Thirty six years ago, I fell pregnant with a one-in-a-million baby.
My husband (proud dad to be) decided to document every step of my pregnancy in photographs. This one is of me at 39 1/2 weeks. We were so excited we even counted the half-weeks.
You see, at the time we thought those were the chances of us becoming pregnant.
But today, when I look back at this photograph I marvel at my innocence.
All I knew back then was that I was going to have a much-wanted baby, that my husband loved me and that we were just like all young parents: busy preparing the nursery and ensuring I had everything prepared, including having my bag packed and ready at the door.
We felt we were two of the lucky ones, bringing up a child in a country that believed in a “fair go for all.” We thought equality was automatic and assumed.
Eleven years later there was a shift in our family’s prospects. I started to think that James our eldest son might be gay. He had a brother by then too, so we proceeded to make our home gay-friendly. This meant no inappropriate jokes or comments would be tolerated. I just wanted James to feel as at ease with himself as his brother did with himself.
He finally came out at the age of 18, and though I’d made our home safe for him and although I felt no differently toward him, I was absolutely terrified of the uncertain future he faced in the outside world.
It was 1995 and we lived in Queensland where the only right as a gay male, was the right to be gay without fear of arrest. I thought, “This is not fair, his straight brother has all these additional rights like financial rights between partners and the right to marry the person he loves.” They both started out with the same life but now, through this one admission, my son James would be prevented from living an equal life, not just by the attitudes of people but by outdated laws.
I decided, as his mother, that this just wasn’t fair. He had done nothing wrong and it wasn’t fair that he should be discriminated against in his own country. So began my journey of advocating for equal rights for James and other LGBTI people.
For fifteen years I have lobbied and worked on this cause, but still the one fundamental right that sits at the core of what it means for a gay person to feel accepted and equal has yet to be won in this country.
James still can’t experience the privilege of marrying, which is something we, the rest of his family value and can enjoy. He is still not seen as equal to his brother, which is just not fair or right.
As a parent, it’s heart breaking to know that regardless of how much we love our children, provide a good education and a stable home and regardless of wealth, we can’t ensure their rights. And regardless of what James does he can neither earn or gain those rights for himself.
I think back to that innocent time when I was 39 1/2 weeks pregnant and I wonder why I never considered the rights of gay people? Or wondered about having a gay son.
Fate has taught me that is a naîve way to think. Any family can produce a gay or lesbian child. So the gay marriage cause is actually a family issue, for all families.
As a parent, I believe there are times you should stand behind your children, other times you should stand beside them, but in this case I feel I should stand in front of James and fight for his right to be seen as equal. Because I brought him here into this world and he, like every other Australian deserves an equal life.
So, I’ll be doing all I can in this election year to remind the politicians that not just families like mine, but all families expect more than our Government has managed to achieve on the subject of marriage equality. I want Australia to catch up to the rest of the world so I can see both my sons enjoy their lives equally.
Before Shelley Argent began advocating for the rights of her gay son she was a stay at home mum running a household and studying to get a degree in Social Sciences. Then one of her two sons “came out” and her life changed. Today she is the National Spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and has campaigned for 15 years for the equal rights of LGBTI people and their families. She has received an Order Of Australia Medal (OAM) for her efforts and is a true woman of inspiration. Often quoted, never cowed.