Anti-marriage equality campaigner says he’s changed his views

A Victorian man running for a spot on the Bendigo City Council says voters should ignore his past leadership role in the campaign against marriage equality. Lewis Freeman-Harrison ran a Facebook page named Bendigo Says No during the 2017 postal survey, but he says he no longer holds the same views about LGBTI people.

Three years on from the postal survey which saw 68.7 per cent of participants in the Bendigo region show their support for allowing same-sex couples to wed, Freeman-Harrison is hoping voters will select him to be a councilor in upcoming local government elections. Last month he told the Bendigo Advertiser that he had matured and his views had changed.

“I believe that life is about making mistakes, growing and learning from them,” he said. “I am older, wiser and in a more stable position to undertake an endeavour like this.”

Constituents however noted that the political hopeful had never apologised to the local LGBTIQ communities or explained how his views had changed. Many also noted that the Facebook page he ran featured some of the most vitriolic and abusive comments seen during the postal survey campaign.

Now after weeks of criticism Freeman-Harrison has offered a public apology. Posting to his campaign’s Facebook page he said he wanted to wholeheartedly apologise to the LGBTQIA community for his involvement and actions back in 2017.

“I am sorry, I was wrong.” Freeman-Harrison said in a video statement. “I know a lot of people are still hurt from my actions and I’m sorry for that.  I believe that in life we all make mistakes and this is something I live with everyday and I have taken the time to educate myself about this.”

Saying that he had based his views on the same-sex relationship he witnessed in his own household when he was growing up, Freeman-Harrison said he had changed his views after seeing other same-sex couples in happy and loving relationships.

“I believe every single person has the right to love whoever they want to love, and they have the right to share that love and live a successful life, after all love wins at the end of the day.” Freeman-Harrison said quoting “love wins” tagline of the Yes campaign.

Local residents have raised questions about the candidates change of views, with many noting that he had made mocking comments about a Drag Queen Story Time event just a few months ago in March 2020.

OUTinPerth asked Freeman Harrison if he could offer more details about his change of heart and clarify when he changed his views on LGBTIQ people being allowed to wed. He responded saying his views had moved over time, but he’d only realised the harm he had caused earlier in 2020.

“Growing in my understanding of marriage equality has been a personal journey for me. I certainly did not have a change of perspective overnight, but rather have continued to learn and grow in this area over the past three years.” he said.

“Since my outspoken stance against marriage equality in 2017, many of my family and friends continued to challenge me on the opinions that I held, and as I worked through some personal experiences, I began to become more open to learning to listen to those within the LGBTQIA+ community. However, it was not until very recently, around May and June of this year, that I was finally able to acknowledge that my actions in 2017 had been wrong.”

Freeman-Harrison said he still had a lot to learn about the LGBTI community, and his changing of opinion had been a long journey.

“My views changed for several reasons. First, I had to deal with some of my own distortions of homosexuality. I grew up in a same-sex household which wasn’t always pleasant. I was hurt and I projected that hurt onto others and that was wrong. Second, after witnessing relationships within the LGBTQIA+ community, I began to understand that I was wrong to try and stop someone from loving someone else. Third, I understood that if heterosexual couples had the option of deciding whether to marry or not, so too should same-sex couples have the choice to marry if they choose to.

“In short, this has been a long journey for me (and, no doubt,  a journey that is not yet over) and I am thankful to my family and friends who were able to continue to challenge my beliefs and perspectives and encourage me to think more broadly than my personal experiences as a child.” he said.

As for being disparaging about a Drag Queen Story Time event, Freeman-Harrison admitted the accusations were indeed true.

“Unfortunately, that is true.” he said.  “Although I had been able to challenge and change my perspectives on marriage equality, I was still very cautious about events like Drag Queen story time and skeptical of the motives of people running and promoting those events. I regret my actions at that time for many reasons, but particularly because of any hurt I may have caused.”

The apologetic candidate said he still knew very little about events like Drag Queen Story Time and was eager to learn more, telling OUTinPerth that he would not be opposed to the City of Bendigo supporting another event in the future.

Graeme Watson

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