“We don’t take a side on political issues” and “That’s not how we do things here” or “We don’t want to alienate people”. These were a few of the reasons given to Bunnings employees proudly wearing “yes” badges when the demand to remove them was made by management.
Staff members at one outlet of the hardware retail giant, owned by Wesfarmers, donned the badges in early September as the “yes” campaign kicked off. The badges quickly became a mark of defiance, however, as management’s hostility toward this simple show of solidarity with LGBTI people became increasingly apparent.
After being told to take off their “yes” badges, multiple staff members refused, instead decking themselves out in more badges. “I hope they try to tell me to take it off”, said one employee. “It’s fucked that they’d be against them in the first place.”
When individuals were slowly targeted and forced to remove their badges, many took to wearing them on their shorts, shoes or hidden on their aprons, cheekily flashing them if only to show that management couldn’t crush their sense of solidarity entirely.
Those people Bunnings would hate to alienate are the “no” voters — a minority in Australia, clinging to discrimination and reaction. While polls consistently show that a majority support marriage equality in Australia, the self-proclaimed “silent majority” of bigots are far from silent. Homophobia and transphobia are all around us, especially now as the campaign against marriage equality has progressed.
History is on our side, but right now people want to take a stand against every sign of bigotry. Wearing an equal rights badge is part of that. Many workers saw it as throwing down the gauntlet to anyone who would feel “alienated” by a rainbow “yes” badge: a dare to raise their prejudice, so it could be smacked down.
More than that, being proudly and openly in support of marriage equality is an important sign to all those who have faced bigotry that we stand with them, as do the majority of workers in Australia.