Magda Szubanski, thank you for showing us what leadership looks like.

Today, something happened that our children, and our children’s children, will learn about in history class.

The decision that was announced a few moments after 10am on the 15th of November, 2017, did not – even a little bit – happen by accident.

It took an army, more than seven million in fact, to come together in favour of the ‘Yes’ vote. But every army needs leaders.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, unfortunately, was not always one of them.

But what we’ve seen in Australia, not only in the last few months, but in the last few decades, is the emergence of world-class leaders.

One who is worth celebrating today, is Magda Szubanski.

In February 2012, the actress, comedian and author, who played one of Australia’s most adored characters, Sharon Strzelecki on Kath and Kim, announced on The Project, “I absolutely identify as gay and for a very long time have.

“We live in a democracy and one in 10 people, which is the number of gay people, are not represented equally,”Szubanski said.

“There’s a kind of velvet oppression going on. Younger people are killing themselves. It’s not fine. This is a serious issue.”

LISTEN: Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and I discuss the results of Australia’s same sex marriage survey on Mamamia Out Loud. (Post continues below…)

Five years on, and Szubanski has become (one of) the beaming faces of the ‘Yes’ campaign – a campaign for a vote she never wanted.


But she did not yell, even though this course of action was nothing short of absurd.

She did not stew in the reality that this vote was, as research has shown, bad for the LGBQTI community.

She did not fixate on how highly offensive it was for millions of Australian’s to watch on as the ABS revealed the results of the same sex marriage survey, not unlike Grant Denyer pausing for suspense before announcing, “survey says….” as though this was merely an episode of Family Feud. 

Szubanski did none of those things, because she knew as soon as the plebiscite was announced, that she had work to do.

Magda Szabanski at the announcement. Image via Getty.

You do not change the world simply by wishing it were different. A vote it was, and Szubanski energetically looked forward.

On The Project in August, Szubanski argued through tears that this vote was not about symbolism, and it was about more than love.

"It is not just about matters of abstract issues like equality," she said. "It is about illness and death."

She went on to tell the story of a friend whose partner had cancer, and she wasn't allowed to sit by her bedside during treatment because she was not family.


"She wasn't allowed in and she had to stand outside and listen to the screams of the woman she loved unable to even comfort her. Now, in whose universe is that fair? What God thinks that is right?" she asked.

In September, Szubanski found a new audience on A Current Affair. 

During the segment, she stood across from a man who planned on voting 'no'. She did not call him a 'bigot' or a 'homophobe'. She looked him in the eye and spoke to him, visibly changing his mind.

Then there was Q&A, where Szubanski sat on a panel as the only LGBTQI representative, to discuss the subject of same-sex marriage.

She was dignified. She was respectful. And she was incomparably intelligent, allowing her opponents to dig their own grave.

And that was only what she did on camera.


Szubanski spoke all over the country, in cities and in small towns, knocking on doors and arguing with politicians.

She used her platform to argue that voting 'no' was not a homophobic act. Hate speech on either side of the debate was unwelcome. After she convinced an old family friend to change his vote from 'no' to 'yes', she said, "He was no homophobe. A lot of people are time-poor and if an issue isn't impinging on them directly, they don't research it. It's just easier to go with the status quo."

We held our breath this morning, terrified of a repeat of Brexit or Trump. But the vote went the way it ought to, and that is because of a sustained effort on the 'Yes' side to break out of our echo chamber. Advocates like Szubanski did not allow us to become complacent. They did not paint an arbitrary and ultimately harmful dichotomy of us-versus-them, or of good-versus-bad.

Szubanski likely had too many painful conversations to count, but it was her mission not to silence the discussion. It was time to have it out.

Today, we changed the definition of what it means to be Australian.

At a time when we are in desperate need of leadership, Magda Szubanski reminded us all what a brilliant leader looks like.