Culture

Hey Malcolm, I’m Glad You Enjoyed The Postal Survey. It Was One Of The Worst Times Of My Life.

We can never let the PM forget what he put us through.

It was September 12 — the very first day of the marriage equality postal survey — when a man calling himself Don rang into Jon Faine’s ABC show to praise Hitler for murdering thousands of gay men and women during the holocaust.

It was one of only two things Hitler got right, according to “Don”. The other was building the Autobahn.

I was alerted to the call by someone on Twitter, and quickly set about tracking the audio down. It was a perfect example of the abuse that queer Australians had tried to tell the government would be unleashed as a result of any public vote on our rights.

Cynically, as someone who also has traffic targets to hit, I thought the story would be good for Junkee’s bottom line as well — it had all the elements of a story that our audience would click on and share.

When I finally listened to the audio, I was surprised by how much it affected me. Here was a man on the national broadcaster, calmly and deliberately advocating the murder of gay people. “Don” would have me dead, if he had his way. My heart began racing, my hands were shaking. I was on the verge of tears. No story has ever made me feel that way before or since.

I called the ABC to confirm that the audio was genuine, so convinced was I that “Don” couldn’t possibly be real, and the call must have been some elaborate prank.

The Worst Period Of Our Lives

I’ve been writing about LGBTIQ+ issues for a long time now. It’s not always easy. There’s been plenty of homophobic abuse over the years. But I’ve never, ever felt the way I did after less than a day of official postal survey campaigning.

Going into the postal survey, I never truly considered the impact the campaign would have on me. My opposition to the survey was borne out of concern for more vulnerable queer Australians, especially the younger ones, who may not have the same support network that I do. Foolishly, I thought I had developed a thick enough skin over the years to deal with it.

This campaign was hard. Each day there was a new slur to deal with. We were child abusers, we were creating a new Stolen Generation, we were disordered. And that was just what the official No campaign had to say.

We were child abusers, we were creating a new Stolen Generation, we were disordered.

The unofficial campaign — the tweets, the unauthorised flyers, the vile posters — were much, much worse. Each day brought a new anxiety. It was inescapable. I’d come home from work with a tightness in my chest that I couldn’t get rid of. I had trouble sleeping. On more than one occasion I stopped off at the bottle shop on the way home from work just to take the edge off of another horrible day.

On the worst days of the campaign — like the day a man headbutted Tony Abbott — it really felt as though we might lose. The No campaign appeared to have all of the momentum. It was receiving five times the amount of media attention. Even the senior Yes campaigners I regularly spoke to, all of whom have been doing this for years, seemed nervous.

Congratulations, Malcolm

I say this knowing it comes from a place of immense privilege, but the two months of the postal survey were some of the most difficult of my life. I cannot imagine what it was like for people who don’t have the support network that I have, or who went into the campaign already carrying mental health issues, or for whom the campaign dredged up memories of dark times that they thought were behind them.

That’s why it was especially galling to see Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stand up in Parliament today and exclaim at what a wonderful time he had during the postal survey.

“The postal survey was one of the most remarkable political events in my lifetime – and I believe in the lifetime of many Australians,” he said.

The PM spoke of the “positive affirmation” LGBTIQ+ Australians could take away from the survey result, as if we needed the public’s permission to be who we are.

“In voting Yes, Australians have thrown their arms around their fellow Australians who are gay and said clearly: ‘We accept you and we accept your relationship’,” he said.

Thanks, Malcolm, but I didn’t need to be told that I’m not broken. I have a supportive family, and a loving partner, but even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t need to Australian people to re-affirm my humanity.

The PM bragged that he had delivered on his election promise to give the people their say, and then he bragged of the survey’s impressive turnout.

Let’s never forget that Turnbull was opposed to a people’s vote before he was supportive of it.

The turnout “proved what we always said; that Australians wanted to have their say,” he claimed.

But the PM didn’t always say that, did he? Let’s never forget that Turnbull was opposed to a people’s vote before he was supportive of it. He argued publicly and privately against it, and only changed his mind when his genuine belief stood between him and power. He discarded his beliefs as quickly as he discarded the concerns of LGBTIQ+ Australians who knew all too well the torrent of hate that this campaign would unleash.

Marriage equality will pass the parliament this week, and when it does, the Prime Minister will want to claim credit for it. But the truth is, we got here in spite of Malcolm Turnbull, not because of him. We got here because of the hard work of the people who ran the Yes campaign, and the dedication of the tens of thousands of people who marched, made phone calls and knocked on doors.

They did that not because they wanted to, they did it because Malcolm Turnbull forced them to. I’m glad the PM had such a great time during this process. Someone had to. Because for so many of us, it left a scar that will take years to heal.

Rob Stott is the Managing Editor of Junkee Media. He tweets @Rob_Stott.