Saturday, 9 July 2011

25 years

A few weeks ago, there were so many people at the meeting I was at that we ended up sitting on the floor and on the stairs and out into the doorway. Someone who had been involved in the movement for homosexual law reform remarked that changing the law was probably the least important part of what happened then. From the chair I was sitting on (being obsessively early to things sometimes pays off) I looked across at everyone there; gay and bisexual women and men, trans* people, genderqueer people, straight people, people I didn't know how they identify, and probably people who don't know themselves. There were kids in school uniform and people older than my parents. I became suddenly, randomly, tearful. Of course it wasn't.

Unlike most of my friends my age, I remember living in a country (not New Zealand) when male homosexuality was illegal, and I remember a law reform with a crucial difference; there was no movement. That is not to say that there weren't some incredibly brave activists who put their lives on the line, but the arguments in favour of reform - at least that I heard - were legalistic and fatalistic. There was nothing I could have dreamed of being a part of.

The law change was important, of course it was. I'm really fucking glad that none of my friends here fear arrest for their sexuality. And even though it does not directly affect me, it paved the way for a whole heap of changes that make a difference to how I live my life every single day. But earlier this afternoon someone posted on Twitter:

One of my happiest memories is the campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. It taught me, at 15, that if you stand up things can change.
Because we have a long fucking way to go on all fronts. Many of things things I could cite as examples of how different things are - the fact that bank did not give a shit that when my partner and I applied for a mortgage we are both female, for example - rely on an already advantaged position. But thanks to those who stood up then, we have a space to make those changes and an example - even for those, like myself, who were just small children at the time, of how important collective action is, not just in making changes to the law, but in connecting people, transforming attitudes and giving us the confidence that can be so badly needed.

I often cite the example of these two law reforms - and the campaign for the civil union bill which I was actively involved in, and in many ways gave me the courage to come out - to underline the importance of collective action, that mass movements are about so much more than putting pressure on a handful of people in parliament. But I also know from experience that activism is often difficult, even more so when you are defending your right to exist.

So to all those who were there twenty five years ago, thank you. Thank you for the times you were scared as hell but kept going anyway, the times you pushed on past pain you should never have had to experience. Thank you for every time you got splinters in your hands from placards or the Wellington wind blew the glue covered poster right back in your face. To those who didn't make it and to those who are still fighting today, from this twenty something queergirl with a life she never used to think possible, thank you.


Julie said...

Thanks so much for this post.

Dougal said...

Thanks, Anthea -- it made my afternoon reading this. Great to hear the meeting was so big, I wish I could have made it. A great way to celebrate a silver anniversary, I reckon.

Julie said...

Here's a 25 years blog round-up courtesy of missing sparkles :-)

Chally said...

Yeah, this is a really great post. Thank you.