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'Apologise to suicide families': Carl Katter speaks out.

Mia Freedman spoke to Carl Katter about growing up gay in regional Australia, and why the bigots need to apologise.

When Carl Katter was interviewed recently, the nation learned he was the gay, half-brother of Federal Independent politician Bob Katter. But there’s more to the story. His story of struggle and torment at the hands of bigots and hate-mongers is one of strength and perseverance. And the thing about Carl is that his story could be the one of any young gay, lesbian or transgender youth growing up ‘different’ in regional Australia.

His is a statement of account. Just who, exactly, will be held accountable for spreading hatred that leads to youth suicide? The hypocrisy of those who campaign on the rate of bush suicides who then say the idea of equality should be laughed at and ‘ridiculed’ is not lost on him.

This is what matters to Carl.

Check Mia’s full length and unedited interview with Carl here and our Q&A below:

1. I really want to know about the burden of growing up gay in the country. Why is it different?

It probably isn’t different. There are less people in regional areas so you are less likely to interface with gays and lesbians and more likely to interface with bigots. I still have some very close and open minded friends from Charters Towers.

I have many fond memories of my younger years pretty much up until I was 12 years old; having a dynamic Father and Mother we kids often were dragged across the country with them for work. I would happily say I had a pleasant childhood, most of the time.

Dad passed away when I was 13 so this combined with going through puberty, starting high school and discovering I was attracted to males more so than females culminated in an enormous challenge for me with so much change all at once! In regards to my sexual orientation, it just seemed totally normal for me to be attracted to the same sex. At least it did at the time.

We moved to Charters Towers from Mt Isa, as mum thought it would be best for us to attend the school my father had gone to. It was a classic bush boarding school. And that is pretty much where and when the hate started. It didn’t take long for me to realise that being attracted to the same sex was a very, very bad thing and the worst and most offensive name to be called was either faggot, poofter, gay, homo, gaylord and so on, so I had to smarten up quick! I did this by devoting the majority of my out of school time to extracurricular activities such as Rugby League.

The school I went to held Rugby League in very high esteem. I tried to get involved in as much at school as possible but it just didn’t work. It was hard to make friends and I was also treated like I was different all the time. There was only so far my charade would carry me. I finally stopped dating girls in grade 11 as it was becoming such a joke.

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I wasn’t aware of anyone else throughout those five dark years who was dealing with the same issues as I was, although I now know as an adult there were others.

While walking home from a party alone, when I was 15, a guy who was a grade above me and would always call me faggot decided he was going to bash the crap out of me because I was a “fucken faggot,” which he yelled at me from across the road. I tried to get away but he just ran straight for me and started laying punches into my face. I fell to the gutter and then he started kicking me, lucky for me, as I’m not sure if I would be here today, I heard some voices, and then he was pulled off me.

I opened my eyes through the blood running down my face to see there were about three of my Indigenous footy mates, they said “get the hell out of here Katter!” once I had got a fair distance away, I could see those guys laying into the guy who had attacked me. I guess these guys were probably well aware of having to deal with prejudice.

That was probably the last time I went out in Charters Towers, as I never felt safe. Having travelled the world as an adult and walked the streets of many international cities, I have never felt as scared as when I would walk the streets of Charters Towers after dark.

There was a lot of loneliness, depression and fear, in my high school years I was often sent away to things I didn’t want to do, be it week long footy clinics, where it seemed my fist name was faggot and rarely was I called Carl, and the same with swimming carnivals and camps, I was a decent swimmer, but just couldn’t really pursue it as I ended up fearing the hate that was always verbally sent my way.

I have many other stories but they are not unique and really are of no importance compared to the stories I now know from many other people who grew up in north Qld or regional areas across the country. Many people have experienced much greater levels of violence than I did, some to the point where these people have taken their own lives.  I am definitely one of the lucky ones. I got out and avoided having to resort to taking my own life during these hard years.

Check out this It Gets Better video:

2. How does this affect the rates of youth suicide in country and regional areas? What has been your experience?

Of course this violence is a real contributor to youth suicide in regional areas, there is reputable data and research out there to prove this. I don’t need any statistics to tell me this is so though. For particular elected representatives to disregard these statistics and data is very very dangerous.

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At some point these people like Bob Katter will need to be made accountable for their incitement of such hate. I believe these so called ‘representatives’ need to go and apologise to these families that have lost their sons or daughters, brothers and sisters from suicide. Two families I know in particular are no longer families. It is harrowing for all concerned. These families will never be the same again, the blame game starts and the parents often separate.

3. What was your coming out story like?

I think the fact people have to come out is ridiculous, your Mum always knows. It will be great when we live in a society where it isn’t an issue and there is no stigma attached to being gay.

I told my mother, brother and sister I was gay when I was 18 and had finished my first year at Art College. I was pretty sure I needed to do this sooner rather than later, as I knew there would be a time period of adjustment and education. They did not take it well and that is because all they had been told and shown was that being gay was not normal and a sin. To their credit though they always loved me.

After a couple of years it was all good. They continue to love me so unconditionally and desperately want to see me happy and hope one day I will marry. They are all now very passionate advocates for marriage equality.

4. What was your support network like during this time?

I had no support network, I had one female friend I would converse with randomly, but that was it. One thing you must realise is that gay and lesbian people who grow up in regional areas and have got out safely have seen it all and experienced it all. They have copped abuse throughout their teenager and young adult years, so they tend to be bloody tough. I navigated these waters alone and then quickly escaped to the city where there were more like minded people. I am one of the lucky ones: not everyone gets the chance to move to a caring, diverse and progressive community.

I think it is important for young gays and lesbians to realise that they are not alone and are not different. The challenge for them though is to track down and establish their support networks. Given the low population base in rural Australia and the over representation of bigots they might need to look outside their immediate community for their support network. This is tragic and hopefully we are going some way to changing this.

5. By way of detail: where were you born, where did you grow up, when did you leave the ‘regions’ for the city and so forth?

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I was born in Brisbane, but grew up in Mt Isa until I was 12. Then I moved to Charters Towers with my widowed mum and brother and sister. As soon as I finished school I headed for Brisbane (literally the day after I graduated) and had lived there for many years. As of a month and a half ago I live in Fitzroy, Melbourne. I wish I had made the move many years earlier. Living in a progressive, diverse, multicultural, and accepting community you really realise that there are so many amazing things happening in inclusive communities.

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Communities represented by homophobic, bigoted people are missing out on so much progress, be it social, environmental or even economic. I know there are many good people in these communities but their voices are drowned out by the hateful loudmouths.

From the feedback and support I have received from NQ residents, I am very confident that they are getting very sick and tired of being portrayed as homophobic, misogynistic, bigots. They are also starting to realise why they are failing to retain the amazing, talented, gay and lesbians who contribute greatly to  communities socially and economically.

6. You’ve maintained what I would call a dignified silence for some time now. Was that difficult, given the nature of what you have seen and experienced as a gay man?

Yes it was hard having as you would say a ‘dignified silence’. I am passionate about this country of ours and Australian politics. I am also very passionate about North Queensland as my Mum and Dad devoted most of their lives to trying to make it a better place. It takes a long time to get over being told constantly you are inferior or “gosh you could never be openly gay”.

The bigots and haters holding that rally in The Great Hall of the Australian Parliament House had taken their dangerous behaviour to a new low. I have been brought up to not be scared to stand up for what I believe in and I thought enough is enough.

There is something I can do to help the people who are in those areas. They need to know they are equal and this behaviour is not the norm and that it is totally unacceptable.

I needed to rebuff the atrocious hate inciting statements that I had heard in the Great Hall of our Parliament House. I was lucky enough to receive enormous support from my immediate family. Being about to stand up for what is right and just is an amazing opportunity and an enormous privilege.

The hard work is far from over though.

If you or someone you know is struggling with coming out or sexuality issues, seek help. Organisations like Open Doors, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Lifeline, Headspace and Kids Helpline all do amazing work in supporting people.

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