A Question For Anthony Mundine: Am I Not Your People?


Aboriginal boxing legend Anthony Mundine was recently reported as suggesting gay people should be put to death. Comedian Steven Oliver weighs in.

So, here I am writing an article which, again, finds me defending my sexuality. I’m not sure how many times (this year alone) I have had to say or write something in response to a statement that is one of belief and not fact (and by ‘belief’ I don’t solely mean religion).

If being black and gay has taught me anything from the constantly repeated negative experiences underpinned by racism and homophobia, it’s that there are a lot of beliefs out there that are misguided, wrong or just fucked.

Some are from people who come to a conclusion after filling in the blanks they didn’t have answers to. Some are from people who just believe anything they’re told and don’t question the validity because it’s easier to just believe than understand. Some are from people who say ‘they’ don’t judge me but they’re instructed by an all-powerful being to say things that judge me and that, in the end, the all-powerful being will judge me (where I’m sure my non-judgemental friend, will be saying “I tried telling your gay black arse).

Some (this would be the fucked, well, more fucked kind) are simply made up because people have an agenda that usually comes from fear and/or a need to control.

Speaking of agenda, I suppose it only fair I outline mine. Basically, it comes from a need for the queer community to stop being treated like shit. It’s a need to stop those constantly repeated negative experiences. It’s a need to pay respect to all who stood proudly even when judgement turned to hate, and that hate turned to violence. To let them know the strength I recognised when they refused to turn hateful, as the ones they loved turned them away. That what is right, is the act of treating others right.

Anyway, I’m guessing you’re guessing that I’m talking about Anthony Mundine. After all, I write this article not long after his ‘death penalty’ comments. But in truth, it starts with a guy called Mick (though I’ll get to Anthony, eventually). See, Mick is a nice guy. Met him a few years back through an organisation we both worked for. We’d chit chat and joke whenever he rang my office and always had a laugh.

Mick had property in Townsville that he said I could use whenever I was home, and though I never took him up on it, it was a gesture I greatly appreciated. Mick is a nice guy. So, imagine my surprise when seeing a part of his Facebook status that read, “Same sex couples can apply to raise these children. Haven’t these kids endured enough trauma?”

Imagine my non-surprise at a comment by Kathy that followed, saying “experimenting with them being used as ‘accessories’ for same sex couples who feel they want to have a family”. Just to be clear, gay people already have families. I’m sure some people think we’re like Cabbage Patch Dolls and are born in a big gay field out of big gay flowers and break into a big gay song announcing how glorious our big gay arrival into the world will be. But no (though now I’m imagining how fabulous that would be, copyright!) – gay people have families.

I challenged Mick on his views. We went back and forth until he thought he’d try and end it with “I accept your apology!!” to which I replied, “I accept you’re unable to counter my argument and admit defeat by way of an immature response. You made it too easy.”

Aboriginal writer and performer, Steven Oliver.

He said, “Love ya!” and, being the sucker I am for being told I’m loved, I replied with a smile, “Lol. You too ya dag.” I didn’t change his mind, nor did he change mine. We didn’t delete each other but if I’m being truthful, I briefly contemplated it. Not because I felt any prolonged ill will towards Mick or because I needed to challenge him on other issues, but because I’m tired of seeing my sexuality being used as justification for people’s biased opinions which, for the most part, aren’t really opinions at all.

They’re either hearsay, instructions, regurgitated words or outright lies. People confuse information with knowledge and become trained in being told, which isn’t the same as being taught. It’s why I’ve heard comments like Mick’s, like Kathy’s, like Anthony’s for the past 43 years. It’s why I spent a good portion of my youth unhappy because I believed the lies society told me. That being gay is what defined me as man and what I was worth.

Now though, I’m learning that it is not being a man that defines worth, it is being worthy that defines a man, and until we’ve earned the title, so many of us are still boys.

So, what does that mean, exactly? Well, I tried getting a clear definition from the oxford dictionary but ‘man’ means many things and dictionary definitions didn’t help. I tried looking up adult but it was the same thing with regard to multiple definitions, just as it was for mature.

However, if I dismiss dictionary definitions and adhere to what I see in our society, then it seems getting a drivers license, getting hooked up, getting laid, getting pissed and getting into a fight are primarily the key things on the way to manhood.

I’m sure you realise this is problematic. It sends a message to young males that ‘getting’ makes a man, when surely ‘providing’ is a more in line with values we’d like to see in men? I should point out that by ‘provide’ I don’t just mean financial security and being the bread winner or getting walked over by constantly giving.

For example, rather than ‘getting’ someone to fear you through intimidation, try ‘providing’ a place someone feels protected. Instead of ‘getting’ your way by thinking selfishly, try ‘providing’ solutions that sees you gain while helping others.

Though I doubt these are traits solely aligned with men in terms of responsibility and our place in society they’re just thoughts that I hope will at least start us thinking because if I’m being honest, I myself need guidance and discussion if only to break my own habits I’ve learned as a male in a society that seems to promote ‘every person for themselves’.

Anyway, I’m sure some want to know my thoughts surrounding Anthony ‘The Man’ Mundine and the whole ‘death penalty’ controversy. Now, I may get on the wrong side of some people with what I’m about to say, but I need you to stick with me and all will be revealed at the end.

After carefully considering his words, I’ve concluded that he didn’t actually say homosexuals deserve the death penalty. He did say that for paedophiles, but not gay people. If headlines read “Mundine Calls for Death Penalty On All Paedophiles” then what would’ve been the response? I think it’s fair to say to say that there wouldn’t have been as much anger and resentment, and even less traumatised queer people who saw headlines everywhere that called for our deaths.

People have a right to be upset, but we must also take note that we were duped. Some of us felt a pain greater than need be and we should ask if Mundine is singlehandedly to blame for that. That’s not to say he didn’t say some shitty things, because if we’re talking straight up using paedophiles to justify comments about gay rights and saying gay people on TV are making primary school kids gay (for when our big gay fields are in drought, maybe?) well, stuff like that isn’t just illogical nonsense, it’s pretty fucked up shit.

Aboriginal writer and performer Steven Oliver, with iconic drag queen Courteny Act.

Those comments however, are another article for another day. For now, I’m focussing on the question that Mundine asked: “If we were to live in a society, just like in Aboriginal culture, that homosexuality is forbidden and you do it and the consequences are capital punishment or death, you think you are going to do it? Or think twice about doing it?”

I’d like to answer that. Yes. I am going to do it. Yes, I may think twice because it is my life we’re talking about (why rob the world of one as sexy as me) but, I would still do it. Not because I need to be defiant, but simply because I need to be happy. If my attainment of happiness does not harm anyone else in this world, then it is not for others to try to force it from me.

I’ve already fought with the hardest opponent there is for me to face, myself. It lasted years, was detrimental, stressful but inevitably I became grateful. Because when slowly making the admission to myself, I was gradually giving permission to myself to never give others the submission of myself.

I fought too hard to love what others told me was ugly. I put so much effort into finding the beauty when peeling away the scars. I listened much too long to the same words that through fear, etched themselves onto my very being. I’ll never let myself be branded, shamed or made to feel inferior ever again just because another believes otherwise.

So, now that I’ve answered that question, I have one I’d like to ask of Anthony. I’m not sure if I’m asking to prove a point, or to see your resolve. If I’m asking because a part of me wants to know, am I not your people too? If I’m asking because there is a part of me that deep down, cares? Only thing I do know, I find it hard to believe that I’m asking this question at all, but I’m going to.

So here it is: If we did live in a society where homosexuality was punishable by death, would you be the one to look me in the eye and pull the trigger? Would you be the one to look at my family and say, “I took your poppy, your uncle, your nephew, your cousin, your brothaboy, your grandchild, your brother and your son from you, because he was gay.”

Would you be the man to do that? To instil what you believe on others by fear of death? I hope not.

I really do want your legacy to speak of what you achieved, not who you aggrieved. I’m not asking you to accept me. I’m just asking you to let me live my life. Our people have bigger issues than who I give myself or heart too, and our issues are what I wish were making headlines, but they’re not.

You don’t have to publicly defend us queer mob nor do you have to publicly condemn us. Instead, defend those that have been forgotten. They need you and whether you think it true or not, I believe they need us. Not as leaders, spokespeople, cultural authorities but as black men.

We have bigger things to worry about, much bigger than us.

Steven Oliver

Steven Oliver is a renowned Aboriginal writer and performer. He's based in Queensland.