Local, Independant and Effective

Marriage equality speech - not 'they' or 'other' but 'us'

Posted December 06, 2017


In her speech to Parliament on marriage equality, Cathy particularly thanked the young people of Indi for their commitment and work.

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:06):  A story in The Border Mail, my local paper, on Tuesday, 16 November, said: 'Remember when gay meant happy? Well, that was yesterday'—a full page, with rainbow colours. There was 'elation as gay couples finally feel acceptance'. 'The people of border and north-east have spoken along with the majority of Australians demanding marriage equality. With 63.1 per cent of Indi electorate voting yes in the same-sex plebiscite, voting in the north-east was higher than the national average of 'yes' votes of 61.6 per cent.' In Farrer, my neighbouring electorate, it was lower, but still a majority of 55.2 per cent. The border LGBTI community gathered in Wodonga for the result, with most describing it as a 'sense of relief'.

Colleagues, today in this House I join my voice with those of the Senate, the Attorney-General and others, in saying that there is no place for discrimination in my country. In my speech today I'd like to focus particularly on young people in my electorate and the role they have played in the Indi vote. I'd like to share with you some of the lessons learnt. I'd also like to make a small note about organised religions and the role they have played and I'd like to finish with some personal observations of this campaign.

But I will start with the young people in my electorate of Indi. I want to make a huge call-out and thank you. I would particularly like to reference Georgina Ridley, who, in April 2013—when I first put my hand up to stand as the member for Indi—organised to have a meeting with me and her year-12 year and said, 'Cathy, my friends and I will support you, but first: what's your opinion about marriage equality?' And I was stumped. Of all the things that we could be talking about, why was this important? But Georgia was persistent. She said, 'Cathy, this is really important to us'. So I said, 'Of course I support marriage equality'. And I think in those words I really didn't understand what I was opening myself up for. Georgina and her friends then got organised.

I have to say the reason why I'm in this parliament today is because the young people of north-east Victoria organised. They wanted a member of parliament who would stand up in this place today and vote yes. Sure, there were other issues, but that was the defining one. Georgina and her friends made videos, and they did social networking and, I have to say, they became politicised. The wonderful thing is the politicisation of the young people in north-east Victoria doesn't mean they all supported me but it does mean they pay attention to politics and they pay enormous attention to what this House does and says.

So my yes vote is particularly for the young people of north-east Victoria. I hope that you take great courage in what you have done and you apply that energy and enthusiasm equally to climate change, to our environment and to making sure that this country becomes and reaches its potential to be fair and equitable to everybody. And in acknowledging the young people, I'd also like to bring to the attention of the House the work of the Victorian government and particularly Ro Allen as the Equal Opportunity Commissioner for the terrific work she did with the rural and regional LGBTI road show.  I would like to thank her and the Victorian government for supporting and encouraging the young LGBTI community of Victoria as this survey took place. Ro, I acknowledge you and thank you for your work and I love the work that you do.

The next group of people I'd like to briefly address in my presentation today is the Anglican Church in Wangaratta. I request leave to table a letter from the Bishop of Wangaratta and I'd like to speak briefly to it.

Leave granted.

Ms McGOWAN:  It's written on 15 November and is signed by the Right Reverend John Parkes AM Bishop of Wangaratta, an Anglican bishop. In his letter to me, he shares great wisdom and encourages me to vote yes. I would particularly like to bring this to the debate. Of the Anglican Church, he says, 'It is fair to say that we have not always undertaken the task of sensitive listening well across our church. On occasions we have been more ready to talk to, or perhaps at, rather than listen to our brothers and sisters. And some of our language has been less kind, less respectful and less dignified. Words have power, and wrongly chosen words can do damage.'

In referring to organised religion and the role it's played in this debate, I want to put out a call of recognition particularly to the churches in my electorate. We have had disagreement on this topic but that doesn't mean we don't bring to bear that fundamental Christian tenant of love your neighbour as yourself. And I think we've got a lot of work to do in our community in how we can actually enact that in all ways, shapes and forms. And I'd like to think that we could let the argument end and that we could move on to a place of choosing our words carefully and actually listening to each other as we make our community, particularly in north-east Victoria, one where that gospel message of 'thy kingdom come' actually exists in our community and where we do love each other as the call of Christ is for us. We have some work to do there, I think.

I'd briefly like to talk about my personal experience in this campaign. Like many others in the House, this is a lovely opportunity to be able to talk about what I have learnt. And in referencing my personal experience, I want to talk about the journey I have been on from when Georgina first asked me, as a politician, would I vote for marriage equality to the personal growth that's happened to me as I've had to change many of my fundamental precepts. Because it's not just about marriage equality; it's actually about gender and how we express gender in our community. I have always been a feminist and I have always, since I was 12 I think, discovered that my brothers and my sisters perhaps got treated differently and that the men in my family behaved differently to the women, and I have always struggled with what was it about me being a woman that made me different. Why couldn't I be accepted without a gender attached? And it was a huge fight in my growing up not to be seen as a girl or a lady. I wanted to be seen as myself and be able to make my way in the world. As I got older, and with the wisdom of other people in my life, I have come to understand that being a woman is my competitive advantage and I work with it. But the idea of defining someone by their gender still irks me. I don't like it when people say 'boys and girls' or 'men and women'. I really want to be accepted for myself.

Here I want to say how much I appreciate my young nieces and nephews—just let me point out the sexism of that phrase, 'nieces and nephews'. Where's the non-gendered description for children of your sisters and brothers? There isn't one, but there's 'cousins', which is non-gendered. Anyhow, to the nieces and nephews of my family, thank you for your patience and tolerance as you've taught this old aunt a great deal.

Here's what I want to say to the House: one of the big things that young people have taught me as this debate has gone on is that there's such a thing as gender fluidity. It's a spectrum. There are some people who are clearly male-female attached. There are other people in our community who are clearly female-female or male-male attached and there are other groups of people who are much more fluid. As I have gone on this journey with young people not only in my family but also the gender identity group in Wodonga and the other young people who have taken me into confidence, I have come to understand how complex it is to manage gender fluidity. I want to put on the record that I have learnt a lot and I'd like to share a few of those learnings with the House today because it's not only about marriage equality; it's about how we in our lives move to accept people whose gender definition is different from ours.

The little bit of learning I'd like to share with my colleagues today is about pronouns. As this program was going on, some of the young people in Wodonga and some of my nieces and nephews said, 'Cathy, you really need to understand about pronouns.' I said, 'What is it about pronouns?' They said, 'You know how you talk about "he" or "she"?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'He is a man and she is a woman, but some of us don't fit those categories.' My poor old mind went into overspin: how could you not be he or she? And they took me on a journey so that today I can stand in this place and say that I get pronouns. Now I'm much more tactful, I hope, and say to people who are gender non-defined: 'Tell me your preferred pronoun. How would you like me to refer to you?' as opposed to making the assumption that they are male or female. When they share with me their preferred pronoun, letting me know that they might be transgender, genderqueer or gender fluid, they are giving me an opportunity of trust. Some people use a gender pronoun that identifies them as he or she. Some people use gender neutral pronouns that don't identify them as male or female: ze or ey. Some people change their pronouns. It's a bit like how you change your name when you get married. Some people change the use of their pronouns. This can cause enormous resistance. People like myself say, 'But you're either/or.' But in fact they're saying, 'No, we're not polarised.'

Why is this important and why do I bother to bring it to the House when we're talking about marriage equality? Because, for me, this legislation is not only about same-sex couples; it's about two people, however they define themselves. I've learnt, as I've moved through this, is that it's not up to me to do the definitions but to respectfully ask the people I'm talking to. At the end of this discussion, having been taken on this really important education program, I got to be super conscious of formal documents. Now, when it says 'male' or 'female', I look for 'other' because I understand there are a significant number of people—not necessarily young people—in my community for whom 'other' is the appropriate box to tick.

In bringing my comments to a close, I want to say that how important this discussion has been for me as a discussion of listening and understanding. Also, how grateful I am that I have had the opportunity to go to most of the churches and the elder groups in my community to listen to them and to their objections to this legislation. I am with you. I will work with you to create in our communities love, understanding and tolerance. But I also will stand in this parliament and argue as long as I can for equality and for people to be accepted and treated as they need to be. I think we've taken a really good stance today on marriage equality and I'm looking forward to the rest of the debate, when all the LGBTIQ community know that they are accepted, that they can choose the pronouns that they want and that they will be welcomed into our community not as they, not as other, but as us.

So to Ivy, to Flick, to Maggie, to Leah, to Eliza, to Ben, to Franny, to Fergus, to Max, to Mia, to Anika, to Sarah and to all my nieces and nephews, thank you for bringing me on this journey. I commit to stay with you for the distance.


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