‘It’s okay to be gay’ – phew, what a relief

I was catching up on Twitter news on Monday, scrolling through my feed gaily, when I saw something that suddenly stopped my fingers mid-scroll.

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Usually this only happens when I spot some kind of inter-species animal friendship video, or perhaps a photo of Kristen Stewart’s new haircut. But this time, it was instead a tweet that featured part of a headline from an article, and then a link to the full article. This in itself is not unusual to see, but the words written there were enough to give me pause. The tweet read:

Tony Abbott says ‘it’s okay to be gay’. 

Wow, what a moment. 

I am surprised I didn’t faint dead away, needing to be revived with smelling salts like some kind of swooning 50s movie star. Finally, Mr Abbott’s approval had been bestowed upon the queer community. We can all now sleep through the night for the first time in years. Tony Abbott can sign our permission slips for entry into gay bars! We can begin to accept ourselves, live our lives, and be happy. Thanks so much Mr Abbott – we appreciate it! 

Obviously, I am being facetious here, but the remark did pique my curiosity enough to go ahead and click through to the article. 

It explained that Mr Abbott’s comments came after his private conversation with Alan Jones about a video made by a man who had kept his sexuality hidden for many years, and who was now telling his story to plead for marriage equality. Jones explained to Abbott that the man just wanted someone to say that it is okay to be gay. Mr Abbott expressed that he was, “…very happy to say that”. By anyone’s account, that is a positive step, albeit the bare minimum. It’s okay to be gay? Astonishing. What a supportive and progressive statement to hear in this, the year 2015. 

Even though this was a baby step forward, and not even a real baby, more like a kitten, the Prime Minister then immediately nullified it by following up with, “I think it’s absolutely clear that there are two different issues here. One is the rights and dignity of people regardless of their sexuality and the other is whether we want to move down the track of same-sex marriage and I think they’re two different issues.”

Oh, Mr Abbott. You were doing so well for a second there. We almost had a human connection.

Even though Mr Abbott is a middle-aged, heterosexual, conservative, Catholic man, and should obviously be deferred to on all matters of sexuality and acceptance, I am going to have to strongly disagree with him here. You can’t on one hand claim to care about the ‘rights and dignity’ of people regardless of their sexuality, and then on the other continue to deny them access to full equality. It just doesn’t work that way. 

The man who made the video, those young people struggling with their sexuality across the country, and me, we are all real, tangible human people. We are people who have been living in a country where our political leaders clearly think of us as second-class citizens. We have endured, and will no doubt continue to endure debate and arguments about our humanity, targeted violence, vicious insults, lies, and coded homophobic language from those who are unwilling to accept full equality. And we have seen Mr Abbott validate these behaviours by doing everything in his power to stop us being able to marry the people we love, and to prevent us from being truly equal. 

The two issues are not different, as the Prime Minister claims. They are the very same. One concerns the rights and dignity of people regardless of their sexuality; and the other decides if we want to legalise same-sex marriage, therefore affording us the same rights and dignity as everyone else. We are in a place, in 2015, where Australia’s Prime Minister saying that ‘being gay is okay’ made news. Think about that for a moment. Think about the kinds of messages LGBTQI people have been receiving from people in power before this moment for this to be any kind of story at all. Think about being a closeted gay teenager in rural Queensland and having every action your Prime Minister makes around marriage equality signal that he things you not deserving of the same rights as your friends. One off-the-cuff comment by Mr Abbott claiming hesitantly that he thinks being gay is ‘okay’ will do nothing to repair the damage his actions have caused and will continue to cause for as long as this issue is drawn out. 

Yes, being gay is okay. Being a Prime Minister who wants to prevent LGBTIQ Australians from having the same rights as other Australians is not. 

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.