news

'I've got to pay my bills': The people who could lose their jobs for marching in Sydney's Mardi Gras.

Heart’s beating fast. Music is pounding. Crowds are cheering. Eyes everywhere. Nowhere to hide. Nothing to hide. Your core purpose, right here, right now, is pride.

This is the life-affirming experience of marching in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It’s a moment of belonging for so many LGBTQIA people and their allies who live in a world that often looks at them as living “off-script”.

Underpinning the spectacle of larger-than-life floats and smaller-than-small outfits is a deep sense of fearlessness – a courage to live a life by your own script.

Indeed, the theme of this year’s festival is Fearless. It’s a feeling that will be embraced by thousands of Australians taking part in the 197-float parade, to be watched by hundreds of thousands in person on Saturday, March 2, and on the SBS broadcast a night later.

But for some people, marching is a risk they are not prepared to take.

In 2019, there are still people who fear losing their jobs for taking part in a public parade like Mardi Gras. One of them is John*, who has worked for a faith-based organisation for more than five years.

John, whose identity is known to Mamamia, says that marching in Mardi Gras is still not an option for him and people like him who work for religious organisations that have the power to fire you on the basis of your sexuality.

“I probably wouldn’t do the Sydney Mardi Gras because it’s too public,” John says. “It’s knowing scrutiny is still there somewhere… it does affect my behaviour and what I do. It is something that you always have to be mindful of and [be] thinking about.”

John is not out as gay in his workplace for fear it would limit his career opportunities within his organisation. He recently moved roles after feeling “pissed off” having to stay silent on his support for marriage equality because of his position in the business.

“It was just that bad. It was untenable,” he tells Mamamia. “And because it was untenable it makes someone who is same-sex attracted unable to stay in those positions, which limits your ability to put in a voice or assert yourself or influence in a practical and sane way.”

He adds: “I do work with schools and young adults as well, so while I’d like to think it’s not a problem, it’s still in the back of the mind after going through [the marriage equality debate]. It still informs my impressions and actions. I’m hoping that will change but at the moment it’s not.”

For John, being closeted at work – and on social media – is a fact of his life he’s come to accept.

“In my case I didn’t have another job to go to. I’ve got to pay my bills and everything else, so without having another alternative – you just got to do what you do to get by,” he says.

ADVERTISEMENT

John’s story sadly echoes one of the consequences of the first Mardi Gras protest in 1978, which saw many of the activists who took part lose their jobs and their homes after Fairfax Media published the names, home addresses and occupations.

But this is 2019 – we have marriage equality. We have openly gay politicians and CEOs who are afforded the respect and dignity they’ve worked hard to earn. And yet, it is still legal to discriminate against a person on the basis of their sexuality for faith-based organisations.

There will be many who would never choose to exercise this right to discriminate. But the fact that religious schools and religious bodies still have this power, on the taxpayer’s dollar, is a hard pill to swallow.

Following the legalisation of marriage equality in Australia, the Ruddock Religious Freedoms Review was conducted to placate the concerns of religious organisations that wanted to protect their rights in a new age of marriage equality. Scott Morrison’s government is supportive of the recommendations of the Ruddock Review and announced its intention to create a Religious Discrimination Act, while delaying any decisive action to protect LGBTQIA school students and teachers.

Such laws, or lack of protections, leave the door open for religious institutions to discriminate if they choose to. We’ve seen this muscle flexed as recently as October 2018, when Perth teacher Craig Campbell was fired from his role as a relief teacher at a Baptist college. The practising Christian had been working there for two years when his employment was discontinued after he told the school he was in a same-sex relationship.

Francis Voon, who worked as the Faith & Multicultural Outreach Coordinator for the Equality Campaign, say it’s not uncommon for members of the LGBTIQ community to question whether they should be ‘out’ in both the workplace and public arenas like Mardi Gras.

“Having worked with many pro-LGBTI religious and multicultural groups, individuals and leaders, in the campaign for marriage equality, I have met many individuals, both LGBTI and allies, who told us stories of their deep hurt and frustration, of being unable to be public, either of their sexuality or gender identity, or, if allies, about their support for their LGBTI friends and family, in their places of work, due to their well-founded fears and threats of losing their livelihoods,” Voon tells us (his own views, not on behalf of the campaign).

“The voices of LGBTI people of faith were, are and continue to be erased from the public sphere. This is not a question of ‘Gay versus God’. There are LGBTI people whose hearts and lives are torn apart by this dangerous discourse. Which is why it was so important that the campaign allowed supportive people of faith to say ‘I support marriage equality, not despite, but because of my faith and values.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Voon adds that he knows “too many” people who fear that marching would ‘out’ them publicly.

This is one of the many reasons why Mardi Gras is important. As long as there is fear, we need to stand up to those who allow those conditions to thrive.

One of the floats in this year’s parade, the P.I.N.K. Flamingoes, will protest the religious freedoms bill. And various religious organisations, including the members of the Christian and Jewish communities, will have floats within the parade once again.

The right to be able to express one’s self fearlessly is one that should be afforded to all LGBTQIA Australians and their allies who would like to do so – regardless of who they work for.

On today’s episode of The Quicky, we talk to Chris Csabs, a survivor of gay conversion therapy. Listen to his powerful story (his mother is a bloody gem):

The 41st Sydney Mardi Gras parade takes place on Saturday, March 2 with pre-show celebrations at 7pm. The parade runs from 7.30pm to 11pm, running from Whitlam Square (corner Liverpool and Oxford Street) and ending at Moore Park.

*John is not the real name of the subject interviewed.

Want to help make Australia a better place for women and girls? Take our survey now to help.

MMSurvey

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???