“You’ve been identified as an extremist,” a friend posted to me on social media.
The friend directed me to the Coalition for Marriage website, where I saw the article ‘Tonight a test for the extremists of the YES campaign’, with a picture of me waving a rainbow flag.
I saw words like ‘extremist’, ‘violent’ and ‘bully’ attributed to me in the article, and I felt my stomach drop.
Anybody who knows me would look at that photo and recognise me. What if my employer sees it, and is led to believe that I am an extremist? Or that I'm violent?
Those words do not describe me.
Harmful, inflammatory words like this have very real implications, and they have a real effect on real people's lives. My life.
Me, a 26-year-old public servant living in Canberra. The whole thing felt absurd.
All sorts of accusations are directed at the YES campaign, but I never thought it would be directed at me personally. I've been involved in many peaceful, non-violent rallies on issues such as LGBTIQ rights, asylum seekers and climate change. I see civic participation as an important part of living in a democracy.
Standing in a park, with a sign or flag, saying messages like 'safe schools saves lives' is a far cry from the types of behaviour people would typically associate with 'extremism'.
I don’t know where they got the photo from, but I do know the photo was taken at a peaceful counter-rally, where I was supporting the Safe Schools program, an anti-bullying program that teaches young people about sexual and gender diversity.
Bullying people because of their gender or sexuality is never acceptable, and programs like Safe Schools show young LGBTIQ people that they are normal and they deserve to be treated with acceptance and respect by their peers. If we look at the rates of depression and anxiety amongst LGBTIQ young people, it is clear to me that programs like Safe Schools really can save lives.
I never imagined that a photo of me at a peaceful counter-rally would be associated with words like 'extremist' and 'violent'.
I started to feel ill. I thought of the tens of thousands of people across Australia, including young people like me, who have marched for equal marriage rights, many of them carrying rainbow flags.
Nobody should be called an extremist for waving a rainbow flag.
I sent a message to the Coalition for Marriage. I received no response. Later that night, the image and article was posted to their social media page, which has over 20,000 followers. The damage was done.
Since then, letters have been sent by me, and by my lawyers at Slater & Gordon, asking for the photo to be removed and for an apology to be issued. It would be so easy for this to be over today, but as of now, the photo has not been removed, and no apologies have been issued.
I am, of course, hopeful for a 'yes' outcome in the postal survey but regardless of the outcome, myself and thousands of others will continue to work towards building a more tolerant society, where young people can grow up in a world that accepts them regardless of who they are or who they love.
LISTEN: Mia Freedman talks to Janine Middleton, the CEO of Australian Marriage Equality, about what you can do to help.