WA MP Stuart Aubrey shares his coming out experience

Western Australian Labor MP Stuart Aubrey recently shared his coming out experience in the state’s parliament, giving his colleagues an insight into the psychological stress that many LGBTIQA+ people go through in accepting their sexuality and sharing the information with friends and family.

Aubrey, the member for the beachside seat of Scarborough, was elected at the 2021 state election replacing former Liberal leader Liza Harvey. As parliament debated a bill that will require counsellors and psychologists to abide by a strict professional code of conduct Aubrey shared his personal journey.

The McGowan government says the bill is one method that will protect people from conversion therapy and change and suppression practices in future. Previously counsellors were not required to hold any qualifications or meet significant standards of professional practice. The Health and Disability Services (Complaints)
Amendment Bill 2021 was passed by the lower house earlier this month.

Stuart Aubrey rose and shared that he was a member of the LGBTIQA+ communities and wanted to speak about how this legislation went someway towards protecting people from sexual orientation and gender conversion practices.

After acknowledging other politicians who had held the baton in pushing for law reform that improves the lives of LGBTIQA+ people, he outlined how British mathematician Alan Turning was one of his personal inspirations, before sharing his own story.

Read what Stuart Aubrey had to say.

Readers are advised that this article includes references to suicide ideation. 

It is not a story I share lightly; it is not a story that I have commonly shared with many to this level of detail, and now it will be on the public record for everyone to know.

It does not come easy to me to share it, but as a LGBTQIA+ member of this house it is important that I share my story and show leadership and strength. I ask other members to listen closely with understanding and empathy, because I aim to help others in this house understand the importance of this bill as being a step forward in banning a practice that traumatises, denigrates and discriminates against people of my community. It is a practice that causes deep and long-lasting harm to the victims.

I grew up in a loving household, a stone’s throw from the beach, in a quiet cul-de-sac in Watersun, a beachside suburb of Mandurah. I attended North Mandurah Primary School, where I was a happy, caring and intelligent student. My father taught at the high school next door.

My brother and sister were in school with me. They in fact had the distinct pleasure of being taught by Minister Templeman back when he was a teacher— an opportunity I just missed out on, or dodged, as he successfully entered politics as the member for Mandurah.

Luckily, I get to learn from him now. I was the captain of my school faction, Jarrah, and a PA technician. I was doing well in primary school, living a very vibrant and happy life. I then went on to Frederick Irwin Anglican School for secondary education.

It was in high school that I started to feel confused about my sexuality. I began to feel socially anxious around my peers. I began to retract into myself. My education began to suffer as I spent more and more time in my head, worried that my fellow students and teachers would discover my secret and I would be chastised, ostracised or discriminated against.

My constant stress and anxiety about my sexuality led me to seek an outlet to cope; that outlet was food and video games. As a 15-year-old, I weighed more than I do now at twice that age. I suppressed and denied my sexuality for years. As a result, I developed depression, anxiety and a binge eating disorder.

It is a hard thing to come to terms with at a young age—to accept that your life is going to be considerably more difficult because of a factor beyond your control, for being born a certain way. Women know this feeling all too well, as do Indigenous Australians and other members of minorities across Australia.

To survive, I focused on work. I excelled in my apprenticeship because I gave it my all. I learnt the value of hard work and merit; it became my crutch, my distraction, my escape. I felt a burning need to prove myself—a need to feel valued in the hope that if anyone discovered my sexuality, it would be overlooked because I was too valuable for my hard work.

When I was 21, my apprenticeship ended, and I was a fully qualified electrical tradesman free to work and earn a living. It was a wonderful accomplishment. But I also lost that focus, that crutch. Without that focus to distract me, I had to come to terms with my sexuality.

I began to spiral. The fear of losing friends, family and my community was more than I could bear. Dark thoughts crept into my mind that told me it would be easier if I just ended it— death had to be better than continuing to feel the constant shame, pain and anxiety.

My friends had noticed my change in behaviour. They could see I was struggling and they made efforts to help, to find out what was wrong, but I could not face them. I can vividly remember a moment that was a turning point for me.

I was on my way to a job at Garden Island when I saw a jagged sign, damaged by a car, on the side of Rockingham Road and a thought entered my mind. [OUTinPerth has omitted part of the speech here in line with mental health guidelines.]

This was the time I had moved from passive suicidal ideation, or thinking about death, to active suicidal ideation, and it scared me. It scared me straight—not quite! I reached out to those friends and told them that I needed their help and that I needed them to hold me to account and to not let me avoid the conversation.

In September 2012, I came out to five of my closest friends: Griffin Millburn-Thomas, Ben Hardman, Tyne Darch, Reece Sheridan and Mitchell Hardman. Thank you for your support and thank you for your unconditional acceptance and love.

Coming out to my friends was one of the best days of my life. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, but it was not long before the walls started closing in again. I still had to tell my family, my colleagues, my other friends, my extended family, my future colleagues, my future friends and my future community.

Everywhere you go as a gay man, every person you meet, every new workplace you start at and every friendship group you join, you must come out.

People say that it should not be that way and that no-one in society must come out as straight, so why should I have to come out as gay? That statement is true, but we are not there yet.

A year later, I gradually had come out to more friends, my sister and, eventually, my parents. I could not do it myself; I made my sister do it for me. Although I should not have had to come out, I will regret until the day I die not having the strength to tell my parents. I thank my sister and my mother, as well as my extended family, for their unconditional support and love for me.

I talk often about my mother. She is my rock, my champion, my protector, the source of my values and the reason why I am who I am. I never talk about my father, so much so that many people mistakenly think that my mum is a single mother.

Growing up, my family was structured like many in Australia. My father worked and earned the money and my mother stayed at home to raise the kids. Although I am grateful every day for having the quality time with and nurturing of my mother growing up, I would like to see more opportunity for mothers to re-enter the workforce and not be relegated to a stay-at-home role. I would see equality.

The reason people never hear of my father is that he is not part of my life and has not been for many years because of my sexuality, and I will not speak of him further.

I am grateful every day that I was born and grew up in Australia. The LGBTQIA+ community across the world faces far worse and far more persecution than I or my community will ever experience here in Australia.

My life has not been easy because of my sexuality, but it is far from the worst that people of my community experience across the world. I cannot give blood because of my sexuality, but the blood of others is shed because of the same sexuality.

I am stared at for holding hands with, kissing or showing affection to another man in public. The hands of others are cut off or they are castrated or killed for doing the same in private. I am grateful for the fact that I can live free from the fear of death for my sexuality, but I cannot live free from judgement for my sexuality.

I have had to protect my identity and privacy in the past when working on the remote mine sites of Western Australia. It is easy to dismiss as prejudice the attitudes of many of these people who make the odd homophobic comment. In some cases it is, but for many it is not prejudice; it is fear and misunderstanding.

Having learnt this after a time, I began to carry myself in a different way. I do not hide my sexuality anymore, but I do not let it define me or let others define me because of it. The worst thing about stereotypes is that if you let them, they have a way of defining who you are and what you stand for before you enter a room.

Mark Latham, a member of the Parliament of New South Wales, said in reference to LGBTQIA+ members of Parliament across the country,
and I quote —

“These MPs are driven more by sexuality than party ideology. Gays have higher incomes and education levels and stronger political and media access than the rest of society, yet the MPs persist with a precious persecution complex overriding more important and valid equity issues.”

In response to that man, whom I have never met and who has never met me but feels he can pass judgement on my integrity and what drives me, I say: I am who I am today because I worked incredibly hard, despite the challenges I have experienced in life because of my sexuality, and I am driven by more than just self-interest, sexuality or faith— or, in my case, lack of faith.

I do not define myself by my sexuality, race, age or sex. I am a sum of my parts and you do not define me. I am a proud tradesman, a highly qualified electrical technician, a mine worker, a FIFO worker, a mines rescue paramedic, a safety and health representative, and a hardworking contributor to the Western Australian economy.

I am a proud surfer, a surf lifesaver, a volunteer, a swimmer, a scuba diver, a hiker, a cyclist and an explorer of this great state and this great nation.

I am a proud son, a brother, an uncle, a grandson, a friend, a best friend, a boyfriend and, one day, a husband to a very lucky man! I am my core values of courage, loyalty, equity, honesty, integrity, quality, leadership and altruism.

I am my life’s mission to experience life to its fullest; to serve and protect Australia, its interests and its people; and to always grow to be the best I can be to contribute to a positive impact on Australia, humanity and the world in the time that I have on this planet.

I am a proud gay man. I am an atheist. I am a Mandurah boy who grew up to be a Scarborough man and the member for Scarborough. I am a proud Western Australian and a proud Australian.

I define who I am, and I will not be boxed in by those who peddle hate and discrimination to hide their fear and insecurity in a world that is moving beyond a place that advantages one group to the detriment of others in society.

I will always fight for my community in Scarborough and for equity for all, and I will always fight for a fairer and better future for all Western Australians. You do not define me. You do not define us.

To anyone who experiences discrimination for your sexuality, sex, race, creed, disability, faith or lack of faith, you define who you are. You determine your future and if you respect the basic human rights of others and follow the rule of law, you have the right to live your life free from persecution and prejudice.

I stand here as a member of the Western Australian government defending not just your right to equity, but everyone’s.

I hold the baton, along with my colleagues and allies in the Labor Party. I am standing my ground and I will advance the protection of the vulnerable, the marginalised and the oppressed. I will fight for true equity in our society forever and always. It is the Australian way. It is the Labor way. It is my way.

Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

QLife: 1800 184 527 / qlife.org.au (Webchat 3pm – midnight)
QLife are a counselling and referral service for LGBTQIA+ people.

DISCHARGED[email protected]discharged.org.au
Discharged is a trans-led support service with peer support groups for trans and gender diverse folks.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 / lifeline.org.au

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 / www.beyondblue.org.au

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