MAYDAY: Cries from the ‘No Right to Discriminate’ Rally
Visuals: Amy Toma | @amyytoma
I’ve already seen too many of my friends suffer for simply existing.Melissa Sara, Queer Collective Officer 2020
A crowd gathers on the steps. We don’t really know where we’re going, and the rain hangs heavy. We’re all a rainbow here: groups defined by their difference. A caretaker shields a wheelchair-bound friend with a prismatic umbrella. A grandmother whispers to her granddaughter. Today, everyone does what they can.
We’ve all heard the rallying cry. The Morrison Government wants to pass their own ‘Hobby Lobby Bill’ — the Religious Freedom Act. Nothing free about it, cries the megaphone on the steps. The law is tantamount to the religious right hijacking of the narrative under the guise of equanimity. The rain thickens from mist; we struggle to peer over a canopy of harlequin umbrellas. This gathering takes place on stolen Eora land; the establishment wants to again use ‘Christian values’ to legalise hate and bigotry — and all in the midst of the worst climate crisis our nation has faced. “Well fuck that!” cries the megaphone.
There’s a righteous fury as we answer.
The rain’s coming in sheets now. Phones and cameras bead with drops, and my gum boots well with water. Listening to them later, my recordings crackle like old records: apt, because these issues are old. Marriage equality makes more than one mention (the hurt and victory laurels still fresh); even an original 78er, one of the fathers of the Mardis Gras parade, has come to speak his piece. We’ve all been fighting the same battles with the same foes ever since they decided we had to defend our existence. They say a human’s conservatism can be correlated to their disgust; what’s so disgusting about us? Judging by the crowd, ‘different’ applies to all.
My raincoat saturates; an icy drop slides down my spine. But the speeches have barely begun. A representative of PFLAG Australia reads out from her waterlogged pages. “I asked this woman what it would take to appease [the Liberals], and she just looked at me and smiled, and said, ‘Nothing.’” Her work of late has been pleading with the government not to abandon women, the LGBTQI+ community, people of colour, people with disabilities, religious minorities, and “any other group in the church’s vision.” A tireless, thankless job, defending practically everyone.
Indeed, the damage of the law could be far-reaching. Doctors could refuse to give care to single mothers, or to the children of same-sex couples. Businesses could turn away customers who require special access. They could refuse to insure reasonable and life-saving medical procedures. They could turn on their own employees who meet the qualities of the discriminated, or who refuse to do the discriminating. Companies could be allowed to weaponise their ‘religious freedoms’ as they see fit, and all under the guise of equality.
“This bill is a Trojan horse,” roars one speaker. “This bill will fail at its objective. It will privilege religious rights, and it will weaken the existing protections against vulnerable members of this community. And as a Muslim woman, as a lawyer, as a council member for civil liberties, I say, NO. NO TO THE BILL.” The street echoes with our cry of approval.
Corporations aren’t people; they do not have the same unalienable rights of man, they should not have our freedoms. Real people, who deserve real protection, are being ignored. Until now. There’s a strength in this group. Bigoted voices scream loudly through the megaphone of the media, but here on the steps of Town Hall, there’s a hot-blooded, misery-fueled passion to our numbers. We need to see that we have each other. We need to not feel alone.
The rain stings, but the rage stings harder. There’s palpable abandonment in this crowd. Mehreen Faruqi, the first Islamic women elected to state and federal parliament, cries out her disgust at Labour for their silence and inaction. It occurs to me as she speaks about the seemingly endless struggle to rouse political support just how exhausting being this angry, being this cold and tired, truly is. It’s exhausting that this is even necessary. My throat feels raw from calling out; my fingers are blue. Our arms are stiff from holding umbrellas.
Perhaps Morrison would like to know that if he has done nothing else, he has made things difficult for the people in this crowd. Not because of the rain, not because of the cold, not because we had to take off work or stand for hours. All in perspective, these things are nothing. This is difficult because we have to weather the revulsed looks and vitriol spewn at us from the streets. Because policemen watch over this crowd with boredom (and they’re not here to protect us). Because when we go home afterwards, there’s a legitimate, disquieting fear that none of what we’ve just endured will matter.
After the speeches, we march. We march through the flooded gutters, slosh through the streets. People point and raise their cameras. We are a sight to behold, psychedelic in the grey. We are weary. We can’t hear the rallying cries from up front, not over the gale-force downpour. I can’t tell if my umbrella makes a difference anymore.
So Amy and I pull away from the protest, watch it pass us by. It’s a marvel just how many there are. A long stream of othered people: young, old. Still all a rainbow. We’re exhausted. But the guilt needles. Should we do more? Could we carry on? Sure we’re soaked, sure we’re weary. But what about the fight? We’re privileged enough to be here; we haven’t been beaten back, or gassed, or sprayed, or shot at. Have we made a statement?
Have we fought back hard enough?
Then I think: we shouldn’t have to. So everyday, we’ll do what we can.
A little (or a lot) of rain can’t, and won’t, stop us.Annie Walker, Director of UTS Queer Revue 2020