High on a Hill – An open letter to the Australian Federal Parliament from Matthew Lee Robinson

Matthew Lee Robinson wrote a letter to the Australian Federal Parliament last week. It was shared on Facebook over 660 times and reached an incredible amount of people both on social media and, thanks to Labor’s Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, Trade, Tourism and Major Events Penny Sharpe, the floor of NSW Parliament.

It’s a brilliant and important read, and Robinson has permitted AussieTheatre to publish the letter here.

An open letter to the Australian Federal Parliament from Matthew Lee Robinson

Monday 12th September, 2016

“High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…”
Rodgers and Hammerstein, The Sound of Music

Dear decision makers of the country I love,

Matthew Lee Robinson and Scott Morris at their wedding in Auckland, 2016
Matthew Lee Robinson and Scott Morris at their wedding in Auckland, 2016

In a dream last night, I stood before my high school principal and a group of teachers that had been assembled to decide whether same-sex marriage would be legalised in Australia. I told them I was already married, in New Zealand in May of this year. I showed them the wedding photographs and pleaded that they acknowledge the marriage was legitimate. Then I wept openly in front of them. I woke up in my current bedroom in New York City still litigating the case in my mind. I’ve decided not to let my thoughts vanish as easily as a waking dream does.

My husband is currently on tour in The Sound of Music. Each night he hears the folkloric tale sung about a young man who, with the power of his yodel, lands a girl in a pale pink coat. They have a child fairly quickly. The timeline is fuzzy. Growing up in 1980s regional Queensland it didn’t take long to realise I would not be afforded the marriage or
the child. I would just be the goatherd, who sings, high on a hill.

When I speak to friends in the U.S., I fondly refer to my home state as the Texas of Australia. Hot, vast, rich in family values and deeply conservative. I also grew up watching the bowling ball advertisements that warned, or more accurately terrified, the viewer about the AIDS epidemic. For those parliamentarians too young or who grew up overseas, a grim reaper sent a bowling ball hurtling down the lane, but instead of bowling pins, there were people. It was visceral. The message needed to be, I guess. By the time I was twelve however, I had come to believe that if two men kissed, they died instantly. I believed that what I would eventually come to know as love, would kill me.

By the time I got to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts to study Musical Theatre, I was ready enough to take a feeble, Bambi-step towards the person I would become. I attended the very first porn party, a subsequent annual WAAPA institution where people wear very little and drink a great deal. This gathering was to commemorate the 21st birthday of Dean Bryant, now one of the Associate Directors of Melbourne Theatre Company. Needless to say, I was not yet out. I also wasn’t in. I was a child from Rockhampton with Hugh Grant hair. Walking through the back porch to get some air, I passed two young gay men, the kind that could decimate you with a glance, and through the alcohol-fuelled haze I heard one say, “I give him 6 months,” to which the other replied, “I give him six weeks.” They laughed. I was mortified. Mortified because they knew, but worse, because my identity was being tossed about like a toy by the community of which I so wanted to be a part. I was furious, and decided I would choose my own timeline thanks very much. It took two years and two months from that night.

I never thought I’d be able to get married. I did. I never thought I’d be able to have children. We will. But yesterday, when another piece of same-sex marriage legislation was brought before you to combat our conservative government’s plebiscite, something finally ground my gears. I’m very even-keeled, you see. “Of course it will happen in the end,” I think to myself each time, but that’s the kind of attitude that may see Hillary Clinton not actually become President of the United States in November. It occurred to me when I woke from my dream this morning, I don’t need to litigate my marriage with authority figures from the teenage recesses of my mind. I need the Australian parliament to do its job, which is to look after those who are the most marginalised among us, no matter who they are. When I walk down the street holding my husband’s hand, every time we pass someone, every time, we come out all over again. What will they think? Worse, what will they say? Worse still, what might they do? To know, by its idling, by its reticence, that my government is complicit in that fear, makes me weep for the child who watched those bowling ball ads, and for all the children now watching the ever so vaguely dehumanising discussion surrounding the LGBTQI community.

No, I don’t believe the Australian public should get to vote on the validity of my relationship. I didn’t vote on theirs. Introduce legislation – look, you have! – organise a parliamentary vote and get it done. I write without a note of sarcasm when I say, I get it. Supporting same-sex marriage is your own version of emerging from the closet. You know it’s the right thing to do and you’re afraid of what you’ll lose as a result. Yes, it takes bravery to come out when you fear the personal outcome. But you have to, just like we had to, so the next generation of kids like me feel safer when they need to.

In high school, I would sometimes say unintelligent things, because I knew it would make people feel at ease. At university, I would sometimes say things to make me appear more naïve, because it gave me an identity, a place in the order of things. But I will not modify myself anymore. Others will not decide my moral boundaries. I bring up morals
because they’re what opponents believe are at stake. Their values. Well, if Baz Luhrmann movies and life experience has taught me nothing else, I know that fear shrinks while love embraces, and I’m damn sure which one I expect my government to choose. I’m not lonely, high on a hill anymore, but I can’t change the law. You, high on Capital Hill, can.

I was born into a system that has benefited a white, straight patriarchy for many hundreds of years, but I will not die leaving it the same way. I also won’t die if two men kiss. Neither will marriage. Neither will the Australian Government.


Matthew Lee Robinson

Matthew Lee Robinson is an Australian composer/lyricist and performer currently based in New York City. He is a Churchill Fellow, a recipient of the Australia Council Music Fellowship and works with young performers across Australia. His first musical Metro Street received five Helpmann Award nominations, his latest musical ATLANTIS is in development with Tony-winning Newsies choreographer Christopher Gattelli, and will  make his Carnegie Hall debut later this month.

Robinson married his partner, Scott Morris, in a ceremony at Auckland Town Hall on 21 May, 2016.

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