Discrimination damage can last a lifetime

Quite apart from spending $122 million to fund a questionable marriage equality survey, the fallout of the campaign that surrounds it may well end up costing even more for years to come.

Already, reports are surfacing of same sex attracted children being bullied at schools and students of same sex parents being made to feel they don’t belong. 

Late last week, the Victorian education minister wrote to schools in that state warning principals they might need to offer support for these students.

We’ve seen hateful posters appear in our cities and at least one suspected hate crime, in which tyres were slashed in the car park of a theatre staging a gay themed play.

The government, which was warned this would happen, has called for a respectful debate but I fear the genie will be hard to put back in the bottle and our young people will suffer, all because of a non-binding survey launched to placate factions in the Coalition.

We could be paying for the damage wrought for years to come.

I know my own experience of discrimination at school still leaves a bitter taste decades later. 

I grew up with an Indian stepfather at a time when racism was the norm. Called “half caste”, “boong”, “coon” and worse for much of my school life, there were days when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and avoid the nastiness. To this day, I bristle when exposed to casual racism.

It’s natural for all of us to want to belong but when you’re told constantly as a child that you don’t, it’s all too easy to believe it. You withdraw, you become antisocial. Coping mechanisms can include lashing out, substance and alcohol abuse and worse, and lead to a host of mental health issues that can dog you for the rest of your life.

Fortunately, I learned to be resilient. But there are still times, all these years later – sleepless in the dead of night – when the anxieties resurface. It takes a good deal of rationalising the cruelty of childhood to still the troubled water. 

Sadly, not all the children caught up in this debate on same sex marriage will have the strength to cope. They will feel ostracised; they will be hurt. The price of this has the potential to far outweigh the $122 million this divisive survey will cost. It will be counted in alienation and lost potential. 

No matter our own beliefs on the issue, children should be protected from hateful speech and bullying. 

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