Fighting homophobia head on: Thomas Campbell

Posted on March 9, 2016 | 4 comments

While perhaps more overt in the United States than Australia, homophobia still runs deep. Image:

While perhaps more overt in the United States than Australia, homophobia still runs deep. Image:

Amid all of the debate about the Safe Schools Program, aimed at promoting tolerance of sexual diversity and reducing bullying in schools, there is one local political voice who can speak from experience: Greens candidate for Wannon Thomas Campbell expands on his very personal story of growing up gay in the south-west and why he refuses to remain silent when it comes to supporting the Safe Schools Program.

By Thomas Campbell

There has been a lot of discussion recently on the Safe Schools Coalition and the rights of LGBTIQ Australians.

This important issue has caused me to reflect on my own experiences, on my beliefs and on the reasons I’m standing as a Greens candidate in the 2016 Federal election.

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Puberty is a time of great transition and even more so when you begin to realise that you are same-sex attracted.

I began to realise I was gay when I was about 12 or 13 and even at that age I knew that being gay was different from other people.

I’d never felt the need to hide it but I’d also never felt the need to shout it from the roof tops. I was quite content to simply live my own private life. People who knew me were fine with it and I believed that my sexuality was, honestly, no-one else’s business.

Eventually I came to realise that in the light of other people’s suffering, this may have been a selfish attitude.

There are many people who can’t live their lives openly and honestly, who have to live in fear of judgement, hatred and even abuse. I believe, that those of us who are lucky enough to live with care and acceptance, have a responsibility to help those less fortunate.

Thomas Campbell

Greens candidate for Wannon, Thomas Campbell.

Even though my schooling was almost difficulty free, I was very aware that across the country then Prime Minister John Howard was placing his own stamp on marriage laws and that even under the reign of Kevin ’07 the laws would not change anytime soon.

On this particular day, when I was in year 12, I checked Facebook in the morning to discover that one of my classmates had put up a public post saying how there were “a heap of gay people in our year level” and then outed a number of students.

I can clearly remember how seeing my name on that list, made my gut drop. I had never hidden who I was but all of a sudden it was very public, very much out there and I was powerless to do anything about it.

I bit my tongue, took a deep breath and told myself it wasn’t a big deal. I remember feeling quite vulnerable as I walked into school but the morning passed like any other day. At the end of morning classes I decided to check the Facebook post again. The first comment underneath, written by another classmate, was a three worded message that I have never forgotten:


It’s hard to describe how I felt after that. Few people could understand what it feels like to have one of your peers write something so hateful.

All I can remember is this dark, crushing, black-hole deep in my chest.

The teaching of tolerance is widely accepted in schools across the world. Image:

The teaching of tolerance is widely accepted in western schools across the world, but teaching acceptance of sexual diversity is proving more problematic. Image:

Looking back it is one the few times that words alone actually caused me to feel intense, physical pain.

For about half an hour, I was lost to the world, thoughts circling around in my head “faggots deserve death,” – people hate me for who I am, for something I can’t change. What can I do? What am I supposed to do? There’s nothing I can do. I’m going to have to deal with this forever”

I kept on spiralling down. It’s unbelievable how quickly negative thoughts overtook and controlled everything around me. I was snapped back to reality by someone screaming. One of the girls who was outed on Facebook was screaming at the person who had written the initial post. I remember her shaking uncontrollably and her friends trying to lead her away. Even at that moment, feeling scattered and lost, I really felt for her. I knew the pain that I was feeling but I could only imagine how she must’ve felt.

Teachers rushed to the area. Everyone walked in separate directions. I somehow managed to push the negative thoughts out of my head and the day came to an end.

The thoughts I took from that day, which I often refer to when I hear the endless tirades on marriage equality or the Safe Schools Coalition, was:

What if I hadn’t been able to push those negative thoughts out of my head?

What if I couldn’t stop that self-defeating cycle of thoughts?

I imagined what it would be like to have those thoughts every time you walked into school, every time you woke up in the morning. That dark, crushing, black-hole being felt every second, every minute, every hour, every day.

There is a long, sad history of depression, abandonment, self-harm and suicide among LGBTIQ Australians. For a brief moment, I truly began to understand why that is.

safe schools

In 2014, I watched the memorial service for Gough Whitlam and was moved by the words of Noel Pearson when he delivered his eulogy:

“Only those who have known discrimination truly know its evil. Only those who have never experienced prejudice can discount the importance of the Racial Discrimination Act.”

I cannot equate the history of Indigenous Australians with LGBTIQ Australians, but Noel Pearson’s sentiment towards the Racial Discrimination Act reflects the way I feel about the Safe Schools Coalition.

I always do my best to keep things in perspective. That day was one of the worst in my life, but across the country (and throughout the rest of the world) there are people who have suffered far worse. At the more extreme end, it was only a few decades ago that dozens of murders of gay men were written off as suicides or accidents. Those incidents are now known as the “poofter bashings” of the late 80s and early 90s.

Another thing I discovered on that day was a quality I found deep within myself; the same quality I recognised in the people I chose to be with and the political party I chose to join: empathy.

It was a party that had a vision for a sustainable planet, that had the courage to fight for values that were unpopular at the time (marriage equality being a strong example), that was committed to empowering every one of their members and the public at large, to stand up, have their voices heard and to fight for what’s right.

Most importantly to me, I had found a political party which shared my sense of compassion and empathy.

A significant realisation for me was that even though I may never walk in your shoes, I can still see when you are in pain and I can feel when you are in pain. I believe we have a duty to pick each other up when we fall and to do all we can to stop the pedlars of hatred and lies that force us down in the first place.

I see a brighter future for LGBTIQ Australians. There will always be stereotypes and prejudices to battle but my wish, my hope and what I fight for, is that soon there will be a day when Australians will look each other in the eye and see only other fellow human beings looking back at them.

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  1. Wonderful article Tom. Your strength and empathy and, I would add, your integrity shine through. I am proud to stand beside you as a Greens candidate.

  2. Well written Thomas, so proud of ‘you’ – the wonderful young man that is not afraid to share his passion and pain. You are a shining example of how ‘we’ – every other human should see life. One person looking at and feeling empathy for the person they see in front and/or behind them. So proud to call you my nephew.

  3. As a teacher I know schools the values of schools in the creation of social and cultural change. Change is never easy and relies on a small few to stand up and stand out and speak from the heart. It requires those few to leave themselves open to the critics in exchange for the opportunity to create a better world. It needs those few to inspire others to speak out in support, particularly those who aren’t immediately affected by the issue.

    Thanks for being brave enough for being that person… there are many who are inspired to be a part of the social and cultural change you speak of simply as a result of your standing for election. Well done Tom!

  4. Go Tom! I completely agree with everything you’ve said. Respect! Thank you for speaking up about your personal life when it adds such strength to these important issues. I look forward to one day getting citizenship so I can vote here.

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