There’s a thing I have to make clear.
If you can vote in this referendum, and you don’t? If something came up and you were just too busy and you didn’t get around to it? You are not my friend. We are not friends. You don’t have any LGBTQ friends. Because our lives, our future, our rights weren’t worth a half hour of your time.
I’d rather an honest homophobe over someone who pretends to care but can’t be bothered, any day.
I’m also very aware that this is the kind of talk that the No side will dismiss as bullying tactics. See, the thing that they like to pretend is that this is a simple matter of disagreement. That we should all be friends and polite and respect differences, and that if we don’t we’re intolerant. But there is no requirement for anyone to be tolerant of discrimination. Of institutional, legally-mandated bullying.
They would like to have us all believe that all opinions are equal, and that respecting someone’s right to have an opinion is the same as respecting that opinion.
All opinions are not equal.
If all opinions were equal, or if holding an opinion was neutral and harmless, there would be no point in having them. Freedom of speech would be meaningless. It wouldn’t matter if you could hold an opinion or not, or if you could express it or not. They would have no effect on the world.
But all opinions are not equal.
The aggregated opinions of our populace determine the kind of society we live in. This changes our lives. It’s the difference between a kid being welcomed by their family or kicked out of home. Bullied at school or thriving. Couples fearing walking too close together, or sharing simple gestures of affection. A photo of a spouse on a desk at work, or never speaking about your personal life for years on end. Holding the and of the person you love by their hospital bed, or sitting outside alone.
Opinions cause all of these. Opinions and how loudly we express them.
Things which are too ironic for this world: when dominant groups who’ve been marginalising others for decades get their pants in a knot over ‘bullying’ and ‘silencing’ the second someone stands up to them. When someone who has never faced discrimination thinks that denying other people rights is somehow equal to people telling them that that’s a fucked-up thing to say about a group of people.
If you believe your views are just an opinion, you should have no problem shutting up. If you acknowledge that they have real effects, then you’d better be prepared to defend them.
Some opinions are homophobic- and if you think that LGBTQ people should have less rights than cishet people, then you have homophobic views. I don’t care how politely you express them. You still want to keep people like me down, keep us in a separate and unequal corner while keeping yourself happy that at least we have civil partnerships and sure isn’t that enough? You still think that you’re better than me.
I can respect your right to that opinion while having nothing but contempt for the opinion itself.
But- of course- it isn’t nothing but contempt. I’ll express it as contempt, of course. Anyone who’s been hurt by anyone knows that sometimes we have to be angry to go on. If someone harms you, contempt can be a shield. Contempt can keep you safe, protect you from having to engage with the reality that this person- this kind, generous, polite person- would rather that you stayed over there, pushed just that little bit aside from the centre of society. Kept just that little bit othered. Reminded of your place.
Those kind, generous, polite people would be happy to be your friend, as long as you never forget that.
Those kind, generous, polite people do as much damage to people like me as any slurs thrown down a street.
Politeness isn’t the same as behaving well. Rudeness isn’t the same as bullying.
Back when I appeared more obviously visibly queer than I do these days, it was a pretty common occurrence for people to point this fact out to me as I went about my day. Guys yelling from cars, shouting on the street, stares- that kind of thing. It happened.
Sometimes the words that they used were what we call slurs. Sometimes it was words that, in a different context, would be perfectly ordinary and acceptable.
This was harassment in both cases.
Slurs are one very obvious way to flag speech as harassment. But they are not what makes it harassing. If we found a way to edit out those words from their speech, it wouldn’t make their actions okay.
Those actions are harassment because of what they signify: we see you. You are not acceptable. We don’t think you have a right to walk down the street. We’re going to make sure you know that. The threats of something worse- which I have been lucky enough to escape- are always there.
If you can vote but do not, you are not my friend.
If you can vote and do not, your opinion doesn’t matter. You had the chance to drown out voices who see me as inferior and you didn’t bother. You had the chance to stand up to a state that bullies its citizens with a constitution that sees us as fundamentally second-class, and you didn’t. You could have shelved forever the myth of a silent majority, too scared to express their homophobia (ha, I wish!), and you didn’t.
If you can vote and don’t? I may be your friend, but you are not mine.
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