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Byron Shire
June 15, 2021

Canavan’s plebiscite comments lack empathy

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Ernesto Montoto, Repentance Creek.

Response to Senator Matthew Canavan’s comments ‘Grow a spine’ & ‘Delicate little flowers’.

Matthew, I’d like to share my story with you and hope that maybe you’ll have some level of empathy to understand the difficulties some of us face in life.

I am a 42 year-old-man,  who is in a loving 19 year relationship. I’d like to start my life story with you from when I was a young child.

I was born in 1975, only two years prior to my birth (1973) had homosexuality been removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Homosexuality may have been depathologised in 1973 but the majority of society continued to treat homosexuals as perverse and sick individuals.

At the age of 5 my parents took me to a child psychologist for treatment as they believed there was something wrong with me for being effeminate and holding certain traits that were not perceived to be masculine.

When I commenced school I endured years of bullying, harassment, and  intimidation. The vilification commenced in primary school and continued throughout secondary school. On several occasions I managed to escape physical violence, yet on one particular day I encountered death threats by five young men who said they would kill me and my parents solely because of being gay. That day will be one that I will never forget and has resulted in having major implications in aspects of my life.

For years, prior to this occurrence I regularly attended specialist treatments with psychologists, psychiatrist and other health professionals to treat me for anxiety and depression as a result of the bullying I had been subjected to. The depression impacted on my wellbeing to the extent that I was institutionalised in a children’s psychiatric hospital for a short period in my teenage years.

At the age of 18, in one of my first employment positions I was dismissed as a result of my employer realising that I was gay. Later at the age of 21 I was bullied by other work colleagues when they realised i was gay. I was fortunate enough that my manger addressed the situation professionally and ensured that the homophobic treatment ended by the perpetrators.

The homophobic events have dissipated with time as most of society has come to an understanding of treating LGBT people with respect and dignity but sadly they have not fully come to an end.

Now, the reason why I am writing to you Matt is because of the comments you made on Sky News yesterday when you stated that anyone who was worried about the tone of the debate to ‘Grow a Spine’ and ‘It was time to stop being ‘delicate little flowers’ and to have a proper debate’.

The National Mental Health Commission warned on Monday it was concerned about the detrimental impact the marriage debate would have on the mental health of people in same sex relationships. ‘Can’t we just all grow a spine and grow up? The debate hasn’t been that bad,’ he said.’

Now it’s very easy coming from a position of privilege, as a heterosexual male to tell us to ‘Grow a Spine’ and ‘Stop being delicate little flowers’. Matt, you have never been subjected to ill treatment, bullying, harassment, intimidation, discrimination and outright death threats for having been born gay. You haven’t been fired from the workplace for being a homosexual. You haven’t lived with bouts of depression and anxiety for years of bullying. And you were able to marry your partner without anyone debating in the public sphere if your relationship had equal significance in society.

I don’t know if you have the level of empathy to understand how your words can have a detrimental affect on others, particularly young LGBTI people and those who have been emotionally affected by homophobia. I hope that maybe my story will help you realise that we are not ‘delicate flowers’ and we do not need to ‘grow spines’ as we have managed to continue living whilst overcoming adversity and homophobia from society.

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  1. Thank you for your courage. I’m glad you’re still strong. Let’s get behind the ‘Yes’ vote, and enable all Australians to express their love through marriage too, if they choose to do so.


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