excusing some of the appalling behaviour of some members of my family as no doubt you would either. We both have relatives we’d prefer to disown.
Fear is a very powerful motivator and is often used in advertising. The No Campaign knows all about fear. It was main weapon in their arsenal and used immediately the postal survey was announced by former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, telling Australians that they must vote No or they will lose their freedoms and their children will be confused about their gender.
But the fear expressed by the No Campaign was that THEY were fearful of expressing their beliefs. Even putting the frame around their profile pic on Facebook which said ‘It’s OK to vote No’ was a challenge for some according to the spokespeople.
Imagine walking home alone at night after dinner with friends and a car with four guys in it slows down and they begin calling out ‘faggot’. Then the car pulls to the curb in front of you. The chill that runs through your body at that moment is indescribable. Believe me that is fear. And if you were bashed, that fear is present every night you walk down the street alone at night or even with friends.
Imagine being in a Christian school, church or home and you’ve come to the realisation that you’re gay. All you’ve ever heard is that these people are evil and want to take away Christians rights and destroy society. Imagine the fear of knowing that one day you’ll have to tell your dark secret and the people you love the most will most likely reject you. That kind of fear has is driving young people to suicide. 
There are different levels of fear. Many LGBTI people have lived with it, sometimes intensely, for many years of their lives.
Loss of Rights
The No Campaign have said that they feel like they are losing rights and being discriminated against. When you’re used to privilege equality feels like discrimination and opposition like bullying.
I think LGBTI people know something about this as well. Actually before you can lose rights you have to gain them. In the 1950’s and 60’s gay people were gaining a strong sense of self and began to reject society’s labelling them as perverts and criminals and mental health professionals as pathological. My memories of life as a teenager, discovering I was gay in the 60’s, are still very clear. Knowing you faced the potential of arrest and imprisonment or treatment locked away in the nearest ‘mental asylum’, as they were called, has an impact on your emotional and psychological well-being. Spurred on by the progress of the civil rights movement, gays and lesbians began fighting for equality.
After much lobbying, in 1977, Dade County, Florida, passed a law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Up to this point being out or people discovering you were gay, could mean being sacked from a job or a landlord refusing to rent you a home or apartment. Imagine that. Being rejected from your chosen career or not being able to access a service because you were gay. Anita Bryant, a bit of a media person and evangelical mother of four, rallied religious and conservative supporters under the banner of ‘Save Our Children’.
‘What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life’  and ‘I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children,’ she said.
And with that fear campaign (sound familiar) the anti-discrimination law was repealed. The voting outcome was not unlike our postal survey actually but the opposite way (69% to 31%). For the next 20 years gay and lesbian people in Florida lived with a law that said they could be fired or denied services because of their sexual orientation. You didn’t have to actually do anything illegal or inappropriate….you just had to be….you know…….gay.
Yes the LGBTI community know what it is like to lose rights. Hard won rights.
Actually, I can’t recall the No Campaigners ever having to fight for their rights though. From the birth of the colony in 1788, the church was given a privileged voice in our society as a sort of respected moral compass. After the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse and the fact that Australian society, like other western nations, is becoming more and more secular, the ‘Christian’ voice has lost credibility. If you want to have a voice in the public square then, like the rest of us, from now on that, like respect, will have to be earned.
I trust that No Campaigners will take time to reflect; genuinely reflect and not just lick wounds. Take time to reflect what this experience has given you. The name calling, the fear, the loss or rights, feeling like a minority; all these things you’ve experienced for a few months have been LGBTI peoples experience for years, even decades. Our very survival and existence in Australia’s society have been birthed in these experiences.
Reflect also on the outpouring of emotion the day it was announced that 61.6 percent of Australians said YES to LGBTI people, their love and their relationships. Then again, the jubilation in Australia’s parliament made it legal for same-sex couples to marry. It was unprecedented. That jubilation wasn’t about winning and beating the No Campaign, it was about equality being bestowed and that we will no longer be treated like second class citizens on our own country. It was a validation and affirmation that will transform generations to come.
And if that doesn’t touch your heart or the recent experiences make you more empathetic then maybe Jesus words, quoting the prophet Isaiah, will be a wake-up call.
‘For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes–so their eyes cannot see’ Matthew 13:15 (NLT).
 In 2004 a report commissioned by the NSW Attorney General’s Department You shouldn’t have to hide to be safe: A report on Homophobic Hostilities and Violence against Gay Men and Lesbians in New South Wales, NSW, showed that violence against gay men and lesbians had changed little in the last ten years. Key findings included:
- during the previous 12 months 56 per cent of homosexual people experienced homophobia or violence;
- during their lifetime 85 per cent of gay men and lesbians experienced harassment or violence; and
- one in four gay men and lesbians has been physically attacked sometime in their life.
 Writing Themselves In 3 (WTi3) http://www.abbi.org.au/research/
 Bryant, Anita; Green, Bob (1978). At Any Cost. Grand Rapids, Michigan, US: Fleming H. Revell.
 The Anita Bryant Story – The Survival of Our Nation’s Families and the Threat of Militant Homosexuality (1977)
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