One year after Australia voted yes, it feels good to be equal

It was a scene as pedestrian as they come.

A couple at my local Coles were holding hands. But it was enough to make me do a double take and catch my breath, toothpaste suspended in mid air.

For it was, for all its banality, still a shock to see two men so openly display their relationship; one picked out razor blades and the other shaving foam.

It's a scene I've witnessed more in the last year than ever before. Since marriage equality became law, there's a newfound confidence in the smallest quotidian acts of public affection for same-sex couples: holding hands; appearing in public together; grocery shopping.

The razor's edge

November 16 last year, the day after 61.6 per cent of Australians voted yes to marriage equality, reminded me of waking up early as a young overexcited boy growing up in Britain, the morning after heavy snowfall. The whole landscape looked the same, yet different: the familiarity was glossed over with a beautiful new coating. Everything glistened.

Some of that snow, though, has melted to unsightly slush. The divisive, unpopular postal survey was inflicted on a reluctant LGBTQI community who warned of the Pandora's box of harm it'd inflict upon a group already over-represented in suicide statistics. But we were ignored by a government who railroaded it through. Friendship circles split and families divided as some lesbian and gay people discovered their own mates, colleagues and family members would be voting against their equality. There's a hangover effect to that. We already know there was a twentyfold surge in calls to LGBTQI specific counselling lines in the immediate aftermath. We're still learning about the longer-term effects.

And this is no time for complacency; that bed of pansies I lay in doesn't filter out the nefarious things still happening: the defunding of Safe Schools in many states leaves too many Australian schools without a specific program to tackle the homophobia that leads bullied LGBTQI kids to take their own lives, like 13-year-old Tyrone Unsworth did in 2016. The Ruddock review has galvanised certain religious schools to defend their right to hire and fire teachers based on sexual orientation. And our current Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge the dangers of "gay conversion" , despite a growing campaign and Hollywood film alerting to its prevalence and damage.

Neither am I blind to the fact that my local Coles where those two blokes' hands were lovingly intertwined shopping for facial razors was in urbane inner Sydney. In regional or remote areas, those same razors could well be the weapons of homophobic haters.

All good things

But it's healthy to celebrate life's triumphs when they happen.


And my year of being equal has, like for many gay people like me, been truly triumphant. My confidence has soared. So, too, has my optimism. The 'silent majority' myth has been exploded. For they were not silenced, during that long campaign. And 38.4 per cent is decisively not a majority.

Here she is, then, the modern, progressive Australia many suspected existed – but now we have some proof.

A highlight was when I was lucky enough to attend and report on the first ever same-sex wedding to take place beneath Sydney's iconic harbour bridge. I'd never before met the grooms, but as each of their mums walked them down the aisle towards the harbour, I could no longer hold in that lump in my throat. The ugly tears spilt out. For two complete strangers. As Somewhere Over the Rainbow was sung live. I expected to get choked up; but not to sob like this. It was embarrassing, frankly.

As my tears dried, I spoke to 93-year-old grandma of the groom, Naomi Gresham, who told me about her grandson: "I'm so emotional to see Ben so happy after all the years he's wanted nothing more than this. I love him so much and I love Michael, too – so I've gained another grandson. It's the loveliest wedding I've ever been to."

Where the grass is greener

Over a year ago, I wrote a piece for Executive Style sharing my personal feelings and fears as Vote No was written in the sky above me by a stunt plane. In fact, I wrote for every major media outlet in Australia and shared parts of my life that were private, raw and vulnerable. It was an attempt to chart the human cost of all this and persuade fence-sitters to vote for my equality. It paid off, in more ways than one. For it, I've been shortlisted for Media Professional of the Year at the 2019 Australian LGBTI Awards.

But the biggest prize of all is simply the equality and the incremental social changes that've accompanied it.

Tomorrow, I'll return to Prince Alfred Park where I ventured a year ago with 30,000 others, my nails bitten to shreds, my throat dry and my chest pumping. A proposal from Sydney Mayor Clover Moore and NSW MP Alex Greenwich to re-name the park's south-western lawn 'Equality Green' has been unanimously accepted by the council.

That lawn will become as sacred to me as any church pew is to a person of faith. I'll stretch out on it. Smell the fresh cut grass. And I'll finally relax.