The Weekend Mumbo: We’re here! We’re queer! Do you not care about us this year?

Welcome to The Weekend Mumbo.

When I was a kid, desperately hoping I wasn’t gay but terrified by the sinking realisation that I was, I rarely saw people like me in the media or pop culture.

There were camp portrayals of promiscuous airline flight attendants in sketch comedy shows, documentaries about the AIDS epidemic, and news stories about the spate of homophobic murders that plagued Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

There were only a few brave out celebrities, often derided or talked about in problematic ways. I mean, Ricky Martin was still ‘straight’.

When I looked around for reassurance that I was going to be OK, I could find no positive representations of gay men who were happy, healthy and alive.

Back in the 90s, being gay was one of the worst things you could be. I saw nothing to tell me otherwise. It would be years until I felt safe and content with who I was – and then years of therapy to undo the damage of a horrendous and hate-filled adolescence.

Shannon Molloy at 14.

Perhaps that lonely void left by a lack of stories about the type of man I might become – and shows of support for the community I was set to be part of – is why I don’t mind brands going rainbow when the calendar hits a certain point.

I like that ANZ turns some of its ATMs into GayTMs. I’m all for BWS in Darlinghurst being rebranded BWYASS. Those rainbow-wrapped Coles semi-trailers rolling around the country make me smile.

You’d see it around Mardi Gras in Sydney, Midsumma in Melbourne and Big Gay Day in Brisbane. As events grew, so too did the appearance of brands at them. And in recent years, Pride Month has become a big thing in Australia.

These initiatives cost money. They require a concerted effort from major corporations to tinker with their brands and pay for resourcing. It’s a very clear show of support that isn’t free.

And yet many in my community consider it ‘rainbow-washing’ – a hollow show of solidarity for a brief period that then promptly disappears for another 12 months.

There are memes about it. You’ve probably seen the now-viral ‘sashaying away with deals’ piss-take. The gag is, brands want us for our disposable incomes and will do what’s just palatable enough to attract those pink dollars, but not a smidge more.

Joking slowly made way for anger and a more potent view of that corporate support began to spread. Eventually, the appearance of a rainbow-adapted logo was viewed cynically, sceptically and with a certain sense of bitterness.

This Pride Month, which kicked off on 1 June, there are far fewer rainbows in sight.

I’m yet to see many – although, to be fair, celebrating Pride Month is a relatively new concept in Australia, and we’ve just had both Mardi Gras and World Pride, where you couldn’t avoid a rainbow if you tried.

But in the US, the absence this Pride Month is stark. The political climate is such that a backlash against the queer community has gained momentum, thanks to rhetoric about transgender people and a sudden disapproval of drag performers.

There’s a very real risk – a brand and reputational risk, but also a safety risk – that now comes with putting up a rainbow in just about any fashion in many parts of America.

Just when vibrant public displays of support are needed, they’re gone. It hasn’t gone unnoticed and suddenly that bitterness about ‘rainbow-washing’ has made way for a quiet desperation from many queer people that all those colourful logos come back.

On the one hand, vocal parts of the LGTBQI community wished this corporate support away, and now we’re all paying the price. On the other, these brands that made a song and dance about being allies have fled when the going just started getting tough.

Why does it all matter? What purpose does supporting queer people even serve these days? Is that a brand’s responsibility?

Those are valid questions, especially in an Australian context when it feels like the fight for equality is done and dusted.

I’d point you to the recent disgraceful gathering of actual neo-Nazis on the steps of Victoria’s parliament, holding a banner comparing queer people to paedophiles and talking about grooming and child endangerment – tired tropes from the bad old days that I’d hoped were history.

Communities are reporting rising instances of harassment and violence right across the country. There have even been physical altercations in historically queer-friendly and normally safe neighbourhoods, like Oxford Street in Sydney.

Aggressive. Brazen. Out in the open. That’s a real worry no matter what marginalised group you’re talking about.

There’s a renewed push on the right side of Australian politics to revive so-called religious ‘freedom’ legislation that would allow schools to sack queer teachers and expel queer kids. One draft of the previous bill would’ve even allowed faith-based aged care facilities to boot out elderly gay residents. Guess how many care homes are run by churches? Spoiler alert – it’s most of them.

Then there’s America, which admittedly we look at with horror a lot lately. It’s now illegal for teachers to merely mention gay kids in Florida, drag shows are banned in multiple states, there are proposed laws to allow authorities to remove the children of trans parents, and there’s concern the Supreme Court could go after marriage equality using the same legal argument that they did in overturning the right to abortions.

Like it or not, the US often sets a standard for the rest of the world – including Australia.

I hate being preachy. I’m not overly political – although I think this is more of a human issue than a political one. My point is that advocacy matters.

Queer people still need allies to stand up for them and their rights, whether it’s by putting their money where their mouth is, like Disney, or with overt displays of support in the form of a supermarket’s rainbow-coloured semi-trailer.

The rest of the week

Another big week of media news, kicking off with the unexpected decision by the Victorian Government to cease virtually all advertising in print newspapers. No-one saw it coming – not us, and certainly not News Corp Australia and Nine Publishing, whose Melbourne mastheads stand to lose out on millions of dollars a year.

Also making waves this week was Justin Hind, the former CHEP Network boss who has teamed up with his wife and WiTH co-founder Dominique, and their former colleague Stephen Knowles, the founder of Downstream Marketing, to launch their new indy agency REUNION.

And finally, in snazzy tech news, Apple finally released its much-anticipated headset device Vision Pro. It’s virtual reality, but not as you know it, and wearable tech like you’ve not seen it before. It looks super cool, but it will cost an absolute bomb. Will this be a game-changer for advertising? My boss Damian Francis explored this question with a cracking op-ed, showing that a former tech writer never really forgets how to ride a bike. Or a keyboard, I guess?

Signing off

That’s all from me – for a little while too. Tomorrow morning I’m flying to Papua New Guinea to trek Kokoda, ticking off a bucket list item I’ve wanted to get to for a while.

As well as an interest in military history and a love of adventure travel, I thought this trip would be a great excuse to focus on my health and get really fit during the several-month training regimen that Kokoda requires.

That didn’t happen. I’ve been busy with work and books, sick thanks to having a toddler start day care, and quite slack. My fitness preparedness is no-where near where it should be, so wish me well. Should I not make it back, remember me fondly.


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