Michael Hamar

Our Rights Are There for the Taking

Filed By Michael Hamar | April 28, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Australia, civil rights, coming out of the closet, Daniel Kowalski, Don't Ask Don't Tell, ENDA, Equality Now, gay rights, living out and proud, same-sex couples, SLDN

Gerald, a reader in Melbourne, Australia, whose life parallels my own in some respects and with whom I have corresponded from time to time, sent me a link to an op-ed piece from The Age, Melbourne's principal newspaper, that addresses the need/opportunity for gays to seize equality rather than wait for our detractors to die off and/or grudgingly throw crumbs to us. The young author of the op-ed column was inspired to write the piece by the decision of former Australian Olympic swimmer, Daniel Kowalski, to come out of the closet.

coming_out.jpgThe subject that he addresses is obviously relevant in the USA where we are now seeing more direct action and non-violent protests by Get=Equal and other opponents of DADT. The message is that complaining amongst ourselves or staying closeted is not the answer.

Coming out can be dangerous for one's career - especially in backwaters like Virginia - but the alternative is soul killing. My coming out journey has been difficult as long time readers of my personal blog know full well, but the reward of finally just being you - the real you - has a value beyond measure.

Here are some op-ed highlights:

I'm humbled when I read stories about those in the spotlight - most recently Daniel Kowalski - coming out. I can remember how hard it was two years ago, aged 18, to tell my family and friends that I was gay; I have no conception of how hard it must be to do it in the public eye.

That said, I feel it's happening more and more. In the past fortnight we've also seen dozens of footballers - footballers! - tell the young, scared gay people of Australia that it's OK to be who you are.

It is an exciting time to be gay in Australia. Not only is this probably the safest time, there's also the inescapable feeling that things continue to change for the better. Nevertheless, as a minority, we're still stuck on the cusp of full rights and freedoms in the eyes of the law, and our peers. The lack of full acceptance means young girls and boys suffer depression and even someone as successful as Kowalski can be overcome with loneliness.

I'm not writing this because I believe I'm especially experienced or qualified to do so. In fact, I'm writing this exactly because I'm not. I'm a young, average gay kid from the outer suburbs of Melbourne who has grown up with a similar struggle to Kowalski and many, many others. I want to speak to those like me who feel we deserve more. The gay minority has the distinction of being unlike most other minorities - we do not share a common background, a common heritage or set of values. We make up the exact same proportion of every class, every race, every religion, and every nationality. We are the most eclectic minority one could imagine. We are as diverse as Australia is flat.

I believe it's for this reason that we have found it hard to obtain equality under the law. We are mistaken into believing there is nothing that unites us besides our sexual preference. But there is one other uniting factor... the thing that unites us is a simple understanding: that we are more than what most people believe we are. We are not beholden to the stereotypes. We are each and every one of us who we want to be.

If gay people do not have their rights, it is because we are yet to take them. The civil rights champions of the '60s didn't wait for their rights to be given to them; they stood up and demanded them. We must do the same.

We need to unite; we need more leaders such as Daniel Kowalski who unabashedly declare who they are and why that's OK; each one helps our cause. If just half the kids I see at the clubs each week turned out to a protest, we would speak with such a voice that it would drown out all opposition. The difficulty of coming out and living out will only be overcome when we realise our rights are there for the taking. We just need to take a chance.

I encourage readers who have not yet come out to take the chance and seize equality and refuse to be looked down upon as second class citizens.

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