"He has more courage than any boy I have met," Stephen Jones said of his son in a speech to the Australian parliament earlier this week. "He swims against the tide."
Jones, an opposition lawmaker, delivered an impassioned appeal for LGBTQ rights that cited his fears as a parent and family tragedy. It drew praise on social media, and came shortly before the Australian government shelved the religious discrimination bill that he was speaking out against. Critics argued the bill could allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students.
The Labor Party lawmaker said in Parliament Tuesday that the bill could do emotional damage to LGBTQ children, citing both his son, Paddy Quilter-Jones, and his nephew, Ollie.
He revealed the struggle faced by Ollie over his gender identity.
“He was just 15 when he took his own life. He was a beautiful, creative, courageous young man... His mum and dad are in anguish. We all are. He was gay. He was uncertain about his gender and struggled with his mental health,” Jones said of his late nephew, in a speech that has now gone viral.
The politician also spoke of his fears as a parent of not being able to protect his son.
“He designs and makes clothes, is a gifted makeup artist, moves seamlessly between the wardrobes of men and women. He wears heels that give me vertigo and has more handbags than his sister," Jones said, "He has more courage than any boy I have met. He swims against the tide."
"But I worry myself sick every time he leaves the house," Jones added. "Could this be the day when we get a call telling us that something has happened? That he has been attacked just for being who he is?"
Jones’ speech drew an outpouring of support from his own family and other parents of LGBTQ children in the country.
His son took to social media to voice his support.
“When I first saw this speech, it made me cry,” Paddy said in a TikTok video on Tuesday. “I was nervous when Dad first asked me about this speech, I didn’t know what would happen afterwards, I didn’t know what people were going to think.”
“But I said yes, because there are young gay and trans Australian kids that need to know that there are people fighting for you.”
"As the mother of a bright, beautiful and gay 18-year-old son ... Thank You. Please do not let this bill pass. I fear for my son’s safety, and fate," one Twitter user wrote on Thursday.
When first introduced the bill proposed allowing schools to hire teachers and select students based on their faith, sparking fears that LGBTQ people could be discriminated against.
Amendments were brought in to add protections for LGBTQ students, but this then earned the criticism of Christian groups.
Others questioned whether the government had gone far enough, with former Olympian swimmer Ian Thorpe among those lobbying against the bill because he said it didn’t protect transgender students. “It becomes state-sanctioned discrimination,” he said.
The bill was passed in the House of Representatives in the early hours of Thursday but was then shelved by the Senate, the Australian Parliament's upper chamber, after hours of fiery debate.