Trigger Warning: Homophobia, Racism, Offensive language.
When I was in 14 and in Year 9 at my Catholic, all girls school in Canberra, I fell into a group of friends. We were a fairly average group of 14 and 15 year olds. We did our school work, we had crushes (on celebrities, teachers, and other kids our age), we hung out on weekends and we ate our lunches together in a sunny spot in the courtyard.
We were not typically popular with the 'cool' kids. We had fun, we were silly and we were pretty good friends. I was never considered one of the cool crowd my entire childhood or adolescent life so it didn't really fuss me.
But a good proportion of the cool group didn't like us. I don't know why- we never did anything to them. They, however, deemed us losers and decided to dislike us. That's when some clever soul gave us a nickname- the 'Dirty Multicultural Lesbians' (or the DMCLs for short).
Soon almost everyone in our year group called us this. It was what we became known as. It started being snickered in corridors, but soon was openly embraced by almost every girl in Year 9 and said to our faces.
We were 'multicultural' because not everyone in our group of friends was white. We had girls of Asian, European and Middle Eastern backgrounds in our group instead of identical little white girls with pale skin and light hair.
We were 'lesbians' because we hugged when greeting each other at the start or end of the day.
The name was intended to humiliate us. To these 14 and 15 year old girls, the biggest insults they could come up with was that we were 'multicultural lesbians'. Being a multicultural lesbian was, to their small minds, the worst thing you could be. We weren't 'sluts' or 'nerds' or 'bitches'. We were the worse than that.
Luckily, my friends and I didn't think like that. In fact, we held a fake wedding at lunchtime one day, with a fake ceremony and cake, just to show it. We didn't care that they thought we were lesbians or multicultural- we thought they were bigoted, vapid, idiots.
Eventually they lost interest in us. By the time we were in year 12, a fair few of the girls who had called us DMCLs had come out themselves. It suddenly became okay to be gay. But I'll never forget the malice behind those girls and what they said.
The point of this is that the entire experience speaks to the entrenched discrimination that is faced by non-whites and the LGBT community in Australia. To these girls, the first 15 years of their life had told them that to be one of these things were bad and these people were other.
What made them think like this? Their parents, their schooling, the media, society in general? I don't know. But the fact that the name was generally accepted by most of the school, with little shock or objection, shows that not many people thought it was wrong (or if they did they kept that to themselves).
Something else that is very telling is that I don't think any of these girls thought they were being racist or homophobic. I'm sure if you spoke to them today, as 23 year olds, they would deny that they ever were and downplay how they treated us (or maybe they wouldn't see anything wrong with it? I hope not). These people are now out in the world, working, studying, interacting with others. And it worries me what they in turn will tell their children, how they will treat others. We have no chance of making things better unless we address issues like this.
And from what I've seen, things haven't gotten much better. 'Gay' is the word of choice for many young people when taking about something bad or uncool. Young girls and boys still insult each other by calling each other with homophobic slurs. Any non Caucasian person can tell you of the racism they have suffered in their life.
As long as being 'gay' or a 'lesbian' or 'multicultural' is an insult in Australia, we have a problem. We need more education for the next generation and we need to clearly say in public discourse that there is nothing wrong, shameful, bad or otherwise about being any of these things. In fact they are to be celebrated- that so many people of different backgrounds choose Australia as their home, and that there are people of all sexual orientations that are proud to say so. We need to make it clear that using homophobic or racist slurs in unacceptable to be able to improve our country.