A cute canine unwittingly found himself at the center of Australia’s heated same-sex marriage debate when a stranger tried to attack him for wearing a pro-equality bandana.
Claire Sutherland, an opinion editor for News Corp., tweeted on Wednesday that “some mouth-breathing cretin in the park tried to kick [her] dog” the prior evening. Sutherland’s dog walker took her rescue, Mack, for a stroll to the local off-leash dog park in Melbourne. Mack went up to a stranger for a sniff and a pet. Sutherland tells INTO that the man “took a swing at him” with his foot and missed.
So some mouth-breathing cretin in the park tried to kick my dog while shouting homophobic slurs. Australia you have truly shat the bed. pic.twitter.com/ptPd5Oz0Rz
— Claire Sutherland (@brolga2) September 26, 2017
That’s when the unidentified assailant, described as a “normal” looking guy in his 30s or 40s, began to verbally harass the dog walker. He called her a “degenerate” and a “perverted f****ng poofter,” the latter is a pejorative slang term used to target gay men.
When Sutherland met her dog walker 20 minutes after the incident, she claims the woman was “still shaken.”
“I was pretty shocked,” Sutherland says in a phone interview. “I wondered when I put [the bandana] on if I would get any negative comments, but it didn’t occur to me that someone would actually try and kick Mack. Surely they must know he didn’t tie it on himself.”
Sutherland, who wrote about the altercation in an op-ed for the Herald Sun, says that she figured that the marriage equality fight would “bring out the odd idiot here or there.” But she didn’t expect the backlash the plebiscite has elicited. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in August that Australia would hold a nonbinding vote on same-sex marriage, the results of which will advise lawmakers on whether to introduce a legalization bill.
Final numbers will be released in November. Parliament, however, doesn’t have to take the public’s recommendation.
Prior to the plebiscite’s announcement, LGBTQ advocates warned that putting civil rights up to a vote could be harmful for the country’s queer and trans population. Recent headlines have borne out their fears. A home in Brisbane covered in rainbow flags was targeted with swastika graffiti earlier this month. Leaflets distributed by “No” campaigners have referred to LGBTQ people as “child abusers” and “terrorists.”
Sutherland claims that the campaign to block same-sex marriage has warned that legalizing marriage equality would be the end of free speech. If an equality bill passes, opponents say that Australians will be “prosecuted” just for expressing the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“They’ve run this scare campaign that I think has been quite effective,” Sutherland says, although she notes that both sides have been responsible for their share of attacks.
She adds that the increasing toxicity of the debate has been “very disheartening.”
“I’ve always thought of the majority of Australians as people who are fairly live and let live,” Sutherland claims. “I haven’t changed my mind about that. But I’m kind of embarrassed about the world seeing the things that have been going on. I feel like this whole country needs a good talking to.”
As a straight woman, Sutherland says she’s been “very privileged not to experience discrimination or abuse like this” on a daily basis. She claims that the incident has given a “tiny, tiny little taste” of what the LGBTQ community is going through.
If there’s one positive outcome of the incident, it’s that Sutherland has received “overwhelming” support in the days since her tweet went viral. Her post has been favorited on Twitter over 17,000 times. In response, followers have been tweeting Sutherland photos of their pets under the #DoggosForYes hashtag.
But Sutherland says that Mack, who was adopted five years ago from a shelter, is doing just fine. She explains that the experience was “awful,” but she’s most worried for her dog walker, who was subjected to this homophobic abuse.
If nothing else, Sutherland hopes that the public outcry will inspire Australians to be a little kinder to each other.
“I never imagined it would get this much attention, but it really struck a chord,” Sutherland says. “I think it’s because it was about a dog. We all love dogs, and that’s something we can be united onwhatever side of the fence you’re on.”