There has been an outpouring of grief from the community following the suicide of the university student who led a protest against a drag queen reading event for young children supported by a Brisbane library.
Wilson Gavin—a self-described “gay conservative” who gained some media attention two years ago when campaigning against same-sex marriage—took his own life Monday morning after footage of the protesters chanting “Drag queens are not for kids” went viral on social media. The protest sparked significant backlash on social media and a rebuke from the state’s Liberal National Party.
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The outspoken 21-year-old, who was previously president of the University of Queensland’s Liberal National Club (UQLNC), led a protest group of 15 to 20 people to confront those involved in a ‘Drag Queen Story Time‘ event at Brisbane City Council library on Jan. 10.
Club members explained in a post on their now-deleted Facebook page, “Today the UQLNC took a stand to defend LNP values against a corrosive gender ideology. After a ratepayer-funded Drag Queen Story Hour finished this Sunday, we decided to make a public demonstration against the Brisbane City Council endorsing it.
“We stayed outside the room in which it was being held—waited until the event was over to make our point—did not respond to the insults which were hurled at us, and left when directed by security.”
The event, where drag queens led children and their families in song, dance, reading, and craft classes, was hosted by Brisbane City Council in partnership with LGBTQIA advocacy group Rainbow Families Queensland.
Before news of the suicide broke, the club’s Facebook page had been overrun with comments from people condemning the protest, The video of Gavin and fellow protesters on social media caught the attention of leaders in the community, including federal MPs and singer Jess Origliasso of The Veronicas.
Queensland’s Liberal National Party distanced itself from the protest, saying it did not represent party values and that the university club had been disaffiliated last month.
On Monday following reports of Gavin’s suicide, Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said in a press conference that the party would not be commenting at this time out of respect for the family.
“I think today is a day to think about a bit of compassion and respect for people,” she said.
Friends, Opponents Respond
Rainbow Families Queensland released a statement saying, “Rainbow Families Queensland were informed earlier today that the leader of yesterday’s drag Storytime protest took his own life this morning.
“We are deeply saddened by this news and extend our sympathies to his family.”
One of the drag queens at the event told the ABC they were “deeply saddened from the news.”
“I’d really like to give my condolences and sympathy to the family and friends,” Diamond said. “The support that I have received today on social media has been phenomenal, and I thank everyone for their support and kind words.”
A spokesperson for the university said that it was providing support to students and staff impacted by the tragic events.
“The university understands that the events of the past two days are very distressing for many people,” the spokesperson said.
“Mutual respect and diversity are core values of the university, and we hope that everyone shows consideration for those affected during the difficult days ahead.”
Conservative Christian blogger David Pellowe told Eternity News that he had the pleasure of interviewing Gavin in the lead up to the same-sex marriage plebiscite in 2017 to hear his views on gender identity in society.
Gavin revealed to Pellowe why he was campaigning for the ‘No’ vote and explained his conservative views based on his Catholic faith.
“They’re not going to stop at marriage,” Gavin said. “Their goal is to tear down the family and every traditional institution in Australia.
“They just hate everything that I love – they hate me because I’m a conservative. And they hate me more because I’m a gay, and I can say to them, ‘I’m gay. I’m not a homophobe, I love gay men!’
“You can’t call me a homophobe just because I oppose same sex marriage, just because I’m against your agenda. You can’t shout me down the way you can most people. You can’t shout me down by saying I’m a bigot and I’m a homophobe.”
At the time, Gavin was the spokesperson for an organisation representing LGBTIQ voting ‘No’ called ‘Our Voice. Our Vote.’
“He was a man of conviction, and a man of compassion,” Pellowe said. “However, his detractors would like to reframe it. The truth is that he, motivated by love of neighbour felt the need to intervene in the injustice he saw being promoted.”
Fellow UQ student and friend Drew Pavlou posted on social media that Gavin “was at his core a very decent and kind person that cared for others.”
“He had his struggles and made mistakes, and it is a tragedy for us all that he ultimately succumbed to his suffering and pain.
“Today is a reminder of all we must do to affirm to young marginalized Australians the intrinsic worth and value of their lives.”
Liberal MP George Christensen responded to the tragedy by announcing that he was deleting his Twitter account.
“Suicide happens when Twitter keyboard warriors pile on an individual for a political protest. Twitter is broken. It is for ad hominem attacks & pile ons not real discourse. And it is aid[ed] & abetted by the media. I can’t delete the media but I am deleting my twitter account. Bye,” the backbencher said in his last tweet.
The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.