Anthony Venn-Brown on being confronted by ignorance and hearing homophobic views spouted in public.

***

I had just left a wonderful #PrideInDiversity event with LGBTI people and corporate allies when I passed a familiar landmark on Castlereagh Street.

It used to be the Masonic Club but is now one of Sydney’s lovely boutique hotels; beautifully restored to maintain its pre-WWII features and elegance.

I popped in because it holds a number of special memories for me.

Grandpa would take us there in the 1950s for significant family anniversaries or birthdays. Grandpa and Dad were Masons (something I had to confess and renounce when I was going through exorcisms in 1971).

As a young tot, I remember the waitresses were lovely and smelt nice. I had my first fire engine here (not many of you will know what that is).

As I passed it, I decided to go into the lobby bar, buy myself a drink, and sit down at a small table pushed against a pillar.

Sitting reminiscing about some delightful family moments and texting my sisters suggesting we might all come here together sometime and share our memories, I was confronted by a loud conversation coming from a group sitting on the large leather lounges to my left.

The name Israel Folau triggered my attention.

I looked up briefly. The man facing me was holding the floor. He was probably about 40, carrying some extra weight, and was sat drinking with four others with their backs to me; two women, and two other men.

I made the assumption that they’d come from the country to have a few nights in the big city.

The conversation moved from Israel Folau and his sacking, to what ’garbage’ kids were being taught in school these days, to Tasmania’s changes in acknowledging more than two genders, and ‘confused’ transgender youth… he went on and on.

I swear it was like he was running through the whole Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) anti-LGBT agenda in a matter of ten minutes.

The diatribe was only briefly interrupted by comments from others in the group.

The man speaking was not only opinionated, he was well informed. He must’ve been on the ACL newsletter list.

“It’s getting to a point where you can’t say anything anymore and I’m being discriminated against more than all of them” he declared boldly.

I began to think this conversation was intentional, and for my benefit. After all, I was sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the scattered guests in the foyer. You couldn’t miss me in my white jeans and hot pink reading glasses.

As the conversation continued I was feeling more and more uncomfortable, and angry at the appalling ignorance and prejudice spewing forth from the man’s mouth.

What should I do? Interrupt the conversation? Correct his misunderstandings? Storm out in disgust to demonstrate my disapproval?

I continued to look down at my phone.

The group got up to leave and began looking on their phones for directions to either a show or dinner down at The Rocks.

I contemplated hopping up and offering to help them with their directions. You know, a random act of kindness; love conquers hate.

My eyes followed the group out the front door and I suddenly became aware tears were running down my cheeks. I was surprised that these few moments, eavesdropping on a stranger’s conversation, had produced such an involuntary emotional response.

I popped into IGA to get some milk on the way home and the checkout girl said with a smile, “Have a nice night”. I knew I wouldn’t and wanted to tell her why.

At home I sent a text to my friend saying “can I call and talk, I’m upset”. Through the blubbering, I retold the events that produced the emotional meltdown.

I know enough about my PTSD to know that becoming an observer is an important way of processing and I reflected on how deeply I’d been impacted and why.

Through the experience, I was reminded once again that no matter how resilient you may have become after years of dealing with this kind of shit, that you can be caught off guard in a moment of vulnerability.

I was also reminded that I should never be blasé when others share with me how hurt they’ve been by things that would be like water off a duck’s back to me.

And I always remember: the real enemy is ignorance.

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