We speak to the activists behind Equal Love, Ali Hogg, Lousie O’Shea and Anthony Wallace.
ALI HOGG – EQUAL LOVE Convenor
I became a fighter for equal rights whilst studying at the Victorian College of the Arts. I joined a campaign for there to be a queer officer on campus. Many thought there was no need for one at an arts college. We put up posters about LGBTI people’s coming out stories around the campus. Overnight they were covered in homophobic graffiti. It was awful but it helped our campaign and we won. The following year I ran for the position and won the role.
That year the Howard government announced a proposal to change the marriage act to discriminate against LGBTI people. National student queer officers were contacted about helping organise a national day of action in support of marriage equality. I jumped at the chance of being a part of organising students to come to the first rally for marriage equality in August of 2004. It was small but the mood of the crowd was defiant. It felt like we were a part of something much bigger. I doubt anyone thought we’d be still protesting 11 years later. I have since attended every Melbourne marriage equality rally.
I became the convener of Equal Love in 2009. In that time I witnessed several changes in both Prime Ministers and governments and many politicians changing their positions supporting equality.
My highlight and lowlight happened all on one day in 2011 at the ALP National conference. We protested, mobilising Australia’s largest ever LGBTI rally (15,000 – 20,000 people). It was incredible. I don’t think I’ll forget speaking to the huge crowd of passionate people of all ages, colours, genders and sexualities. At the conference the ALP changed their formal position to support marriage equality. It felt like a real win.
The lowlight was when they voted down having a binding vote on the issue and voted up a conscience vote. This resulted in marriage equality getting voted down.
What keeps me going is hearing the stories of young people: how fighting for equality gives them hope for a better world without discrimination.
Nothing in history was won without a fight and it’s important to remember that no matter what, we don’t give up. No matter who is in power, no matter how large or small the rallies are, we will fight on until we are equal.
LOUISE O’SHEA – EQUAL LOVE Secretary
[Image] Louise O'Shea Photo: Michael Barnett
I joined the marriage equality campaign in 2004 because I despised the Howard government’s agenda and objected to its use of divide and rule politics against minority groups. I also thought it was no coincidence that Howard amended the law not long after George W Bush called for a Constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage in the U.S. Odious homophobic minds think alike.
The highlight of being a marriage equality activist is watching thousands of young people taking to the streets for the first time and experiencing the exhilaration that comes from marching alongside thousands of others who support equality and together challenging the bigotry that makes life miserable for so many LGBTI people. Developing that confidence, defiance and pride has always been what LGBTI movement has been about. Nothing beats it.
The lowlight has been dealing with the argument that marriage equality is the wrong demand to be making. When black people famously defied segregation at a Greensboro diner in 1960, did anyone say “why should we fight to have the same unhealthy diet as white people?” No they didn’t, because the symbolism of the act was apparent. It’s frustrating that many don’t recognise the same symbolism in the question of marriage equality today. Whether you want to get married or not (I don’t) we all should have the right. As it stands, our relationships are relegated to second-class status.
The desire to win and to wipe the bigoted smirk off Tony Abbott’s face is what keeps me going. To achieve a victory against this government would be wonderful and would give everyone else out there fighting for equality and justice – for refugees, Aboriginal people and workers – great encouragement. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said: “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”.
ANTHONY WALLACE – EQUAL LOVE Campaign Manager
[Image] Anthony Wallace Photo: Michael Barnett
I’d just come out of a long term relationship and found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. Wanting to do more volunteering I came across a flyer on a telegraph pole about a rally for ‘Same Sex Marriage’ by a group called Equal Love. I contacted the then convenor James Vigus about any way I could get involved. That was in 2009 and was my first rally for Marriage Equality. I joined the committee immediately after the rally and have since been active in mounting Melbourne rallies, liaising with community leaders, politicians, public commentators and overseeing many areas of the Equal Love movement.
The greatest achievement throughout the campaign for me so far would undoubtedly be the time in 2011 when Equal Love, joined by Sydney’s CAAH, led the country’s largest rally for Marriage Equality with more than 10,000 people marching from Hyde Park in Sydney to the Labor convention at Darling Harbour. It was truly a monumental day and after years of direct action we had a significant win; a major political party decided it was time to amend their own party platform and as a party voted to support marriage equality. Confusing, though, was the fact that they also voted to allow members to vote against their own policy, but that’s another story.
I am single and fighting for Marriage Equality, so advocating for it is not about my own personal desire to get married but more so about fighting against being told by our elected leaders that I am not entitled to it. When you ask many people who have been married what has been their greatest day, many say their wedding day. Why shouldn’t that be experienced by all? Often the opponents of marriage equality argue that ‘marriage equality would undermine family’ but I believe it strengthens families. I wonder how different my relationship may have been if my partner was included as an extension of my family. Don’t get me wrong, my family loved my partner but when he was introduced it was always; ‘this is Anthony’s partner’ or ‘this is my brother's boyfriend’, there was always a separation from my family and him. We definitely would have a stronger sense of family unity if my parents introduced him as ‘this is my son in law’ or my siblings referring to him as their brother in law.
What keeps me pushing forward for equality? Simply because Canberra is still not listening.
Public support has shifted in a big way during my time advocating for marriage equality. In 2009 Galaxy research announced that 1 in 4 (25 per cent) of people supported ‘same sex marriage’. We need to realise the immense accomplishment with data last year from News Poll who reported overall community support to be 72 per cent. I remember my mother saying in 2009 “seriously Anthony, do you think that will ever happen?” Now in 2015 she says, “I can’t believe it hasn’t happened yet”.
[Top image] Ali Hogg Photo: Michael Barnett. All photos supplied by Equal Love
The Equal Love Rally is on May 17, 1pm at the State Library of Victoria