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Opinion Piece

Marriage focus ignores other issues

Originally published in the Sydney Star Observer (online), 23 February 2012

Imagine for a moment this scenario.

Let’s say you’re a young man living in conservative rural Australia. As you grow older you begin to realise you’re attracted to other men. Expected to stay in the family business for the rest of your life, your sexuality now becomes a major issue.

You know that if you come out, you will be kicked out, and with no higher education or future employment prospects it is a risk you can’t take.

For you, your only options are to spend the rest of your life hiding your sexuality or to simply end it all.

It is tragic realities such as this that are faced by too many, which is why young gay men are 3.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts — a figure that increases for same-sex attracted women and even more for bisexual people and trans* people.

Or let’s think of another scenario.

Imagine you’re trans*. Throughout your entire life you have faced discrimination for your gender identity. Now, unemployed, you continue to find it almost impossible to find work, mostly because of the discrimination you face because of your gender identity.

If this is you, you are one of the approximate 9 percent of Australian trans* people who are unemployed today (statistics are from 2008, with this number being more than double the national average at the time).

Stories such as this are too common for my liking.

Trans*, gay, lesbian, bi, intersex, asexual and queer people face a range of different and varied forms of discrimination every day. As a young gay man, I have seen this sort of discrimination firsthand.

It is for this reason that the global queer movement formed. Queer members of our society decided it was time for these injustices to come to an end and for our community to gain its liberation.

Yet, as the queer movement evolves, so many of these stories are being untold. Despite the fact my story as a young, white, middle class queer man is being told, many queer people are still without a voice.

The mainstream queer movement (i.e. the big organisations with the big money) have become focused around a predominately middle to upper class queer agenda. The movement has moved away from queer liberation, to instead focus on allowing a few, special members of the queer community to gain access to the heteropatriarchal society.

For example, for years now the queer movement has become solely focused on a few single goals — mainly those of civil unions and marriage ‘rights’.

Marriage equality has become an all-consuming activity.

Instead of fighting for queer liberation as a whole, we have become obsessed with accessing heteropatriarchal relationship systems. Our queer organisations have now been replaced with those such as Australian Marriage Equality, who are dominating political space. It is now almost impossible to read anything about queer liberation without it being about marriage equality.

And with all of this focus on marriage equality, many other issues have begun to fall by the wayside. Marriage equality has become an all-consuming part of the queer agenda, sucking all oxygen in the broader public space away from a broader discussion on queer liberation.

For example, the organiser of a marriage rights forum (@ToroProduction & @CosmicRami), which featured Kristina Keneally, had this to say to a concerned member of the community:
katedoak Kate Doak: @ ToroProduction Question: Is tonight only on marriage #equality, or are you guys planning on debating other #lgbt issues? cc @KKeneally
_ToroProduction Randel Morris: @katedoak focused on marriage equality tonight, but have lots of LGBT issues we will be fighting for soon! #equality #lgbt
katedoak Kate Doak: @ToroProduction Before or after marriage #equality passes? High #lgbt youth unemployment levels = more pressing than marriage @KKeneally
CosmicRami Rami Social & Mobile: @ katedoak Def. an Issue we wish to discuss down the track, we will be raising that point in a separate future forum 🙂 #equality #lgbt

The message here is clear. Marriage equality is the biggest issue we need to deal — others can wait.

Even when the queer movement does move beyond marriage equality, the campaigns and victories still have a middle class feeling to them. For example, there was a recent (and important) victory over gender identification on passports, which meant that people will no longer have to have gender reassignment surgery before they change their gender on their passport.

When it occurred, this victory was held up by many around the country, who proudly stated “Look, we can focus on marriage equality and still have important victories in other areas”. What this analysis fails to recognise was that it was a victory that was due almost solely to the work of trans* activists, with very little mainstream queer involvement.

Beyond this, the changes still have a very middle class feel to them. Changes to passports do very little for those trans* people who are still unemployed. It is also only those who are wealthy enough to be able to travel who can access passports and gain the benefits of the gender identification changes implemented.

For many, the campaigns the mainstream queer movement are focusing on mean nothing. Marriage means nothing if you can’t even face coming out. A passport is useless if you can’t get a job and therefore can’t afford to travel.

For many, the issues are so much bigger and the problems so much worse.

While we, upper to middle class queers, fight for marriage ‘rights’, there are those who still can’t come out in their community because of discrimination. There are those who commit suicide because they cannot face the homophobia in their community. There are those who cannot get a job because of discrimination they face from potential employers.

There are so many stories that are far more harrowing than someone being unable to get married that simply aren’t being addressed.

I am a gay, white, middle class Canberran in a long-term stable relationship. I am the epitome of the type of person who is likely to benefit from a change to the Marriage Act.

Yet, even as I see this coming closer, I continue to become more and more disillusioned with a queer movement that is becoming so narrow that it is excluding the very people it should be empowering.

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About Simon Copland

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. In his spare time he plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer, blogs at The Moonbat and tweets at @SimonCopland.

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