Culture

A Doctor Was Attacked By A Stranger While Installing Pro-Marriage Equality Street Art

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Remember that promised “respectful debate” on marriage equality?

A gay doctor says he was attacked by a stranger while installing pro-marriage equality street art on the anti-terror bollards in Melbourne’s CBD. He says the incident “screams volumes as to how far behind we are”.

Dr. George Forgan-Smith, a GP specialising in gay men’s health and HIV care, told Junkee he was installing a bollard cover on Saturday night when he was approached by a man who was unhappy with the cover’s gay imagery. The fabric cube, which Forgan-Smith sewed himself, featured the rainbow stripes of the LGBTQI+ flag, along with a pink triangle, the symbol gay men were made to wear in Nazi concentration camps.

A fabric cover on one of Melbourne's anti-terror bollards, featuring iconic gay symbols such as the rainbow flag and pink triangle

The bollard cover that sparked all this, in all its DIY glory

Forgan-Smith told Junkee the stranger “just went off — he said he was very angry, sick to death of gay and lesbian people trying to take over the world. To which I said, ‘mate, I’m just trying to take over one bollard’.”

“He was then like ‘this is visual pollution, it’s terrible, I don’t want to see this’.”

The man then began threatening to destroy the bollard art.

“I said ‘mate, if you’re going to destroy this, I’m going to take photos of you destroying it. That’s when he punched my phone out of my hand.”

While the phone was damaged, Forgan-Smith was not injured. Nonetheless, he reported the incident to the police the next day, supplying them with the photos he took of his attacker in the hope they will be able to identify the man.

Just One Part Of A Bigger Trend

Worryingly, Forgan-Smith told Junkee that the attack he experienced is just part of a bigger trend he’s been noticing since the government’s postal survey on marriage equality was announced.

“I’m a GP, I specialise in gay men’s health and HIV care,” he said. “And I’ve been seeing increased amounts of homophobia towards people since the whole plebiscite thing — increased threats and physical violence towards gay and lesbian people.”

“I see it both in my role as a doctor, but also because I’m very connected to the community. On my Facebook feed I’m seeing it — people are reporting that they’re being abused on trains, people are reporting that they’re being assaulted and verbally abused.”

A crocheted rainbow flag covering a concrete bollard in Melbourne

A previous piece of bollard art Forgan-Smith crocheted, in memory of someone he knew who died of cancer.

Forgan-Smith flagged the psychological toll of the public debate about marriage equality as particularly damaging, a point LGBTQI+ groups have been making about the plebiscite since the idea was first suggested.

“We’re constantly having to deal with these psychological attacks that are happening,” he said. “All these people are giving their opinions, and they’re of this belief that it’s like a cup of water — that if some of this water is given to gay and lesbian people it’s being taken away from straight marriage, and that’s not true.”

As for why these psychological attacks are happening, he didn’t mince words. “It’s because the government is gutless and won’t do their job. Five years ago this week, I was in Parliament House, talking to the politicians about marriage equality, and here we are five years later and nothing’s happened. How many governments have we had in that time, and none of them have had the balls to do anything.”

Forgan-Smith told Junkee that it’s crucial that LGBTQI+ people, particularly young people, have access to support while the postal vote is underway.

“Currently, there are people who don’t approve of gay and lesbian marriage who feel like it’s okay to threaten people or even assault people because they’re sick of hearing about the marriage equality debate. Look, I’m gay and I’m sick of it too.”

“Marriage is about equality, and currently as a gay person in Australia I don’t have equality under the law. That’s all I want.”

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Update: Victoria Police confirmed that they are investigating an unlawful assault that occurred outside Southern Cross Station on August 12. In a statement provided to Junkee they said “Police are aware that some people within the LGBTI community may be feeling stressed, isolated, devalued or unsafe at this time. If you are experiencing threats or you become a victim of crime, then please speak out and talk to police.”