opinion

'If there's one thing to learn from the Wilson Gavin tragedy, it's tolerance. On all sides.'

Content note: The following deals with suicide, which may be triggering for some readers. If you are struggling, support is available 24-hours a day via Lifeline. Please call 13 11 14.

A man named Wilson Gavin was among a small number of protesters who stormed a Brisbane City Council library on Sunday afternoon. The group, members of the University of Queensland Liberal National Club, aimed to scuttle Drag Queen Storytime, an event that sees drag performers “share stories that celebrate love, family and diversity”.

According to a since-deleted Facebook post made by the UQLNC, however, Drag Queen Storytime was “designed to indoctrinate and sexualise young children.”

Surrounding the two queens and terrified kids, most of whom were reportedly aged five and under, the protesters shouted, “Drag queens are not for kids! Drag queens are not for kids!” Over and over.

Footage of the protest was posted online and the response was predictably fraught.

While some like-minded people expressed praise for the group, members of the LGBTQI community and their allies railed against its blatant homophobia and expressed outrage over its combative tactics. As the club’s leader and a gay man, 21-year-old Wilson Gavin became a key target of the condemnation.

Then on Monday morning, as the vitriol continued to be spat back and forth, he took his own life.

None of this needed to happen in the way that it did. Not the bigoted shouting in front of children. Not the bigoted shouting-down that followed on social media. And least of all, the loss of life.

Of course, suicidal ideation is far more complex than cause-and-effect and no one can know the exact nature of this man’s suffering. But people have speculated to suit their own narrative: either he was a victim of relentless online bullying by the left, or a victim of his own internalised homophobia — a symptom of the fact that LGBTQI Australians are 11 times more likely to make an attempt on their life.

Either way, there seems to have been little surprise that his suicide was the outcome of these events. That is how resigned we’ve become to the toxicity of our own culture.

But let’s indulge ourselves for a moment. Let’s imagine a way out. Because there are paths we could choose when engaging with each other, if we really wanted to. The best would be compassion. But at least, why not tolerance?

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Tolerance for ideas, for opinions, for lives that look different to our own.

That doesn’t mean we always have to agree. But it does mean that we ought to allow room for those other ideas, opinions and people to be. Even if we believe, deep in the marrow of our bones, that they are wrong.

Instead, throughout this entire situation, people were turned into political playthings. Their actions, even their very existence, were used as quasi ‘proof’ for convictions already deeply held.

It happened on both sides.

There was the intolerance shown by the protestors who believed that men somehow suddenly become unfit to shape the creative minds of children the moment they put on makeup and women’s clothing. So much so that they were prepared to harass them in front of preschoolers.

And the intolerance shown by social media users who, while calling out hostility, inundated a young man with insults, called him “an oxygen thief” and reportedly threatened him with death.

All that is ‘proof’ of is just how harmful closed minds can be.

Don’t think drag queens are suitable for kids? Don’t take your children to a performance. Don’t agree with the hatred shown by a group of conservative protesters? Don’t serve it back to them.

Step back, listen, consider and interrogate when you must. Attack the idea, not the person holding it. And with every step, choose tolerance.

Just like Wilson Gavin’s own aunt, who in the wake of her nephew’s death on Monday wrote, “I stand by everything I said on Twitter in regard to my late nephews [sic] Wilson Gavin’s behaviour at the library – it was despicable behaviour, however, there is a reason for everyone’s behaviour.

“He was a very tormented soul and I loved him.”

Lifeline: 13 11 14.
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

QLife (anonymous peer support LGBTQI people): 1800 184 527 from 3pm – midnight everyday

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