Rainbow Family Tree

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1600 views... and some strategies to talk about!

Walking the Talk

So I figured it was time! Some weeks ago I managed to secure an appointment with the very busy Federal Liberal member for Boothby, Andrew Southcott. We met today... These are some of my thoughts...

The Meeting
Andrew (Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Healthcare) was quick to establish that ‘this issue is a difficult one for the Liberal Party and for me personally’ ...but he nevertheless made an effort to at least look like he was listening. I was nervous and opened the show by asking whether he had a way he like to run these meetings? He didn’t so I kicked off by screening ‘Marriage is So Gay!’. I felt very exposed and couldn’t even watch his reactions... although I was aware he squirmed at the point when the fanatics declare ‘You must repent! You’ll go to hell!’ and sat back in his seat when we got to the shot of my daughter crying...

Afterwards he thanked me politely for screening the story and launched into a spiel about how Liberal had supported a suite of legal changes that ‘have made things better’ by addressing inequality in areas like superannuation. I elaborated on what I hoped was the key message of the Digital Story - that legal reform, while useful, doesn’t have as much impact on homophobia (especially the petty and profound school yard variety) as whole hearted acceptance of GLBTIQS relationships and families. I also said that I didn’t come to the meeting expecting to ‘swing his point of view’ so much as open his eyes to some of the ramifications of endless repeats of the ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ mantra upon ‘innocents’ like my daughter.

I asked if I could send him the link to the story so that he could watch and discuss it with his family and/or friends. He seemed quite positive about this idea and, while I can’t guarantee that he actually will, there is the chance that he will continue thinking about it and slowly, overtime, re-evaluate his position. With any luck his wife or kids may ‘get it’ and badger him until he caves!

Social Change is Personal
When I made the meeting time, I talked to Mum and Dad about it and persuaded them to come along... as people who represent a different constituency to the ‘queers’ MPs are more likely to see regarding the gay marriage issue. That is, they’re older, straighter... and probably closer to his values and traditions in general.

Bear in mind that, until recently, Mum and Dad hadn’t articulated a point of view that was either positive or negative on the subject of marriage equality... in fact, when I interviewed Mum about the whole thing several years ago, she was still justifying the fact that she hadn’t told anyone that I was gay (or in the process of having a child with a donor) because ‘they don’t need to know, it’s none of their business’. I remember pointing out that she was happy and proud to talk about the small and large details (kids, marriage, work achievements etc) of my sister’s life... why was my life so different?

While Mum and Dad didn’t actually say much at the meeting I think it probably helped that they were there. The biggest thing though, is what it meant to me! After I’d been (calmly) banging on a bit, Mum smiled and announced, out of the blue, ‘We’re very proud of her’. That aside still makes me feel a little bit wobbly inside, because when I'm honst with myself, that’s a large part of what I’ve been seeking all along! It made me think lots more about how I evaluate social change - it’s kind of a no brainer... but acceptance from friends and family members is undoubtedly far more significant than policy reform.

Digital Storytelling is Political
I reckon Digital Storytelling facilitates these kind of personal and tectonic shifts. During the production phase it requires endless rounds of discussion with all the people who are in some way implicated in the story, regardless of whether they’re identifiable or not. In the distribution phase, there are more discussions with all those same friends and family members plus the wider, perhaps unknown audiences, who offer feedback...

Some production (making) and distribution (sharing) strategies... to share!
There’s no more pertinent example of this than my experience of sharing ‘Marriage is so Gay!’.

When I was working on the script and thinking about images I talked to my girlfriend,  donor, daughter, parents and fellow Digital Storytellers about it... Those discussions shaped the story I was trying to tell, because I got to practice it on them and because their feedback helped me work out what the central message really was.

When I e:mailed the ‘Rainbow Family Tree’ link to a whole bunch of friends and family members many of them responded with words of encouragement and support. Some dared to point out that they would have been even more supportive if I’d actually invited them to our ‘wedding’! And more discussions were had about the things I value about my family. In a way these discussions write that family into ‘being’, shaping our collective identity at the same time as I’m proclaiming it’s existence!

I also found a whole bunch of relevant facebook pages, both national and international (you can check out the collection of page ‘likes’ on the Rainbow Family Tree facebook page) and posted the link to my Digital Story on their walls. That too generated some feedback (and new RFT members) from complete strangers... Again, this process of ‘putting our stories out there’ creates a space for us in the ‘public sphere’ and it does so, on our own terms. While I use an excerpt from the Channel 9 News in the story, positioning that within our personal family context, frames the whole discussion differently. To some extent, it’s spoken by and for ‘us’ - GLBTQIS families - and addressed to ‘them’ - audiences both intimate and unknown, including those that are often tasked with representing (and misrepresenting) ‘us’... Like journalists, politicians and the vast majority of church leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers etc.

Was it worth it?
Like many of you, I’m pretty busy and making the time to create a Digital Story was a challenge on many levels - logistic, creative AND technical.

And I’m not sure how much it’s really changed the world... One Liberal MP might hear ‘marriage equality’ or ‘homophobia’ and think about my daughter and millions of kids like her rather than a small group of aggressive and/or self-righteous queers. The story has had over 1600 views from places as far away as Chile and Cyprus... So hopefully it’s led to lots of discussions and a few people changing their minds.

Most importantly, my sister got in touch. I kind of forgot she was a facebook friend and she saw the story when I accidentally posted it on my wall, as myself. D’oh!

Last time I spoke to her about this stuff she declared that ‘From our point of view it’s simple - god made man and woman and he made them to be together... That’s what we believe and that’s what we’ll be bringing up our kids to believe!’. I’m still not sure exactly what she believes now but she said she was disgusted and embarrassed by the behaviour of ‘those Christians’ and she was keen that my daughter know ‘we’re not like them’. She said she’d show the story to her kids and that she thought she ‘came off as a tool’ in my previous Digital Story...

 

I asked if she’d like to write something for ‘Rainbow Family Tree’ about how things have changed since then. Regardless of whether she does or not, stuff has changed... thanks in no small way to the ripples created by Digital Storytelling ; )

 

If you've got stories to tell about sharing personal stories for social change we'd all love to hear them! Write a blog post or leave us a comment...

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Comment by Andre Stoffels on June 11, 2011 at 10:58

I guess trying to generate change in society can be a bit like using water to erode stone. Each little "drip of action" we take may seem to have little visible effect but through the accumulated impact of may "drips of action" change will come.  Each voice speaking out in support of change has an effect. Each voice has an impact.  The more voices, the greater the impact.  The more voices, the sooner the change!

The strength of your voice and words in this case though comes from the fact that your video is grounded in the reality of the lives you and your family are living.  The words are more powerful because they are real.  If we seek acceptance, then we should be accepting; if we seek tolerance, we should be tolerant; if we seek love, we shoul be loving. 

Perhaps Andrew Southcott will understand some of this because of your words.

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