Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Stand up

Got to make a move now…
And the trials sent to try you
Is it all too much to face…
It might be time to stand up, stand up
(Angels, Stand up 1982)

As is public knowledge, last November I spent two weeks in St Petersburg, Russia as a guest of the LGBT Film Festival Side-by-Side. I want to make it totally clear from the outset that while I understand the concerns of some friends, at all times in the 12 days in Russia I was physically safe and felt physically safe.

There is a really powerful reason - and hang with this article, it’s a good reason - for my writing about my experiences in Russia now, 3 months after returning home, given the current actions of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and also some of the people who support their views.

I make the comparison that the tactics of the ACL are exactly the same in the nature to those I witnessed first-hand in Russia. In both cases these tactics can be described as intimidation, misinformation and distortion by various right-wing types.

I want to describe one situation I experienced (warning of possible distress re homophobia, transphobia and biphobia; please take deep breaths etc if needed at this point ; again, there are reasons for recounting this so hang in there).

The festival understandably uses different venues over the 10 days of its season. We arrived at the venue for the 5th night, an arts space on the 4th floor of arts style warehouse who were happy to “sub-let” their space to us for two evenings – only to find the electricity wasn’t on (no fault of the arts space).

This was clearly an attempt to stop the film screening.  (Incidentally, the film was a 200% excellent USA doco called “The Mask We Live in” about how most of society is raising boys. I totally recommend watching and/or screening it).

I initially felt sad, disbelieving, upset and angry that my queer family – queer crosses every border and speaks every language and dialect - were being treated this way. I managed to calm myself and realise that being sad and angry helped no one including me, the festival and my new-found friends. Most of all, as I was far from home and familiar ground I couldn’t really do much about it – on that occasion. Hold that point.  I grounded myself as best as I could and re-engaged with everyone else.

The film festival organisers responded brilliantly. The general discussion that was due to occur after the screening was moved forward. People held up their mobile phones to give light (1970-80’s classic Aussie rock fans can think of Australian Crawl live performances of “The Boys Light Up” where everyone flicked on their cigarette lighters at the words “light up.”:) ) * Meanwhile, organisers tried to contact an electrician – no dice. Plan B: they had on hand a huge extension cord (think Wile E Coyote and Acme products of Warner Brothers’ cartoons fame  :) ), ran the cord down to the third floor where the power was on and were than able to plug in the laptop with the film and the screen and showed the fab doco. We got out exactly on time after a simple schedule rearrangement.

The post-script was the next morning when the festival organisers went to see the building owners. The owners had turned the power off because of their prejudiced attitudes. Allegedly the owners said the electricity would be turned on when we came back again for the second scheduled night for some “economic consideration” i.e. a bribe. The festival organisers said “nyet, spasiba” (no, thank you) because they had alternative contingency plans in place. They might have also allegedly said something like “take a hike” but I don’t have the Russian translation for that on hand. :)

In this situation, the resilience, courage, creativity, ingenuity, fast thinking, preparedness, good humour and overall amazing strengths of queer and allied people won through. I add there were other ideas used in preventative and proactive ways throughout the festival to ensure the best possible outcomes; I won’t disclose publicly in the interests of the festival so as not to “tweet their punches” (21st century version of “telegraphing” punches).

Now let’s take that earlier point off hold. The difference is back here, with that experience under my belt, I can do something – as all queer, allied and family members can do something in our current circumstances – and equally importantly, do it in the best way possible.

The awesome spunky-in-every-way queers I met in Russia have stayed in the front of my mind and close to the surface of my heart ever since returning home. So while I have been upset and frustrated at the ACL and others over the last few weeks, I know we can overcome what they are doing. Our queer family in Russia keeps striving on through difficult stuff with grace under pressure – we can too. We can use our loving hearts and creative minds to support queers of all ages. We can also support our colleagues who work in Safe Schools Coalition for the pioneering life-saving and life-changing work they do for our young people and school staff and help them overcome the recent totally inappropriate attacks on their workplace health and safety.

Think of the creativity of Lana Wachowski, the wit of Ellen Degeneres, the wisdom of Michael Kirby, the authenticity of David Bowie and the originality of Max Beck (to name just a few) . Channel all of them and all the other good qualities to use every loving and ethical idea and initiative we have to get through this current scenario and go further than before.

To give my obligatory WWE references, in the words of John Cena - “rise above hate.”

In the words of “The Rock” - “we bring it.”

Stand up. And that’s the bottom line, coz @salgoldsaidso. J

*I searched the net for a clip of Aus Crawl live showing peeps holding up their lighters but no luck. Interestingly, I found a reference with Russian Cyrillic script. There is something serendipitous in that.