They’ve shared their opinions and persevered, despite relentless campaigns against their work.
And now Magda Szubanski and Yassmin Abdel-Magdied have been officially recognised for their efforts, receiving free speech awards from Liberty Victoria this week.
Szubanski, a comedian, actor, author and activist, received Australia’s top free speech honour, the Voltaire Award, in recognition of her work for marriage equality.
The award honours an individual considered to have furthered the right of free speech in the previous 12 months, acknowledging how their work, interests or passions contribute to such rights.
Liberty Victoria noted Szubanski’s “drive, warmth and humanity” in playing “a significant part in Australia voting for marriage equality.”
Szubanski became instrumental in the marriage equality campaign by lobbying and leading, making numerous media appearances, and frequently addressing rallies in support of the cause.
“Magda’s courage, and her fight for love and acceptance of LGBTI+ people has given hope to many, and has brought a light and positivity to the marriage equality campaign,” Liberty Victoria said. “Her candid, multi-award-winning book, Reckoning, has been a beacon to many, including LGBTI+ people and their families.”
Meanwhile, Yassmin Abdel-Magied has been awarded The Young Voltaire Award.
The mechanical engineer, social advocate, author and broadcaster, was recognised for speaking out on a number of issues, including for her February 2017 Q&A appearance, which received 12 million views in just a week, as well as her acclaimed TED ‘What does my headscarf mean to you’, her autobiography Yassmin’s Story, and her many public appearances as a speaker.
Liberty Victoria noted how Abdel-Magied was attacked by internet trolls and newspapers, as well as Federal MPs, following a social media post on Anzac Day. It noted that Abdel-Magied refused to give in: “Despite being personally targeted by high profile political figures through inaccurate and racist media reporting, she would not be silenced. She continued to speak out against racism, discrimination and harmful stereotypes. Yassmin continues to give voice to the experience of young Muslim women in Australia and beyond.”
Previous winners of the Voltaire Award have included former former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs, commentator Waleed Aly, and journalists David Marr and Peter Greste.
Liberty’s Empty Chair award, given to someone who cannot be present because they are detained or are in jail as a consequence of their exercise of free speech, went to journalist Behrouz Boochani. He is currently being held on Manus Island, but has managed to share stories and details of life on Manus, with his work published in the Guardian and elsewhere, as well as his film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time.
Abdel-Magied commented on social media that the award the award isn’t about her, but rather about acknowledging that speaking in the face of injustice is often difficult, even if you’re unprepared for it.
She dedicated the award for those who’re “in the trenches” and “on the journey” and those who’re learning to speak.
“Without challenging injustice, we will never progress,” she said.
Szubanski commented on social media that: “It was my honour and privilege to give a voice to LGBTQI people but also hopefully to help stop the divide between yes and no voters from widening. I always felt that if we spoke with open honest hearts we could find our shared humanity.”
This award isn’t about me, really. It’s about acknowledging that speaking in the face of injustice is often difficult – even if, or especially if, one is unprepared for it. But without challenging injustice, we will never progress. It’s been a long and slow journey to this point, if I’m perfectly honest. When things kicked off last year, I balked. I didn’t want to be seen as someone who was upsetting folk, or deeply and truly challenging the status quo. Part of my journey into consciousness – of awakening to the world around me, so to speak – has been around realising in many ways, my full existence was inherently challenging to folk, was in of itself upsetting the status quo. This year, so far, has been a year of learning to accept that, and leaning into that power. So, this award is for those of us on the journey, those of us in the trenches, those of us learning to speak. We all need to be in this – and our fights might not all look the same, but they sure are linked. I’ve got your back, inshallah – even though I am still learning to do that better and more consistently – and together, let’s keep working for that world that is fair, equitable and safe for us all xxx Also shout out to those who surrounded me, protected me, kept me sane and provided the salve of validation and friendship I didn’t know how to ask for and didn’t know I needed. Thank you. I wouldn’t have survived without you. #freespeech #woc #melaninpoppin #blackmuslimahexcellence #eatyourheartsout
The awards are due to be officially presented on July 21 in Melbourne.