The Unsung Heroes Of The Marriage Equality Campaign
One year on, let's say thanks to some of the people you've never heard of.
It’s one year since Australia said YES in the marriage equality postal survey, after saying yes for the ten years prior in every poll ever done! What a day!
This anniversary has brought a whole bunch of feelings for me that I thought I’d effectively repressed a year ago. Very rude of my brain to have held onto them? Today I feel latent anger at the process, some trauma from the blows of the No campaign and irrational, fleeting panics that we aren’t going to win the survey (kind of like those dreams I still have about my high school exams??).
But there is also a lot of joy to this day, which is worth celebrating. It’s really very good that couples across Australia are finally able to marry, and that LGBTIQ Australians are one big step closer to being equal.
But I reckon this is not even the best bit… This is the one thing I want you to remember on this, the one year anniversary of Yes: we are capable of extraordinary things if we work together.
Australians do extraordinary things all the time. Just this week the internet raised more than $100k for Trolley Man, the homeless guy who intervened in the recent Bourke street attack, and absolutely pounded Scott Morrison when he tried to gut the funding of Foodbank (a charity that literally feeds starving people) signing a massive petition and forcing him to reinstate the funding 24 hours later.
But the Yes campaign was different. The scale of our work, from marching in the street to wearing a rainbow badge to work, to putting up posters in our neighbourhoods to picking up the phone and literally talking to a stranger about where to find their postbox was like nothing our country has ever seen before.
And so, one year on, I want to tell you about some people who you’ve probably never heard of who were crucial to the Yes victory, because the Yes victory wasn’t won by a few faces of the campaign, it was won by millions of us working together.
Meet the Unsung Hereos Of The Marriage Equality Campaign
Edie, aged 11
When the postal survey was called, Edie knew that she needed to do her bit to make sure the adults in her neighbourhood remembered to vote. After all, she was too young herself! Edie’s sign stood proudly out the front of her family’s house for the entire postal survey, until it was faded and tattered around the edges.
Edie’s mum says, “while we didn’t discourage them, all of their little bits of activism were their own choices and came from their own passions about equality. People think kids who have opinions have them because they’ve been told how to think, and that’s total bullshit.”
Mary is 69 years old and with her son Dale, she walked more than 60kms in one weekend, putting leaflets in letterboxes in Northern Queensland, in George Christensen’s electorate, giving 13 reasons to vote Yes!
“There was a huge amount of walking over the three days including a lot of hills, but I didn’t mind because of the overwhelming response from everyone we came across. That positivity and doing it with Dale really helped to keep me going.”
Dale says Mary kept leafleting even after he left.
Divina Blanca dedicated her time during the survey working with communities with a high concentration of people of colour, with organisation Democracy in Colour, to speak to them about voting Yes and to remind them to post their vote.
“We needed to ensure we are speaking to everyone from all communities to ensure they vote Yes. We had a focus on people speaking to their own families and friends, because you’re more likely to listen if it is someone you know personally speaking to you. My favourite part of the campaign was seeing people have these conversations for the first time and being supported by the community through this. No matter what happened, it’s a reminder that we are tough.”
Katherine Wolfgramme is a gender diversity consultant and says that when the survey was announced, “I knew I just had to muck in and do my bit!” Katherine describes herself as “not a protester” but during the campaign she participated in call centres, registered voters at fundraising events and marched in a protest from Sydney’s Town Hall to Circular Quay.
“I am still emotional when I think about what our community suffered during the survey — perhaps I have PTSD, I am sure I am not the only one. So when I sit at gay weddings and cry, I know I have helped win the right to, just like everyone else,” Katherine says.
Denise wanted to do something to support the campaign both because she believes in equality and because her son is gay. Together with her ex-husband, they took out a large ad in the local paper, The Midland Express, in Central Victoria — right there on on page 3.
“Neither of us was associated with any advocacy group, but decided on the ad as a piece of direct action. We knew the ad would be seen by many people and thought it would be the best way we could support the campaign.”
Fahad Ali set up Muslims for Marriage Equality to make sure people in his community were hearing the messages from the Yes campaign, and worked hard to talk about the change in terms of fairness and equality.
“By bringing together like-minded community members, we were able to give LGBTIQ and allied Muslims a much-needed voice in the campaign and in our communities.”
Guys, the LGBTIQ community in Ballarat is not messing about. Do you remember that gorgeous video they made last year across the town? Made me weep! Kirsten Holden is the Co-Founder and President of the Ballarat Pride Hub, which involved more than 700 people from the town in their local Yes campaign.
Highlights include a community Walk for Equality, rainbow chalking around the whole Ballarat CBD and ‘Honk 4 Yes’ events on local Ballarat roads. Ballarat returned a 70.5% Yes vote, higher than the national average, which doesn’t surprise me for a second.
Salim Barbar believes that “I can make a difference each and every time I choose to make a stand against an injustice” Salim worked to organise LGBTIQ workers across Sydney to get involved in the Yes campaign through Union Pride, and together they ran phone banking sessions to call other union members to ask them to vote Yes, “Union members ensured that there was solidarity in the movement. showing support and delivering a YES vote amongst workers in NSW.”
Remember that big march that Katherine decided to join, despite not being much of a protester? April Holcombe helped organise that march! April says “a decade or more of public demonstrations gave a generation of LGBTI people the confidence and pride to demand their rights.”
“I am proud to have organised for six years with Community Action Against Homophobia, where we worked tirelessly to make each protest a defiant and determined event, and not to rely on politicians who actually hindered our cause.”
I spoke at this rally, actually, and it was amazing! More than 50,000 people demanding that LGBTIQ Australians be treated equally. I may have shed a tear.
The survey was devastating for LGBTIQ Australians. Some of us still struggle from the experience, some of us didn’t survive it. We must never forget that. What we must also remember is how powerful we are when we work together. How we can create the communities we want for ourselves, and for our children, when we each do what we can, using the resources we have. Australians from all walks of life played their part in the Yes victory, and together we created a better Australia for us all.
Sally Rugg is an LGBTIQ activist, writer and speaker and the Executive Director of Change.org. Previously, she was the marriage equality director at GetUp. You can buy her book and read all about marriage equality, how politics is broken and learn how to be an activist (but you have to wait until next year). Follow her @SallyRugg.