On the 18th of May, Kmart asked me to speak to their Store Renewal department about IDAHOT and discrimination in the workplace. I spoke about the unfortunate effects of discrimination both in and out of the workplace, as well as my own experiences of homophobia in my own place of work. The team were extremely receptive, and self aware of how they can help make a positive change both in their office and in broader society. Thanks to Michael Fagan, General Manager of Kmart Store Renewal, for inviting me, and the who team for being so welcoming.
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I like to preface speeches like this with a quick introduction about the message I send, and why I do what I do. There is no talent I possess that makes me a good public speaker. When I speak in front of people my knees shake, my voice quivers, and there is an unshakeable feeling that I’m going to pass out at any minute. I’m no Jordan Belfort, and I promise I won’t try and sell you anything. The reason I do these things, and the reason that I am here today is that I have a lifetime of experiences in all things IDAHOT – discrimination and my own anxieties have shaped me more than anything else in this world – but because I am still standing, and because I am here today, it means that they haven’t won – and now, I get the opportunity to use this fire within myself to stand with you all here today as we work united to be educated, to educate, and to help those in our lives that experience homophobia and transphobia both in and out of the workplace.
I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand today, the people of the Kulin nation, and pay respect to their elders, past and present. Further, I wish to acknowledge the experiences of the queer indigenous citizens, and the two spirited people of the land we call Australia.
As a young gay man, there are a multitude of experiences I have had where I have faced homophobia. Times where there has been abuse hurled on the streets, experiences where people’s perceptions of me have changed once they find out my sexuality, and unfortunately, experiences with homophobia in my workplace.
I was eighteen when I started a new job and had just left high school – a load fell off my shoulders when I left school, it was my first taste of freedom from a six-year pressure cooker environment and was an opportunity for me to spread my wings, be a little more free, and explore who I was as a person. I was happier, but still very much in the closet. However it was my new, more relaxed nature that opened me up as a target, a target to someone who held a position of power over me in the workplace. This person, through only presumptions, began discussing my homosexuality (which was something I had shared to no one) with co-workers, friends, and strangers I had never met. For some people, this would be water off a ducks back, but for me, young, trying desperately to be happy, and still in no way ready to come out, this was torture. With this gossip came questions I was not yet ready to answer, and a feeling that my secret was up throat ready to take me as its victim. For this person to have a position of power in the workplace also made me feel unable to tell him to cease, and so, I went back into the shell I thought I had shed once leaving school.
In the story of my life up to that point, it was another attack on me for having a sexuality I wasn’t even ready to accept myself. But it was also my first experience of homophobia in a workplace, my first from someone who I had to take orders from, but not the first where I felt helpless in having the right to fight back.
The fight against homophobia is a core part of the broader battle for the rights of all. It sits alongside the fight against racism, sexism, xenophobia and ageism, all of which are fundamental to vanquish in order to achieve an equal and just world for everyone.
For generations, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all regions have been subjected to terrible violence, exclusion, poor health, on account of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We have been treated with contempt, disdain and discrimination. We have been made to feel anything but equal.
Barry Chung from Indiana University has said that LGBT workers often do not expose their sexuality and often resort to self-employment to avoid workplace homophobia. Professor Chung has said that informal homophobia such as jokes, or offensive language is the prevailing problem despite shifting attitudes in both societal and government areas.
Ending homophobia, like racism and sexism, starts with every one of us. It starts with saying ‘no’ to language and attitudes that are exclusionary and hateful. Homophobic attitudes aren’t a part of someone’s character, and can’t be dismissed due to someone’s age, religion or culture. Being queer comes with as much choice as we have when we are handed our gender and race. And as such, homophobic slurs should be met with the same societal criticism as racism and sexism.
For workplaces to thrive there needs to be respect for all cogs in the machine, an appreciation for the talents and ideas that each worker brings to an organisation.
IDAHOT is a marker for change, but also a time to look past the negativity and appreciate the positivity. So today, I want to say thank you to Kmart for not only acknowledging my community as worthy, but also celebrating the contributions we have made to workplace relations and cohesion within your industry. I appreciate all those who support this effort, and call on others to engage where you can.
Any step to acknowledge and understand the past and present suffrage opens eyes and ears to the reason why we need days like IDAHOT, and the support of the wider community in the fight for equality. We need to acknowledge that we have a long way to go before we can be called true equals. It isn’t just about marriage or adoption. Our fight, our struggle – the one we march forward to together on this day – is about safety, freedom, and love. Public education is also essential to challenge negative stereotypes and promote greater understanding. Teach your families, your friends, and your colleagues of our history. Stand proudly and say that “I am an ally for the LGBTIQ community”.
If you take one thing from this today, I hope it is this. We are all here in this fight together, we are all the same and we all deserve respect and happiness. So when we are dealing with those who are hateful, or are struggling to remember what it takes to be an ally to the community, just remember to do this. Don’t be a dick. Be kind, be loving, and treat everyone as your equal. We in this room do all these things, and now we need to spread that to the outside world.
I thank you for your commitment to the cause and for coming out today to celebrate IDAHOT. With the force of our conviction, and our choice to embrace difference as beauty, let us continue working for a world of true freedom and equality for all.