Undoubtedly, last night’s result in Australia for marriage equality is an important victory. It is a victory, however, that should not dilute the sobering realisation that it’s taken this long to get there, nor the fact that nearing 40 per cent of voters chose to oppose the bill.
As I scrolled through the jubilant trends on Twitter this morning, it was this 40 per cent that stopped me from partaking in the joy. For this 40 per cent is an indication of something much larger than a population’s view on marriage legislation – it is an indication that for a huge proportion of people, the LGBTQI+ community is unequal to them. And this, not the ability to get married, is what we should be addressing.
The ecstatic cheers around the world, in truth, rang a little hollow for me. For I fear that the online echoes of triumph mute the social realisations that actually, things are not that equal for LGBTQI+ people.
For instance, news of the Australian vote comes in a week where the trans community have suffered repeated abuse to hateful rhetoric – Travis Alabanza, the inspiring trans performance artist in London, was subject to the vitriol of Janice Turner in The Times, who not only repetitively misgendered them with a “he” pronoun throughout the article, but also criticised Travis for expressing discomfort with using a men’s changing room in TopShop. I can vouch for Travis as a genderqueer person who tries on dresses in TopShop, when I say that male changing rooms do not always feel like a safe space.
As a queer person of colour who struggles with anxiety and depression, “marriage equality” isn’t that exciting a victory for me. Constant homophobia and racism throughout my life – and living in a society that systemically isolates queer people and people of colour – has led to my lifelong battle with mental health. A school career entirely punctuated by bullying has also resulted in paranoid episodes, which I’ve only managed to control with anti-depressants.
Mine isn’t an isolated experience. Mental health issues are far more pertinent among LGBTQIA+ groups – 52 per cent of young LGBT people have reported to self-harm, for instance, with 33 per cent of trans people having attempted suicide more than once.
According to Stonewall research, one in six LGBTQI+ people have experienced a hate crime in the past three years, and 45 per cent of LGBT students (including 64 per cent of trans students), suffer bullying in school. I do not think that legalising the marriage of same-sex couples will do much to rectify these socially inherited struggles.
What it might do is placate the general public into the feeling that things are now safe for LGBTQI+ people, and stop them looking around that little bit more sensitively, to check how their behaviour and their views are having isolating effects to the LGBTQI+ people around them. For many people in our communities, the legalisation of marriage will not have meaningful effect – what would, is legislative efforts to make mental health services more readily available for LGBTQI+ people, further strategies to eradicate bullying in school and meaningful resources to advocate for trans rights.
And let’s not forget that the ability to get married only benefits the privileged few. I’m reminded of the fact that a third of all gay men in Paris voted for Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election, many married; the safe, privileged position of many white gay men caused them to turn their back on other minorities – Muslims, particularly – who were painted as “disruptive” to their rights.
As a queer Muslim who experiences toxic Islamophobia within the gay community, I worry that many of those who marriage equality benefits might turn their back on the less privileged in our communities.
Is the fact that about three fifths of a Western society were supportive of a basic legal right for LGBTQI+ people worth celebrating? While you rejoice, just remember that two fifths weren’t, and that the lives of LGBTQI+ people will not get easier from a sudden change in legislation. A collective drive to really interrogate the sources and effects of prejudice, and a conscious effort on every human being to truly fight for equality on a day to day basis is the real challenge ahead.
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