People often ask me what the benefits of rallying for marriage equality are. How is rallying going to convince our leaders to introduce and pass a bill?
I was once rather stunned when asked these questions. I naturally assumed that people (generally speaking) understood the importance of grassroots campaigning. After all, aren’t people aware of the black and women rights movements and how grassroots campaigning was vital in achieving legislative reform?
After a discussion with a friend around these questions, I thought more deeply about the strategic benefits of rallying when campaigning for legislative reform.
The best way for me to answer this question is to respond with the benefits I’ve witnessed both as an activist in Sydney and in my home town of Lismore in northern New South Wales.
The first marriage equality rally I organised in Lismore was the first time I came out to my community, many friends, and extended family. The empowerment I felt was extraordinary. For the first time, I and those who attended the rally felt we had an influential voice and that we could change the homophobic culture we were immersed in.
Five years and many rallies later, the socio-sexual culture of Lismore had changed dramatically. The day before the first rally, I heard a man in a café say to his mate, “Did you hear? The cocksuckers are having a protest. WTF?”
Now when I visit, it is normal to see same-sex couples holding hands in the street.
Empowering our community and bringing media attention and visibility to the issue are powerful tools in winning legislative equality.
But they aren’t the only tools needed. After successfully campaigning in Lismore, I moved to Sydney to take on the role of co-convenor of Community Action Against Homophobia. My first task was to co-organise the 2009 National Day of
Action for marriage equality, which saw thousands of people in Sydney rally outside the National ALP Conference. This event was the first time the national media was saturated in the issue of marriage equality.
Following this, the National Year of Action was launched, which climaxed with the largest coordinated mass demonstration in Australian LGBTI civil rights history. By mobilising more than 12,000 people in 12 cities around the country, one week before the 2010 federal election, this event played an effective role in securing the balance of power for the Greens in the Senate. Rallying played a vital role in generating the electoral backlash we saw in that election over this issue.
The next battle is to change the national ALP platform to support full marriage equality, and you can make this happen by attending the national convergence rally for marriage equality on December 3, at Sydney’s Hyde Park, at 1pm.
Together, let’s march to the National ALP Conference, and make it clear we want full marriage equality, and that adopting civil unions, or a conscience vote is simply not good enough. See you in December!
INFO: By Ben Cooper, co-convenor of Community Action Against Homophobia. www.caah.org.au