When I was around fourteen three guest speakers visited my school. They were from SETA, the peak body promoting sexual equality in Finland. The guests were all young adults, and they talked about what it had been like growing up knowing they were different, the difficulties they had faced when they came out to the their family and friends and so on. I remember that two of them were siblings: the woman said she had felt particularly hurt that her brother, next to her on stage that day, had not been very supportive of her at first even though he was gay as well and would have known how vulnerable she felt at the time.
It was a phenomenal talk to listen to. I remember thinking how very, very brave all three had to be to come to a high school to talk about such private and sensitive things. I couldn't imagine that talking freely about your sexuality would have been easy even for grown-ups, let alone in front of a faceless mass of teenagers. I wanted to just say thank you to the speakers and let them know I appreciated their openness.
After the talk they had lunch at school, and I saw them talking to a couple of teachers in the lunch room. I had my opportunity to say something, but I didn't take it. Why? I didn't want anyone to think I could be gay. I didn't say anything to them, I just had my food and left, not entirely aware at that point that my cowardice rather defeated the purpose of the talk in the first place.
To recap: I didn't go talk to a gay person in case I was judged for it. In an environment clearly supportive of different sexualities, after an event specifically designed to make teenagers rethink their prejudices.
Let's take a moment, then, to consider how little support and friendship there might be for gay people growing up in less inclusive environments, such as the ones that people like Bob Katter and Barnaby Joyce like to think they represent.
Katter and Joyce are members of the Australian Parliament, and a couple of days ago they along with other MPs addressed a rally for equal marriage rights to express their opposition to it. Katter thinks that gay marriage "should be ridiculed" and Joyce is somehow under the impression that if marriage rights are granted to homosexual couples they will simultaneously be taken away from his daughters specifically.
Now, this isn't the first time Katter and Joyce have ridden the crazy train, and they're certainly not alone on it. I sincerely hope, though, that we can all, individually and collectively, develop enough backbone to stop perpetuating their particular brand of fear, shame and misinformation (Katter, you could do alot worse than start here).
Join GetUp's campaign for marriage equality. And next time you want to commend someone for being brave don't be a coward about it.