Kim Christian / AAPIMAGE
George Foulkes-Taylor and Emily, who started dating around New Year's Eve last year, didn't know what to expect when it came to being out and proud in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
The couple worried they might have to “straighten up” their image a bit to get by in the remote mining town of 30,000 people, located 600km east of Perth.
Both Foulkes-Taylor, 24, and Emily, 27, had grown up in Kalgoorlie, but came out in their twenties. When Foulkes-Taylor moved back home from Perth in February, it was the first time either of them had been in an out queer relationship while living in the town.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Foulkes-Taylor told BuzzFeed News.
“We’d sort of had conversations, Emily and I, because she hadn’t dated a woman in Kalgoorlie before either … We thought, when I get back we might not be able to hold hands in public.”
Emily (left) and George Foulkes-Taylor.
But their fears turned out to be unfounded.
“We’ve never had anything major happen to us in Kalgoorlie, which I understand is a unique situation and not consistent with a lot of other people’s experiences,” Foulkes-Taylor said.
“For me, friends have always been supportive. In terms of the wider circle of people I interact with, they’ve said 'You seem really happy at the moment, in this relationship'. And I am.”
That was before the postal survey on same-sex marriage kicked off — and the couple found themselves at the centre of a grassroots campaign to counter the mass of “no” material being distributed in Kalgoorlie.
In the days after the government announced the survey, and attention of the national media was firmly on same-sex marriage, the couple viscerally felt increased scrutiny on their relationship during a run-of-the-mill trip to Woolies.
“I noticed that so many people were aware of us. I felt really uncomfortable – it’s obviously a place we go and get groceries quite often — and for the first time, I noticed people were checking us out, second glances,” Foulkes-Taylor said.
“It was really weird and uncomfortable. We got the basics and got out of there.”
Then flyers from the “no” campaign group the Coalition for Marriage started arriving in their letterbox, and in that of their friends and family.
“When I was growing up in Kalgoorlie I didn’t know being gay was an option,” Foulkes-Taylor said. “I just had no exposure to it. My parents are not super conservative or anything, but there was just no one in Kalgoorlie who knew about it.”
“If I got [the Coalition for Marriage] flyer in my letter box when I was a kid and starting to understand things… I would have thought to myself, 'I will keep this buried for a bit longer, this is a bad thing'.”
Nothing had arrived from the “yes” campaign — so Foulkes-Taylor, who works for the WA government and is a member of the Kalgoorlie branch of the Labor party, decided to take matters into their own hands.
Foulkes-Taylor designed some flyers and got them printed locally, at first paying out of their own pocket.
But as word got around, people started saying “We want to donate to cover costs” and 20 people ended up chipping in to completely cover the $ 840 spent on printing runs.
The project grew larger than expected when it came to distribution, too.
“I originally just asked a bunch of people if they could take 20 flyers just for their street. But they would come back and say, I want 200, I’ll walk around my neighbourhood,” Foulkes-Taylor said.
“I got a big map of Kalgoorlie and marked out areas to go.”
To date, the loose group of friends and acquaintances have distributed 3,500 of the flyers around Kalgoorlie. There were posters for local businesses to put up in their windows, too.
“I know that’s not very many compared to how many 'No' flyers have gone around [here],” Foulkes-Taylor said. “It’s kind of died down a bit since a lot of people in Kalgoorlie have already gotten their ballots and posted them back.”
But Foulkes-Taylor, and Emily, were heartened by the community response: “People have come to us and said, we just wanted to let you know we’re voting 'yes', and we’ve encouraged our friends to do so.”
Recently, they went to get fish and chips at a local shop and were surprised to be met with a wall of support for “yes”.
“When we went in to pick it up, we saw four 'choose love' posters on the fridge door, a little rainbow flower pin on the hat of the worker at the counter, and on our pack of fish and chips someone had quickly scribbled in texta 'We voted 'yes!'.”
Foulkes-Taylor stressed that the survey had been an isolating experience for a lot of people in rural and regional areas – and urged straight supporters of marriage equality to be explicit about their support.
“It’s such a shitfuck of a time. It’s so confusing,” they said. “I know a lot of people have been kind of forced to come out a bit during this time…I’m usually quite a private person, but this whole process has forced me to be very clear with my sexuality and who I'm dating.”
“If you have someone in your life in that community, ring them up and tell them that you love them.”