On Sunday (January 28) we marched as part of the Monash University group at the LGBTQIA+ Midsumma Pride March in St Kilda. We joined about 8000 other marchers from almost 200 groups and organisations in the 39°C degree heat to show our colours. Pride is not just a chance to be visible and celebrate our diverse community; it's also a chance to reflect on how far we've come, to pay respects to those who have gone before us, and to realise there's much more to be done within and for the LGBTQIA+ community.
When it came to reflecting on progress, many marchers held signs and chanted about the recent change in marriage legislation to recognise same-sex marriage. Although the 2017 postal survey was not welcomed by most, the final result is worth celebrating for many who have long wanted their relationships recognised in the same way that straight relationships can be. On Sunday, there was even a wedding on stage later in the afternoon, for which the music dimmed and the crowd swelled – a heartfelt moment of respect and celebration not only for the couple on stage, but for what this meant for many in the crowd. Congrats Mel and Sue!
There were also several groups in the march for whom the focus was on what other fights were ahead.
The Queer Indigenous Pride group was front and centre, among the leaders of the march. The No Pride in Detention group was a powerful reminder of the gay men who fled persecution and violence in their own countries only to end up as asylum seekers held in indefinite offshore detention by Australia in Papua New Guinea, where gay sex is illegal.
It’s important to acknowledge that marching under the banner of your workplace or your university can be a significant and powerful act.
These groups and others draw our attention to how the rights and liberties of LGBTQIA+ folk intersect with the rights of other marginalised groups, and how by standing together we can look to effect wider change in a range of areas of social justice.
Other groups included political parties such as the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Greens; groups including the LGBTI Catholics and Aleph Melbourne (a group promoting LGBTI+ inclusion in the Jewish community); queer organisations Minus18, JOYFM and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival; sports clubs St Kilda and Richmond football clubs; along with a host of businesses such as Jetstar, Levi’s and SEEK. Monash was one of several universities in the march.
A sign of solidarity
For organisations that are not specifically focused on the LGBTQIA+ community, marching is not just about sending a particular message, but also about solidarity and proudly proclaiming that organisation as a safe and welcoming place to work, study, or connect with.
While we can also be critical of the commercialisation of events such as Pride, and how the presence of some business brands might be about marketing and making money, it’s also important to acknowledge that marching under the banner of your workplace or your university can be a significant and powerful act. It’s about signalling this is a safe place to work and study, and allowing people to feel proud of the accomplishments and inclusivity in their organisations.
For us, being part of the Monash group also allowed us to proudly stand alongside our LGBTIQA+ students. Some of our students come from families that do not support them, and many of our large numbers of international students are from places LGBTQIA+ people are not visible, or are actively marginalised in legislation and in forms of social exclusion. Thus, having academic and professional staff march sends a strong message of solidarity to these students, whether they're beside us now or thinking about places to study in the future. It was especially important for us to have Monash Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Education) Susan Elliott in our contingent too.
Even in Melbourne, a city that returned one of the highest ‘yes’ results in the recent marriage equality survey, many queer and gender diverse people continue to experience marginalisation. We know from recent research that compared with their heterosexual counterparts, LGBTIQA+ young people are more likely to suffer from depression, and are five times more likely to attempt suicide (LGBTI National Health Alliance Report, 2016). Homophobic violence and hate crime continue to be significant for LGBTIQA+ people (Roffee & Waling 2016).
For all of these reasons – to celebrate, to reflect, and to rally around new and enduring injustices – Pride is still very much significant. To march is an act of solidarity and support that we were honoured to be part of.
LGBTQIA+ = Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other people of diverse genders and sexualities.