I grew up in a conservative Greek migrant community in Melbourne, so I understand what it’s like to live under the pressure of upholding appearances. I spent most of my life chained to cultural expectations – marrying young, following my religion, studying business – and not feeling like I had much say in the matter that is my life. But I am not an anomaly, and it isn’t just the Greeks. Many migrant communities operate based on appearances, including Catholic and other Christian circles.
The funny thing is that many people who think they aren’t being held to ransom by their culture or community really are. Some are unaware of it, others choose to let it happen; and it is their right to live their life this way. But when hypocrisy affects issues like equality and LGBTI rights, I have a real problem with it.
In the spectrum of opinion regarding gay marriage, there are people who are vehemently opposed, and there is nothing you can do to change their minds; on the other side there are the fierce “yes” voters. In the middle are the ones who sit quietly on the fence. These people will most certainly have a gay friend or family member whom they love and support.
In many instances, this gay person will be what I call “half out of the closet”. That is, they have told their immediate family they are gay but because they may have been met with disapproval, or to protect the reputation of their family, they remain half in the closet. Their sexuality is kept a secret to uphold appearances in the wider family and community circle.
For those people on the fence who care how they appear in their community, many won’t be prepared to vocalise support for their gay friend. They will continue to keep the secret, for their friend, but they won’t go that extra mile and be vocal about gay rights. Now, with the upcoming postal election, it is crucial for them to do so.
I have been vocal on my view. But I am astounded at what I am hearing from people who say they have no problem with LGBTI people yet don’t believe in gay marriage.
To me, saying you have a problem with gay marriage means you have a problem with gay people, because if you didn’t have a problem with them you would just allow them to get married, as you have the privilege to do.
When the culture is inextricably linked to a religion, like Orthodox is to Greeks, appearances have yet another layer added to them. Last week, a young man who attended church posted on Facebook alleging the priest said he would shoot any gay people that wanted to marry. In an interview with SBS, the priest said he couldn’t recall if he said that and apologised if he did. But he still went on to say he felt sorry for gay people, and that in his experience he found 99 per cent of cases were molested, and that he does what he can to “bring them back”.
When a priest is considered a wise leader in a community, and uses the church as a stage to promote views on what they decree criteria or guidance for being a good religious citizen, they are creating a norm for people to live by. In this case, influencing the community’s perception of gay people by implying it is some kind of illness to be cured.
When the interview was published over the weekend, many in the Orthodox community flocked to his defence on social media, crying “freedom of speech”. The young man has since removed the post, probably due to cultural and familial pressures.
One of the fundamental principles of upholding appearances within a community is also protecting the system in which you operate, and I would not be surprised if many of these people defending the priest were fence-sitters.
It isn’t just Orthodox priests making damaging statements; the Catholic Church has also threatened to fire employees who marry same-sex partners.
These will not be isolated incidents in communities and religious circles. Now is the time for the fence-sitters within these communities to put their money where their mouth is.
If you do have a friend or family member who is gay, you don’t need to divulge it as it is their choice to tell. But you do owe it to them to vote “yes” and be vocal about it. This means that when the religious leader where you attend makes a hate speech in front of a large crowd, stand up and say “no”.
Talk to other people in your community and tell them you are voting “yes”. Talk to your parents and explain why it is important. Make it known that you think: yes, marriage equality is the right thing.
This isn’t just about marriage, either. It’s about people in our society having the same rights regardless of their sexuality.
The LGBTI community has been put in a terrible position because our government is incapable of making a decision that should have been made years ago in Parliament, and we should be genuinely concerned about the impact hateful commentary is having on their health and wellbeing.
They have been ostracised for long enough and need our support now.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a writer, actor, performer, theatre and film maker and the author of Love and F—Poems. koralydimitriadis.com. @koralyd