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Insidious discrimination

By Laura Soderlind - posted Friday, 19 April 2013

New Zealand has now beat us to the alter. Australia is not jilted, nor even a bridesmaid. We didn't show up to the party.

Gay issues are front and centre in the Australian political landscape. And no issue more so than gay marriage. We all know Penny Wong is a lesbian, Julia Gillard says she personally opposes gay marriage, and Tony Abbott is, ahem, very uncomfortable and Catholic about it all.

The issue of gay marriage has been pretty well hashed out. If you support marriage equality then you're progressive. If you still oppose gay marriage, then it's likely nobody will change your mind. In this ideological tug of war there are two distinct sides and not a whole lot of team changing.


But there is also a different brand of homophobia that cuts across this divide.

As a lesbian in my mid twenties, the kind of discrimination I have experienced is definitely different to those of previous generations. While it's not unheard of for gay people my age to have experienced the ostracism, violence and public nastiness that typified the gay experience in past decades, it has not been my experience.

The new brand of homophobia is pale gray and harder to identify. In today's politically correct world, homophobia can be a shadowy and hard to identify beast that can even wear the clothes of the left.

There seems to be a lot of fatigue about gay rights in the broader community. There is an attitude that generally, gay people and gay couples aren't vastly discriminated against in law or society at large. So, maybe it's time to stop whinging, right?

Among even our straight comrades who theoretically support gay rights, there seems to be, at times, eye-rolling and muffled yawning when gay people bring up gay issues yet again. These sentiments seem to be articulated along the unspoken lines of 'yeah, we get it, there should be gay marriage, but come of it, will you.'

One of the most offensive comments I ever received was from an educated, urban Greens voting friend. She said it would be relatively easy to live as a gay person without experiencing any discrimination at all. 'But racism, problems in Indigenous communities, that's where our attention is needed. Not gay issues.'


Now, I don't want to rain on the parade of racial minorities and claim that my cause is more important. I am deeply concerned about Indigenous issues and am horrified by the racism that can bite and snap from the collective mouths of Australians. Just as I hope that ethnic groups in Australia, from Indigenous Australians to Muslim Australians, support my rights, I endeavor to support theirs. There is no need to pit minority group against minority group.

But by denying that there were really any tangible issues facing the gay community, gay individuals and gay couples, this friend managed, for that moment, to erase our agenda, silence our concerns and deflate the political potency of the whole cause.

That kind of dismissive attitude makes it difficult for gay people to gripe about how 'my partner' gets translated 'your boyfriend', or how one's travel insurance doesn't cover a same sex partner when it would a spouse. Or when we have to put in, yet again, for another engagement present for a colleague, despite one's own relationship never getting the same recognition or support.

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About the Author

Laura Soderlind works in communications at the University of Melbourne, while quietly researching and writing about gender politics and gay issues.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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