Simon Hicks was working on a cattle property north of Julia Creek in 1989 when MP Bob Katter made his infamous comment that he’d walk backwards to Bourke if there was a homosexual living in his electorate.
That remark hit deep in a young man already struggling with his identity, and Mr Hicks said he’d hate to see some young person living in the New England electorate today struggling with similar rejection, given recent reports of MP Barnaby Joyce saying that parliament shouldn’t be focusing on ‘Oxford St issues’ like gay marriage.
Now a successful businessman in Tenterfield in partnership with fiance Greg May, Mr Hicks said they are far from being the only same-sex couple operating a business in Tenterfield, and if the federal MP wants his electorate to attract people with drive and with money to invest, he should be more inclusive.
Mr Hicks was incensed by the comment in the wake of efforts he and Mr May made to meet with Mr Joyce back in 2015, and the latter’s willingness then to be educated on the same-sex marriage issue.
“He met with us for half-an-hour to an hour,” Mr Hicks said.
“He didn’t brush us off, but he made it clear at the start of the conversation that he wasn’t going to agree with us.”
He had presented Mr Barnaby with four pages outlining the case for marriage equality but was sceptical that the document would be read, and the politician wasn’t interested in debating any of the points it contained.
“The discussion was more about process, and the possibility of having a referendum in conjunction with the federation election.”
Mr Hicks said there’s extra pressure on same-sex couples in the bush. Considering how isolated some people fell in the bush to start with, struggling with sexual identity without support can add pressure that too-often results in self-harm.
“That’s why a lot of gay and lesbian people move to the city, to feel less exposed. If you want to encourage a diversity of people to move to the bush – who have money to invest and are motivated – you should make it a dynamic, forward-looking place.
“For people thinkging about coming here or staying, it’s not good language. When someone hears that language, it makes it very hard.”
Mr Hicks feels it may be this sense of acceptance that encourages people to congregate in gay communities like Oxford St. The 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics census revealed that one in every 10 men in Australia living in a same-sex relationship lived within two kilometres of Taylor Square at the western end of that street.
The census also showed that in cities of one million or more people, male same-sex couples made up 0.5 per cent of all couples, and in cities with a population between 100,000 and 1 million, they made up 0.3 per cent. In rural areas and towns like Tenterfield with a population of less than 10,000 people, they made up less than 0.2 per cent of couples. Female same-sex couples were also more likely to live in larger cities or towns, but the difference was not as pronounced.
Mr Hicks is frustrated by what he sees as the National Party’s lack of support for marriage equality by not allowing a free vote on the issue in parliament.
“Greg’s father’s getting on in years. He’s in his 80s and just wants to see us married,” Mr Hicks said.
“I have an uncle that has died without seeing us married, and we’re concerned about how many more family members may miss out. We realise this is not a life-and-death issue, but it might be for some.
“It’s an equality issue, just giving us a fair go, and letting us have the same rights as everyone else.
“We’re not asking to be married in a church, we just want to be married under the law in a civil ceremomy.”
In a statement to the Star Mr Joyce said the Coalition Government made an election promise to allow all Australians to make a decision on same-sex marriage in a national plebiscite, honouring that promise by introducing a Plebiscite Bill to enable a plebiscite to be held on February 11, 2017.
“As you would be aware the Senate refused to support the Government’s bill. We could have resolved this issue with a yes or no vote for same-sex marriage in the plebiscite early this year,” he said.
“The Plebiscite Bill and Exposure Draft set out a clear and thoroughly democratic path to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage. Without a plebiscite, the Government does not intend to proceed with the Marriage Amendment Bill.”