On Monday one of the protesters, gay university student Wilson Gavin, died following a social media backlash. His parents issued a heartfelt statement during the week saying he “regularly got the ‘how’ wrong” but possessed “compassion and a sense of justice” and a desire to make the world better.
The Midsumma performers, shocked at this terrible series of events, said they were more convinced than ever that they are doing more than just entertaining the children of rainbow families and LGBTQIA+ allies. They are playing an important role in making the world safer and more accepting for generations to come.
“I was incredibly saddened… and I was furious,” said Brian Robertson, producer at The Melba Spiegeltent which will house the Midsumma Rainbow Family Hub.
“But after I got over the shock of that it really made us believe in what we are doing, to create spaces for people to feel comfortable to tell their stories.”
Robertson, of Circus Oz, said after hearing of the Brisbane event they contacted police during the week and “had a really good conversation with them”.
“We are now on their radar, they are keeping a lookout for any negative feedback that might come online and they are increasing their presence on public transport,” he said.
“But we don’t want to create a police state, we don’t want to lock people in. We are moving forward regardless and it’s important to do that. We are moving forward with love.
“If we stop doing things and go hide in corners then those people win. That’s not what we want. There is strength in numbers and strength in doing.”
Robertson said this was the first Midsumma Family Hub, set up to give rainbow parents a place to go with their children, in contrast to other Midsumma events “focused on late night stuff and adult stuff”.
“The program is serving the very obvious need for inclusive spaces where people can share their stories and celebrate their differences, and we will not stop in the face of adversity.”
Gasworks Arts Park has also reviewed security. It will host PO PO MO CO’s Once Upon a Drag Storytime next Friday, a theatrical storytime/sketch comedy show for children featuring drag kings who put messages of equality and diversity under the laughs.
Their scheduled front-of-house briefing and training covered procedures in case any demonstrators appear, Gasworks marketing manager Devon Cartwright said.
“We’re fairly calm about it and we are prepared to deal with anything,” he said. “We will be observant and vigilant.”
Kimberley Twiner, PO PO MO CO artistic director and performer, said “we like to say it’s like the Queer Playschool or the Rainbow Playschool we always dreamed of when we were young,” she said. “It’s not a light undertaking. We really reflect diverse family structure in our show … it’s about normalising those stories and experience and welcoming it.”
The death of Wilson Gavin the day after the event was “just pure tragedy”.
“It’s an irreversible loss that shouldn’t have been,” Twiner said. “It’s a really hard reminder, we can never just whack people into a box and think that we know everything. It feels a consequence of how complex we are as humans and how much more complicated it’s going to be if we continue to divide. A world where we can’t fully express who we are is only going to result in really terrible things.”
She said she had experienced bullies while in her drag persona in public, and felt the marriage plebescite “gave rise to voices some of us hadn’t even heard before”.
But “we want to keep it rolling”, she said of her show. “Bring it out with all the love.”
Morris, who invites kids to dress up towards the end of his “pretty queer and camp” Kid-aoke show, said children “don’t have that filter that most adults have that says ‘this is different’, they just get involved”.
“The story I weave throughout the show is about self discovery … encouraging them to discover things they already know. Kids are already ahead of the game in their attitude towards equality, and the idea that being outside of the box is being normal too. We just need to foster inclusivity.”
He said the Brisbane tragedy “broke my heart that someone who was gay and so conflicted about their sexuality was led to lead a protest like that.
“One way to prevent that aggression and anger and confusion is to foster a safe space,” he said. “It’s a wonderful bubble here in Melbourne, a very accepting and colourful community. At my shows I’ve never had any kind of negativity, I’ve never had any criticism online. I feel like I’m very lucky.
“But I’m just waiting for it to be one of my shows where it happens, I’m preparing myself for something like that, and I want kids to feel like they can come and be safe.
“My number one priority is to make a safe space.”
Kid-aoke, The Melba Spiegeltent Collingwood, Jan 21, 23
Once Upon a Drag Storytime, Gasworks Theatre, Jan 24
Rainbow Family Storytime, Newport Community Hub, Jan 24
If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, you can call Lifeline (13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and suicidecallbackservice.org.au) or beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au).
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.