Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Message of Hope (and a Call to Action) from the Land Down-Under

In response to the recent coming out of former Olympic swimmer Daniel Kowalski, a young Australian gay university student named Max Denton has written a thoughtful and hopeful op-ed for The Age newspaper in which he reflects upon being gay in Australia today and shares his belief that the one thing that unites gay people in all our diversity is the simple understanding that “we are more than what most people believe we are.”

Max also sounds a clarion call: “If gay people do not have their rights, it is because we are yet to take them,” he says. “The civil rights champions of the ’60s didn’t wait for their rights to be given to them; they stood up and demanded them. We must do the same.”

Max’s poignant and rousing op-ed is printed in its entirety below (with thanks to my friend Mark for bringing it to my attention).


Coming Out of the Closet
Need Not Be An Olympic Effort

By Max Denton

The Age
April 20, 2010

Gay rights are there for the taking,
and now is a good time to do it.

I’m humbled when I read stories about those in the spotlight – most recently Daniel Kowalski – coming out. I can remember how hard it was two years ago, aged 18, to tell my family and friends that I was gay; I have no conception of how hard it must be to do it in the public eye.

That said, I feel it’s happening more and more. In the past fortnight we’ve also seen dozens of footballers – footballers! – tell the young, scared gay people of Australia that it’s OK to be who you are.

It is an exciting time to be gay in Australia. Not only is this probably the safest time, there’s also the inescapable feeling that things continue to change for the better.

Nevertheless, as a minority, we’re still stuck on the cusp of full rights and freedoms in the eyes of the law, and our peers. The lack of full acceptance means young girls and boys suffer depression and even someone as successful as Kowalski can be overcome with loneliness.

I'm not writing this because I believe I’m especially experienced or qualified to do so. In fact, I’m writing this exactly because I’m not. I’m a young, average gay kid from the outer suburbs of Melbourne who has grown up with a similar struggle to Kowalski and many, many others. I want to speak to those like me who feel we deserve more. The gay minority has the distinction of being unlike most other minorities – we do not share a common background, a common heritage or set of values. We make up the exact same proportion of every class, every race, every religion, and every nationality. We are the most eclectic minority one could imagine. We are as diverse as Australia is flat.

I believe it’s for this reason that we have found it hard to obtain equality under the law. We are mistaken into believing there is nothing that unites us besides our sexual preference. But there is one other uniting factor.

I was sitting on the train recently when two typical, masculine Australian blokes sat opposite me. Being the skinny, irrational kid that I am, I was consumed by fear, watching my movements and scared of attracting attention. After a few minutes of intently staring out the window, I looked back to find that one had draped his arm over the other and they were sharing a gentle kiss.

In that moment I understood that the thing that unites us is a simple understanding: that we are more than what most people believe we are. We are not beholden to the stereotypes. We are each and every one of us who we want to be.

We are an Olympic swimmer, an Olympic diver, a Climate Change Minister, we’re lawyers, doctors and, yes, we’re young, scared university students, too. But we all are just doing what we can with what we were given.

The movement towards gay rights is eclectic. Socially it moves forward because of actions such as those of the AFL [Australian Football League] and attitudes expressed through a Galaxy poll of a few months ago, which showed the vast majority of Australians in support of equality in marriage.

Unfortunately, politically it is a different matter. I wish I could take the easy route and blame an uninterested government or an opposition that prefers to demonise us than stand up for our rights. But part of the blame should lie with us.

If gay people do not have their rights, it is because we are yet to take them. The civil rights champions of the ’60s didn’t wait for their rights to be given to them; they stood up and demanded them. We must do the same.

It is no longer enough to join a Facebook group or sign the occasional petition. Nor is it acceptable for gay rights to be the province of fringe groups. With the support of our friends and the public, our movement for equal rights is not a fringe movement.

We need to unite; we need more leaders such as Daniel Kowalski who unabashedly declare who they are and why that’s OK; each one helps our cause. If just half the kids I see at the clubs each week turned out to a protest, we would speak with such a voice that it would drown out all opposition.

Like my humbling experience on the train, we need to stop being scared of our shadows and realise the Australia we live in is more tolerant than we may imagine. The difficulty of coming out and living out will only be overcome when we realise our rights are there for the taking. We just need to take a chance.

Max Denton is studying politics and economics at Melbourne University.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Daniel Kowalski: “I Can No Longer Fight Who I Am”
Ian McKellen’s Two Great Achievements: Playing Gandalf and Coming Out
Out Gay Actor Neil Patrick Harris: “I’m Striving to Be an Example of Normalcy
“Glambert” and the New Gay Stereotype
Adam Lambert: No Surprise, But An Important Event Nonetheless
It Shouldn’t Matter, Except It Does
Matthew Mitcham: Making a Splash
Openly Gay Diver Wins Olympic Gold
Darren Hayes, Coming Out . . . Oh, and Time Travel
Ricky Martin: Well, Better Late Than Never, I Guess
Coming Out in Africa and the Middle East
To Be Gay in Iraq . . .
Coming Out: An Act of Holiness
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
A Girl Named Sara: “A Person of the Resurrection”
Soul Deep

And for my own coming out story, see The Wild Reed series, In the Footsteps of Spring:
Part 1: The Light Within
Part 2: Shards of Summer
Part 3: Intimate Soliloquies
Part 4: Coming Out
Part 5: No Stranger Am I

1 comment:

Mareczku said...

It is nice to know that people in Australia seem to be fairly tolerant and accepting of gay people. I hope that the US can follow their lead. It would be nice if the Catholic Church could join in the fight against prejudice and discrimination.