I have recently been asking myself a question after a distressing experience at a local shopping centre:
Is it more important to be safe or to be proud?
Upon entering the complex, my partner and I felt the weight of dozens of stares upon us and looking around revealed a mixture of uncomfortable and disgusted faces.
Being visibly transgender and openly queer, I am not unused to such attention, however the intensity of the experience was such that it left a lasting impact.
Is it more important to be safe, or to be proud?
Is it possible to be both?
There is no question about the importance of personal safety. But is it worth it – if I cannot even go to the shops being myself.
To answer this question, I believe we need to look to the past, to times where being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community was both illegal and heavily discriminated against.
The discrimination and legislation that existed at the time were not changed by polite requests, but by activism, protests, and demonstrations. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community were arrested, abused, injured, and murdered during the struggle for equal rights.
The individuals and groups who fought for our rights risked both their livelihoods and their lives in their struggle against systemic homophobia. Through their sacrifice they ensured that we are all free to be proud and open about who we are as members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
If we as members of the community – if I myself – am cowed by experiences such as when I was at the local shopping centre, does that honour the sacrifices of the elders and leaders of the community?
I do not believe so.
When I experience homophobia, I am inspired to become more visible. Every stare makes me stand taller; every abusive comment makes my voice louder.
But what if the situation is not safe for me to be proud and visible?
Should I avoid being myself in public?
I do not believe so.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community should never have to conceal or hide themselves to be safe. Indeed, we can be both safe AND proud. What needs to change, who needs to change, is in fact the Tasmanian community.
We as members of the LGBTQIA+ community have always been here, regardless of the laws of the time, and we will always continue to be here even if we become criminalised again. We cannot, and will not, go away. Our sexualities and gender identities cannot be changed by others, so therefore what needs to change are those other people.
When we see real positive change in the Tasmanian community, only then will it be possible to be simultaneously safe and proud.
So, to the Tasmanian community, I put this to you:
I will continue to be visible and continue to be proud.
Only you can ensure that I am safe to be me.
Will you make the change needed so that I can be?