Homophobia: that's so gay
On a 38-week long crusade around Australia to challenge and change how we deal with homophobia, Daniel Witthaus said his ‘That’s So Gay’ tour is “less Priscilla Queen of the Desert and more like the Leyland Brothers”.
Daniel is travelling to remote towns to take a modern snapshot of what life is like for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in regional Australia. His mission is to explode the myths about homosexuality and help people lobby for change in our education systems and in how society perceives and deals with homophobia.
“I am one gay man in one gay truck called Bruce (which has its own Facebook page),” Daniel said. “All I do is sit down and have a cup of tea with people and chat. I deal with homophobia one cup at a time.”
Since he started his tour in February, Daniel has visited teachers and youth organisations in remote towns – he says in some cases, places where there has never before been an open discussion about homophobia.
“People think of homophobia as extreme behavior, but in small communities there are small things that lead to hostile behavior. I teach them to challenge and interrupt it,” Daniel said. “Sometimes when I ask teachers if there are issues with homophobia at the school, they say ‘There’s no homophobia here because there are no gay students getting bashed up.’ I say to them, ‘Have you heard anyone saying “That’s so gay”?
“The reason why we need to challenge these things is because it gives young people the message that it’s not okay to be gay,” Daniel said. “Saying ‘that’s so gay’ in a derogatory way is not okay and we need to turn it into an educational opportunity – not just shut it down. We need to have a discussion and tell them it’s wrong and give them the reason why rather than taking a disciplinary approach.”
Daniel said there are some simple strategies teachers can use and it depends on what style of interaction teachers have with students.
“If we look at the research, gay and lesbian kids are more likely to kill themselves and for this reason, we need to stand up and take notice,” he said.
After a tough time growing up in the rougher suburbs of Geelong in Victoria, Daniel said he ‘came out’ after he left school and began working with a gay and lesbian support group.
“I heard lots of people saying school was a difficult place where they were bullied, bashed and called names,” Daniel said. “That was my motivation to get into schools and talk to them about it... to improve the everyday school experience for gay and lesbian people and to give them support.”
He developed the Pride and Prejudice educational package and spent years training teachers how to deal with homophobia in secondary schools, before writing a book called Beyond ‘That’s So Gay’.
“In Australia, gay and lesbian people are everywhere and in rural Australia, gay and lesbians contribute significantly to the community,” Daniel said. “There are some great and terrible stories and we need to break the biggest barrier – silence. Once we start to open up the conversation, great things will happen.”
Daniel’s self-funded tour is supported by the NSW Teachers Federation and applauded by former High Court Judge Michael Kirby. When the tour is finished, Daniel will be writing reports on the information he has collected with recommendations and suggestions which can be used by state and national lobbyists who are campaigning to change the status quo.
“Even though in 2010 we have never had it better for broader community attitudes and media examples, people will say that the road to coming out is as difficult as it was 10 to 15 years ago,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve asked people, ‘What are your plans for the future?’ “One thing they all say is that they want to live in a world where they can hold the hand of the person they love without fear of looks, comments or violence. We can give ourselves a pat on the back about the amazing advances we’ve made, but we still need to change this.”
As part of his tour, Daniel is also writing a blog after he visits each town. If you would like to read the blog, get involved, donate money to the tour or suggest where Daniel can visit, go to the website www.thatssogay.com.au.