Australia deserves to be a proud country right now. We voted convincingly in favour of marriage equality.
However, as an LGBTIQA+ community, we should not knock Western Sydney and immigrant Australians.
Much has been made of the high No percentage of No votes recorded in Western Sydney, with the electorates of Blaxland, Watson, McMahon, Fowler, Werriwa, and Parramatta all recording No votes higher than 60 per cent.
These communities are not bigoted. Immigrant communities are not bigoted.
We need to understand and connect with these communities, not write them off. Ultimately, when we attack these communities, we are stigmatising complex experiences around culture, identity, and trauma.
As LGBTIQA+ people who have also often navigated many similar issues of trauma, we are attacking a group that has experiences with marginalisation similar to our own. We are also stigmatising the experiences of people who have immigrant heritage and are LGBTIQA+.
I have a proud immigrant heritage, and am also proudly gay.
My mum was born in Germany in 1949. She was an infant when my grandparents came to Australia after World War Two. I grew up in the federal electorate of Bradfield.
For me, growing up gay, the straitjacket of a conservative immigrant culture was a defining part of my socialisation.
The family was everything, and the family was oh so straight and structured. Our grandfather, or our ‘Opi,’ was incredibly hardworking and frugal. Opi turned off his car at traffic lights and going down hills to save money on petrol, long before Sydney petrol prices even approached a dollar a litre.
My cousins and brothers were my best friends, and still are. My mum installed a lock on our television, determined for us to read voraciously and make the most of our education.
If politics was discussed, the tone was conservative, and didactic. The childhood experiences of my Sri Lankan friends resonate with me so much more than my Anglo-Australian friends whose immigrant heritage is a lot more distant than mine.
Ultimately, this acculturation gave me a foundation of love amongst my family members that non-immigrant families rarely even can come close to.
My heritage also gave me the enduring and hardwired determination to pursue my goals: between us, my two brothers and I have five university degrees.
I would not give up these formative experiences for anything, However I also acknowledge that in my family and many other immigrant families, issues of diversity around sexuality and gender identity are barely touched on until they have to be, like when LGBITQA+ family members disclose their identities.
Many No voters in Western Sydney have experienced similar immigrant acculturation.
Let’s take Blaxland as an example. Its main suburbs are Auburn, Bankstown, Lidcombe, South Granville, Villawood, Berrala, Yagoona, Guilford, Chester Hill, Condell Park, and Georges Hall. The ABS notes that common ancestry for its residents are Lebanese, Chinese, ‘Australian’, Vietnamese, and English people.
However, whilst 73.9 per cent of Blaxland voted No, the electorate also facilitates some of the most powerful progressive voices about issues of race, gender, and identity I have encountered across all of Sydney.
The Bankstown Poetry Slam was founded by local community members from across Blaxland and other neighbouring parts of Western Sydney. It is amazing, and has been recognised as such.
It was founded in 2013 and is now the largest poetry slam in all of Australia. I have performed and spoken at Bankstown Slam events as gay, ‘white’, and ‘different’ from most of its other attendees, immigrants whose families have come to Australia more recently than my grandparents did and who largely live in Bankstown and its surrounding suburbs. I have been received with nothing but warmth and love at these events.
The organising team of the Bankstown Poetry Slam have also facilitated writing workshops since 2015 in under-resourced and culturally diverse Sydney high schools. This program is called ‘Real Talk’, and has been recognised for its contribution to peer education, anti-bullying, and social justice.
Also in Western Sydney, the Muslim Australian social development organisation Mission of Hope facilitates leadership programs for people from across all of Sydney.
In 2014, it hosted the Multicultural Youth Leadership Conference at Sydney Olympic Park, which was another event that stimulated my involvement in diverse community development programs across Sydney.
Overall, involvement in these spaces has nourished me and provided me with strength and connection navigating marginality with dignity and commitment to social justice.
All communities are complex, and Blaxland as an electorate has many more dimensions to it than the Bankstown Poetry Slam, Real Talk, and inspirational community organisers, writers, and poets. Still, in many ways I feel more accepted among its many Vietnamese salad roll businesses and in my beloved ‘slam fam’ than I do on Oxford Street.
Whilst much of Western Sydney voted No, that vast area provides love and strength to Australia, including LGBTIQA+ Australia. Beyond Blaxland, the Arab Film Festival in Parramatta, the Blacktown Arts Centre, and Haldon Street in Lakemba are just a few examples of spaces that provide life and energy to multicultural Australia.
It’s time we as an LGBTIQA+ community pay it forward. It’s time we gave Western Sydney and immigrant Australia a ‘fair go’.