At the announcement of the Same Same 25 last night, Adam Sutton’s honest and at times emotional speech had the crowd including Senior Sergeant Joy Murphy of Victoria Police, Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby, Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull and photographer William Yang silent and transfixed for ten minutes. Here it is in full.
My head is spinning a bit to be standing up here. As we all know life can take you strange places, and this is not where I thought I’d be on this Tuesday night in October.
A few days ago I was driving the desert, then swimming with turtles off the far north-west coast, surfing on Ningaloo reef and sleeping on the sand on the Monte Bello islands, chasing a bit of adventure. So to be standing here in the Art Gallery of NSW at an event like this, in company like this, and sharing an honour like this, is a big sandstorm for a simple cowboy mind.
I was asked to say a few words on behalf of the 25 amazing people who’ve been honoured here tonight, and that’s a big challenge, to find the words and the emotion because I reckon all of us will be feeling different things, because we’ve all come here down different roads. I reckon I can say one thing without contradiction, and that is that we’re all pretty proud and honoured to have our names on this list.
I guess the reason our names are on the list is because the people who sent in their nominations and the judges who made the final decision saw each of us, in some way or other, as role models – people to look up to, people who somehow change the way other people think, or the way they behave.
Now, for my part I can say that’s a big thing to wrap your head around. Your average person, and I think I am one of those, just doesn’t think of themselves like that. You just think you’re an ordinary person, with ordinary problems, ordinary happenings, ordinary stuff to deal with.
Why would anyone look up to me?
As some of you might have read in my book, Say It Out Loud, I said that to my mate Neil once. I asked him why this was happening to me. I said to him, “I’m nothing special.”
And he got the answer right. He said, “That’s the point.”
An ordinary story is the best kind of story. The light spreads more widely. People can relate, and once they can relate they can learn, they can see their own mistakes and learnings through another, their own pain, their own journey.
When I was a kid, there were no role models like the ones here tonight, or not ones that I ever saw. Let me tell you, i didn’t think there were twenty five gay people in the whole world! And now here I am on a list of twenty five that I know could really have contained many, many thousands of names.
Back then, as a teenager growing up in the country, it was another world. I didn’t have a book I could read, or a TV show I could watch that told me about me. I didn’t talk to anyone except my best mate, and I’m happy to say that my best mate then was my horse. He was the only thing I loved that I thought wouldn’t judge me and hate me for being this way.
I am sure there are many people in this room who have similar stories – loneliness, denial, hating yourself. What a waste of time, but I have to say – what a learning curve. You come out the other side a different person. I am so happy to stand up here tonight as that different person, and to share this room with many other people who have been transformed too – and who are now transforming the lives of others in their different ways.
People are going to ask of course – why is an event like this important? And why have a list like this? It’s fair enough too. But we know why. We here in this room know why. We know that gay kids, let’s say all kids, need role models. They need to hear their own stories. They need to know they are not alone.
It’s when gay people are invisible that they start thinking about making themselves invisible. I know about that. I sat on top of a mountain once, and I was going to jump off. Now I get letters from people who tell me they’ve sat on the edge too, and nearly gone over. They tell me they’ve read my book, or seen me on TV, or heard me on radio, and they say that knowing there was someone else like them pulled them back.
It scares me and humbles me sometimes to hear those stories, but in the end I can only be glad that they’ve found something to inspire them. So I keep on telling my story, as honestly and simply as I can.
There is a bigger picture too, and I reckon it’s that if we are to project a worthwhile example to gay people, we also have to recognise that a lot of the things we are talking about are universal. In other words, we want to reach everyone. Not just gay people, but all people. The beauty of the lives of the people honoured here tonight is that they do just that.
Everyone can learn from them. I look through the list of names and I see 25 great examples. What inspiring dedication, inspiration and influence our community produces! Yes, of course, for the benefit of itself, for that big messy thing we call the gay community.
But look wider too. What dedication, inspiration and influence we produce for the wider community. For everyone. I see 25 great gay people. I see 25 great people. And I see just 25 people, doing what people do – striving and reaching, learning and teaching, rising and falling, inspiring and being inspired, searching and finding, taking, and most importantly giving.
Beyond being gay, that I hope is what we have in common – the blessing of the opportunity, whether given to us or fought for, to give a little bit of ourselves – whether it’s a little lesson, a little time, a little money, a little talent, a little courage, a little wisdom. And in my case, if you’ve read my book, you’ll know more than a little random stupidity. I don’t mind sharing that. It’s those bits you learn from. And I think we’d all agree, whatever you give, you get so much more back.
On behalf of the 25, I say we’re honoured, we’re proud, we’re humbled. And by now we’re probably very thirsty.
I’m going to finish off with a few words that a friend who knows me pretty well wrote for me today.
You can only be inspiring if you are being inspired. You can only teach if you are still learning. And you can only be influential if you are being influenced. What that means is, we’re all in this together. We are all on a list of the most influential gay and lesbian Australians. And just one more thing, something I’ve learned over the years of muddling through – wisdom is not about knowing the answers, it’s about asking the questions.
Let’s keep on asking the questions.
Thank you and good night.