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When a college outgrows a senate

William Harris thinks St Paul’s College could teach the government a thing or two about fairness and equality.

St Paul's College.

When the lower house knocked down the Marriage Equality bill this month, the entire process had become farcical. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi linked same-sex marriage with bestiality, then resigned from his front bench duties to avoid apologizing for his comments. There were senators who supported the bill, yet voted against it as the bill faced defeat, citing that it ‘wasn’t worth it’. Even the Prime Minister Julia Gillard has signaled repeatedly that she will not back down from her nonsensical stance on the issue.

Despite being someone who rarely takes offense, the public discussion and political rhetoric around this issue has started to wear me down. We have an atheist, unmarried Prime Minister who for some reason has been given reprieve in her use of the “between a man and a woman” line. Gillard frequently cites her ties with her “many gay friends” as some sort of subtle insinuation that she can’t be labeled a homophobe. Tony Abbott also uses this line, though the existence of these friends is a little less believable, unless of course they are at a Catholic conversion camp somewhere.

The arguments for maintaining the status quo frequently contain homophobic undertones based in archaic religious doctrine. We hear about ‘family values’, as though gay people sacrifice their position in Australian families as soon as they come out. We are told that marriage should be between a man and a woman for the sake of the children, as though single parents don’t exist and same-sex couples are incapable of raising children. Most frustratingly, we are told that marriage should remain the way it is in order to maintain a ‘set of traditions’ that Australia was founded upon. I think we need to restore some secularity to this debate, and stop the sort of schoolyard bullying that the religious lobby have gotten away with for too long.

I don’t expect Abbott or Gillard to be the celebrant at my wedding. What I do expect is that our political institutions start to pull their weight on this issue, and reflect the majority of Australians who support marriage equality. It is when institutions like these start to reflect the needs of the underrepresented that meaningful and effective change occurs.

St Paul’s College…beacon of progressive politics.

This brings me to a pleasant surprise I received earlier this month. I have been invited by St Paul’s College, through their senior student Hugo Rourke and college staff, to speak at Formal Dinner in a couple of weeks from now as a former student. I have been asked to speak about homophobia, the experience of being a gay college student, and most importantly, to make those who are confronted by their sexuality at college feel a little more at ease.

This event is to be matched by a student-organized forum on making Paul’s and other colleges more gay-friendly. At least one college has now signaled its desire to become more supportive of its gay or bisexual students, and I think this is a terrific step forward and one worthy of recognition. To scrutinize colleges is perfectly legitimate, provided that positive recognition is also given when appropriate.

I find it unbelievable that the Prime Minister has yet to signal her support for full equality. Despite this, I am heartened that an institution like Paul’s is making a valid attempt to support its gay and bisexual students, regardless of its religious foundation. If only our politicians would recognise the power of language and change their rhetoric on issues affecting the LGBTQI community, then perhaps this issue would progress past the religious dogma.

More importantly, recognizing the need to support LGBTQI students on campus is a must in order to combat the various struggles these students can face. The opportunity to help a college student body to become more supportive of gay students is a terrific honor. It would be nice to think that one day they could invite our Prime Minister to do the same.