When I put my hand up to write an article for Rainbow Roo and the topic was Human Rights, I genuinely didn’t expect to encounter such severe writer’s block. I enjoy writing, but I need to write from experience for it to feel real and relevant. Lived experience is an essential ingredient when I am doing what I love. When it comes to Human Rights, I am probably one of the last people in a position to speak. I am a middle-aged, white cis male who was born in a developed nation. As far as human rights go, I won the genetic lottery, right?
So, I had to really sit and think about human rights and how they relate to me. I have had to think about how my human rights have been used as political goalposts and how those rights have framed who I am and the decisions I make.
I remember being afraid of coming out when I was younger, but it was more of an abstract fear. Nothing defined, just the symbolic act itself as an irreversible leap terrified me. It wasn’t until October 1998 when I saws the news talking about a young gay man being brutally beaten and strung up to die that I acknowledged my life could be at risk. That was the first time I heard Matthew Shephards name. For some reason that was the first time I experienced the realisation that my very existence could be enough of a reason for someone to hate me so much to want to kill me. As a result, I tried to blend in, I became hypervigilant and didn’t want to give anyone a reason to look closer.
Once I moved away from my hometown and came out, I learned to relax a bit. I never saw homophobia in action. I lived my life as a wild and care-free young gay man enjoying his youth. Some friends in the older generation would say that I didn’t know how lucky I was and how easy I had it and I would ask them to please explain. So, they told me stories of life before Matthew Shephard, of growing up in Sydney during the AIDS crisis, the regular beatings, of watching friends waste away from “The Gay Disease” and of the apathy from the status quo. Having never seen this in action it was an eye-opening experience to hear it from people who had seen and lived it firsthand.
When I moved to Brisbane I had even more eye-opening experiences. I tried to donate blood and was denied. It was the first time I was called faggot by someone walking past. It was the first time I was rejected by a real estate because I was in her words “Not one of the right people for the complex”. It was also the first time I ever heard of Gay Conversion Therapy and Gay Panic Defence. I imagine that I was lucky living in the Northern Territory to have never encountered the last two, imagine my shock and horror when my friends explained it all to me.
More recently I have been aware of my privilege and once I acknowledge this, I became much more aware of how other people’s rights were neglected. I always knew that human rights were an issue in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as well as refugees. But I also became aware of the “invisible people”. The ones who look like everyone else but whose rights were also attacked and stripped away. The LGBTQIA+, those with disabilities, those who were from a lower socio-economic home and heaven forbid, those who came from a combination of those backgrounds. Once you become aware of the systemic injustices in the world and the twisted semantics and double-speak utilised to maintain the status quo, they can’t be unseen.
There have been some improvements, very slow and grudging progress. Those in power have made sure that every step, every “concession” and every acknowledgment of anyone else’s rights has been a brutal uphill battle. Same sex marriage came with the plebiscite, Aboriginal rights came with servitude, rape and torture leading to the Wave Hill Walkoff, Trans and Gender non-conforming rights come with a plethora of societal, medical, bureaucratic ad systemic hurdles.
There are still many uphill battles for us and our families. Personally, I feel that it is my responsibility to aid those who are seen as less than or not equal to the rest of us who can blend is more easily. To call out racism, homophobia, and transphobia when and where I see it.
To the people reading this who exist within those communities or any other demonised community or a cross-section of those communities, I see you and I acknowledge you. I acknowledge your existence, your guts, strength and perseverance. I see you.
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