Australian legend Magda Szubanski has been a champion for marriage equality during the postal survey process. Matthew Wade spoke with her about stepping up to the plate.
When rapper Macklemore performed his LGBTI-affirming hit Same Love at the recent NRL Grand Final, Australian legend Magda Szubanski began to cry.
“It was really just unthinkable when I was younger that one day at a rugby match there would be someone singing a song in support of our community,” she says.
“When I was young all we were trying to do was stop [being gay] from being illegal, and I couldn’t conceive of the idea that we would get to the point where we could get married.
“It really affected me terribly at the time, being the sensitive thing I was, I was crippled with internalised homophobia. There were no positive role models back then and most people just actively loathed us.”
Szubanski is an undisputed national treasure, adored by fans the country over as a writer, actor, and comedian. She’s starred in both television and film, most notably for her character Sharon Strzelecki in the widely acclaimed series Kath and Kim.
However, it wasn’t until recently she decided to come out, spurred in part by what she describes as her “natural sense” for social justice.
And since the postal survey on marriage equality has been a hot button issue, she’s been at the forefront of advocating a ‘yes’ vote, telling her story and encouraging Australians to post their ballots.
“The fact that people are outraged on our behalf and are fighting for us is worlds away from where we were when I was young, and that’s thanks to the brave work of people who paved the way,” she says.
“I’m just picking up the bat now. Whether I’m gay or straight, it doesn’t matter.
“I knew I had to say something, and want to do all I can to support our community through all of this.”
Szubanski believes wholeheartedly that the marriage debate and the postal survey it spawned is reflective of a select group of politicians, and not the general Australian population.
She pinpoints former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as one of the ringleaders.
“This has nothing to do with the people, this is politics,” she says.
“That’s what makes me cross – it’s politicians on their own end trying to keep their jobs, stirring up fear and hatred. Tony Abbott is the principle architect of this, it’s mass bullying.
“It’s not reflective of the spirit of the people. I think Australians are fair minded people and we get the whole principle of ‘live and let live’.
“But the No campaign are muddying the water. It’s a political campaign strategy they’re using against a minority group, it’s unforgivable and it’s classic scapegoating.”
It’s been a particularly harrowing two months for Szubanski, who, along with pressure of a postal survey on her rights as a gay woman, also lost her mother.
However, amid the vitriol and hate from No campaigners, she says she’s found comfort in the solidarity being shown between LGBTI people and their straight allies.
“I would say, if anyone’s feeling down to look at my Instagram page, because there are thousands of positive messages,” she says.
“As LGBTI people we’ve all survived in one way or another through negative times, so we’re resilient and have learned a great deal.
“But it’s important to look after one another in the gay community and try not to be triggered by what we’re hearing or seeing.”
While she says she’s a “perennially” single woman and that it’s hard to find love, marriage equality is so important for the many same-sex attracted people who do find it.
“When you do find love, it’s really important to be able to declare that in front of family and friends,” she says.
“I really, really want this for young people, and I want it for older people as well who have suffered, and may have been with their partner for 40 or 50 years.
“It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you, you’re a beautiful and worthy human being.”
When it comes to how Australia might win a ‘yes’ vote, Szubanski urges young people to make sure they get out there and post their ballots.
“I want to impress on young people to get out there and vote, you have to post it,” she says.
“If you’re feeling vulnerable there are a lot more people out there to support you now than there has ever been in the past.
“Don’t feel like the nation’s against us, because it isn’t.”