A very special piece from MCV Pacific contributing Editor, Vee Pendergrast.
On November 15th, 2017, at 10:00 AM, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced the results from the survey the Turnbull Government commissioned into investigating whether Australians believed that people of the same sex should be able to marry. It has now brought on a motion to have a free vote in Federal Parliament on such a bill. The current front runner has been written by Senator Dean Smith and is being debated at the moment.
My name is “Vee.” I am a transgender woman, parent and CEO of West Australian developer, Stirfire Studios. There are certain truths about our industry; we are a creative business and typically fairly progressive in our thinking (at least at an individual level) and as such, game development and gaming culture attracts proportionately high amount of queer people into its ranks.
But this article is about something greater. Given that LGBTQIA people are so prevalent in our industry in Australia and that the No Campaign made the vote so much larger than just our right to marry. The arguments against marriage equality were never against the actual act of two people of the same sex or a transgender person marrying. Because there really are no good arguments against that in a free society, short of deconstructing the whole institution of marriage itself. The arguments against targeted how they felt about it, the impact on our children and the traditions of our society.
I spoke to several people across our industry and collected their perspectives. Given that this has affected our lives over the past few months, no doubt it has impacted our work and will continue to do so. This is a collection of their stories.
Luke Miller (Up Multimedia, Tin Man Games) was initially by his own terms “dead against it” [the survey] as in his view the process was ill-defined and the community had to take it on faith as there was no legislation yet presented. Certainly, we have already seen attempts by the parliamentary conservatives to table legislation that allows other forms of discrimination by businesses and service providers, so it seems he was well justified in is concerns. Queerly Represent Me’s Alayna Cole was similarly pessimistic as she believed “a lot [of people] offered solutions that were in fact, not solutions at all and it left her feeling numb.”
Sav Ferguson (Checkpoint.net, independent programmer & designer) and Luke both expressed very positive views towards the court case. Given that there has been so much public debate previous to the survey, it was well known that the Australian public already broadly supported marriage equality. He echoed a common view in the queer community; the Australian Government was already elected, why could they not simply do their jobs and hold a free vote in the Parliament?
Sav also pointed out a concern many of us transgender folk felt; the language had been changed from “marriage equality” to “same-sex marriage”, which has the potential to overlook us and intersex people. Damon Reece (Hacknet: Labyrinths, Stirfire Studios) added similar concerns for Non-Binary folk; “I was concerned that the debate would continue to ignore trans and Non-Binary people, because of course it would. And it absolutely kept happening. The majority of the language used referred to binary cis people of all sexualities and totally failed to address trans and non-binary people. “
When the survey finally started being issued, there were negative sentiments all-round. Sarah Smith (Smithsoft, Google, Nokia) expressed feelings of anger and betrayal at the hands of our government, whereas Charlie Francis Cassidy (Might Games Group) expressed that they believed it to be just another insulting delay in providing us with our rights. Certainly, there was a broadly held belief that this was not a measure to solve anything, rather just another delaying tactic employed by a government who were deeply divided on the issue and trying to placate their more conservative members. Sarah had particular concerns about being visibly Out online and at the possibility of being doxed because of it.
In the words of Alexander Swords (All Walls Must Fall, Massive Entertainment-Sweden), “It was impossible to escape the hate. In the news, it was impossible not to see queer people being accused of destroying the fabric of society. Then we were accused of bullying and that our efforts were all to oppress some religious people. As a victim of bullying and harassment this was something I couldn’t get past.”
Perhaps the best news that has come of this whole experience is the way that our friends and colleagues have supported us through. At Mighty Games Group, a colleague of Charlie’s put up a “Vote Yes” sign in their office window and experienced strong support across the company. At Stirfire, there was never any question that my colleagues would support me as we have always had a strong queer presence in our company. There has been collective relief in the way industry bodies and related organisations like the GDAA, MCV Pacific and IGEA have offered support. I can only thank the management of these organisations.
As Sarah and Luke both expressed, there was much to be worried about outside of the industry and that does creep into a person’s ability to do their jobs. Luke received a threatening message that “one day Australia would be reclaimed from the gays and the muzzo’s.” Sarah was conscious of the heightened tensions and the possibilities of LGBTQIA people facing an increased threat of violence and Sav and Damon were concerned about it too. Damon found themselves feeling threatened when passing Christian activists in their neighbourhood of Adelaide. Finally, Alexander simply looked for work outside of Australia, redoubling his efforts to get a job in Europe.
During the campaign, Sav expressed the thoughts of many in the LGBTQIA communities; “Instead of breaking me though, it only made me more determined to get this fucking thing done. You wanted this to happen? Fine. If it is, we’re gonna win it.” This is a belief across so many of us, that we did not ask for the survey and were saddled with it, but because the No Campaign were turning it into a general referendum on queer people, it was even more important to win.
When the survey results were announced on November the 15th, as Alayna expressed, most of us had very mixed feelings; “I wasn’t expecting the announcement to impact me like it did, but it made me cry for all sorts of reasons. Honestly, I had such mixed feelings, and I still do. There was no positive outcome.” The end result is, whilst for us there is closure and vindication in delivering a victory, we have to watch now as the legislation is subject to the parliamentary process and the seemingly endless debate that will generate.
Charlie expressed similar feelings of feeling empty and uncertainly as to what comes next. Luke allowed himself to enjoy the victory for a few days but then the reality of the 61.6% number began to hit home and I have certainly seen other reactions too. 79% of the adult population voted in the survey and even though it has delivered a resounding victory that still means 38.4%, or over four million Australians believe for a variety of reasons that we do not deserve the same rights as cis/heterosexual people. Counting those who did not submit a response, that still means that somewhere from a quarter to a third of our adult population do not believe we are equal citizens. As Alexander put it, “we now have a statistic for hate.”
Another massive issue for us is the actual form of the legislation. Thankfully the bill put forward by Senator James Paterson already seems to have been quashed, due to the cross-party support of the Dean Smith bill. But that still does not mean Senators Bernardi, Abetz, Paterson and others will not be looking for ways to legalise forms of discrimination under the guise of “religious protections.” The classic hypothetical case being the baker who does not agree with marriage equality and thus refuses service to a gay couple seeking to purchase a wedding cake. Thankfully there has already been commentary from within the Government to not aim to replace one form of discrimination with another.
As we are now watching the Parliamentary dance of the major parties and hoping that fair(ish) legislation is passed before Christmas, there is a strong sense of relief among LGBTQIA people, but the doubts have not gone away. Transgender, Non-Binary and Intersex people have spoken about their concerns about lack of recognition. This process has shown that Australia still has a long way to go in terms of becoming a fair society. There have been public speeches that this momentum cannot be lost as it is time to deal with other humanitarian matters. Like most of my respondents, I take comfort for the support our industry has provided us.
Heartfelt thanks to Damon Reece, Sav Ferguson, Charlie Francis Cassidy, Alayna Cole, Luke Miller, Alexander Swords and Sarah Smith for sharing their stories with me over this emotion-charged topic.