Bill Shorten calls Tathra’s Eddie Blewett to say congrats on marriage equality

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was among the first to thank and congratulate Tathra’s Eddie Blewett and his family this morning following news that Australia had said YES to marriage equality.

Phone call to Eddie

Remember Eddie? He came to Canberra a while ago to tell the country about why his mums deserve equality – just like other families. Eddie’s story persuaded a lot of Australians to vote yes. After the result today, there was one person I wanted to talk to.

Posted by Bill Shorten MP on Tuesday, 14 November 2017

 

Eddie and his mums, Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson gathered at The Wharf Locavore at Tathra with friends to hear the announcement from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The YES win was greeted warmly by the crowd of 30 or so people, but tempered by the need for parliament to now ratify the will of the people.

“I am relieved today has finally come and that the ‘YES’ vote has won,” Eddie says.

“Let’s get this done now so that families like mine can go back to doing what families do.”

Eddie took his story and point of view to Canberra the day the first survey forms were posted – September 12.

The Labor caucus lead by Mr Shorten and his Deputy Tanya Plibersek came and shared Anzac biscuits and a game of soccer with Eddie and his mates (which includes my family) on the front lawn of Parliament House.

The event made national news, Eddie’s simple and authentic message rang loudly.

“People who know my family, know that there is nothing wrong with us,” Eddie told the Canberra media pack on September 12.

“We play soccer in the winter and volunteer for the surf club in the summer,” he said.

“I have two parents, they love me and they love each other, all couples and all families deserve the same respect and value.”

#Tathra's Eddie Blewett talks to the media pack at Parliament House, Canberra with Bill Shorten MP Mike Kelly MP, and Tanya Plibersek, asking #Australia to get this done and say YES for Rainbow Families.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Monday, 11 September 2017

 

Realisation today that 62% of his countrymen agreed was reassuring.

“It’s been hard, having your family talked about and judged, thank you to everyone who has supported us during this difficult time,” Eddie says.

“I really hope the Prime Minister makes good on his commitment to take this to parliament and have this finalised by Christmas.”

Bill Shorten’s call this morning was a surprise, but points to the power of Eddie’s campaigning.

“Bill told me he wants this done by December 7, that was good to hear,” Eddie says.

“I am really grateful for Bill and Tayna’s support.”

Celebrating a win for YES at Tathra Wharf. Photo: Ian Campbell
Celebrating a win for YES at Tathra Wharf, November 15, 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell

With the sea under Tathra Wharf being whipped up by biting winds from every direction, those gathered started to unpick the detail of the results.

There was disappointment at the New South Wales result – the lowest YES vote in the country with 57.8%.

“Queensland (60.7% YES) and Tasmania (63.6% YES) seem more progressive,” was one cheeky comment I overheard.

News that 17 of Australia’s 150 electorates had voted NO also chipped away at the mood.

For the same-sex couples and gay people gathered seeing a number put on those who seemingly oppose who they are and their way of life was stark.

“I am really pleased most people have said YES, but it’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing that almost five million people (38%) have said NO, it’s hard not to feel that personally,” Claire Blewett says.

Seeing the local results come through renewed the energy in the 150-year-old wharf building.

Sixty-five percent of Eden-Monaro voters said YES, 62% in the Eurobodalla/Shoalhaven based seat of Gilmore.

“The way we got to this result has been damaging, ” Neroli Dickson says.

“But locally it’s been incredibly encouraging to experience the genuine support of so many in this country community, friends and ‘strangers’ who all want diversity celebrated, a 65% YES vote confirms it,” Neroli says.

“To know that the community we call home said YES so strongly is brilliant,” Claire adds.

“But we’ll wait for the next step to take place in parliament before we really relax and enjoy this result.”

The 'Yes' campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell
The ‘Yes’ campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House, September 12, 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell

Labor’s Mike Kelly, Member for Eden-Monaro says he is intensely proud of his electorate today.

“A result amongst the highest in Australia. I am even more proud of the respectful way in which this community on both sides engaged in the debate,” he says.

“The result demonstrates the intelligent and compassionate nature of this electorate and their steadfast belief in equality.”

In neighbouring Gilmore, Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis thanked the people of her electorate for taking part.

“I welcome the outcome, a YES vote supported by 62% of the electorate,” Ms Sudmalis says.

“I welcome the Prime Ministers commitment to have this legislated by Christmas, I will support a YES vote in the House of Representatives,” Ms Sudmalis says.

Speaking to About Regional later in the day, Bill Shorten paid tribute to the power of individual voices like Eddie’s.

“When Eddie spoke to the country about his family, I think he persuaded a lot of people to vote YES,” Mr Shorten says.

“This victory belongs to Eddie, his family and other LGBTIQ families in Australia.

“Eddie is an absolute legend. I’m really proud of him, and I know his mums are too,” Mr Shorten said.

Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell

Eddie Blewett and his community point to ‘The Power of One’

Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell

This time last week I was witness to the most amazing thing.

A fourteen year old boy went to Canberra and caught the ear of national media and the alternative government.

Last Tuesday’s ‘event’ on the lawn in front of Parliament House was born from Eddie Blewett’s experience 12 months prior.

Eddie and his two mums traveled from their home in Tathra to Canberra in September 2016 with other Rainbow Families lobbying against a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

On that occasion the presence of Eddie and his mums Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson shaped Question Time. Reporting for Fairfax, Matthew Knot wrote that, ‘Eddie stole Question Time”.

On his return last week, the issue hadn’t changed much and Eddie was keen to address that.

Six weeks ago, Eddie wrote to Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull hoping to help the PM campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the postal survey that has replaced the failed plebiscite.

The same correspondence was sent to Labor Leader, Bill Shorten, Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, and Eddie’s local MP, Mike Kelly – all pointing to September 12 as a possible meeting day.

Remembering the impact of Eddie’s visit almost 1 year before to the day, there was real warmth and a genuine interest from Ms Plibersek especially, who seemed equally hopeful that Eddie might meet with the PM.

Eddie’s friends (including my family) had agreed to meet at 10am on the grass in front of the big flag pole.

We were a diverse mix of country people, kids and adults, including a Vietnam vet, a school teacher, retired police officer, a Canberra Raiders fan, two Registered Nurses, a retired steel worker, and an arts administrator, to name a few.

All there to say, this issue is important to people beyond just ‘the gays in the village’.

The 'Yes' campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell
The ‘Yes’ campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell

The plan was to set – a picnic and a game of soccer, like any family might and see what happened.

The convoy that travelled with Eddie that day numbered around 20, not large in number but our aim was to help those with an ability to pull a crowd get a message out – vote YES.

Using the group’s Bega Valley soccer connections, a bundle of spring loaded corner posts and witches hats were borrowed to mark out a field.

A rainbow flag was gaffer taped to one of the fences attracting the interest of patrolling members of the Australian Federal Police, who made sure we knew it was a no-no but turned a blind eye with a wink of support.

Our soccer field looked great, as did the picnic rugs and assortment of nibbles and baked goods. Mind you no one was hungry – nerves suppressed any craving for one of the Anzac biscuits on offer.

Somethings about to happen, the crowd is building. Photo: Ian Campbell
Something’s about to happen, the crowd is building. Photo: Ian Campbell

Eleven o’clock arrived quickly. We had high hopes and a sense something great was about to happen, but we didn’t know what was going to happen at the same time.

Mr Shorten and Ms Plibersek had agreed to meet and we hoped the media might tag along – as overwhelming as that felt.

All involved were keen to protect Eddie from potential ugliness, the Canberra press pack comes with a reputation and Eddie had a taste of that last time round.

He was nervous but kept pushing though. Having a ball to kick with his mates was key and he knew he had something valuable and important to say.

We’d worked with Eddie on a statement to read to the media if they showed up, rather than being bamboozled by questions left and right.

The first sign of what was to come started to emerged from between the marble columns of Parliament House.

A cameraman from Fairfax was the first, a scout to make sure everything was ready for his media comrades.

A lectern was positioned with Parliament House and our soccer field in the background, and as if they appeared from the Aladdin’s lamp, the Opposition Leader and his Deputy were mingling at the edges of our picnic rugs.

Anzac biscuits were offered as the number of MP’s streaming down the path increased, cameramen and journalists manoeuvring around our morning tea.

Watch the Anzacs! Photo: Ian Campbell
Watch the Anzacs! Photo: Ian Campbell

It was hard to say and no one counted but our group ballooned to 50, 60 or 70 people.

Ms Plibersek spoke first, “We know that households across Australia will be receiving their survey papers in the coming days,” she said.

“And we are here to urge people to fill their papers in straight away.”

Bill Shorten was next, “Australia’s modern families come in all shapes and sizes, I think it’s long overdue for the law to catch up with the way in which millions of Australians are already constructing their lives,” he said.

“Today the survey goes out, about 600,000 of the 16 million surveys will be posted today.

“Tick the ‘Yes’ box and we can get this done before Christmas.”

Showtime! Bill Shorten introducing Eddie to the media. Photo: Ian Campbell
Showtime! Bill Shorten introducing Eddie to the media. Photo: Ian Campbell

Mr Shorten then introduced Eddie to the media pack.

Eddie had continued to tweak his statement over breakfast that morning, the nicely typed one pager replaced by his own hand written thoughts.

With many of those assembled blubbering quietly (Ms Plibersek included) – Eddie nailed it.

“People who know my family, know that there is nothing wrong with us.

“We play soccer in the winter and volunteer for the surf club in the summer,” he said.

“I have two parents, they love me and they love each other, all couples and all families deserve the same respect and value.”

#Tathra's Eddie Blewett talks to the media pack at Parliament House, Canberra with Bill Shorten MP Mike Kelly MP, and Tanya Plibersek, asking #Australia to get this done and say YES for Rainbow Families.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Monday, 11 September 2017

 

More mingling and private discussion followed (the soccer game resumed) as well as one on one media interviews and photo requests.

Eddie, Neroli, and Claire handled it all with grace. The support of local media at home the day before helped with that – Fairfax, ABC South East, Power FM and 2EC, all recognised Eddie’s courage early and helped build confidence and momentum.

At about 12:30 we got our patch of grass back, mind you, we’d been sharing it from the very start with a large group of people wearing yellow and practicing Tai Chi. There must have been at least 50 of them highlighting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China (note to self, find out more one day).

At 1:30 Ms Plibersek said she would take Eddie’s message to the floor of parliament in a session that runs before Question Time known as ‘Ninety Second Member Statements’.

Buggered and hungry for shade (we’d come prepared for Canberra cold not sunshine) we moved inside for coffee ready for 1:30.

Having half undressed to pass through security we took our green seats in the public gallery of the House of Representatives just as Ms Plibersek rose to her feet…

Earlier today, the Leader of the Opposition and I met with three very special people. Eddie Blewett, and his mums Claire and Neroli – from Tathra, NSW.

I had hoped that since they were last here, about a year ago now, that the Parliament would have done its job and legislated for marriage equality.

Sadly, the Prime Minister has delivered a ridiculous $122 million postal survey instead.

None of us wanted it, but we’re determined to win it.

We’ve already seen the vitriol that Malcolm Turnbull’s postal survey is inflicting on LGBTI Australians, their families, and friends.

I know that the next few weeks are going to be tough for young people like Eddie, and for his mums.

But today we say, we stand with you. We’ve got your back.

Ballot papers will be arriving in people’s letterboxes over the coming days.

I urge people to fill out their ballots, and post them back as soon as possible.

I urge people to vote yes.

I’m voting yes, for families like Eddie, Claire, Neroli’s.

I’m voting yes for the person I’ve never met – a young person in a country town who might be struggling with their sexuality.

I’m voting yes because I want to live in country that supports equal rights for all its citizens.

I asked Eddie this morning if he had anything he’d like me say for him in the Parliament.

He said:

“Voting ‘yes’ takes nothing away from anyone, but voting ‘no’ will take something away from me and my mums.”

Thank you so much for coming to Parliament today.

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

By that stage, media coverage was starting to appear – News Corp, SBS, the Huffington Post, the Canberra Times. 

On the way home, we heard about our day on ABC Radio’s PM program, and some of the group were home in time to flick between the various TV news bulletins between 6 and 7:30pm, most featuring Eddie.

Eddie chatting to SBS News with Neroli and Claire. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie chatting to SBS News with Neroli and Claire. Photo: Ian Campbell

A week on I am left appreciating the power people have when they speak up and share genuine experience. I think we all knew that to be the case as we travelled up the Brown that morning but it was terrific and reassuring to see it at work.

Eddie, Claire, and Neroli made this on going discussion real. Real for politicians who will ultimately decided the future of same-sex marriage, real for the media who are no doubt bored of covering this issue, and real for the 16 million ordinary Australian’s who are casting judgement.

What I also love is that country voices carried weight in the city that day, and perhaps our ‘countryness’ was part of our appeal – we represented a group of people who hadn’t been heard.

Most of all I love that my kids stood shoulder to shoulder with their friend Eddie. They saw the power of thoughtful, respectful debate.

“Dad if people can just see Eddie’s face when they fill in their ballot paper, then it’s been a successful day,” one of my boys said.

As an aside, there has been no acknowledgment from the PM to date, Eddie’s invitation to meet with him stands, this isn’t political for Eddie and his family – this is life.

Tathra’s Eddie Blewett returns to Canberra – we’ve got ya back Eddie!

Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell

In September 2016 Tathra’s Eddie Blewett stole Question Time in the Federal Parliament.

Eddie travelled to Canberra with his mums Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson and other Rainbow Families asking MP’s to stop the plebiscite on same sex marriage and to have a free vote in Parliament.

Among the politicians they met was deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek, who took up Eddie’s cause with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Question Time that day.

“He said to me and I quote, ‘Why should people who barely know us make an assumption on our families and vote on how we can live?” Plibersek said as Eddie and his mums watched in the public gallery above, as reported by Fairfax.

“Can the Prime Minister explain why Eddie should have to put up with a campaign by people who have never met him, telling him that there is something wrong with his family?,” Ms Plibersek said.

Twelve months on for Eddie and the issue is still unresolved and the hurt continues.

Eddie is returning to Canberra next week, hoping to meet with the Prime Minister.

Earlier last month, Eddie wrote to Malcolm Turnbull:

I am Eddie Blewett (14 years of age).

In answer to a question in Parliament on 13 September 2016 you referred to me by saying:

“We all welcome Eddie and his parents to the House today. We are pleased that he is here. Eddie will understand that everything we do here in this parliament is designed to ensure that Australia becomes an even better place for him to grow up in and realise his dreams.”

One of my dreams is to have my same-sex parents given the same recognition as other parents in Australia. I believe giving equal recognition to all families will make Australia a better place.

I shall be coming to Canberra with my family and others to help with the ‘Yes’ campaign.

During my visit, I should be grateful if I could meet with you and offer support for your own ‘Yes’ campaign, especially for country towns.

Eddie has given voice to the impact this ongoing debate has had on him and his family.

In Canberra, last year he spoke of being bullied around this debate, and a sense of fear and dread he lived with.

“People were saying stuff about my family – that it’s not normal, it’s not right,” Eddie told Fairfax.

Communities across South East NSW are invited to join Eddie when he returns to Canberra on Tuesday (September 12, 2017) hoping to meet with the PM.

Tayna Plibersek, Mike Kelly (Eddie’s local MP) and their colleagues will meet with Eddie, and perhaps kick the soccer ball. Families and people of all back grounds are also invited to join Eddie and his family and friends in Canberra.

Bring a picnic lunch to share on the lawns of Parliament House and your soccer boots if you are keen for a game.

We’ve Got Ya Back Eddie – Tuesday, September 12 @ 10:00, meet in front of Parliament House.

Where will the rainbow flag appear next in South East NSW?

The rainbow flag flying high at Cobargo Post Office this week before 'the bosses' stepped in. Photo: ABC South East Facebook
The rainbow flag flying high at Cobargo Post Office this week before ‘the bosses’ stepped in. Photo: ABC South East Facebook

A rainbow flag flying high above Cobargo Post Office this week seems to be part of a growing trend, with friends of About Regional also keen to raise the colours of gay pride in a show of support.

The rainbow flag has been a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and advocacy since the late 70’s.

San Francisco artist and activist Gilbert Baker is said to be responsible for the original design, which made its debut in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978.

It has been suggested that Baker may have been inspired by Judy Garland’s song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

The ‘Flag of the Human Race’ is also said to have played a role, with its five horizontal stripes of red, white, brown, yellow, and black.

Thirty volunteers are believed to have hand-dyed and stitched the first two rainbow flags.

In these contentious days leading up to the Turnbull Government’s postal survey on same sex marriage, the licencees of Cobargo Post Office were ordered to take their flag down by Australia Post. Management deciding the organisation should be seen as neutral on the issue, given the role they will play if the high court challenge sinks.

“It’s fantastic to hear that children are asking questions and talking about it,” David Wilson, licencee of the Cobargo Post Office told the Bega District News.

“And on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had much older, conservative people come in to give us their support too.”

Cobargo Post Office has been one of a number of key community buildings around Australia to fly the rainbow flag in the last week, including Waurn Ponds Police Station near Geelong in Victoria.

“We are supporting the message as police that you have the right to be proud of who you are — your sexuality or gender identity does not change this,” Acting Senior Sergeant Jane Boyd told the Geelong Advertiser.

The City of Hobart is another, Lord Mayor Sue Hickey told the Hobart Advertiser that the rainbow flag would fly over the Hobart Council Centre until there is marriage equality.

“You should not be discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or sex,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We raised the rainbow flag as a sign of solidarity with our LGBQTI community.”

In Western Australia, the City of Vincent just outside of Perth, last week decided to fly the six colours of the flag above its HQ in “celebration of Vincent’s cultural and social diversity and welcoming spirit.”

Mayor Emma Cole says, “We believe it is important for Vincent to demonstrate our strong support for residents who identify in the LGBTI community and who could be negatively impacted by the upcoming non-binding marriage law postal survey.”

“We also want to visually show that our community stands for equality, diversity and human rights and that our Council is committed to marriage equality.”

Staff at the council will also have the option of wearing “Vincent loves love” shirts,  street banners will also fly through the town centre.

With this growing momentum, some South East locals have asked About Regional where they can source their own rainbow flag.

Mogo was my first thought.

Leah Milston’s store ‘Milston Past and Present‘ has been a colourful head turner on the Mogo business strip since December 2005. All sorts of flags are pegged out the front to catch the breeze every day, distracting the passing highway trade.

“Australian, Aboriginal, Eureka and hippy flags are my most popular,” Leah says.

But with people keen to ‘show their colours’ Leah has ordered more and will post out rainbow flags to friends of About Regional.

“I have traditional rainbow flags, rainbow heart flags, peace flags with a rainbow back ground, I have just sold one to a lady from Cobargo,” Leah says.

“I agree with marriage equality but don’t like the idea of the survey.

“Because we could still end with the legislation remaining the same.

“I know some people are scared of change but this is about human rights,” she says.

Leah’s rainbow flags sell for $15, plus a little bit for postage, or Leah says she will post three flags to the one address for free. You’ll catch her on 4474 5708 or milstons2536@gmail.com

If the rainbow flag is available from other stores across the Eurobodalla, Bega Valley and Snowy Monaro please let me know.

*This story was made with the support of About Regional members – Debra Cushion, Amanda Stroud, JoSaccomani, Shane O’Leary, and Tathra Beach House Appartments. Thanks for supporting local news and discussion.

For more on marriage equality locally click HERE.  In October 2016, during Mental Health Month Leah Milston wrote of her journey for About Regional, click HERE for more.

 

Marriage equality – have you got the energy for this? South East locals hope you do.

'Love Makes a Family' as seen at the 2016 Sydney Mardi Gras
‘Love Makes a Family’ as seen at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

The disappointment around the postal plebiscite on marriage equality is real and bitter for many, but it seems it is the only course of action available to bury this boring issue once and for all.

Boring because for so long the vast majority of Australian’s have understood that ‘Love is Love’ yet the months/years of political scratching around has disillusioned and disengaged the community.

There are those challenging this process in the High Court of Australia, describing it as unlawful; the full bench of the court will decide  on September 5 and 6.

The wheels of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who will run this show, will continue to spin regradless – getting ready for the survey which is due to start just a week after the High Court decision.

While those in our community at the sharp end of this cheer on the High Court challenge, in the back of their mind they are also laying the ground work for the campaign ahead – mobilising as many people as possible to vote ‘yes’ in this non-compulsory process.

Bega Valley LGBTIQ advocate, Tas Fitzer says it took him a couple of days of reflection to work out the way ahead.

“I really understand the temptation for supporters of marriage equality to say ‘I am not voting, I am boycotting this process’, because it’s not a process we’d like to legitimise,” Tas says.

“We are giving a platform to debate that is going to be harmful to children of same sex couples, for young LGBTIQ people, and for people struggling with their identity.

“We don’t want to be here but we are here, this is something we have to deal with and the best way to deal with it is to take it head on,” he reasons.

Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook
Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook

Tas says he’ll be voting ‘yes’ and will be actively campaigning for others to do the same.

“Disagree with the process – absolutely, disagree with how it’s being done – absolutely, but let’s accept the fact we are here and make the most of it,” Tas says.

C and N are women who live on the Sapphire Coast and have been together for over two decades, they have a teenage son and are active members of a range of community and sporting organisations.

They have asked me not to use their names, mindful of the impact any publicity might have on their boy.

“For the first time in a very long time, I feel different and vulnerable, and that I have to somehow show evidence of how healthy, normal, and loving my relationship is with both my partner and son,” C says.

“How I live my life day to day and how I parent our child is under the microscope for those who don’t know us.

“And, I’m embarrassed for Australia – friends, colleagues, clients, people I know, across the age span, those with faith and those without, really don’t understand what the problem is, there is this sense of – really, we are still talking about marriage equality?,” C says.

Reflecting on the weeks ahead C and N believe there will be a relatively small but vocal group of people who will feel the postie poll gives them permission to voice their bigotry, to judge, attack, and say dreadful, hurtful, untrue and damaging things about the LGBTIQ community.

If it goes ahead, the result of the poll will be known on November 15 but it will be parliamentarians that ultimately decide if the Mariage Act can include same sex couples.

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has said he’ll be encouraging a ‘yes’ vote and if ‘yes’ wins his Liberal MP’s will be free to vote according to their conscience.

ABC South East reported this week that Anne Sudmalis, the Liberal Member for Gilmore which covers the northern end of the Eurobodalla, won’t reveal her personal view on same sex marriage.

The ABC said that Ms Sudmalis would stand up for what her electorate decides.

A survey on the issue conducted by Ms Sudmalis in October 2015 pointed to 62 percent approval for marriage equality in Gilmore, 36 percent were opposed, while the rest undecided – the ABC reported.

Colourful tutus with a clear message
Colourful Bega Valley tutus with a clear message at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

Labor’s Mike Kelly, the Federal Member for the neighbouring seat of Eden – Monaro told About Regional, “The fastest and cheapest way to deliver marriage equality is through a free vote in the Parliament, not a $122 million survey.”

“If we are going to be forced to take part in this farce then I think the best thing we can do is send the Turnbull Government a message they can’t ignore – vote yes for marriage equality,” Dr Kelly says.

Dr Kelly is urging eligible voters to enroll or update their details with the Australian Electoral Commission before August 24 so that they can take part in the marriage law survey.

The former Army colonel is hopeful the campaign ahead will be respectful and tolerant.

“I plead with everyone in our community to exercise the utmost civility and join with me in urging that we all refrain from engaging in misinformation or hurtful comments,” Dr Kelly says.

Twenty-one-year old Tas Fitzer is of a similar mindset.

“The mental health of some of our young LGBTIQ people is of real concern to me,” he says.

“That’s why I have decided to get out there and campaign for a ‘yes’ vote so that they can see there are people out there to support them.”

Click play to hear more from Tas…

 

Speaking with C and N in fading light this afternoon, both fear some in the community who would vote ‘yes’ are now unmotivated to take part given the level of discussion the issue has had over an extended period of time.

“Many people honestly don’t understand what the fuss is about and are exhausted by this debate,” N says.

“Because same sex marriage seems a no brainer to them, I’d implore people to realise that unfortunately for some Australians the idea is frightening and abhorrent.

“Giving free reign to people to say whatever they like, to judge us simply for not living our lives like them is scary, scary for us now and for the next generations,” N explains.

Both are hopeful people will push past the grubby, lengthy politics of the issue and find the energy and motivation to say ‘yes’.

Writing for About Regional almost 12 months ago on this issue, Iain Dawson the convener of Bega Valley for Marriage Equality asked people to walk in his shoes…

“John Howard’s change [to the Marriage Act] in 2004 defined marriage as ‘a union between a man and woman only’.

“I am incredulous that Australia still judges my relationship with the man I love, ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as less than equal to my peers, friends, and family.

“For those not yet convinced; put yourself in that equitation and see how it feels, what it says to your soul.

“80% of Australians want our leaders to change the Marriage Act.

“The majority of my countrymen see my relationship as equal; that gives me and the LGBTIQ community strength and hope,” Iain wrote.

Whatever happens in the High Court on September 5 and 6 this issue will remain unresolved, work still needs to be done to finish this, energy needs to be mustered.

As a heterosexual father of three, with friends and family seeking equality that I take for granted, I will find that energy, despite the shit sandwich we are being served, I ask you to do the same.

Thanks to About Regional members – Tim HoltAmanda StroudDeborah Dixon, and Nastasia Campanella for supporting local story telling.

Declaration: Tas Fitzer is a part-time Electorate Officer for Mike Kelly and former Country Labor candidate.

 

A Bega Valley perspective on Mardi Gras 2017 – “Tiers and tiers of people encouraging and celebrating all those marching for just being themselves.”

Claire and Neroli - love makes a family
Neroli and Claire, who have shared their Mardi Gras with About Regional

Mardi Gras in Sydney is the biggest celebration of diversity for everyone who identifies as part of the LGBQTI community, so that’s not just people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, transgender or intersex but for families,  friends, children, faith groups, banks, surf life-saving clubs, mental health groups etc. etc.   

Regional groups were strongly represented, we marched alongside a strong contingent from the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla and Shoalhaven among others. We should have a Bega Valley float next year!

We are a pretty normal family, juggle work/home life, evenings full of angst about screen time, we are not activists, only parents who felt galvanised into action when ‘the plebiscite’ seemed likely to become part of Australian’s history around same-sex marriage. 

It occurred to us that if the plebiscite was to go ahead a whole new accepted level of bullying and name calling would be legitimised by the plebiscite process.  So, when Rainbow Families asked for representation in Canberra we went and our son bravely stood up on national TV to ask why all Australians should get to vote on what his family can and cannot do.

Rainbow Families take to Oxford Street
Rainbow Families take to Oxford Street

We went to Mardi Gras last weekend to celebrate our family with other families – gay and heterosexual, young and old, across all cultures and backgrounds, and to give our son the opportunity to see diversity in action and experience being part of that high velocity/full on celebration.

It’s incredibly affirming to see tiers and tiers of people encouraging and celebrating all those marching for just being themselves. 

It was humbling to hear the stories of those who marched in the early years and risked imprisonment and violence to pave the way for what is now much more of an open genuine public celebration. 

It should be noted though that there were still people marching in disguise, they were concerned for their family relationships and careers if they were ‘found out’. 

The Rainbow Families float had two groups, nearly 200 adults with their children, front and back of an enormous heart with ‘Love Makes a Family’  in huge white letters. 

It was great to see the excitement and hear the cheers of the crowd when the kids high-fived and danced the whole route from Hyde Park to the Entertainment Quarter.  Members in our float had travelled from outside Sydney to be part of it just like us, another family from the Bega Valley was there in the Marriage Equality float, regional and rural Australians were represented widely (sometimes covertly).    

Colourful tutus with a clear message
Colourful tutus with a clear message

Thank you, Rainbow Families for being such great advocates and providers of support to us and other families in NSW. 

It was a festival of delight, joy, and of course some wild and wonderful outfits, but the message was the same from all those marching and the crowds watching – difference should not mean inequality, we might not look the same or have the same family structure as our neighbours but we should be equal in each other’s eyes.

Words and pictures by Claire and Neroli, Tathra NSW.

Marriage equality, lets get it done – now! By Iain Dawson

Iain Dawson
Iain Dawson

I had just started working in my dream job, not long after settling in Sydney, back from the traditional post uni overseas trip, backpacking in Europe.

The dream job being a gallery manager for one of the eastern suburbs most ‘social’ art galleries.

Up until then, I had navigated the treacherous path of being a full-time waiter, I felt that I was truly moving in the right direction career wise – finally!

While grabbing an afternoon coffee at the place of my most recent past employment, I was surprised to see my replacement on the coffee machine was possibly the best-looking guy I’d seen.

Beautiful dark hair pulled back in a man bun, his beard impressive – a decade before either were fashionable. That’s him I thought, with the conviction of anyone who has fallen victim to love at first sight.

This is back in a time before social media, before mass use of mobile phones even, otherwise I would have been posting updates on my Instagram immediately – I had met the man I was going to spend my life with.

All it took now was to convince him to feel mutually inclined.

Me loitering until knock off over eight flat whites and then a few games of pool cinched the deal – that was 16 years ago.

I am not going to pretend it’s been all beer and skittles, there’s been ups and a few downs, thankfully he possess the patience of a saint when it comes to me, though I hope I’ve spiced up his life a little in return.

Over the past sixteen years, we’ve been to the weddings of his two sisters, the second wedding of my twin brother, the births of numerous nieces and nephews, godchildren and countless friend weddings. All are relationships we’ve watched blossom, like our own over time and settle into normal family life as we fast approach our mid-forties.

In taking their vows, all these husbands and wives have been gracious enough to add their own caveats to the statement that all celebrants must declare since the 2004 change to the Marriage Act.

A change that didn’t seem to require the sort of plebiscite that is now seen as so important when considering changes to the Marriage Act.

John Howard’s change in 2004 defined marriage as ‘a union between a man and woman only’.

I am incredulous that Australia still judges my relationship with the man I love, ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as less than equal to my peers, friends and family.

We are a secular country. No religion owns marriage.

The law needs to change and it needs to change quickly, decisively and without the possibility of harming young LGBTIQ people.

Until then, my relationship is not seen as being equal to all the marriages my partner and I have witnessed and celebrated in our two decades together.

For those not yet convinced; put yourself in that equitation and see how it feels, what it says to your soul.

It’s beyond obvious that around 80% of Australians want our leaders to change the Marriage Act.

The majority of my countrymen see my relationship as equal; that gives me and the LGBTIQ community strength and hope.

The support for marriage equality is not disputed by either the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader, yet we find ourselves with a $200 million plebiscite to decide the issue.

We live in a democracy that elects its representatives to lead and make hard decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Why is it that this particular moral/social issue needs any more than that?

Add to that the suggestion that this wasteful and potentially harmful popularity contest will not be binding and still be subject to a vote in parliament, is just insulting to LGBTIQ people and the wider Australian population.

My concern is not for me or the man I love, but for the kids who grow up feeling ashamed of who they are while we still debate this issue.

Living regionally, those differences can be more pronounced, more isolating and potentially more harmful.

I’d like the teenager me, who grew up here on the South Coast of NSW, to feel as accepted and valued as I do, as a member of this amazing community now.

Marriage equality – let’s get it done in parliament now!

Iain Dawson runs the Facebook page Bega Valley for Marriage Equality