Becoming Full Citizens
15 May 2017 at 8:49 am
Jason Tuazon-McCheyne is the executive director at The Equality Project Australia, a new organisation bringing together LGBTIQ people with allies across the social justice movement, to advocate for a better, more just, and fairer society for all. He is this week’s Changemaker.
The Equality Project was launched in April with the vision of a world that values and affirms all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people as full citizens.
The aim is to host a national biennial conference, Better Together, which will create a safe space “to have the hard conversations” and provide a platform for collaborative action.
Tuazon-McCheyne, who says the idea came from a conversation with his friend and fellow activist Jacqui Tomlins, says the launching has been “exhausting and exciting”.
Tuazon-McCheyne has been a leading voice in the LGBTIQ community for more than a decade, and was one of the founding members of the Australian Marriage Equality movement.
With his husband Adrian, Tuazon-McCheyne first challenged Australian marriage laws in 2004 after celebrating their marriage in Canada.
Since then he has maintained a public profile, advocating strongly for the rights of the LGBTIQ community.
Last year he ran for Senate as the leader of The Australian Equality Party (AEP), a political party created to to give the LGBTIQ community an independent voice in federal parliament.
In this week’s Changemaker he talks about feeling like a second class citizen, why marginalised groups are better together and the importance of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
What motivated you to start The Equality Project Australia?
I was sitting with a dear activist friend of mine, Jacqui, and talking about how do we get the changes that we need faster because we seem to be losing in the public sphere these fights. Marriage hasn’t happened yet, trans issues are stalled, Safe Schools has been destroyed and at the end of the day LGBTIQ people are not full citizens of this country. So I had a conversation last September and then I have had 500 conversations since around the country and overseas and The Equality Project came from that. From the idea that if we work together more strategically and we get together, we are better together. So that is the theory.
We are going to hold a national conference. The first one since the 80s actually, we used to have them in the 70s and 80s, [it will be] a national LGBTIQ conference, at the Melbourne Town Hall in mid January next year. Not only will it be LGBTIQ but it will [be] feminist, pro-Indigenous, multi-cultural, religion positive, engaging the non-LGBTI person and deaf community and people with disabilities as well. So it is going to be intersectional. I think if we work together we can actually get to where we need to go a bit faster because I’m tired of being a second class citizen.
What are your hopes for the conference?
Two things. So a bunch of people, a thousand people who are nurtured and built up and affirmed for the work that they do. Better relationships between people and organisations. And a common voice. So working out what are the five or six priorities in these spaces that we can all agitate for over the coming two years, and then maybe gain together. Because I think if we pick some things that are of the most importance we might actually get them done faster.
And so the other thing we’re going to do is, we are partnering with Glad in the US to set up a media support unit and there will also be a leadership training academy that we’re going to do two days before the conference starts and hopefully then take it around the country afterwards.
Wednesday is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Why is it important to earmark a day to draw attention to discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally.
That day is symbolic of when it was taken off the mental health register as having a mental health illness. Which is always lovely. It wasn’t that long ago that being homosexual was a crime to participate in sexual activity. And it is two things, it reminds is of how far we’ve still got to go and how far we’ve come, but it is also important for the whole community, not just the LGBTI people to understand that we exist. There is a lot of work still to be done. It is a great way to focus and corral around remembering the work that needs to be done.
It is the same reason that we have any other sorts of days. It is not really a celebratory day, it is a day to remind us that there is still a lot of work to do. And we have a lot of work to do. Things are stalling here in Australia which is embarrassing, but in some parts of the world things are getting worse. You’ve got Chechnya, what’s happening right now in Indonesia, they are clamping down on homosexual activity in India, it was made illegal again not long ago, we have an obligation to think globally and I love the fact that this is a day that most of the world focuses on. That homophobia and transphobia, biphobia exists.
On my team of just over 20 people, 20 per cent are trans people and 20 per cent are Indigenous Australians and 20 per cent are heterosexual people, but trans friends suffer. Even the high performing trans leaders are suffering with mental health issues and struggling with the task ahead of them and then people inside of our own community conduct what is called lateral violence against each other.
So marginalised spaces hurt each other really well. One of the things I’m hoping the conference will do is provide a space where healing can occur and we can understand that we’re not each other’s enemy as well and that we have to put those things aside and work towards a higher goal, and that is, the project’s higher aim is that we want a world that recognises and affirms LGBTIQ people as full citizens. And what’s interesting is that our deaf friends and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends and people who are not white are probably not full citizens in this country as well. So there is a lot of self-interest there as well. I just believe the biggest barrier is we don’t have enough safe spaces to have the hard conversations and to allow conversation to happen which then decreases ignorance and brings the changes that we all want. I actually believe that most people are good people just trying to make the most of their life. But some have either ignorance or they haven’t had the opportunity to think about the thing because it hasn’t directly affected them.
You are also the leader of The Australian Equality Party (AEP) which aims to an explicitly human rights based perspective to Australian politics. Do you think LGBTIQ people and their families have enough of a political voice?
No, I don’t think we do and that actually was the work that led to this. So, the idea that we almost got in, having an independent voice for LGBTIQ people is I think an important thing, in the Parliament and the Senate in this country, it gives us a voice if you can have that, but I feel that we’re used as political footballs, pro and against by the various parties. And at the end of the day I hear the words from some parts of politics that are good and I hear the words that are negative from other parts of political space but I don’t really see proper change happening and so I think we’re underrepresented to be honest.
Do you think Australia is close to achieving marriage equality?
No. And I am disappointed that our marriage space has split in half the campaign. The whole strategy of kicking it into the future, dividing the pro marriage equality voice had worked, and I worry that it will take a change of government and then you may not have a Senate that’s pro marriage equality if there is a change of government. So we can’t wait for any of those things, we have to keep working for it and I think their goal of exhausting everybody won’t work but there is fatigue, because it has been a long fight. 13 years now and we’re probably still no closer that we were 13 years ago. Although the Australian people are there. So the population is on board. The political leadership in this country will only legislate marriage equality over its dead body.
How do you stay motivated?
I am tired today to be honest! But it’s personal. So my 17-year-old marriage to Adrian is not recognised, our sons parentage is not recognised under Australian law, I can’t donate blood and I have seen my friends and the people I have got to know over the past 13 years and they are struggling with their own things and I think: “Gee, actually we could have all of these changes.” And life is so short. I really believe we have to try and make the world a slightly better place than it was before we came into it.
Through your work what is your ultimate goal?
My dream is to bring Aboriginal Australia, women, multicultural Australia, LGBTIQ Australia, people from the deaf community and people with disability together, to work together to get the changes that we need. Imagine a society where we didn’t have to worry about any of these things and we could just live.
How do you find time for yourself?
I get to my calendar first, but I don’t know. It is a good question. I sleep well. I turn my phone off at night after 9.30pm and don’t turn it on until after I wake up which helps.
But look, I’m just one of hundreds and hundreds of beautiful people doing work in their spaces and I get energy from them and I am encouraged by them and I feel honoured to walk alongside them all. So it is really kind of like a rechargeable battery. When you hang around such wonderful people in all these spaces, they reenergise you.