17 May 2017, St Catherine's School, Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne Grammar School student Rich Bartlett took inspiration for this speech from Thomas Lloyd.
Why do you tell people that you’re gay? A range of people have asked me this question for opposing reasons; as, for some, it has been a way to shame me, a reflection of the stigma our society places on the word gay; yet, from others, this question is posed from a place of love and concern.
For me, there are three reason why I tell people my sexuality. One, my obligation to the reality of my own identity. Two, my obligation to the history of my community; and three, my obligation to those yet to come.
To understand this responsibility that I have to myself, let me take you back to year seven as it was around this point in my life that even though I didn’t necessarily feel all that different from my peers, I felt that they were starting to see me as different.
I remember the first time someone asked me why I talked the way I do. With this one remark, I suddenly became very conscious of every single syllable I uttered. Actions that I had previously taken for granted like walking-something we normally do without hesitation-were on my mind every second of the day. In this way, all my creative energy was now directed to covering what it was that made me unique and this was an exhausting process that I kept up throughout years 7, 8 and 9. I did this because I never wanted to be associated with being gay; I was ashamed of my sexuality and would have done anything to change it.
However, by the time I had reached year 10, the constant charade that was my life had become too much, impacting on both my physical and mental health. I may have been constantly surrounded by friends and family; but, I could not have been more isolated as I was merely an imposter to these people and they loved me for this person I was not. Yet still, there was a voice nagging in my head telling me to continue the life that I had led: why subject myself to potential harm if I had the ability to hide my sexuality?
Around the time that I was having these thoughts, I became more familiar with the history of the gay community. Events such as the Stonewall riots which prompted the First Gay Pride March in 1970 and horrific hates crimes like the Orlando massacre where 49 people were killed simply because they were different, acted as a reminder to me that people were and are still murdered for something they are born with: their sexuality. For me, the more I learnt about this community, the more strongly I felt that I had to tell people I was a part of it. Not only to honour the many people who had lost their lives but also to make sure that their actions were not in vain.
And so, in year 10, I decided to tell some of my closest friends this secret that I had now been harbouring for years. But, to tell them this one thing, was to be the hardest and scariest thing that I have ever done. As you can perhaps empathise or sympathise, I felt intense dread knowing that if my best friends did not accept me for my sexuality which is something I could not change, my relationships with these people would dramatically alter forever. Some of these friendships stretched back to primary school, and it was terrifying to think that a relationship which had spanned more than half my life could be broken by my friends’ reactions.
Once I had told them though, I felt like this secret that I was clutching so tightly to myself could at last be released. I finally had a handful of people with whom I could truly be myself and not have to wear a mask; and this, was truly liberating. From that moment on, I refused to use my energy to bend myself to society. Instead, I would use my energy to bend society to accept me and the people who are yet to come.
So now, we reach the final part of answering this question of why I tell people I am gay which looks to the future, to those in the community who do not have a safe place to be their true-self. And, for these people, I see it as my obligation to be visible and to own my identity unapologetically. I do this, in the hope that those who do not have a colleague, friend or family member who would accept them, can one day find someone with whom they can share their secret and then, they can stand with us.
Before I finish responding to my very first remark, I want to make it clear why my story is not only relevant to anyone in the room who is questioning their sexuality but to everyone. Here at MGS, diversity is one of our values because we recognise the importance of having a culture where people feel valued and accepted for who they are. As it is only then, when we feel comfortable with our differences can we bring forth our innate gifts and passions at school. In this light, let us realise that by encouraging diversity we bring invaluable richness to this school and let us realise that it is only by accepting ourselves that we can truly be free.
And so, to answer the initial question with which I began my speech, I tell people I am gay because I cannot get married in any state or territory in Australia. I tell people I am gay because 1 in 14 transgender people will be murdered. I tell people I am gay because to not do so would render a disservice to who I am, the community of which I am a part, and to those who are yet to stand with us – but may do so, in time.