Socialist Alternative member and co-convenor of Equal Love WA Amber Maxwell passed away a year ago. Miranda Wood, education vice president at Curtin University Student Guild, gave the following commemoration at an Equal Love rally held on 16 August.
Amber Maxwell was a beacon of hope for our struggle.
Since she got involved in politics as a very young trans teenager, which is no mean feat, she was, in every sense, a tireless fighter for marriage equality and for human rights.
She was a feature at every rally, be it for Aboriginal rights, students, refugees, Palestine or the unions. She was fighting and rallying, quite literally, until the day she left us.
Amber believed the most important thing for the equal marriage campaign was to build it as far and wide as possible, and to involve absolutely as many people as possible. From the public opinion polls that saw support for marriage equality climb over the years to the overwhelming support we have now, to the countless rallies across the country, to the day when the Labor Party in 2011, as a result of the campaign, changed their platform to support equal marriage rights.
Outside that Labor Party conference in Sydney, we attended the biggest ever rally for LGBTI rights in Australia’s history with 10,000 other people – that was us. It’s because we came out on the streets, we raised our banners, we pushed and we shoved and refused to be quiet. Now, more than ever, we need to keep it up.
Amber faced many of the problems that trans people face, that are such a cruel refrain on the LGBTI community – homelessness, depression and suicide that ultimately claimed her. She constantly struggled to find a place to live, to find enough money to buy food, to fight for the basic right to be called a woman.
But fight she did. Even when she had to scrounge the bus money to go to rallies and events, she did it. And many of us here today would remember her stridently chairing rallies, giving fiery speeches and chanting – so terribly out of time!
Amber regarded her oppression as a trans woman not as an injury, but as a weapon. The point of saying this is not to drown in tears because we have lost such a beloved friend, but to take heart from it and follow her example.
On 24 August last year, Amber left us. Our friend, who, like so many of us, faced torment so often, always countered it with a fight. But along the way she found friends and she inspired other young people, and other LGBTI people, to hang on – to tighten their grip, and to take the struggle for equal marriage rights into their own hands. She inspired so many to fight alongside us.
The ban on equal marriage, from both Labor and the Liberals, is not just to stop us from getting married. It normalises bigotry; it legitimises bigotry and lets people like Tony Abbott get away with saying he’s threatened by LGBTI people. What an absolute shame.
This rally marks the 10th anniversary of the ban on equal marriage. It also marks the 10th anniversary of our fight. It’s been a strong fight, and a proud one. But equal marriage rights are not inevitable. We still have a way to go, and there’s much to do.
So rather than mourn her passing, let’s celebrate her presence. Let’s celebrate how far we have come, how much we have achieved and how we’ve linked up our fight with the fights of others. We campaign not just for marriage rights, but at the heart of our struggle is the campaign to stop LGBTI homelessness, to stop the institutionalised queerphobia, to end legislated homophobia and to stand up and say to fuckers like attorney general George Brandis, he will never have the right to be a bigot.
Let’s keep fighting: for marriage equality, for LGBTI rights, for our human rights. And let’s never forget Amber, who if she was with us today, would shout the loudest of us all.