Marriage equality campaigners have revealed the shocking extent of the anti-gay abuse they received during last year’s marriage law postal survey.
In a submission to a Senate inquiry looking at the process of the postal survey, including the government’s protections against offensive material and behaviour, The Equality Campaign included numerous examples of the abusive messages they received via mail, text message and email, containing threats of death and violence and anti-gay language and slurs.
Photos of anti-gay flyers, homophobic graffiti and reports of property damage and vandalism during the postal survey campaign were also included in submissions to the inquiry from LGBTI groups and individuals.
Marriage equality campaigner and New South Wales independent MP Alex Greenwich said after a decade of lobbying for the reform, it wasn’t until the postal survey that he’d faced threats of violence by “no” voters.
“My office fielded phone calls from people across Australia who suffered harassment and homophobic abuse during the campaign, including some who were the victims of property damage and assault,” he said.
“The design and lack of protections during the campaign put some LGBTIQ citizens and their allies’ personal safety at risk.”
He said in the fortnight after the “yes” campaign sent out an unsolicited text message to millions of Australians, his office was inundated with abusive messages via phone and email.
“For almost two weeks we were unable to answer phones, with constant and repeated abusive calls from across Australia. Some of these continued for two months,” he said.
“This had both a negative impact on the wellbeing of my staff and my constituents who were unable to call my office directly.”
He said The Equality Campaign reported the abuse to the New South Wales Police and on police advice avoided publicising it in a bid to stop copycat behaviour.
“It is my view that the LGBTIQ community would have been spared the severity of attacks they endured during the survey if the federal parliament had done its job and legislated for marriage equality,” he said.
“Older LGBTIQ people shared with me the trauma caused by reminding them of the terrible history of assault, discrimination and abuse many faced in the 70s and 80s.
“For younger LGBTIQ people this was the first time many had been subjected to this treatment, and many found it distressing.”
New South Wales LGBTI health organisation ACON used its submission to respond to claims by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and others that the survey’s “yes” result and large response rate was a vindication of the process.
“This is not true. The same result could have been achieved through a free vote in Parliament, without the associated harms that the survey generated,” CEO Nicholas Parkhill said.
He said ACON had recorded an increase in people seeking help for anxiety and depression, as well as clients struggling with drug and alcohol problems.
“[Clients] felt anger at the humiliation of having one’s equality at law and human rights subject to popular opinion, anger at the lies told about the LGBTI community by the ‘No’ vote proponents, anger at feeling powerless in the face of those lies and arguments against the ‘Yes’ campaign, and anger that LGBTI people have had to wait so long for equality,” he said.
In their submission, LGBTI advocacy group just.equal called for national legislation protecting LGBTI people from incitement to hate and offensive conduct.
Spokesperson Rodney Croome said the protections introduced by the federal government during the postal survey should continue.
“The government provided LGBTI people with protections against vilification, intimidation and offensive material during the postal survey and it should now develop these protections and enact them permanently,” he said.
“Hate didn’t end with the postal survey and neither should protections against hate.”
He said Tasmania’s legal protections against anti-LGBTI hate speech should be used as a model for a similar law nationally.
In their submission, Rainbow Families NSW said the legal protections introduced for the survey were inadequate, particularly for same-sex parents and young children who were exposed to materials painting their families in a negative light.
“Once the door was opened to this debate by the government it was our families that ended up on the frontline,” the group’s co-chair Vanessa Gonzalez said.
“Even though the parliament enacted protections against vilification, and to ensure that advertising aligned with existing electoral law, those protections were not enough to safeguard our families from ending up on the frontline of a divisive debate that caused great harm to many in our community.”
Co-Chair Mat Howard said that children of same-sex couples had been previously targeted in marriage equality debates overseas.
“When the idea of a plebiscite was raised, Rainbow Families campaigned against a divisive public poll, precisely because when marriage equality was debated in France, Ireland, the US and UK, the children of same-sex couples became the focus of some hurtful statements and campaigns,” he said.
“We did not want that to happen here. And we do not want it to happen to any group ever again.”
All the published submissions can be read in full on the Senate inquiry’s website.
The inquiry is due to report by February 13.