say NO to homophobia campaign

I worked in the NSW State Rail system from 1985 to 1999; during that time I slowly came out as a gay man, slowly and hesitantly. Once, someone even asked: If you’re not ashamed of yourself why were you so touchy about the subject. Of course the railway environment was a challenge, it was new and irrationally held a threat of violence. Labourers & tradesmen, drivers & guards, fellow clerks, inspectors and white collar visitors, the place represented the whole spectrum of society. But there were rules to the place that you had to learn, it was a dirty, noisy, violent-feeling place. You had to respect the fact that men put their lives in danger of electrocution. Absurd, horrible things happened: a driver, whom everyone loved, was checking the brakes on a train carriage, he was at ground level behind the carriage wheel, the train parked on a slope rolled back and decapitated him.

The railway, especially the four maintenance yards, was a hermetically sealed world. Certain characters ruled their environments, by dint of years served on the job, favours done for mates, character proved under fire. This did not guarantee that the best people were respected. The senior clerk in my section, I’ll call him Len, was frankly grotesque, he snuffled constantly, you knew NEVER to shake the hand he offered, he was porcine and he knew it. He would go on sex tourism holidays to Asian countries and return with happy snaps of the ladies in situ, preforming sexual acts. These photos were passed around the maintenance depot.

When Len got bored on the job he would find a new target for his needling humour, and would persist. People said, you either deflected his campaign with better tactics, difficult to do as he was considered essential on the job, or you went elsewhere. Showing you were affected by his attentions meant you had lost, he had no scruples, he had no better nature you could appeal to. Once, on an action free night, he completely papered the car of a local train driver. Len’s logic was that the glue was water based, you took a hose and soaked then washed the rubbish off, the driver instead took a paint scraper and ruined the paint work.

In my case, my desk drawer was filled with rubbish, lolly papers, the notice board regularly displayed examples of Len’s humour, a photo for instance of a group of monkeys, one of them protesting, Don’t rubbish my mate.

The effectiveness of the harassment depended on the group dynamic; in this case, nobody contradicted Len. To do so meant that he made life difficult for you in a thousand ways. Supervisors looked the other way. They having seen it all too many times, had any number of more important things. I knew taking Len and the railway to court was impossible. The railway closed ranks, it had the staff and the means to fight protracted, mean, spiteful legal battles. I found a sympathetic human in head office who organised deployment so that I could find alternatives. In my case, the years of aggravation had shown up a pre-existing cardiac problem which required surgery.

The aspect of the Say NO campaign which concerns me is the lukewarm assurance by the police that they may well take action in some situations. My experience with Newtown police was that they shuffled the victim off to a touchy feely non police counsellor who organised an AVO to be obtained in the Local Court. The perp resisted this legal manoeuvre, and expensive, protracted legal moves followed. But even when an AVO was obtained the local police force was reluctant to enforce its provisions.

The AVO counsellor held your hand while you cried. If the neighbour threatened you with violence or destroyed your garden a phone call to the police resulted in the advice to go to court. Without an objective witness to any illegal action, it was your word against that of the perp’s and the court action would fail. The Community Justice Centre was run by two legal types, failed preachers, who made extravgant claims like: you will be completely transformed by this event. Instead, four hours later, after difficulties with an interpreter, we had merely rewritten the EEO document; a day later, the perp took his revenge for being humiliated in a court of law by damaging my drain pipe.

 Once even, when I had rung the police, I was handed to the resident Gay & Lesbian Support Officer, a well meaninged chap, perhaps a litle too in love with his job description. I could hear his colleagues verbally rubbishing him in the background during my phone call; years later I read that he, a heterosexual, had suffered so much abuse from his fellow officers that he had been forced to retire from duty.

The campaign advertisement shows several situations, the lesbian on the building site is similar to my experience in the maintenance yard, as is the scene with the bloke saying: Princess, where’s your tiara. Both situations require a change in work culture; they gloss over the difficulty of a perp who NEEDS to harass others to bolster his low self esteem. He would be unable, unwilling to change. I have no answers. Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick says hetero men feel deeply uncomfortable with gay men, paranoid in fact. No social campaign will alleviate that.

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About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
This entry was posted in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Bookmark the permalink.

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