It was a crisp spring morning as I hurriedly made my way to Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park to attend an “Announcement Picnic” for the results of Australia’s protracted – and hotly debated – postal survey on same-sex marriage. My boyfriend of eight years was prodding me along, imploring me to pick up the pace. I was both nervous and apprehensive. If there was anything the previous year had shown me, it was that opinion polls could often be so spectacularly inaccurate in gauging the pulse of a nation. I wanted to believe that Australia was a secular, tolerant and progressive society. But I was also bracing myself for the worst.
As the positive results of the survey – 61.6% voted Yes to approve a change in the law to allow couples of the same sex to marry, against 38.4% No votes – were announced on November 14, I started feeling both relaxed and jubilant. To me, this was a clear sign that everyday Australians were far more accepting of queer people than I thought. For these open-minded citizens, being gay was no more an aberration than being a redhead or being left-handed.
But then I saw the breakdown of the results by electorates. While the inner-city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne showed overwhelming support for marriage equality, the results from Sydney’s western suburbs were almost comical in their disparity. In the electorate of Parramatta, with its large migrant population coming from my homeland of India, the results were the exact opposite of the national tally. And I felt the first sting of betrayal. These were, after all, my people. They were my tribe.
The religion factor
When all is said and done, I would have to concede that these results were anything but unexpected. More than ethnic background, there was a stronger correlation between a No vote in the survey and how religious a person considers oneself. And we Indians are certainly a pious lot. Self-righteous outrage is our middle name.
Ultimately, what these poll results show me is that the migrant population here in Sydney has its unique sense of cultural identity, which is a fabric of Australian society without necessarily being in sync with the mainstream. As part of a South Asian LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning) social support group called Trikone, I think that there is a whole lot more that I could be doing to cut through, and I welcome any suggestions for partnerships, outreach initiatives and advocacy opportunities within this community. Nothing harms queer young people more than bias and discrimination, and I look forward to the day when a young Indian girl or boy can readily come out to her or his family without fear of being ridiculed, punished, or ostracised. Until that day, I hope to remain busy.
Kunal Mirchandani is a member of Trikone Australasia, a Sydney-based South Asian LGBTIQ social support group