The battle over same-sex marriage in Australia flared up on May 9. The victim: Alan Joyce, Qantas Airlines CEO and vocal supporter of legalization. The perpetrator: Tony Overheu, described by The Guardian as “senior member of the Church of Christ and Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International.” The weapon: a lemon meringue pie.
How It Went Down
Overheu dislikes that certain business leaders are lobbying for same-sex marriage in Australia to be voted within Parliament, rather than the proposed nationwide vote. The Guardian quoted him as saying, “Middle Australia completely rejects corporate bullying aimed at social engineering.” Overheu may have targeted Joyce because the CEO previously wrote an article for that same website arguing for this. Or this may have been a matter of convenience. Overheu lives in Perth, where Joyce was due to speak at an event.
Either way, he decided to make a statement against this “corporate bullying.” So, he paid $25.95 for a pie, hid it in a box, and went to the city’s Hyatt Regency hotel. Like Shakespeare’s elderly and foolish character Polonius, he hid behind a curtain in the room where Joyce was to speak. He lingered there while people set up tables and laid out breakfast for guests. He lingered there as the Business Leadership Matters event began. And after two whole hours, he watched as Joyce took to the podium.
Joyce spoke to the 500 people in attendance about his airline’s plan for more flights between Perth and London. He started, “It has been six months since I’ve been here to announce that –”
And that’s when Overheu, deadly glare visible to all, shoved the pie in his face.
In the confusion of the moment, Joyce’s first instinct, and that of a few audience members, was to laugh. He excused himself to clean the bits of pie from his glasses offstage. He later quipped, “I think my issue is I need a good dry-cleaner before I leave Perth.” After returning to the stage and before resuming his speech, he cracked another joke. “Now, if there are any more pies can you get it over with now?”
His second instinct, after the initial shock passed, was to press charges. Overheu left the stage immediately after pieing Joyce, but hotel security soon caught him. They later handed him over to the police, who charged him with assault.
What Does the Pie Have to Do with Gay Rights?
Overheu made his statement, but gained international infamy. This is largely because he, a fundamentalist Christian, attacked Joyce, a gay man, for speaking out on gay rights.
Joyce is open about wanting his country to commit to its claim of being among the world’s most gay-friendly countries. A 2013 Pew Report showed that 79% of Australians believe society should accept homosexuality. Homosexuals and transgendered people can adopt children and serve openly in the military. They’re also legally protected from discrimination, as are intersex people.And yet, he’s still prohibited by law to marry his partner of eighteen years.
Whether Overheu disliked Joyce speaking out because he’s a CEO or because he’s gay, it’s part of the problem. It doesn’t even matter that the man pied him when he easily could have used an actual weapon. Pies in the face are a slapstick cliché mostly seen in cartoons. No one can ignore or deny that it’s meant to be funny. Overheu may have thought he was being harmless. He even picked a lemon meringue pie in particular because it was soft and wouldn’t hurt. However, his plan could only result in Joyce being not humbled, but humiliated. All because he used his position to speak on an issue that is deeply personal to him.
In the Wake of the Incident
It seems that if anyone was humbled, it was Overheu. He told The Daily Mail Australia that his wife was upset with him because his actions were unchristian. He denied being a “bigoted redneck,” saying he only wanted to stand against “corporate bullying.” Despite this, he still sent an apology letter to Joyce and the event organizers.
As for Joyce, he only feels emboldened. “What happened yesterday has reinvigorated me … It has really encouraged me to continue to be out there and express my views even more strongly than I have done in the past.” The fight continues.
Don’t feel disillusioned about our favorite shelled food. Here’s a link to a story about pie bringing people together.