On Wednesday night I was sitting next to my tall, handsome, teenaged, caucasian, heterosexual son who was born and has lived all his life in Australia. I had met him after school and together we had gone to a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shootings.
Hearing what had happened in Orlando was completely devastating to me and the vigil was someplace I needed to be. The weather was so cold I actually picked up a $7 jacket from Kmart on the way there and my son was wearing his beanie and three layers.
We sat together on the concrete steps and watched the crowd of hundreds gather. The sun went down and candles were lit. There were rainbows everywhere; on flags, on posters, on people. An Aboriginal elder named Kevin gave the Welcome to Country and while he was speaking, with tears in his eyes and a catch in his voice, he said that he stood with us all today, because he also had a child who had been murdered. And I thought ‘Me too, Kevin, me too’.
We listened to a choir sing ‘Seasons of Love’ from the musical Rent. We listened to the other speakers who all spoke from the heart with messages of hope and love. There was also an Auslan interpreter who signed everything.
One of the speakers spoke of the importance to the LGBTI community of having a safe place to go where you could just be yourself in security and acceptance and how the senseless carnage in Orlando was so much more horrific for the fact it occurred in one of these sanctuaries. I can’t profess to know what it is like to be vilified, harassed and abused because of my sexuality but as a woman who has lived through violence in my own home and who has felt my heart rate rise on hearing footsteps behind me when walking alone at night I have some empathy and understanding of the importance of safe places to be. I cannot know the struggle of the LGBTI community on a daily basis, despite my many beautiful friends who identify. That doesn’t prevent me from understanding loss, grief, fear or any other human condition.
As we travelled home after the vigil on the train a pretty Aboriginal girl started speaking to us. I don’t know why she chose us to speak to, there were no outward indications of where we had just been. Just one of those serendipitous things I guess. “Hey, how about what happened in Orlando? So bad, hey? If I could tell them, I stand with them with pride! You know! Corroboree style – ’cause I’m Aboriginal, see?” And the doors opened and she got off the train. Same same. Love is love.
In amongst the rhetoric flowing from Orlando has been the assertion that ‘making this about the Gay thing is missing the point’. To that I say ‘No’. Just no. There are many issues arising out of Orlando but that it was a Gay hate crime is undeniable. Most of us in Australia have been proud of our gun laws in the wake of this tragedy. That’s cool, we should be. But to sit in complacency really would be missing the point. In this country we, at a legislative level, discriminate against the LGBTI community. That is truth. That is fact. That is shameful. While ever we collectively do so we need to take our share of the responsibility for anyone who believes that members of this community are somehow ‘lesser’ citizens. And we have to take our share of the responsibility for the actions arising out of those beliefs, because we have laws that support them. After the Orlando shootings one of my friends who lives elsewhere made the link between the shootings and marriage equality. He spoke about “we in the civilised world” and my heart dropped with the realisation that the description did not include us. I felt a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that came with the acknowledgement that we are part of the problem. We are part of the problem.
As my son and I sat and listened the other night I pondered the places we have been together. On both occasions I have been honoured to speak at the invitation of Angelhands about my daughter’s death my teenaged son has come with me. Listening to other speakers quote statistics and discuss issues around violence against women. Physically flinching at times but not turning away. He didn’t sit with me when his friend’s grandmother died. When we went to her funeral he sat by his friend. He did not turn away then either.
I started this post by making note of the fact my son is tall, handsome, teenaged, caucasian and heterosexual. He was born and has lived all his life in Australia. I mentioned all these things at the start because I realised when I looked across at him listening intently to the speakers, that despite the many hardships he continues to face in his life he has much to be thankful for. Just by virtue of the above facts. Along with that comes the ability to be part of the solution.
In the cold night air one of the speakers asked us to link hands and led a rousing chorus of ‘We Shall Overcome’ and my son sang along. When I told my son about the vigil for the victims in Orlando I did not have to ask him twice. Before we arrived at the vigil and continuing after we left my son was involved in a heated online debate about gun control.
As a mother I don’t take much credit for the impressive qualities of my children. In truth, a few months shy of eighteen, my son is more his own person every day. That being said his sister Sam had been to several Mardi Gras parades and peaceful demonstrations by the time she died aged fourteen. So I know without question, because the evidence is there, that it has always been important to me as a mother to share with my children the beauty of our commonalities even while celebrating our unique differences and to teach them the importance of standing up for what you believe is right. Even in the face of objection and derision. Especially in the face of objection and derision. The importance of speaking your truth. One of the wonderful and magical things as your children grow is the realisation they teach you just as much about life, if not more but maybe I have passed on some things of value.
As proceedings at the vigil came to a close Kevin the Aboriginal elder took the microphone and said “I love you’s all!” and I thought ‘Me too Kevin, me too!’. My son and I stood up and he said “I cannot even imagine what it must be like to be persecuted just for being who you are” and as I nodded he continued with “but what an AMAZING community!” I couldn’t agree with him more!
On Saturday the 25th June 2016 my son and I will be at a Rally for Marriage Equality in Perth, Western Australia. The Rally starts at 1pm and is being held in the Murray Street Mall in the Perth CBD. There is a page on facebook if you need more information. We hope to see you there!
Be the change, beautiful people, be the change!
And travel safe x