I’ve coined a new word.

Plebicide, n. Where a person is killed as a result of a “public vote” or the campaign leading up to it.

Unless you’ve had your head in the clouds for the last couple of days, you’re probably aware that there’s a plebiscite afoot.

It’s naturally a delaying tactic by a beleaguered Prime Minister to block Marriage Equality without causing the kind of outright revolt that could cost him the leadership and his party the election.  We’ve seen 4 Liberals declare they’ll cross the floor in the last 24 hours.  It’s not really working out so well.  And why would it?  After all, Tony won the case against the ACT’s Same Sex Marriage bill by arguing that it was a power of the Commonwealth Parliament and that the Marriage Act covered the field.  He argued that it was a decision the Parliament should make when Ireland had their referendum saying that “questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament”. In a time of budget emergencies, a plebiscite is also going to cost us about $100 million dollars… Which credit card is Tony planning to put this glorified opinion poll on?

More concerning than Tony doing what Tony does is that some of our leading advocates over at Australian Marriage Equality have decided to back the idea.

Despite previously slamming referendums for this issue, with National Director Rodney Croome saying “I fear a referendum would become a platform for fear and hatred”, we learn that they now support a plebiscite “on the basis it is at the next election which doesn’t delay it.” according to Deputy Campaign Directory Ivan Hinton-Teoh.

In response to a suggestion by Kevin Rudd back in 2013 about holding a plebiscite, Croome said

“A plebiscite is non- binding, so it also comes back to the politicians’ final decision.  So that just means we go through an expensive and divisive process, only to end up where we are now.”

I can’t quite figure out what happened to change their position.  The potential for harm and vitriolic debate is still there. It will still be expensive. It will still not guarantee any law to be passed.

The thing I do know, the thing that I understand with painful clarity is that people who come in contact with the vitriolic, shaming, hate-filled messages we see appearing when it’s just politicians voting on the matter have their mental health harmed.  Many DiGS people aren’t in the best of mental health as a result of enduring years of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, etc. For an atrociously high number of these people, the campaign before a plebiscite will be the last straw and we will lose them to plebicide.

Their lives are worth more than, as AME themselves told us, getting us no further along the road to Marriage Equality.

To everyone who isn’t condemning this already, I say:

Every drop of queer blood spilt as a result of the plebiscite is on the hands of not only the liberal party, but those who support their abominable suggestion. When they speak, we die. It is honestly that simple.

I will not be a party to Plebicide.

Homophobia thrives in silence.

Content warnings: Violence, Homophobia.

As you may know, we’re a week after IDAHOBIT.
As you may also know, I grew up on the North West Coast of Tasmania.
Why are they related?  In a 2005 study, NW Tasmania was named the third most homophobic region in Australia.

I don’t talk or think a lot about the years from 1997 to 2003. They were painful and my first reaction is to bury them. I experienced homophobia before I even knew the word. Before I’d even accepted the fact that I was gay.  I was bullied at school, back before bullying was A Serious Thing.  I believe it was homophobia that made me less than human in the eyes of enough of my fellow students – and maybe even some of the teachers – that I was an acceptable target.  My friends at high school were mostly the teachers.  Thank you for keeping my high school life bearable.

But homophobia thrives in silence. So today, I’m talking about some of my experiences.

There were lots of incidents of me being called all sorts of derogatory synonyms for “gay man”, and I was nicknamed “Dildo” but the verbal assault was so commonplace I can’t recall specific incidents. I was physically assaulted twice in my high-school years – 1997 to 2000.

In 1998, in the halls at school, I had a student come up behind me at the lockers and pull a length of chain hard against my neck for what felt like minutes but could only have been seconds before they released me.  The school issued him an overnight suspension at 2:30pm.  So they were obviously *very* concerned about seriously inconveniencing him for my assault.  I don’t remember anyone from the school really checking that I was ok – I guess the teachers who might have cared never really knew.

And then, in ’99 I’d hit puberty, realised I liked boys, and continued to throw myself even harder into the fairly Evangelical/Pentecostal Baptist Church I’d been going to. As a Same-sex-attracted Pentecostal type, this meant a lot of private prayer and agony trying to pray myself straight, along with not daring to tell anyone for fear I would disappoint them.

That was also the year that when I was walking home and someone decided that it’d be hilarious to drop a lit match on my head.  They laughed as I freaked out, the incident was reported to the school, but to my recollection, nothing was ever done to the student in question as it was off school grounds.

Neither of my attackers mentioned sexuality during those attacks. They didn’t have to – I knew what I was picked on for even if I didn’t know why they thought I was gay.

By mid-99 I’d joined an art enterprise, making kiln-formed glassware.  This gave me somewhere to be that didn’t involve other students during breaks. I was early to every class, and basically made sure that everywhere I went where there were other students I was visible to a teacher.  The price of safety was the surrender of any kind of unmonitored social interaction with my peer group.

Internalised homophobia made my life even more miserable.  I spent a lifetime receiving clear messages from my parents that Gay wasn’t OK.  It turns out that while I was burying myself in bible study and prayer one of my good friends had accepted himself and was surreptitiously giving me signals. Perhaps if I’d allowed myself to admit it to anyone to even contemplate it being OK at that point, I’d have had a happier existence. But I was so focussed on “getting better”…

In 2001 College happened and I found my own little group of outcasts – who I said nothing to about being gay until I eventually accepted it myself as year 12 ended in 2002.

And now for Act II: The Church

I was moving away, so I told my trusted friends in the church. Almost all of them had negative things to say to me. I remember that out of all the people I told, there was only one who said anything even remotely supportive. She was the oldest church member I had told, and simply asked me to make sure I stayed safe – the safe sex talk and all. Another of these “trusted friends” betrayed my confidence, telling a church leader who came to my house and invited me to go for a walk and a talk, and his blunders were so spectacular I actually arrived home feeling simultaneously sick and triumphant.  Some of these people I’ve never spoken to since. The support network I had built up in this group felt like it basically evaporated over the space of about 4 weeks.

I moved away to Launceston, and landed myself at another church. I went to a youth bible study group there and was relatively open about my life, but a few months in, after about 6 weeks of “private debate” with a couple of the girls leading the group, eventually I and my (non-christian) boyfriend at the time were invited to coffee.  As they invited me, I just knew what it was.  I was told that I could either renounce my homosexuality and boyfriend then and there in front of him, or I had to stop coming to the study group.  Such amazing respect for another human being, I thought – even if I had been willing to renounce, I wouldn’t have been willing to do it in a way that would hurt someone I loved like that. Another support network, this time in my new town, was gone.

A week later, the pastor from the same church called and asked to come and see me. Again, I knew what it had to be about. I did the dutiful parishioner thing and baked.  The smell of cinnamon did, and still does make me feel safe and at home.  I had already learned to use manners as armour.  I invited him in, and gave him a slice of delicious warm cake with butter, and a cup of coffee. After we exchanged some pleasantries, he directed me to stop taking communion. I felt like I was being told that I was unworthy to be considered a Christian.  I think I used the word “excommunicated” at the time, though I know that’s not a Baptist thing.  I never darkened the doorway of that church ever again. Another support network was gone.

Whenever I post something, anywhere, where I call out Christians, I invariably have someone comment that not all Christians are like that. I know. I spent another 4 years in the Uniting Church with some absolutely wonderful accepting people before I came to the conclusion that Christianity wasn’t for me.  I really do understand that #notAllChristians.  I have to tell you though, these three incidents aren’t my only experiences of Christians’ discrimination, just the most personal.  The fact of the matter is that these days, when I discover someone is Christian, I tense up, I choose my words carefully, and I watch closely for signs of homophobia – and sadly, I discover its presence all too often.  Occasionally I discover that someone is a decent human being *despite* being Christian.

So why is all this here? Homophobia affected my life most severely while I was the most vulnerable, and I walk through my life now wearing rainbows as armour to keep bigots at bay. I’m wary of people’s motives.  Watching, waiting for them to try to hurt me.

Homophobia kills.  It’s not just the obvious maniacs who kill us outright.  It’s the constant stream of insults, the constant reminders that society thinks we’re less than. It’s the support networks that evaporate when we eventually tell people.  It’s the Christians who only ever pop up to remind us that not all Christians think like that when we post things that criticise Christians, and who won’t be openly supportive for fear of their own stigmatisation.  It’s how tiring it is just to try and stay safe. It’s the fact that homophobia is so pervasive in our society that internalised homophobia is a thing.

Worst of all, homophobia kills in such a way that almost none of the people who contribute to our deaths are made to take any responsibility for them.

Homophobia thrives in silence. Speak up when you hear it.

PS. My parents are quite the supporters these days. They changed their views.

“I do and I wish you could too” or “I won’t until you can” – The Straight Ally Marriage Equality Quandry

While it’s not something every couple considers, it’s becoming more commonplace to see couples refute or combat the Howard Clause in their wedding ceremony. And I have to say, at the weddings I’ve been to where a statement was read or a point was made that the legally required words hurt and that the couple did not agree with them, I’ve appreciated the inclusion.  Every time the Howard Clause is read, it hurts a bit.

The Howard Clause: “Marriage, according to the law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”

Clementine Ford posted an article suggesting that straight people can put pressure on the government to legislate marriage equality by refusing to get married until their queer friends can too.  Same sex marriage needs straight people to take a stand in Australia (The Age, Feb 3rd)

She makes an excellent point, that all the Marriage Equality affirmations during weddings make no difference to the political landscape, though I think the impact it makes on the emotional landscape of the guests should not be discounted.  This is where our agreement ends.

As a concept, I appreciate the notion that some people are refusing to get married until I can I appreciate that they’re putting their protections off until I can have the same. But I don’t agree with Clementine that straight people choosing not to get married puts any pressure anywhere. Moreover, as someone with straight friends, as someone without the right to get married to the person I love, I would feel terrible (appreciative of the gesture, but terrible) that they had chosen not to get married and enjoy the benefits of marriage for me.

To pick a far-too-recent example, imagine progressive straight people deciding not to have sex until gay men could…

So what is a straight ally to do?

If you, as an engaged straight person, want to stand up for marriage equality, then as part of your wedding preparations book in to see your MP AND your local opposite party candidate. It’ll take probably 2 hours tops to see both of them. Tell them you don’t want to hurt your queer friends with The Howard Clause, but you’ve discovered that you’re legally obliged to as part of your wedding. Tell them you’re taking time out from your wedding preparations to talk to them about it.(Also, I really do appreciate the counterclause in the ceremony – keep that in there)

Tell them you’re angry that you have to blemish your wedding day with outdated bigotry. Tell them that you consider it unacceptable not to counter it. Tell them you’re upset that every government since 2004, Labor and Liberal, have forced you to make your wedding day a political occasion. Be furious with them. Unleash Bridezilla, (and Groomzilla, for that matter). Make them understand that the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 causes straight couples pain as well.

A celebrant friend of mine told me that about 1 in 3 couples who come to her propose a countermeasure to the Howard Clause.  If you want to make a difference, then just not getting married won’t cut the mustard. Including a countermeasure won’t change the law. Your MP won’t even know you’re doing it unless you tell them so and why.  But having 1 in 3 engaged couples rock up on their doorsteps upset that the government is interfering in their wedding and forcing them to hurt people? That’s going to have some legs.

The fact that you can tell me that you’ve chosen not to get married in support of my cause is as much a reminder of what I can’t have as you choosing to get married anyway. Don’t deny yourself the protections I value – I value them for a reason. Deny yourself the simplicity of inaction during your wedding preparations. Don’t deny yourself rights you can have because I can’t have them. Instead, deny yourself the comfort of staying silent and not confronting the people who are supposed to represent you in government. 

find out where your MP stands

Why is the Thorpedo in our sights?

He graced the front page of the papers. I AM GAY writ large under a portrait photo taking up the entire page.

It made me so angry! He hadn’t actually officially come out yet. Information was leaked from his Parkinson interview and it became news.

For what must be the final time, Ian Thorpe was once again robbed of being allowed to come out in his own time, at his own pace, and in his own way. He had made his peace and decided to tell the world, and Newscorp couldn’t let that decision be his own!

I don’t think Ian Thorpe has been in an interview that lasted more than about 20 seconds that didn’t question his sexuality. And when he tells everyone that he’s straight, we instantly ignore his direct statement and run with the rumour that he’s just not ready yet.

I was “straight” until I started coming out at 17. Every time I was told or asked whether I was gay by my peers, who seemed anxious to tear me to shreds for it, I would reiterate that I was not gay, I would retreat a little further toward Narnia, a little deeper into the closet, a little more from everyone and everything. And so I have to wonder: if this wasn’t happening to Ian Thorpe when he was just 17 and the world was watching his every move, if the public hadn’t felt it had the right to demand his full disclosure of a life he might not even have understood himself, if the public hadn’t demanded he make a decision he must have felt they would then hold him to for the rest of his life…

… Would it have been as hard for him to get to self-acceptance and coming out as it was?

I didn’t tell my parents I was gay until I was 18 and out of home, let alone declare to the world “I AM GAY” on national television.

Why do we feel we have that right? Why do we feel that we own enough of Ian Thorpe’s soul that we can demand he come out when we want him to, rather than allowing him to figure himself out in his own time? Why do we feel we should ignore his right to identify as he chooses and is, a right which activists like me work towards constantly?

And why on earth do we feel we have the right to criticise him for coming out, or tell him that he didn’t struggle.

A friend sent me a screenshot which is so ugly that I can’t even pass it off as satirical.

His ‘coming out’ makes a mockery of those who had actual hardships in dealing with their sexuality and their attempts in being honest with their friends and family about this… Sometimes resulting in disowning, bashing, homelessness and even suicide.

This is a f****n’ circus and if you’re lining up to heap praise and adulation on him then you’re a joke of a human being

This person is gay. He therefore must understand at least part of what it’s like to come out. The fact that he refers to Ian’s public and national coming out with air quotes trivialises the very public journey that the Thorpedo has been on, battling depression while in the eyes of the media.

While I see a joke of a human being, it isn’t Ian Thorpe.

I’ve also seen criticism of him being paid to do the interview.
If someone offered me $400k to say something I wanted to say anyway, why would I not take it? Even more than that, Thorpe is a brand and product rolled into one. It’s not advisable to give your product away for free even if you want everyone to have it. Can we stop with the critique of interviews for $$$? They’re only interesting if they reveal a conflict of interest.

I hope never to see “I AM GAY” again on the front page of a paper – not because I don’t think Thorpe should have come out publicly – as a public figure, that was inevitable. Not even because “being gay” shouldn’t be news – though it shouldn’t. I never want to see it on a front page like that again because it will mean that some other poor soul has been subjected to the same media scrutiny that Thorpe has, and likely with the same justifications – that people have a right to know. They don’t. We actually don’t have a right to know about his private life.

Perhaps we, and the media in general, should stop acting like we do.

That’s the way the condom ruptures

This article is explicit and confronting. It talks about sex and about sexual health. I make no apologies for that, as this was an incredibly confronting time and one in which I discovered I just had to be matter of fact about everything.

I had just moved. It was my first sex in probably a month. I came. He came. And then the drama began…

“Fuck!” I said, as soon as I climbed off my bedmate. “The condom broke!” It was odd to see, little rubber ring still around the base, but the rest of the rubber limp against his groin, rather than still enveloping the deflating member. He wasn’t exactly a one night stand, but we weren’t exactly dating either. I had never been in this situation before, and neither had he.

He had a shower, I had a shower. He told me he had tested negative recently, had only been safe since then and that he would get tested again. I told him my last test date and that I was also negative. I believed him, but I couldn’t convince myself that I was believing him for a good reason. So I called one of my closest friends, M, and blurted the situation out to him. “What the fuck do I do now?” M is always incredibly matter of fact. “Well you have two choices, you can do nothing and hope that everything is ok, or you can go to the hospital, and demand Post-Exposure Prophylaxis” (PEP) He warned me that I might have to demand it and to make sure I got it before I left. He suggested I go to a hospital near Gay Central, and told me to go now and that I could call him any time I needed to.

I arrived at RBWH at 11:03pm, about an hour after the break happened. I told the triage nurse that I was there because a condom broke and I wanted to make sure I got Post Exposure Prophylaxis (in keeping with M’s advice to ask and keep asking). She was quite understanding and looked sympathetic, asking if I’d asked his status, whether he said if he was negative or positive (in my state of confusion I just answered “yes” to the first question) and whether or not I’d been on PEP before.

I was processed by their clerk and went to sit in the waiting room.

It was at this point that I started feeling incredibly concerned for myself, and decided that my story, however it turned out, might be useful for someone else who would otherwise have no idea what to expect. Because I certainly didn’t.

I was called in for some basic observations and asked again what had happened, and some medical history. I was a bit miffed by their writing “denies” when I told them “no” to a question, because it felt like they didn’t believe me – looking back I suspect that it’s just a terminology thing to be clear about what they are told vs what they have actually verified.

Looking around the waiting room, seeing other people prioritised in front of me, I realised that it could be much worse. I wasn’t in any physical pain and my life wasn’t in immediate danger. I was there mere hours after my potential exposure so PEP had an incredibly high chance of working if he was lying or wrong.

Eventually I saw the doctor, who asked me similar questions to the nurses, but in more detail (“did he come inside you?” and similar). He went away, got me a PEP starter pack, and asked the obs nurse to draw some blood. The doctor advised me of the potential side effects of the medication he was giving me, and told me to make sure I was practising safer sex. He stopped there and looked a bit sheepish, saying he knew I was this time as well, and that rather I needed to continue practising safer sex if I was having sex. He also told me I would get a call in the morning with an appointment time for the Infectious Diseases Clinic.

I got home at about 4am and emailed my immediate boss and her boss saying I’d been at hospital and was ok, but might not make it to work later and would have a number of follow-up appointments I would need to go to. I got myself up at 6:30am feeling refreshed and went to work. My boss was away, and my boss’s boss came into my office and asked what the hell I was doing there if I’d been at hospital that late. I responded with something like “doing normal” and he just told me to go home when I felt like it (and preferably to make it soon.) it was very much in a “do what you need to” kind of way.

I have a good relationship with my boss, and explained the situation to her in more detail when she returned (what the trip to the hospital was and the reason for the follow-ups) and she was incredibly understanding about the whole thing (in context, I’d only recently been made permanent, and didn’t want it to look like I was going to be unreliable now I was permanent.)

To start with I was on a combination of Combivir and Kaletra. I spent a lot of time feeling nauseous and tired in the first couple of days. There was diarrhea too. (I told you I’ve been doing matter of fact, and also that this would be confronting)

On the fourth day, I went to the Infectious Diseases Clinic. I felt awkward, I was an early appointment that day so I was sitting alone in a waiting room which was open to the hallway, whose only posters had “HIV” and some other STI on them. I felt very conspicuous.(handy hint: if you’re facing the posters, anyone else looking at them will only ever see the back of your head.)

They asked me how I was going on the starter pack and what symptoms I was having… I explained and they suggested switching Combivir for Truvada to lessen my symptoms. It helped. I didn’t feel tired or nauseous any more. They also explained what happens from here, being a 2 week appointment, 6 week appointment and blood test, and a 3 month appointment and blood test. They also told me that I was negative based on the sample they took in Emergency. I called the other guy and let him know my results. His came in a couple days later, all clear, he tells me. Again, I believed him, but had no good basis to, so I decided to continue with the PEP for the full course, to be safe…

I have lousy timing. About a week into this whole thing, I was introduced to a boy. We hit it off majorly. About a week in, and after we’d had sex, I explained my situation. That conversation was hard and scary for me. This boy I really quite liked, I felt I hadn’t really done the right thing by, and I was scared that by telling him about it (and the fact that I hadn’t told him sooner) I might push him away. Fortunately for me, I was wrong! He was incredibly understanding, including about me failing to disclose my “unknown” status beforehand.

After the first fortnight of the Truvada/Kaletra, my body adjusted a bit and my nausea vanished, my other symptoms became a bit less problematic too. I went back to the clinic, felt a bit self-conscious in the waiting room again, and they asked me how the medication was going.
Two weeks later, it was done and I was back to my normal rhythms of everything. Another fortnight, and I got my 6 week test taken, and the following Monday got the result: Negative. Thank fuck! Apparently most people get to a detectable level in 6 weeks. That just left the 3 month. At this point I was pretty confident I was free and clear.

I went to my 3 month appointment after giving my blood sample the Thursday before, and got the news: I was negative! I smilingly told the receptionist on the way out that it was nice to have met her, but I hoped never to see her again in a professional capacity!

I was so relieved. I had gone through moments where I imagined I would be positive. Where I envisioned a life forever taking these pills. And I had, to some degree, made peace with that. I told myself I’d done everything right, and so I would feel no guilt over being positive, if that’s how it turned out. What would be would be, and I’d done everything I could to make sure that what would be would be the thing I wanted it to be. If I was going to be positive it wasn’t through a lack of trying not to be. If I was going to be positive, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world, it was just going to make life a little bit harder and a little more stigmatised.

Fortunately, what would be for me was that negative result. And it’s worth a bit of discomfort and awkwardness for a couple months. While that is a situation I never want to be in again, I would take the meds and do the treatment in a heartbeat. I would encourage anyone I knew to be going through a similar situation to do the same.

The shortest I can say it is: “Get tested regularly, and if you’re potentially exposed, get treatment ASAP”

There are lots of free testing options available at the moment. And if you’re ever in a situation like mine, I’d encourage you to go to the hospital as soon as humanly possible. You can basically change your mind at any time if you start PEP, but if you don’t start, it might be too late if you change your mind later.

I hope this look at my experience helps you somehow.

So… Where to from here?

After the last week, I feel that it is important to step back and reassess how we can further not only Marriage Equality, but LGBTIQ rights across the board.
First, we need a realistic, objective assessment of the task at hand. The Coalition have the majority of seats in the lower house, but not in the upper house. In order to achieve anything in this parliament, we must be able to sway both sides of the chambers. Divisive politics will cause bills passed in one house to fail in the other.

LGBTIQ equality is not the preserve of one party over another! It fits with the Labor belief in fairness and the Liberal belief in equal opportunity.

Moving forward, I believe the campaign needs three things: A mainstream, inclusive, family-friendly tone, a serious commitment to non-partisanship, and a commitment to work in regional areas as well as the capitals. These strategies will give us the ear of the broadest possible cross-section of the community and help us to engage them in the fight for LGBTIQ equality. We need to mobilise everyday Australians, no matter what their political persuasion, to get them talking to their politicians, writing letters, making phone calls, and letting Australian politicians know Australians value equality for all and expect our laws to reflect that. With these principles in mind, we can organise effective, inclusive, family-friendly rallies and events that demonstrate the mainstream support we have for equality in wider Australian society, that draw media attention, and that provide opportunities for members of the public to discuss the issues and further increase the support for our cause.

To further our cause, to further LGBTIQ rights in this country, we need to ensure that all Australians are touched by our campaigns.
We must always remember that LGBTIQ issues are not the province of any one party or group, but are the responsibility of all to address.

Open Letter to the Socialist Alternative

Dear Socialist Alternative members

I can’t tell you how my heart sank as I watched this banner being erected at the Brisbane Marriage Equality Rally.

Socialist Alternative Banner
I don’t have a great shot. On the right it says “Dear Tone, Stahp ur homophobia or else, sincerely de gayz”
On the left, a depiction of Abbott being hung by the neck using a rainbow noose.

Put simply, Socialist Alternative, if that’s your idea of supporting our cause, then we don’t want or need it, leave us alone.

More disturbing to me is that it really reveals how you see us. You seem to see us as a weapon, a tool to get what you want. The only piece of gay imagery on the whole banner is the rainbow used in the noose.

We are not your weapons, and not your tools. We aren’t the rope you’re going to hang Abbott with, and if you think I’m going to do anything *remotely* like fucking Abbott, you’re totally delirious.

These are *our* rights that you’re toying with. I get that you see them as part of your political theory, for some of you, I know, they are more personal… but they are my, our, everyday life. Our reality you’re playing with and using as a platform. You see it as a left-of-centre thing. I see it as a spectrum of life thing. There are plenty of Liberal-supporting queer and queer-supporting people out there. There are a multitude of people who, like me, actually don’t hate Abbott, they just think he’s wrong, and some of them only think he’s wrong about one or two issues.

Equal Love rallies are peaceful. I will never condone violence against anybody. I will not remain silent while people threaten our prime minister regardless of how I feel about him. I cannot condone actions which will cost LGBTIQ rights the support from the right that we actually need.

So, Socialist Alternative, Take your red wedge and stick it wherever you find it most uncomfortable. I don’t want it, and I reject it.
Dylan Carmichael.

(This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisation I am involved with. I am a member of Equal Love Brisbane, but this statement is not endorsed by or a reflection of their opinion.)