Inequality: Fence 3/4

It’s not hard to find content on social inequality at the moment, look no further than the recent NRL grand final where it was on full, frontal display. An American artist singing about marriage equality to us, Australia. This article doesn’t dismiss racism, sexism, disability, gender inequality and more in any way, it just focuses on LGBTI inequality because of the impending postal survey and my position to speak on it personally.


A week ago our former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott sent Twitter into a spin by condemning the NRL’s decision to have Macklemore perform his Same Love anthem in front of millions of Australians. It was Abbott, the mastermind behind the marriage equality plebiscite-turned-postal-survey, and champion of ‘free speech’ verse a staunch NRL CEO, making it the political topic of the week.

LGBTI inequality stems from Australia’s history of anti-gay policies and laws which have existed formally since federation and is much more than our exclusion from the marriage act. Laws surrounding adoption, relationship recognition, ages of consent, panic defences and more vary between Australian jurisdictions and have been progressively reformed over the years, with much more to do.

With a history like that it’s not surprising that the LGBTI community continues to experience inequality on a number of fronts. We are three times more likely to experience depression, likely because: 60% of us experience verbal homophobic abuse, with 80% of homophobic bullying occurring in school. What I find particularly showing is that 39% of us are not ‘out’ at work. Why else would some of us choose to not be ourselves at work, but for the presence of crippling inequality?

There is no question it exists, you need look no further than the coming out stories of LGBTI people, including mine. How my family reacted, how my friends reacted, how I handled it all and how I had to ‘come out’ in the first place. It’s important to include social inequality in our fact check of whether inequality is at a 75 year high because it forces us to ask whether we have dropped the ball on being the country of the fair go, the country of equality and egalitarianism.

There are two ways to look at inequality: 1. Functionalist, where inequality is desirable and necessary, playing a role in society through meritocracy. Dissimilarly, 2. conflict theorists, who view inequality in the context of power – those with more dominating those with less. You can decide which you see as the prevailing theory, but I am tendered towards the theory of conflict.  

Social inequality can manifest economically (as discussed previously in this series) and culturally. Treatment by the police, judicial and legislative system has historically been stacked against LGBTI people. The threatening of LGBTI people’s jobs, defences available for ‘gay panic’ and restricted government services for same-sex relationships, for example. As recent as 1997, the High Court upheld the gay panic defence and only this year did Queensland officially block the defence. A grim picture.

Functionalist theory would not encourage LGBTI people to agitate for social change as it would cause other parts of society to compensate or fill a space. For instance, marriage equality would arguably see a state acknowledge a different family unit, one that is not heteronormative.  

Applying conflict theory here would suggest that because our parliamentarians, high court judges and police commissioners have historically been straight males, power has been distributed to that effect, with LGBTI issues not in mind. Just as first nations people and women can make similar parallels in their movements. Our system is catching up to being properly representative, but it is the extremely slack pace of this change that continues to fuel inequality.  

The difference in theories is not that LGBTI inequality exists, but how to respond to it. Bluntly, the breakdown of heteronormative power through legislators and officials is apparent here and overseas. Movements change hearts and minds over long periods of time and no where is that more obvious than here in Australia.


Right now, millions of letters are being sent to voters to tick yes or no to marriage equality, a process not legally necessary or desired by the LGBTI community. So why is it happening and what does it say about inequality being at a 75 year high?

It’s happening because LNP power brokers could be described as functionalists, worried what marriage equality will mean for the state, the church, the schools, the cake makers, the guitar players and the candlestick makers. These few have a hold on the Prime Minister’s leadership and therefore a hold on my right to equality under the law. A pretty accurate interpretation of conflict theory, I’d say, neatly summed up by senior government Minister, Christopher Pyne’s recent ‘leak’. 

The response to Minister Pyne saying marriage equality will be a reality soon, made the moderate and conservative power bases stick out like a letter arriving in the mail addressed to you. LGBTI, first nations people and women all have movements based on conflict theory and in Australia particularly, these movements show that equality is never won easily, if at all.

Women are still fighting for the gender pay gap to be a thing of the past and for domestic violence to be taken seriously, among other issues. First nations people still experience shorter life expectancies, less opportunity to education, higher rates of family violence and more. So we can’t necessarily say that social inequality is at a 75 year high, but we can say that as long as our parliaments and decision making bodies are filled with straight, white men it isn’t getting any better.

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