From The Block to Port Botany and Beyond

Andy Mason on queer solidarity across activist movements.

If you’re like me, a queer greenie-hippie-radical-commie-anarchist-lunatic, you probably went to see the movie Pride when it came out last year, and you probably cried your eyes out at the bit where all the coal miners turn up by the busload to march with the queer kids who’ve been supporting them through their bitter fight with the infamously conservative Thatcher government. The film certainly has its shortcomings—it ignores the role that queer and trans activists of colour have played in the movement and treats the very real issues of misogyny in queer organising in a rather patronising way. Despite this, the display of unlikely solidarity between groups as different as inner-city queer activists and regional coal communities is a moving and inspiring example of what can be achieved when we work together.

Something of this spirit has recently been realised in relationships between the queer community and other community campaigns in Sydney.

Young queer and trans people, including many USyd students, have been a crucial support base for the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) since it was established on the Block in Redfern last year. Reasons for supporting RATE are varied and personal but clearly young queer and trans people, who suffer appalling rates of homelessness, can relate to Aboriginal people’s struggle for secure and affordable housing. RATE has also provided a temporary home for many of us—Aunty Jenny Munro and the other activists at the Embassy are more than happy to have non-Aboriginal supporters at the camp as long as we’re willing to contribute. Queer folks have helped by cooking meals, washing dishes, building tents, building a community garden, doing overnight security shifts, getting firewood and keeping the sacred fire burning. The sacred fire is the symbolic embodiment at the Embassy of the continuing strength of Aboriginal culture in the face of colonisation, and was started with ashes from the fire at the first Tent Embassy established by iconic land rights activist Kevin Gilbert in 1972 on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. The fact that young queer and trans people have helped keep that fire going for the last 15 months symbolises the strength of the relationship between us and the Aboriginal activists with whom we’ve connected through the Embassy.

Queer students have also been supporting the 97 dockworkers down at Port Botany who were recently sacked via text message. The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has been holding a community picket outside the port since the sacking, demanding that all the laid-off workers be reinstated. Queer students have made several trips down to the ports to support the workers, and also contributed several hundred dollars to the campaign.

Our solidarity with the MUA and RATE was repaid at a rally in Sydney for marriage equality a few weeks ago, when Aunty Jenny from RATE and Paul McAleer from the MUA spoke to the crowd to express the solidarity of Aboriginal people and the port workers with the struggle for equal recognition of same-sex relationships under the law. In an environment where the Abbott government openly refuses to do the right thing, and the Labor party can’t be bothered either, we need all the allies we can get. We should work to build our relationships with Aboriginal activist groups, unions, and the rest of the community if we want to see a world without queerphobia.

Photo: Georgia Kriz