Why the No campaign has fought a “dangerous and unethical” fight

Why the No campaign has fought a “dangerous and unethical” fight
Image: Canberra Fair Day 2017. Image: Sebastian Rice.

A lot of Australians feel personally attacked by the campaign against marriage equality, but for Jo Hirst, the No campaign literally came after her and her family.

Hirst is a mum to two young boys, one cis and one trans, and the author of The Gender Fairy. As the No campaign set its sights on young trans people, they used her book in their pamphlets and television ads.

“Something that I have written out of love for my child and wanting all trans children to be accepted and safe has been weaponised against me. It’s awful,” Hirst says.

The No campaign has seemingly focused on everything but same-sex marriage, and Hirst believes that trans kids have had to bear being attacked by a campaign that shouldn’t be about them.

“This [debate] is about civil and secular marriage and nothing else,” she says.

Hirst wrote The Gender Fairy so that trans children could feel normal and not alone, and also to help other children, parents, and teachers to understand and support them.

“What they are trying to do is somehow equate that with children being taught gender ideology and ‘catching trans’,” she says.

“There’s absolutely no evidence to say you can influence anyone’s gender identity, even a child. None.

“What’s happening now, with this misinformation that’s being spread about trans children, is if you repeat it often enough people think it’s the truth.”

Hirst points out that trans people will continue to exist regardless of marriage equality, and says the bullying of trans kids has increased since the No campaign began targeting them.

“It’s frightening, it’s horrible, it’s dangerous, and unethical,” she says.

Hirst’s family have been personally hurt by the attacks on trans young people, despite their accepting community. The television ads by the No campaign have been hard to protect the boys from.

“I’ve had to explain that there is a marriage equality survey going on, and they were completely shocked,” says Hirst.

“That was their first taste of homophobia. They didn’t know that gay and lesbian people couldn’t get married.

“I’m trying to protect my nine-year-old [trans] son from transphobia, because he has no idea of the level of transphobia that exists in the world. That’s why I need to make sure that he doesn’t see that ad.”

Micah Scott, chief executive of LGBTI youth network Minus18, has also seen the impact of the No campaign’s targeting of trans and gender-diverse young people.

“Their first television ad didn’t even mention the word marriage, it mentioned ‘boys in dresses’,” he says.

The No campaign has referenced some of Minus18’s resources, including a poster showing young trans people.

“It’s been really distressing for them,” says Scott.

“When you’re a young trans person and you put your face to something empowering and positive, to have those images used in such a malicious way is pretty awful and highlights the lengths that the No campaign are willing to go.”

Scott says young people are overwhelmingly resilient, but he’s seen some of the organisation’s volunteers lose the energy they had before for activism.

“They’re instead spending their energy on self-care and looking after their own mental health,” he says.

“The mood has definitely shifted from fun and excitement to support and care. I’ve felt it, all my friends have felt it, and it’s really been a hard time for everyone in the queer community.”

Scott says that young queer people often experience discrimination and bullying that typically gets better after the high school years, but the current climate is exposing people to it anew as people are emboldened to express homophobia and transphobia.

“For many of us as adults, we forget what queerphobia is like to experience,” he says.

“But during this plebiscite, you can’t escape that. No matter where you are, even with close support networks of queer people, the queerphobia is still shared online, and we as a community aren’t used to that. It’s bringing up all those issues that we thought we had moved past.”

Scott says trans people, who have been most demonised by the No campaign, need to be supported by the rest of the LGBTI community.

“It’s the trans and gender-diverse community that have suffered the biggest blow,” he says.

“We must support the trans community through this, because if we as gay and bisexual people feel pretty shitty with what’s going on, imagine what the people who are the target of this attack and vile hatred are feeling.”

Tiernan Brady from the Equality Campaign says it’s no coincidence that the No campaign has barely discussed marriage.

“They understand that the Australian people are for marriage equality. They know that they simply cannot win a vote on marriage equality,” he says.

“So they have to try and pretend it’s about something else.

“We’ve seen that ramping up every day, with red herrings about political correctness, freedom of speech, transgender bathrooms, Safe Schools. And of course it’s about none of those things, but the No side know they have lost the argument against marriage equality.”

Brady says the No side clutching at straws should be a source of hope for marriage equality, but we must not be drawn into their off-topic arguments.

“Their strategy involves hoping that we’ll chase them on the issues,” he says.

“One of the things all of us have to do collectively is to be aware of their strategies. Once we’re aware, we know how to ignore it.

“We know they’re trying to confuse, so we call out their strategy but don’t get stuck in the rabbit hole.”

Brady is optimistic about the outcome of the marriage survey, and urges the LGBTI community to resist being provoked by No campaigners.

“They want us to have a big ugly fight with them, because if you want to make a change look scary, you need to make the people proposing the change look scary,” he says.

“So as they try to provoke and bait every single day, we have to show a real steely determination and dignity. Never take the bait.

“We have to keep focused on the fact that this is about marriage equality. People are for it. It’s about having our conversations and getting them out to vote.”

If you are feeling distressed during the marriage equality debate, you can access support services including Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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6 responses to “Why the No campaign has fought a “dangerous and unethical” fight”

  1. The ‘No’ campaign was largely funded and run by organised religion. WE need to go after then now and hurt them so they cant mount and GLBT destructive campaigns again in the future.

    The best way to do this is to use the well organised ‘Yes’ campaign to lobby for the removal of their tax free status.

    I think the money lost in tax to them could be put to a far better use by democratically elected governments whose departments cant distribute welfare services base on hateful discrimination.

  2. Just wanted to echo Emily Wells’s comment here that it’s disappointing to see the official Yes campaign telling people to not “get stuck in the rabbit hole” of arguments raised by the No side. I get that Tiernan Brady’s job is to get the Yes vote across the line, and that it would be harmful to many people, including young trans people, if that didn’t happen, but there is also a larger principle at stake here. Young trans people are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our community and so I think we all do need to push back against any misinformation and nastiness that targets them. I worry that there is a broader tendency in LGBTQIA+ activism for better-off people in the community to throw our trans siblings “under the bus” when it becomes rhetorically inconvenient to defend them. I do not want that to be the price we pay for achieving marriage equality in Australia, although to be honest I think that is what has happened to some extent.

    Really the No campaign’s strategy as well as Tiernan Brady’s comments come across as a tacit admission that trans people still don’t enjoy the level of acceptance in the broader community that some others among us do. Rather than seeing that as a reason to strategically ignore or sideline trans people for short-term gains for other demographics, we need to see it as a clarion call to do better on standing up for trans people now and in the future.

  3. The No campaign didn’t seem to have any actual facts to back up their claims and yet they were still able to use as propaganda. Most of the “studies” they posted on their websites and flyers were things that were ripped from biased websites or groups in the states. And yet they dared to play that hand.

    The campaign merely instilled a further fear of change and an unnecessary hatred towards the LGBT+ community. The Yes campaign may have had its own flaws and could have gone about things better but at least, as far as I know, they never tried to use flimsy and discredited “facts” to back up their arguments. This was meant to be a fair debate but instead, it turned into an opportunity for those who have always been against the community to come out of the woodwork in force. A lot of unnecessary and ruthless attacks, both physical and psychological, have occurred during this survey. And all of it could have been avoided if the government just stepped up.

  4. Never before in Australia’s history has a federal government put anyone’s civil rights to the vote, until now. Even the famous 1967 referendum including Aborigines as normal Aussie citizens like the rest of us didn’t actually affect normal civil rights to my understanding (eg voting rights had already been conferred, interracial marriages were no longer regulated, the referendum’s effect was mostly administrative like including Aborigines in the census, I’m happy to be corrected if any of that’s wrong).

    The Liberal Party has never actually expressed why same sex marriage should be voted upon by the general public but no-fault divorce (which replaced traditional marriage with modern marriage in 1975, affecting millions of straight marriages including my parents) never was. The same suspects who are the No campaign opposed no-fault-divorce just as hard as marriage equality. So why the difference?

    Sadly there are two reasons for the difference. The Whitlam Labor government had much much bigger balls than the Turnbull Liberal Government, which is truly impotent, and Whitlam didn’t give a shit about what conservatives thought. And secondly, it’s because it’s the gays (but the Liberal Party aren’t homophobic, oh no sir, not one bit).

  5. Tiernan Brady from the Equality Campaign cites “Their strategy involves hoping that we’ll chase them on the issues,” and “One of the things all of us have to do collectively is to be aware of their strategies. Once we’re aware, we know how to ignore it.”

    It’s easy for Tiernan Brady to tell those who are the Trans minority to just ‘cope the crap’. After all the impact is on the metal heal of Trans people not Tiernan Brady.

    By not defending the lies purported about Trans-people, incorrect information and stereotypes has been cemented in the minds of the cis-gender public. This means that long after the Marriage Equity opinion poll has concluded, the Trans Community will still be trying to regain rights and correct the misinformation perpetrated about Trans-people.

    With the postal voting part having been completed, a simple questions for Tiernan Bradley to answer is:

    What are you and others from the Equality Campaign, who gladly offered the Trans Community as sacrificial lambs, going to do to assist the Trans community to:
    1. Regain rights lost by Trans people during this debacle? and
    2. Correct the misinformation about that has been published and not defended?

  6. The No campaign has certainly inspired me to return to some hands-on political activism as I used to engage in. I will enjoy putting my efforts into ridiculing Australian conservatives, inspired as they are by moronic US conservatives rather than reasonable, evidence-based UK-type tories (eg who permitted marriage equality in the UK).

    And there’s a precedent now for some fascinating stuff. The High Court has confirmed that a government can pull a lump of cash from any discretionary funds approved as part of a budget to then spend on a “statistical survey” of the electorate for any cheap political ends. A future left wing government could do what it wanted. It could have an online-voting “statistical survey” about any issue in which the conservatives will not enjoy majority support (negative gearing, high income tax rates, estate taxes on high income estates etc).

    Anyone feel like voting Yes to tax churches? I sure do. And it’s the folks from the No campaign we have to thank for setting the precedent to make that very, very easy for a suitably minded government.