*This article contains language which may be offensive and hurtful to some readers. Please read with caution.
RECENTLY Australia has been embroiled in a discussion about racism.
There’s been multiple instances of bogans doing blackface, the booing of AFL legend Adam Goodes, or whether it’s right to revise history to describe Captain Cook’s landing as an invasion. The list goes on.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to some health care workers and advocates about suicide rates among LGBTI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Can you believe noone — no government, no organisation, no official body — has ever documented or attempted to address this issue until now?
As Dion Tatow told me, being black and gay is a “double-whammy” of discrimination.
I’ve personally witnessed and heard racism many times. I have even been on the receiving of a bit myself — despite my Irish name, I come from a Greek family, I grew up in a multicultural suburb of Melbourne (Coburg, represent!) and mainly spoke Greek growing up. I vividly remember the times my mother and I were called “wogs” in the most venomous of ways at the shops or by other parents.
However, my experience is nothing compared to what many people in Australia have faced for decades. I can’t even imagine the psychological impact that hateful words and actions have on a person, whether they are intended to hurt or not.
Which brings me to an incident I was embroiled in last month.
In a nutshell, I’m a member of a social media page dedicated to a popular TV show made up fans mainly from the LGBTI community and their allies. One person left a post about how angry they would be if a particular twist in the season occured and he would “coon swing” the producers if it happened (please don’t google that term, it will bring you nothing but sadness and rage).
A few other members sprung to action and labelled it as racist, an accusation quickly dismissed by the person who posted that original remark and another member of the group.
They tried to argue it was a colloquial boxing term while the other group member claimed the “C” word was a brand of cheese and also, it was apparently “just a joke y’all”. (Cultural appropriation, much?) When I called out the racism, I was told: “It’s a joke, not a dick, don’t take it so hard.”
Not long after I asked for the post to be removed and reported it to the page administrators, it was taken down.
As my fury subsided, my mind boggled over a few things:
- Who in the actual fuck still uses language like that and thinks it’s okay? And who in the actual fuck defends them, especially dismissing it as nothing more than a joke?
- If you’re being called out as doing something racist, sexist, homophobic, etc, instead of getting defensive why can’t you clarify what about your behaviour was wrong in an attempt to understand it better?
- As an LGBTI person and the member of a group which has copped its fair share of hate over the years, wouldn’t you be more empathetic to the plight of other groups of historically marginalised people?
I recently mentioned what happened to Gungarri woman Sandy Gillies and she said there was no excuse to be ignorant of the meaning of the “C” word in Australia.
“Even if you’re half-illiterate you would have read somewhere about that word,” she said.
“We’ve worked and lived this stuff so long… the argument is that people didn’t really realise it was offensive. Ignorance is used as a justification.”
Black Rainbow founder Dameyon Bonson said being offended by this person’s words was irrelevant and people needed to understand the consequences of racism can be terrible.
“It’s not about being offensive, it’s whether you’re being respectful. Racism whether intentional or not can have a disastrous effect,” he said.
“What if for that one person it is a trigger after hearing it 100 times?
“It’s that intersection of racism and homosexuality. If the racism comes from within our own community, where’s our safe space?”
I was surprised the two social media users in that private Facebook group were not more understanding of the impact of their words. But then I realised the experience of homophobia was very different for the current batch of young, white gay men.
Not only is society today allowing young, gay white men to increasingly feel more comfortable with coming out at a much younger age — they can also be out socially, professionally and to their families.
In addition, their likeness is revered and held up as an ideal for the community, while many of their peers in the LGBTI community continue to be ignored and persecuted.
Perhaps they don’t realise the struggle their peers have gone through to get them where they are, and they just don’t face the hatred their elders did — many of whom lived during a time when their sexuality was deemed a crime under state-sanctioned laws.
I’ve been reporting on LGBTI issues for six years both at the Star Observer and Melbourne’s JOY 94.9 radio station and one thing that is brought up consistently by so many people I speak to — especially our elders like the Mardi Gras 78ers and anyone else involved in the gay liberation movement of the 70s — is that our community has become introspective and less worried about issues outside of itself.
Many LGBTI elders have told me how they used to not just fight for the rights of gays and lesbians, but for women’s rights, refugee and Indigenous land rights. They also lament the loss of that passion for any issue that wasn’t just marriage equality.
In Matthew Wade’s piece brilliant feature about racism in Australia’s gay community, Aziz Abu-Bakr guessed that many white, gay men justified their racism because they too come from a marginalised group.
“Just because you’re gay, doesn’t mean you can share in someone else’s struggle,” he said.
“You don’t know what it feels like because you are still white and you are still a man – privilege, privilege.”
Even the NFL’s first out gay player, Michael Sam, says he faces more racism in the gay community than homophobia anywhere else.
I would love to gather some of the baby gays who are unaware or ignorant of the shoulders of giants we stand on and organise a history lesson. Having an understanding what others endured so they can enjoy the freedoms they have today could lead to them having more empathy when dismissing racism.
While things might be better for you, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other groups still facing obstacles. The least you could is not kick them when they’re down.
If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, or speak to your local Aborigina