The accidental activist: Joshua Maxwell


Image supplied

Joshua Maxwell with federal Labor MPs Emma McBride and Tanya Plibersek

When Joshua Maxwell shared a letter he wrote to the Prime Minister on Facebook, he didn’t think it would lead to him sitting in Federal Parliament the day the bill legalising same-sex marriage was passed.

He had spent years fighting for his two mums’ right to marry, and along the way had been able to share their story on a national scale. Now he has earned a spot as a finalist for an LGBTI Award, due to be announced next week (March 1).

How it started

Joshua Maxwell, the ‘accidental activist’. By Amy Seaborn

Joshua has been defending his family, and fighting for his parents’ right to marry, since his biological mum, Kelly, came out to him in 2001 – before she got together with the woman who is now her wife, Lyn.

He didn’t feel the need to hide Kelly’s identity; it was “unique, cool and exotic”. He had something that other kids didn’t have and he didn’t feel like he was missing out on anything.

It was never a problem for him or his family, and he never thought it would be a problem –  until the story started appearing in the media.

Josh explained that having two mums was “totally fine” to his family, and to kids his age. It was teachers and other parents who had problems with it.

“The day after the Playschool episode [which featured same-sex parents], a dad walked into the classroom and said that he didn’t want his kid to be sat next to the child with the freak parents.”

“That’s when I knew people had problems with it.”

Becoming a “Gayby”

After campaigning started for the same-sex marriage postal vote, Josh learnt the term “Gayby” (plural “Gaybies”)

“I’d define Gayby as the title bestowed to the children raised by the rainbow community. The children who are full members of the LGBTQI community. It’s their way of identifying within the community.”

He proudly used this term a lot, and even partnered with playwright and director Dean Bryant to bring his book ‘Gaybies’ to life on stage, directing the production in July 2018.


The cast of Gaybies. Photo: Jopuka Productions

He attended countless rallies and events in support of same-sex marriage and the LGBTI community, also supporting same-sex adopting rights, because he has two adopted sisters.

Like most of the rainbow community, Josh wasn’t very happy about the postal vote.

“Kind of accidentally and forcibly, the entire community was kind of forced into campaigning.

“We were fighting an unknown and unmasked anonymous enemy. You couldn’t tell which of your friends and family were going to vote yes or no.”

Dear Mr Prime Minister

In August 2017, Josh wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

In it, he shared his story about having two mums and what it was like growing up in that environment. He also spoke of the strain that was being placed not only on his family but all the rainbow families in Australia, by the postal vote.

What he didn’t expect was for the letter to go viral.

The opening section of the letter which Josh wrote to the then Prime Minister. Image: supplied

“I thought there was potential for it to go viral, but I thought it would take a couple of weeks. It got traction in less than 24 hours,” he says.

The next day, Josh was on national television and radio and doing newspaper interviews. He also received his first death threats.

Millions of Australians are believed to have come across Josh’s letter and story – whether on Facebook or on the news.

“It’s a mind-boggling number of people. I call myself the ‘accidental activist’,” he says.

Josh didn’t intend to become a case study. He says he found it confusing and slightly confronting, but was proud to be witnessing history and to be in the company of other high-profile advocates.

He felt he was fighting against people who would argue: “Think about the children and their rights to a mother and father.” He was a prime example that you didn’t need that and that those people needed to start talking to the children themselves.

As a child, “you need exposure to the world, love and care – but you don’t need a man and a woman in the house.”

As a result of his campaigning, Emma McBride, the federal Labor MP for Dobell, on the Central Coast, invited Josh down to Canberra on the day the same-sex marriage bill was passed. By 6 pm, he felt like he had met half of Canberra.

“I got to meet (deputy Labor leader) Tanya Plibersek and made her cry within 15 minutes.”

He had intended to be with his family that day; instead, he sat in the public gallery and watched the law change in front of his eyes.

“We sat, we watched and we waited. Then the gallery erupted. I was in tears.”

Nominated for award

Late last year, Josh found out he had been nominated for an Australian LGBTI Award. He then learnt that, from a sea of 200 nominees, he was one of nine finalists.

“It really is quite an honour and still deeply confusing,” he says, repeating that he never planned any of this – he just wanted to see his two mums get married. (He finally got his wish when they tied the knot in September last year on the Central Coast.)

He has since written another letter to the new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, asking him to acknowledge that his predecessor made a mistake in subjecting same-sex marriage to a postal vote.

“It’s almost a continuation of the one-sided discussion I had with the previous PM. I never heard from the last one; I don’t think I’ll hear from this one.”