of budgets and bastardry

I know I’m not the only one struggling to catch my breath in the week since Joe Hockey handed down the Abbott government’s first budget. I’m a single mother with a houseful of kids. After spending half a lifetime as a work-at home mum, I unexpectedly found myself single and ill-prepared for the job market. So I got a degree. Currently, I’m undertaking post-grad studies part time while I try and get a business off the ground. The business is not even close to feeding us yet but I’m hopeful. I’m getting some government support while I pull our lives together. That benefit shrunk considerably when the Labor government forced single parents on to Newstart, but we’ve been able to tighten our belts and survive so far.

So, anyway, even though my plan is that I’ll soon be earning and not relying on Newstart, right now, we’d be on the street without it. So memes that describe double standards like this one really get my goat.

 

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What a despicable cheek it is to encourage people take notes about how poor people spend their money.

It reminds me that a pastor’s wife I once knew who told me she used to have to steel herself to face the inevitable criticism she’d receive from certain parishioners any time she turned up in church in a new dress.

And it reminded me of a time I laughed as I told a friend, the daughter of missionaries working in Albania, that I’d been visiting an older woman from the church and found her pegging used tea bags on the washing line. ‘For the missionaries,’ the woman had told me.

My missionary-kid friend didn’t laugh.

‘We got them,’ she said, ‘The dried out used tea bags. The sacks of 30-year-old clothing with the zips removed and the buttons cut off.’ She pursed her lips. ‘We grew up knowing that’s how much we mattered to our home church. Nice things weren’t for us. Not even zips were for us.’

To those cheapskates (whose behaviour was *not* representative of most of the Christians I knew when I was in the fold), missionaries were the Christian underclass. The only-ever-so-slightly-deserving-poor. Every gift to them was to be accounted for. Every indulgence resented.

I was shocked. Obviously, it’s wrong, plain and simple, to treat people that way. But I’m coming to realise that it’s more common than you might think.

 

Best-Practices-For-the-Job-Seeker

 

Today, at my job seeker service appointment, the job placement staffer griped to me that ‘the people who come in there are so entitled’. And, she sneered, ‘they can all afford cigarettes. And iPods.’

So, let me just speak directly to you for a moment, job placement staffer lady. First of all, addiction is a separate issue. You don’t know anything about these kids except that they are unemployed and therefore almost certainly poor. You don’t know what their childhood was like, or what their home life is like now. You don’t know their mental health status. You don’t know what they choose to go without in order to buy a pouch of tobacco. So you should consider shutting TFU.

And you don’t know how long they saved to buy that iPod. Maybe they bought it back when they had a job. Or maybe Grandma gave it to them for Christmas. iPods are ubiquitous and they’re not all that expensive. Not having one feels like a significant social disadvantage to a young person. I’ve known more than one suicidal kid for whom their music was, some days, all that kept them from hurting themselves. In any case, you’ve no right to quibble about what people are lucky enough to own. You are at least 60 kilos overweight. Should we suggest you stop griping about your low wage, as you did today, because we judge that you misuse your earnings by spending it on junk food? No, of course not, because that would be invasive and cruel.

You told me the Abbott government’s budget was fair and would put a stop to a culture of entitlement. I asked you whether you thought Australia would be a better place if those ‘entitled’ kids had less, or even no, money at their disposal. Whether you’d feel safer walking the street where the hungry and desperate lay in wait. I asked if you were OK with those kids selling drugs outside my kids’ schools to earn pocket money. Or breaking into your house and taking *your* iPod. I pointed out that in countries where welfare is particularly stigmatised and meagre it has the effect of breaking down people’s sense of belonging to the community. It reduces people’s inclination to join or rejoin the economy. It contributes to lowering health outcomes, and increasing mental health issues, homelessness, crime and incarceration rates…all of which are expensive to the community. I asked if government ‘savings’ looked so much like savings when you considered those long-term costs.

I told you that a lot of the single parents I knew were struggling to sleep, struggling even to concentrate on the work at hand. I mentioned that I’d seen this posted on a single parents’ group on Facebook last night.

 

single parents

You told me that people need to just get a grip and not be irrationally afraid about the budget. That we just need to put things in perspective, stop over-thinking and just try harder to find work soon. I reminded you that everyone who walks through your door has been a little bit damaged by life. That we are struggling in one way or another. That when we hear from the government that our Plan B, C or D safety net is under threat, that we might genuinely face homelessness with our kids some time in the future, it makes us feel afraid. I told you that seemed a perfectly normal response to me.

I told you that you and workers like you are in a privileged position. That you get to act as a frame to support people who need your services while we learn to stand. That you need to build relationships with us, respecting us as equals, then help us each reach for our potential, call us to high standards, encourage us to take risks, and be there to support us when we fail. I told you that if we suspect, even for a moment that you are judging us, you lose any power you had to influence us. I reminded you that some of us can’t survive another setback like that.

I also told you that I thought it was entirely inappropriate for your receptionist to deny that you have a toilet on the premises and send a young mother with a desperately hopping toddler to a public toilet about 10 minutes walk away. You told me that a couple of times someone had left needles in your toilet cubicle so your office had banned clients from using it. ‘A few spoiled it for the many,’ you said.

I said I would never treat a toddler like that.

I guess you would.

You know what? I’m betting Prime Minister Abbott would too. I’m betting he’d smirk as he sent them on their way. You know how I know?

 

 

 

 

sacrifice of the innocents: when will we learn?

This week, Australia’s Royal Commission into Child Abuse is hearing testimony regarding appalling abuses against children in Salvation Army children’s homes. It reminded me of a piece I wrote on one of those homes which happened to be near where I grew up for a history writing unit at uni . In the course of writing the piece I read a good deal of the Forde Report, the result of the Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse in Queensland Institutions. The extent and severity of the abuses in these places was truly horrific and the long-term effect on those incarcerated inside them devastating. Telling the victim’s stories is an important part of their healing, and of a cultural healing, a way of making sure systemic atrocities such as these never happen again.

So, here’s the piece I wrote last year. Looking at it again now, I feel a profound sorrow that so many children suffered so greatly and with so little adult protection or support. I hope the royal commission’s shining light on this dreadful history helps some of them in some way.

 

***

Alkira

I spent most of my childhood living in Kenmore, then a new and affluent suburb on Brisbane’s leafy western edge. About five minutes from our home was an establishment that always seemed fascinating and mysterious to me. A long driveway wound up a steep hill to a cluster of imposing, two-storey wooden structures. The sign by the gate read ‘The Salvation Army Alkira Village Home for Boys’. I remember asking my mother what that meant. I had no brothers but imagined that all boys lived in homes, didn’t they? My mother explained that it was an orphanage and that most of the boys who lived there had no parents, or had parents who could not look after them. Others, she said, had been very naughty and so were sent away as a punishment.

My mother’s answer piqued my childish curiosity. Each time we passed, I would scan the site hoping for a glimpse of an orphaned, unwanted or Very Naughty boy. I was always disappointed. Despite the obvious attention given the manicured grounds, in the decades I lived in the area I never saw a single human being in evidence. Alkira seemed an island quarantined from the rest of the world. Whatever went on inside those walls was invisible from without.

As it turns out, in fact, the term ‘orphanage’ was a misnomer. The majority of the 1500 boys housed at Alkira from its opening in 1941 until it closed in 1983 did, in fact, have parents. Some had been transported to Australia under the British child migrant scheme and most of these, like their Australian counterparts, had been placed in State homes ‘for reasons such as marital breakdown, illegitimacy and temporary economic hardship’ (Forde 32). In plain terms, parents considered undeserving of their children lost them to a system that promised to do a better job at raising them than they could.

The institutions failed utterly in this aim. While I was enjoying the comfortable existence afforded me in the embrace of a typical Australian middle-class, nuclear family, inside Alkira boys were subject to third-world conditions, suffering the effects cold, vermin infestation, disease and hunger.

In 1998, the Beatty government established the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions (Forde). At that time former Governor of Queensland Leneen Forde examined conditions inside 159 orphanages and child detention centres during the period from 1911 to 1999. Over 300 people – mostly former inmates – provided information to the Inquiry. Their testimonies revealed a culture where appalling conditions and systemic abuse were the rule rather than the exception. Children were often poorly clothed ­(menstruating girls were not offered any sanitary pads and were supplied with only one pair of cotton bloomers) and severely underfed (some former inmates say they were forced to steal food from the pigs or cows in order to stave off hunger). Sexual abuse was rife in almost all the institutions examined. This abuse was often perpetrated by staff or visitors but frequently young children were molested or raped by older inmates who had been kept on at the home as virtual slave labourers. Frequently, when victims reported the abuse, they were beaten for telling lies (Forde iv).

Corporal punishment was permitted in Queensland orphanages under Regulation 23 of the State Children Act 1911 ‘as a last resort’ in cases of ‘grave misconduct’. However, reports of cruel violence perpetrated or tolerated by staff go well beyond the bounds of normal institutional discipline. Not far from Alkira was the Salvation Army’s Riverview Training Farm for Boys which, along with Alkira, was singled out in the Report as a site where particularly brutal physical punishments were meted out. Former Riverview inmate Ray Carlile remembers being tied around the ankles with a rope and lowered into a well by staff who mistakenly believed he had stolen a handful of electrical fuses. As the ten-year-old’s fingers touched the water at the bottom of the well, he blacked out. When he woke he was lying on the grass surrounded by officers beating him with canes and screaming, ‘You filthy little pig!’ because he had wet his pants in terror. The year was 1956 (Dalton).

At Alkira, former residents report that staff would beat or humiliate children for ‘misdemeanours’ such as talking during meals, failing to close their eyes during prayer, speaking to girls in the school playground, or not sitting up straight while watching television. One former resident remembered children being lined up, stripped from the waist down, bent over a vaulting horse and beaten with a garden hose for stealing mangoes from a neighbouring property. Another described receiving a flogging with a razor strop at the hands of the Superintendent that left him so bruised he was unable to sit (Forde 72). Bed-wetters and left-handed children were singled out for special torture (Forde 76).

Although Section 37 of the Act required that children in State institutions between the ages of five and 14 years of age attend school, the Forde report found that often children were instead put to work cooking, cleaning, laundering clothes, and managing gardens and livestock. Consequently many left the institutions at 16 entirely illiterate (Forde 82–3). Similarly, sick ‘home children’ were generally treated with cheap remedies and rarely received medical attention unless dangerously ill (Forde 68).

The scant funding provided for the care of State wards may be key in understanding how such widespread abuse could have continued for so many decades without intervention from the Department.

A recognition of the relationship between the Department and the denominations which ran the licensed institutions is essential to an understanding of how institutional care could fail children in so many respects without intervention from the Department. The levels of funding on which almost all of the denominational institutions operated were patently insufficient to allow the provision of proper individual care. Yet the Department continued to place children in those institutions because they provided a cheap means of lodging children for whose care it was responsible, and it was able to use as justification the fact that the children were, after all, in Christian care. The churches, for their part, acquiesced in this undiscriminating placement of children because of their perceived obligation to provide refuge to homeless children, however inadequate their resources might be. By doing so, they acquired an ascendancy over the Department; it was most unlikely that the Department would jeopardise its access to those placements by subjecting the institutions to scrutiny of the kind necessary to ensure that children were being cared for properly. The  denominations were thus able to carry out what they considered to be their Christian mission without risk of interference from the Department. On its side, the Department maintained an irreplaceable, cheap resource, and could complacently point to the fact that the children were being raised in a Christian environment (Forde v)

While low levels of funding may speak to the cultural value attributed to children at the time and offer some rationale for Departmental overlooking of abuse it does nothing to explicate the motivations of staff who inflicted such brutal treatment on the children in their care. But perhaps there are clues.

Almost all of the institutions were run by churches – both Catholic and Protestant – and staffed by Christians who in all likelihood believed in ‘original sin’, a view that prevailed in churches at the time. Christian ‘carers’ may have felt a moral obligation to prevent children from following their base natures down a road that lead to a life of degradation and, ultimately, hell. Perhaps this was at the root of institutional policies of strict discipline. Then, perhaps, unsupervised and with unrestrained power over their charges, adults with a tendency to religious authoritarianism crossed the line into cruelty at some point. Could it be that this is how, over time, a full-blown culture of brutality ensued? Could it be that otherwise decent church-attending Christian workers look back now and wonder how the hell they could ever have thought such brutality was normal? Do they still wonder today why they failed to report such obviously criminal violence against minors in their care? Certainly the treatment the children received was not normative in the broader community. The Forde Report notes that even placing institutions in their historical contexts and taking into account prevailing social attitudes and economic circumstances, the endemic abuses went far beyond acceptable limits for the time (Forde ii).

I find it deeply painful to know that while I was safely learning at my school desk or lying tucked up in my bed, barely a stone’s throw away children – thousands of them over the years – were suffering what can only be described as torture. But even more disturbing is that we do not seem to have learned from our mistakes. The Forde Report found that an abuse-enabling culture that isolates and disempowers children and prevents them from registering complaints still existed in institutional childcare at the time of the Enquiry. And I can’t help but think that we continue to see similar misinformed attitudes to ‘respectability’ in the National School Chaplaincy Program that values chaplains because they are cheaper than psychologists, and again in State-sanctioned Religious Instruction classes conducted by untrained church volunteers. Of course, the majority of Christians would find the idea of abusing children abhorrent but surely if submissions to the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse tell us anything its that there are an unacceptably large number of predatory adults in respected positions of authority who will gratify themselves at the expense of the young and powerless given the opportunity. It is naive to imagine they are not still with us.

***

In 2008 the Salvation Army redeveloped the Alkira site as a retirement village but I doubt any of those who spent time there as children would willingly return. On the long list of emotional, psychological and social consequences for the victims of institutional child abuse listed in the Forde Report, to my mind one of the saddest is that many report feeling terrified at the idea of growing old and being forced to live as an inmate in an institution like the one where they spent their childhood. It is heartbreaking to think that the pain of their early torment will taint even their last days with fear. Their enduring suffering is our shame.

 

Works cited

 

Dalton, Trent. “Sorry to Forgotten Australians Won’t Heal a Tortured Life.” The Courier-Mail. 15 November, 2009. Print.

Forde, Leneen (Chair). “Forde Report: Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions.” 1999. Print.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. <www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au>

State Children’s Act 1911. < http://archive.aiatsis.gov.au/ removeprotect/54695.pdf>

rule #4

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[Source: The Telegraph.]

An article appeared on my Facebook feed today that I think it worthy of comment. In ‘6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person‘ Cracked.com writer David Wong hypothesises that a person’s value to the world is found not in soft characteristics they may possess (funny, kindly, smart), or in the things that they are not (selfish, slovenly, dishonest) but in what they actually do. Wong says that it is only marketable and/or desirable skills that will make the world beat a path to your door. He applies this to employment (no one cares that you are a nice person if you can’t do your job properly) and to relationships (stop whining women/men don’t want to date you and make yourself datable).

In fact, Wong says this simple philosophy can be applied to every aspect of our lives…and that it ought to be. He suggest that anyone dissatisfied with themselves in any respect should stop whining, stop making excuses, stop hating on anyone who is managing to achieve success and just get the hell on with constructing a version of you that you – and the world – can value.

Wong’s post spoke to me for a couple of reasons. The first reason is this: one thing I’ve learned about myself is that inside me exists a swirling vortex of rationalisations and excuses, self-loathing and doubt always tugging at my ankles, inviting me to give up completely and be sucked to a nice, comfortable oblivion. I’ve done a lot of hard things in the past few years, and done many of them well, but I always approach these things with fear. A large part of this is that deep in my heart I think that if I don’t try too hard, no one can laugh when I fall on my little pink arse. I learned to think like this as a child and it’s not an easy habit to throw off. I am lucky to have friends who try to help me. Recently, when I was asked to do a radio interview, my fall-back position was to gasp, ‘Oh, no! I could never do that!’ So I refused. But when I mentioned this to my friend Chrys, she faced me up, pursed her lips and said sternly, ‘Jane, we never say no to opportunities.’ She was right, of course. I called the journalist back and did the interview. And the next time I was asked the same question I said, ‘Sure. Love to.’ There. Growth.

Anyway, thanks David Wong for reminding me that fear should not be the factor that defines my life or determines my destiny. It’s good advice and useful to hear from time to time. I can see a dozen ways I can apply this…not least as a prompt to start blogging regularly again. I have a dozen rationalisations and excuses to explain that, some of which are close to valid, but the truth is, they are keeping me from what I want to do, so they have to go.

The second reason I liked Wong’s article is that it happens to line up nicely with my own little list of Rules for Living. This is an actual list that I’ve been jotting as I flee from one messy, miserable life and attempt to construct a new and better one. Christianity, at least the fundamentalist brand that I subscribed to, supplies adherents with a tidy, plug-and-play template for living. As a messed up 19 year old, that appealed to me. I wanted a well-worn path to walk and gleefully ripped off the bubble wrap and erected my newly-purchased, guaranteed-effective religious scaffolding and set about constructing an identity and a life inside that apparently nice, safe space. When the building collapsed with a whump and I found myself suddenly without a belief in a deity and watching the backs of the believers who had once been my family receding at speed, I was forced to make some choices. I looked around at the rubble at my feet, kicked a few broken bricks, picked up one or two fragments, put them down again, and decided that very little was worth salvaging. I determined to start construction at the foundations.

This is where my list of Rules for Living comes in. Well, more sort of guidelines really. As time passed and things arose that seemed important enough to keep, at least for now, I wrote them down. Here’s how the list looks so far:

Rule #1: Live the fuck in reality.

Rule #2: Don’t hang with assholes.

Rule #3: Own your own shit.

Rule #4: You cannot be a better [________] than you are a human being.

Rule #5: Know thyself.

Rule #6: Integrity: It’s all you’ve got.

Rule #7: Call bullshit bullshit.

Rule #8: Never, ever settle.

Rule #9: Boundaries. Have them.

Rule #10: Treasure the right things. Nurture the right relationships.

Rule #11: Fuck ‘ought’.

It’s a work in progress.

If you read David Wong’s piece, you might have recognised that Rule #4 is the one that applies here.  I discovered this rule while watching someone close to me attend parenting courses, devour parenting books and still come out a royal screw up in the parenting stakes. He would frequently ask me how it ought to be done. ‘The thing,’ I ended saying, ‘Is this: You cannot be a better parent than you are a human being. Life isn’t a trick to be learned. There is no magic formula. You can’t demand respect with shouting, or wheedle it with whining, or buy it with gifts. Your kids will respect you if you actually are a person worth respecting. There are no shortcuts and you can’t fake it.’

It seemed true to me at the time. And I’ve discovered that you can fill that blank in Rule #4 in with just about anything and it will remain true. You cannot be a better teacher than you are a human being. You cannot be a better doctor than you are a human being. You cannot be a better partner, sister, writer, neighbour, lover, employee…than you are a human being. It’s about authenticity.

We get a bundle of stuff handed to us when we are born – personality, privilege or the lack of it, varying physical and mental abilities – but then it’s up to us to construct something that approximates a decent human being with it. I’m for doing the best job at that that I possibly can. I only get one crack at it. Soon enough my turn will be over for good. I’d like to finish my days having done the best I can with myself, and having made a positive difference to my little corner of the universe, naff as that may sound.

So there you have it. It’s nice to be blogging again. I might just come back and elaborate on the rest of the list. In any case, I’m determined to press through the self-loathing, rationalisations and doubt and write here again. Thanks for reading, sweeties!

dear pastor prater…

If you missed Pastor Matt Prater’s spooky performance on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s response, you might just want to take a peek now.



Although applauded for his comments in support of marriage equality on the night, Prime Minister Rudd has been widely criticised since by Christian writers such as Sandy Grant at Matthias Media’s The Briefing for ‘grossly caricaturing’ and ‘misrepresenting the Holy Book of the faith he confesses’. I have to say, I think Grant has some right to gripe. It would be difficult to honestly argue that the New Testament, at least, actually advocates slavery although the Book in general does seem to look upon it with a decidedly friendly eye. Still, Mr Rudd should have perhaps stuck with the biblical prohibitions against eating prawns and wearing mixed cloth, the guidelines for selling your daughter to her rapist or some other more well-established scriptural values like those.

And even Prater fans would have to admit, I think, that the pastor also rather ‘grossly misrepresented’ the PM’s change of heart on marriage equality saying Mr Rudd (or ‘Kevin’ as Prater addressed him) seemed ‘to keep chopping and changing his beliefs’ on the matter. As Rudd pointed out, he did indeed publicly admit to reversing his former position on same-sex marriage. It’s a backflip to be sure but just the one. Hardly the tumbling routine Prater was suggesting.

Prater went further and claimed insider knowledge with regard to Rudd’s motivations for changing his beliefs saying it was ‘just to get a popular vote’. I’m not a Rudd fan and could easily imagine that might be true enough. However it’s not a provable statement and to accuse the Prime Minister of such on live television was more than a little cheeky, I think.

But Rudd didn’t return the insult. While making it clear he doesn’t hold the Bible in the same esteem that Prater does, he didn’t suggest that God was disinclined to rail against slavery in his Book because (Rudd happens to know) God is a despicable racist fuck. See? Manners.

Anyway, it turns out Pastor Prater’s talents extend beyond insulting public officials, quoting select snippets from ancient texts, and impersonating a rabbit about to be mown down by a combine harvester. Pastor Prater, I’ll have you know, is also an artiste. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and take a listen to his performance on the audio track here. It’s ranty, homophobic, lyric-bludgeoning gold. Although I found the performance hilarious, it is unquestionably nauseating. But do listen if you can stomach it…and then don’t tell me white guys don’t got no rhythm.


matt-prater--11720cda


Here’s my best effort to jot down the lyrics for you. There may be some mistakes but I’m totally not going back for another crack.

prater song copy

On the audio track, the first thing you might notice is that Pastor Prater uses the word ‘parody’ despite the fact that it does not mean what the thinks it means. Meh. An innocent mistake. He also seems to believe that media ratings battles are literally warlike and bloody. A misconception, perhaps. I suspect the homoerotic irony of suggesting that ‘bloggers ram it down your throat’ may have passed the good pastor by as well.

No matter. The real gist of this song is that it constitutes a laundry list of Everything Matt Likes and Everything Matt Doesn’t. American televangelists and Australian Christian hate groups? Yay! Labor politicians and two people with pokey-outy bits wanting to co-habit in legally-recognised monogamy? Boo!

It will seem almost unbelievable to sensible folk but Prater is not alone in popping these particular items neatly into Good Things/Bad Things baskets. Thousands of Australian Christians – in particular Pentecostal and other bible-believing fundamentalists – would share his views, even if most of them may have put it a little less hilariously. I once counted myself among them. With the fundies of Australia, I’d have been proud to see Prater ‘standing up for Jesus’ on Q & A, though I’d have acknowledged even back then that he made a bit of a tosser of himself.

But here’s the thing: Pastor Prater’s public airing of despicable bigotry didn’t happen in a vacuum. And I’d like to have a few words with him about that. So here goes:

***

Dear Pastor Prater,

If I were still a Bible-believing Christian, and I were going to get just one 30-second crack at speaking direct to the leader of our nation on live television, I may have used the opportunity a little more wisely than you did. I may have said something like…

‘Mr Rudd, as a Christian, how do you countenance forbidding entry to our country to some of our planet’s most vulnerable people? How can you justify sending refugees – men, women, children, the elderly – to a lawless, dangerous place like Papua New Guinea? And have you considered what effect that may have on PNG society? What about Christian compassion? What about Christian charity? What about upholding the rights of ‘the stranger within your gates’?’

or, perhaps…

‘Prime Minister, if re-elected, what will your government do to address the problem of child poverty in Australia? Will you reverse your decision to pitch thousands of single parents off the Single Parent Pension thereby driving them and their children into terrifying penury?’

or, even…

‘Mr Rudd, Australia is one of the richest, most generous nations in the world. How is it that in 2013 we still have people living on our streets, sleeping rough night after night? What will your government do to ensure these people can live their lives in dignity and safety?’

You had one chance, Pastor, and gay folk wanting to get hitched was your big Bible-honouring issue? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Most of us don’t give a rat’s eyebrow what you think your deity said 2000 years ago. We don’t either deny your right to construct yourself as Prater the Hater if you choose. But many of us have gay friends and family and so we do care that your publicly aired ‘opinions’ and ‘beliefs’ encourage homophobic hate to flourish. Real people in the real world are harmed by your views, Pastor Prater. Some of them die as a result. And some of those who die are children and young people. So with all the respect I can muster, and on behalf of the many gay people I know and love, I ask you to please shut the fuck up. Please keep your poisonous bigotry inside your church walls where fewer and fewer Australians choose to visit.

Very sincerely,

Jane

alan jones, bullies, and my dead grandad

My grandfather was not a good man. I realise it is generally considered uncouth to say such things about one’s relatives, especially the dead ones, but, the truth is, my grandfather lived almost 91 years and yet died virtually friendless. At his funeral only the scantest sprinkling of immediate family and close family friends – ours not his – were present. What I remember most was that the Presbyterian minister – a Masonic ‘brother’ from my grandfather’s lodge – recited a most ridiculous little speech about the grief he imagined the deceased’s loved ones to be enduring. In truth, few of us were sorry to see Grandad go. One of his nearest and dearest, in fact, had requested an open coffin viewing in order, she told me, ‘to be sure the bastard was dead’. Such was the affection with which my grandfather was remembered by those who knew him best. Grandad’s is the only funeral I can remember leaving dry eyed.

One of nine children born into grinding poverty in Glasgow in 1906, my grandfather shared a bed with two of his brothers. The family cottage was tiny; my grandfather’s bed was hidden inside a hallway cupboard during the day, and folded out for the boys to sleep in each night. My great-grandfather, who died before I was born, was, by all accounts, a cruel and violent man with a terrifyingly volatile temper. He would beat his children – and in particular, his sons – on a whim, with whatever weapon came to hand. Whispered family stories tell of brutal bashings with cricket bats and iron bars. In the end, Great-grandad finally died of an infection subsequent to presenting at a hospital emergency room with a slit throat. The official story was that his injury was the result of a botched suicide attempt. According to my mother’s cousin, John, who has an interest in genealogy and so conducted interviews with family members of that generation before they died, my forebears’ dirty little secret is that, in fact, after a lifetime of violent abuse, one of Great-grandad’s sons finally did for him.

It’s little wonder then that my grandfather grew up tough – and mean. He didn’t marry until his late-thirties and so was quite old by the time he and my grandmother emigrated to Australia, following my mother who had married an Australian lad and begun a family here. Grandad was bald as an egg – he had been since his 20s – but sported a tenacious half ring of grey bristle that prickled from ear to ear above his collar. He was physically imposing – tall, barrel chested and strong, even in old age. But it was his invisible yet quite tangible presence that I remember most. Grandad possessed a power to impose his mood on a household that was breathtaking in efficacy. Even as a small child, I wondered how it was he was able to do it. When he and my grandmother were spending a holiday with us, I could wake in the morning and know before I left my room whether Grandad’s mood du jour had turned dangerous yet or not.

When he was feeling chipper, Grandad could be jovial and generous. He had a repertoire of silly jokes and delighted to make us children laugh. When the mood took him, he would empty his pockets of change and with a kindly wink, tell us to ‘pop it in yer moneyboxes’. And then, ‘…to buy books!’ he would call after us as we scampered away. Grandad was entirely obsessed with self-education. He had left school at 11 and had never quite recovered from the sting of failing to make better than Captain during his Second World War posting in Italy. He was always after us kids to read the classics. We ignored him at the time, of course, but years later, having uncovered a love great literature in myself, I often smile to think he’d have been pleased in his way.

But life with Grandad was lived on a knife edge. His mood would change without warning or obvious provocation, and a profound, threatening blackness would descend on the house. It was as though rage were seeping from Grandad’s pores, or flashing from his eyes and fingertips like lightning. We all were acutely aware of his every twitch and tone for the duration of the darkness. My mother, though not herself a victim of the violence of Grandad’s younger years, had many times heard him beating her mother and brothers behind closed doors. When Grandad’s moods were upon him – and we seldom went a whole day without one during a visit – my mother would enter a state of brittle, wild-eyed terror and, drag me and my two sisters along with her. We girls would have to fly about getting Grandad cups of tea and anticipating imminent requests for other treats, turning down the television, speaking way more politely that was usual for us, and generally not-upsetting-your-grandfather. I cannot recall that Grandad’s aggression was ever more visible than power pouting but I do remember the gut-wrenching fear of the possibility that Something Much Worse could happen that held me in its grip on those days.

Although I understand now that she could do no better, I remain capable of flashes of anger that my mother taught me the most important thing to do when confronted with a bully is to avoid any possibility that you might irritate them further, whatever the cost to yourself. I learned to fear the anger of others, and to internalise blame whether or not their feelings had anything to do with me. I have come a very long journey learning to overcome a pathological dread of conflict. In part, I attribute to that phobia my teenage attraction to Christianity, and my staying so many years subject to the manipulation and control that was a central feature of my church experience.

By the end of his life, Grandad hated everyone. He was road raging waaaay before it became a thing. I remember shrinking down in the back of his car while he shook his fist at drivers who had dared to irritate him, shouting ‘Swine!’ and ‘Bastard!’ out of the window, even, perhaps especially, at women. He spent the last decade of his life in a bedsit at a War Veterans home in Sydney; meal times in the communal dining room were an abiding misery for him. Every time we visited it wouldn’t take him long to get around to complaining about the other residents: ‘That bloody fat-arsed bitch Annie MacDonald with her fucking whining….’ Annie seemed often to be the focus of Grandad’s ire. I often wondered at her boldness in continuing so to brazenly piss him off. I used to like to imagine she was a strong woman who enjoyed the game, and to wish that I’d been able to do the same.

***

I had cause to think of my grandfather this week as a furor erupted over the words of another nasty and powerful man. I live in Queensland so don’t listen to Alan Jones’ 2GB program, and only get to hear of his exploits when he’s crossed another line, as he so often does. The public outcry since the vile content of his recent speech was made public has been astonishingly loud. In response to what is probably unprecedented public pressure, so far over 60 companies who formerly advertised during Jones’ immensely popular radio program have withdrawn their support. A petition to sack Alan Jones has managed to attract over 107, 000 signatures to date. I have signed the petition myself, and sent numerous emails to advertisers suggesting they rethink their advertising policy in light of Jones’ long history of bigoted, racist, and misogynistic hate-speech.

Alan Jones (AAP).

There has, though, been some criticism of the social-media-driven campaign against Jones. Jones made what I think was a ludicrous attempt at an apology-thingy on Sunday and some have suggested that ought to be the end of it. But, rather than contrition, Jones used his ‘apology’ press conference to further express his contempt for his detractors. Not surprisingly, this riled more than a few of us up even further. Some have suggested that the anti-Jones backlash is an ALP stunt. While I have no doubt the ALP won’t miss an opportunity to gain political ground wherever it can, I can’t see 100, 000 signatures appearing on a petition almost overnight unless most of those people were just really, really annoyed. Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes commented that the action will make little difference in the long term. That could be true, but, in my view, that’s not what’s really important.

Paul Sheehan argues that the public backlash against Jones is disproportionate to his crimes, that it is an abuse of power, an act of bullying in itself. While I couldn’t care less whether Alan Jones actually loses his job over this, and while I acknowledge his right to free speech, the point is, a significant number of Australians, including some of Jones’ former fans and toadying political pals, have stood up and said, ‘We don’t like what you did. We want you to stop.’ That’s precisely the way to handle bullies. Ask any Year 2 teacher. It’s what I did in response to my grandfather phoning to abuse me when I was the 20-something mother of toddlers. ‘Grandad,’ I said, ‘I’m a grown woman. I don’t have to take this any more.’ And I hung up.

Jones is acting like a bully who has gotten away with his behaviours for far too long. To me, it looks as though Australia has risen to its feet and said in a loud voice, and without trembling, that we’re not going to put up with his nonsense any more. That is our right and our responsibility, and I’m proud to have participated. It’s likely Jones will go on to offend again, bullying is how he makes his living after all, and plenty of people don’t seem to mind that he does. But my hope is that when Jones once more goes too far, a whole lot of us will rise up and shout a little bit louder. And the time after that, louder again.

I learned something I didn’t know about Alan Jones while reading an article by David Penberthy this week. Penberthy says that, when he isn’t inciting thugs to racial violence, denigrating women, or suggesting our Prime Minister ought to be subjected to a violent death, Alan Jones ‘busies himself with generous acts for put-upon individuals and families, doing unpaid charity work, [and] writing letters to ministers on behalf of people who are illiterate or uneducated’. Who knew? If that’s true, perhaps Jones isn’t rotten to the core, and perhaps he has managed to earn the respect of one or two healthy, emotionally functional adults who have no reason to fear him. Jones is not a young man. Perhaps these good deeds will lead to a more impressive turn out at Jones’ funeral than my grandfather was able to garner.

But if I had Alan Jones’ ear for 5 minutes, this is what I’d say:

Fame is not the same thing as respect, Alan Jones, and fear is not the same as love. Who loves you, Alan? Who knows you – really knows you – and loves you still? Who will weep for you when you are gone? And what will your legacy to the Australian people be? How will the rest of us remember you, Alan? With your power, your platform, your gift of the gab, what did you do to make Australia a better, fairer, safer, kinder place for our children and grandchildren to inherit? What has been your most noble contribution, Mr Jones? And if you’re struggling to think, consider this: My grandfather lived a good deal longer than many men do. Every morning for more than 90 years he rose to a day full of possibilities, a bright instant in which to leave his mark on the world. And every day, almost without exception, he chose to do harm and not good. If that doesn’t strike you as horribly sobering and dreadfully sad, then I feel very, very sorry for you indeed.

ah, max the mennonite, we meet again

An odd thing occurred while I was writing my last blog post. A ute pulled up at my front gate and a peculiar looking man stepped out. He was wearing a homemade, collarless shirt, long canvas trousers, and sporting a crew cut and Abraham Lincoln beard. He looked very much like those angry young Muslim men who have been all over the news in the past week. Only he wasn’t a Muslim.

I recognised Max* when he was about three steps from my open front door – too late to pretend I wasn’t home. It was one of those awful moments when your past catches up with you just as you were in the very act of wiping your arse with it in a blog post. We all know how that feels, I’m sure.

Ever since my children and I had moved back into the family home post-divorce-and post-2011-flood, I’d known there was a possibility that some blast-from-the-past Christian who hadn’t heard how eminently dumpable my family had become might wander innocently in hoping for a friendly reunion. This was it and here he was. Poor Max.

Max would hate me to say this, but he’s kind of a Mennonite. The epithet is offensive because, to Max, the Mennonites are a worldly, wishy-washy bunch of compromising slackers unworthy of the name ‘Christian’. Obviously. I mean, just look at their women. Those head-coverings hardly reach to their ears and what’s the go with the visible ankles?

Max’s wife Abbie** knew how to dress. (You can see a photo of a similarly clad woman here.) Winter or scorching Queensland summer she’d be shrouded in a calf-length cape dress of thick homespun with an extra layer of fabric extending from neck to waist (to conceal any errant boobishness), and long sleeves, elasticised at the wrist (so as to prevent passing men from being provoked to lustful imaginings by unscheduled glimpses of elbow). Abbie also wore a white, past-the-shoulder, nun-like veil; opaque black tights; and black, lace-up, nurses’ shoes. Young, blonde, slim and pretty, Abbie was a walking lust averter.

Headless woman models a Mennonite cape dress.
Source: http://www.candleonthehill.net

Max and Abbie had turned judgementalism into a fine art. On the surface, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine a couple more kindly, hospitable or warm. But behind their have-another-hot-buttered-wholemeal-zucchini-muffin smiles, they wuz judging on yo ass. I never measured up. I had hair that fell almost to my knees, wore dowdy, ankle-length skirts, homebirthed and then homeschooled a hoard of ostensibly sweet, Scripture-quoting offspring, but my refusal to wear a head-covering kept me firmly in the not-too-sure-about-that-one’s-commitment-to-Jesus box as far as Max and Abbie were concerned.

Mostly, Max and Abbie used my house as a convenient, central location to meet with Christians they did like. My best friend Louise and her husband Frederick passed muster, or very nearly. They had become Amish several years earlier, and dressed almost as nicely as Max and Abbie. There remained only a few details yet to be perfected, and Max and Abbie, I think, felt confident they’d bring Louise and Frederick around to God’s way of thinking in time. The fact that Frederick was a narcissistic sociopath impinged on his Godly Head of Household status not at all, although, to be fair, none of us realised the severity of the abuse he was inflicting on Louise and their ten children. Not then.

Max and Abbie hadn’t been able to find anyone sufficiently holy with whom to spend their Sundays, so had to organise weekly church meetings via Skype with a handful of like-minded Better-than-Mennonites who were scattered – lonely and unappreciated – across North America. Abbie was US-born so eventually, they decided to move to Wisconsin in order to be closer to some of ‘the brethren’. Evidently, that hadn’t gone as well as they’d hoped so, some three years later, here they were back again with plans, Max told me, to buy some acreage in a rural area near my home, and take another crack at establishing a Christian community with some imported Americans who, he said, were soon to fly in.

As I looked at Max’s smiling face, a dozen small indignities I had endured during the years of our relationship flooded back. I remembered that I couldn’t say grace at my own table when they were visiting because, as a bare-headed woman, my prayers were deemed an affront to God. I remembered how, on two occasions they brought young Mennonite-ish men with them to visit. We showed those boys warm hospitality and thought we’d become quite friendly, but when one of them phoned from the US while we were all sitting to dinner in my home another night, Max passed the phone to Louise and Frederick, but not to us. It was then I realised they didn’t consider us friends or even believers. We were their mission field, their strategies: winsome example-setting and tacit disapproval.

Suddenly, I wanted Max gone. I considered terrifying him by stating plainly my current godless status, dropping a casual f-bomb for emphasis. I attended to an threatening attack of the giggles as I imagined a range of Mennonite-frightening subjects I could broach, and then realised none would be necessary. Max asked after my husband and I told him we were no longer married. I saw the judgement flash behind his eyes and knew I wouldn’t be hearing from Max again. Too easy.

That’s the great thing about Christians like Max and Abbie: so easily discouraged. I’m very glad they aren’t that pesky sort who care whether or not folk fry in hell. I hear those are out there.

* Not his real name.

** Or hers either.

an open letter to catherine deveny

Dear Catherine,

I realise you don’t know me but I feel compelled to write. I’m a close friend of Chrys Stevenson and, because I follow Chrys’ writing, I’ve been aware of some of the furore that has erupted since your appearance on Q&A on Monday night (10 September, 2012).

In a previous incarnation, I was a fundamentalist Christian and pastor’s wife. That’s not the relatively bland statement it may appear. I, and my children, were profoundly damaged by Christianity and, some years after leaving, we are still recovering. In any case, I thought you might like to know how that particular Q&A program looked to someone like me.

I understand, I think, what you mean when you describe Archbishop Peter Jensen as pure evil. His conduct on Q&A reminded me very much of how my ex-husband used to drive me to the point of blind rage, and then try to get me to believe I was the one at fault for losing my rag. It’s part of a clever technique I now know is called gaslighting.

Ingrid Bergman in ‘Gaslight’ (MGM, 1944)

Gaslighting is a term coined (from the movie ‘Gaslight‘) to describe a particular form of psychological or emotional abuse. The object is to cause the target to question themselves and their perception of reality. At its most extreme, the aim is to make a sane person appear demented (sometimes even to the point where they believe themselves to be going mad). The technique often works by contrasting the calm, reasonableness of the abuser against the increasingly emotional demeanour of the target. Gaslighting is often, but by no means exclusively, perpetrated by men against women; societal prejudices that position women as nervous, hysterical and less prone to logical reasoning work in the abuser’s favour. The abuser adopts the role of ‘smiling assassin’ and exploits the victim’s emotional response in order to discredit them. That abuse has, in fact, occurred is routinely denied.

Gaslighting is generally a very slow process, but while there was nothing gradual about what Jensen did, and, although I can’t imagine a whole cathedral of Archbishops being sufficient to convince you that you were the one at fault, Catherine, Jensen’s behaviour had all the hallmarks of a contrived strategy to make you look unattractive at best, and crazy at worst.

And both of those desired outcomes are tied to your being a woman. Making you seem ugly and mad is achieved through Jensen appearing the precise personification of elegant rationality and educated white maleness, all the while making vile and even outrageous statements, the import of which slide past the audience because of the persona and relational dynamic Jensen has crafted. It’s clever, and Jensen appears to be an expert. I imagine he’s been doing it for most of his professional life – and has been lauded for it. Without ever launching a personal attack, Jensen was able to make those watching join him in criticising you for being passionate, articulate, intelligent and a woman. Confronted with a communication style that should have raised little comment, viewers became embarrassed that you even existed, and most of them probably weren’t even aware of the sleight of hand being practiced.

Having spent many years in the church (where I found life as an intelligent woman who has trouble with submission fraught with difficulty) I noticed while I was watching Q&A, that two conversations were taking place in my living room. One was audible: like many viewers, I surprised myself by frequently shouting at the television in response to Jensen’s comments and demeanor; I was enraged on your behalf. The other conversation was internal, the vestigial voice of the church as I knew it – of male pastors, of God: “You are woman. Sit still! Be prettier! Take up less space! Be less powerful! Make less noise! Be nicer! We like you better when you are nicer.”

Women in the church are, in fact, largely controlled through what I call ‘the Cult of Nice’. That you – a woman – were passionate and disagreeably vocal on national television broke more seldom-spoken Christian rules than I can count. But the worst of your crimes was that you were proud and unafraid. A less practiced player may have shown himself to be overtly angry about that. But Jensen’s strategy, I think, was not to oppose you, but to destroy you – by making the rest of us ashamed of your strengths.

You, Catherine, violated the biblical doctrine of women’s ‘shamefacedness’, which, while almost invisible in contemporary Australia retains, I believe, the power to influence even many of the secular and liberal among us.

1 Timothy 2:8-10 (KJV)

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

and

1 Corinthians 14:34 (KJV)

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

and again

1 Timothy 5:14 (KJV)

I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

As, no doubt, you know, there are more where those came from.

On Monday night, Catherine, you embodied everything that certain forms of Christianity despise about women. I know how disgusted many of the Christians I once knew would have been to see you in action. Still, I have found it astonishing that with scarcely a word, Jensen was able to make even his enemies and many of your supporters believe that you were guilty of some great transgression. Such is the power of the practiced gaslighter.

There will be Christian women – and perhaps secular women too – all over Australia this week who, whether traditionally feminine women or not, will be doing their darndest to show that they are Not Like Catherine Deveny. They will want others to know that they are good women. I imagine there once were black Americans provoked to similar attitudes in response to public criticisms of that most troublesome black American, Martin Luther King Jr, and for very similar reasons.

I am not proud to admit it but I also felt the power of Jensen’s pull on my own mind. I felt it first, in fact, when I watched you engage with former Howard government minister Peter Reith on Go Back to Where You Came From: a desire to side with Nice, a sense that I ought to feel embarrassed and repelled at your bold talk, your making yourself unpleasant to those who remained ‘better controlled’. I felt instructed to be silent, smaller, more pleasant to see and hear, more submissive, less trouble. Nicer. So this is me saying, “Fuck that!”

I am deeply sorry that you have found yourself the target of so many ludicrous and vicious attacks this week. I am not suggesting that others have no right to take issue with your views, or your delivery of them. I’m not suggesting that you conducted yourself perfectly, nor am I suggesting you should aspire to do so. I’m not suggesting that you should care whether you please me, or anyone else, or that you need, or even want, my support or appreciation. But I am suggesting that the deeply personal vitriol you have encountered may be explained by the strategies I have described.

And I want to put my hand up as one woman who values your contribution, and who, because of my own experience as a Christian woman, can see Jensen’s game plan for what it was. Perhaps, in some small way, that matters.

Very sincerely,

Jane

the archbishop & the ‘s-word’

Today in the Sydney Morning Herald in an article entitled Stylish Same-Sex Campaign Glosses over Real Issues, Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen suggests that what he describes as a ‘sustained and brilliantly-orchestrated campaign to radically alter the marriage laws of this country’ is proving so successful simply because it is based on a handful of clever slogans than Jensen says are difficult to refute. In response, I’d like to address some comments to the Reverend Doctor Jensen.

Archbishop, you identified three slogans that have given you particular difficulty and, lucky you, you’d also been given some space in a prominent newspaper to do your derndest to poke holes in them. It was your big chance to explain just what’s so wrong about letting the gays get hitched, and heartened by the title of the article, I was keen to see what ‘real issues’ you had be able to uncover for us. Popcorn at the ready…off we go.

Adam and Eve. Jan Gossaert (Mabuse)


Slogan 1: Marriage Equality

You said:

The reality of the world God made is that human beings are in two sexes, male and female.

Really, Peter? That you still think that you can make statements like this and not be challenged reveals how very out of touch you are with contemporary Australia. I can accept that you have a right to believe that a god exists, that that god created the natural world, and even to believe that the Book your god is supposed to have authored has something meaningful to say about human relationships. But many of the rest us hold dear those beliefs in the very same way we confidently await Santa’s arrival each December. Just because you have devoted your life to Christian dogma (and indeed earn your living from it) does not mean that any of those beliefs form the basis of a self-evident ‘reality’ for anyone outside the evangelical Christian community, or indeed that they ought be valued as the last (or even first) word on human experience or legal provisions surrounding it. The majority of non-religious Australians simply do not accept that ‘marriage is a God-given institution’ as you said in your letter to the churches also released today.

Even if you are simply arguing here that heterosexuality is ‘natural’ while homosexuality is not, you’re on very shaky ground. Pointing at the world and saying, ‘Look! Men…women…duh!’ doesn’t build a case for a ‘reality’ that privileges heterosexual marriage and excludes all other relational variations. It is well-established that homosexuality has always existed in human populations in roughly the same proportion as it does now, just as is true of animal populations. Homosexuality is not normative – it is not a majority orientation – but it is absolutely normal in that it is naturally occurring everywhere, if you care to cast about a blushing glance. Some men are sexually attracted to men, and some women to women. They didn’t choose to be that way, they just are. That’s about as natural as it gets.

And some of those people want to get married. It’s marriage that is the social construct. The fact that there are both men and women in the world does nothing to tell us about the appropriateness or otherwise of any contractual arrangements into which they choose to enter. Humans invented marriage – probably for reasons of social stability. It’s for this reason if no other that you should be glad that some homosexual people would like the right to share in the opportunity of a lifetime of wedded bliss such as that you and Mrs Archbishop undoubtedly enjoy.

You also argue (I’m summarising here):

‘Equality’ is a misnomer: real equality would include pedophilia, incest and bigamy.

Apart from the obvious straw man strategy of equating same-sex relationships (which are legal, adult and consensual) with practices that fail to qualify on one or more of those counts, you have not managed to make any point of refutation here at all. An oblique allusion to the tired, old slippery slope theory hardly counts as a reasoned argument. If I am understanding you rightly, you would like to make people fearful about purchasing Object A by telling them that if they do, they will get Objects B, C, D and E in the package free of charge. Objects B–E are not A, or in reality even like A, but people should know that will arrive in the post together, and we should be very, very afraid about that. In the absence of evidence, generating baseless fear is a common ploy. It’s patently dishonest though, and unless you are Bill Muehlenberg, you probably know it. You probably also know that marriage to a minor, marriage to a sibling, and polygamy are condoned in the Bible. But perhaps it’s impolite of me to mention.

Fortunately, we are unlikely to see the institution of biblical marriage law in Australia any time soon. On the oft-trotted-out subject of polygamy, for example, Law Council of Australia president Catherine Gale has stated:
The Law Council does not consider that the proposed amendments [to the Marriage Act] can possibly lead to the legalisation of polygamy. The proposed amendments only seek to create equality between heterosexual and same-sex couples in marriage. In none of the overseas countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised has this led to the legalisation of polygamy.

That’s what an argument based on evidence and professional expertise looks like, Peter. FYI.

Lesbian couple in the act of destroying the foundations of society. With their dog.
Source: http://www.catholicvote.org


Slogan 2: Marriage won’t change

Here’s where you start to really nail your colours to the mast. In response to statements that legislating to allow same-sex marriage will not essentially alter heterosexual marriage you say:

My marriage would be different. It’s no good asserting otherwise. When a society redefines one of its basic institutions, it affects everyone. I would have to find a different word for my marriage, or add the rider ”heterosexual” to the word ”marriage”.

Did you really just say that? Do you tell your friends you have a ‘white marriage’ now that we allow blacks and whites to tie the knot? And gays have been having sex for, oooh, a while now. Do you describe your intimate relations with your wife as ‘heterosexual sex’ just so as to be clear it is distinct from the icky sex the homos get up to? Perhaps you do. And perhaps you just will have to find a new and suitably self-righteous name to adequately describe your own marital status should Australia legislate to remove discrimination against people you’d rather now share the institution with. Perhaps ‘smugarriage’ would do.

You go on to say:

Same-sex marriage is symbolic of social acceptance of gay sex as a moral good.

True, true. Or at least, acceptance as a moral neutral.

Most people still believe the physical make-up of humans points in another direction.

I most certainly am not sniggering at the little phallic allusion you snuck in there, Mr Archbishop, sir.

But they would not be able to prevent their children being taught that consenting sex between any two persons is a matter of moral and physical indifference.

Ah. Now we’re at the crux. Pointy-outy bits should go with pokey-inny bits. And never unless the owners of said bits are married (the proper kind) and never, never should you try to fit together bits of a similar configuration. Ever. To do this is ‘immoral’.

We’re not silly, Peter. Those of us who have lived inside evangelical Christianity know that ‘immoral’ is code for ‘sin’, and that word necessarily embodies ‘judgement’ which inevitably leads to ‘eternal damnation’. What you are really saying here is that homosexual people are going to burn in hellfire for eternity and that the effect on our nation if we fail to tell our littlies that dreadful truth will be catastrophic.

I’d like to say (a) bullshit and (b) have you considered at all the catastrophic effect of telling young gay people they are going to suffer an eternity of fiery torment? Given a choice, I’d rather explain (as I have) to my children that some men love men and some women love women, rather than describe the unending agonies a supposedly loving god is going to wreak on gay friends and family for not being born heterosexual. Legislating for marriage equality won’t change your Book and it won’t change your belief in the sin, judgement and suffering detailed therein, but it will help young Australians – gay and straight – know that the expression of their sexuality is normal, and that it is acceptable to the rest of us.

But once again, aside from a foot-stamping tanty about sharing marriage’s name, there’s no actual evidence or reasoned argument here. So moving on…

Slogan 3: It’s inevitable
You appear, if I may be so bold, to go a little bit mental here, Peter. Here’s what you said:

The stylish and confident propaganda has become pervasive. Federal politics is in danger of being distorted. Those who are doubtful or opposed have been tempted to remain silent rather than be accused of promoting hate. But it is interesting that in 30 US states where the matter has been put to a direct vote (as against imposed legislative or judicial change), the majority voted against ”gay marriage”. There is also evidence of electoral fatigue in Britain and Australia.

Same-sex marriage is not inevitable. It is not even possible. It would be better for us all if the law reflected the truth human beings have always known. Social engineering cannot change realities as basic as these. But the consequences of an attempt may still be painful.

I think you must have missed a bit. Explain to me how your arguments are self-evident, truthful reflections of reality, while marriage equality activists’ statements instead constitute pervasive propaganda? Oh, I know what it is! You’re squeamish about using the ‘s-word’ again. Indeed, the truth behind this article, Archbishop, is not that the apparently frightful cleverness of these slogans makes them too slippery for you to effectively address, but that you find it difficult to argue against them without revealing the cruel religious dogma that underlies your position, without calling homosexuality ‘sin’ (as you truthfully believe it to be) with its embarrassing but inevitable connection to ‘judgement’ and ‘damnation’, without revealing that your belief is, at its core, every bit as repugnant as the views held by members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
The truth is, there is not a hair’s breadth between WBC’s views and your own. No-one is buying your ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ bullshit any more, Archbishop. We know your commitment to biblical ‘truth’ has made you a bigot. Coded it may be but you reveal it every time you open your  mouth.
And, as you seem to be wondering about it, that’s why we say you are promoting hate. It’s because you are.

Westboro Baptist Church. They think gay people are going to hell, too.

Browned off by bigotry: a campaigner’s insight into the Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

Thanks to Chrys Stevenson and Phil Browne for allowing me to share this post here.

In late October 2011, Queensland Treasurer, Andrew Fraser announced his plan to introduce a Civil Partnerships Bill to the Queensland Parliament before Christmas. Since then, my friend Phil Browne and his colleagues have been actively involved in lobbying in support of the bill, and monitoring reaction to it.

It’s been an emotional experience for Phil and I hope you will be as moved (and incensed!) as I was by his very personal account from the ‘campaign trail’. What follows is a longer version of an article that will appear in the December edition of Queensland Pride.

If you are moved by the words of my guest blogger, please, take an extra moment to take some of the steps he suggests at the end of this post. Marriage equality is fast gaining momentum – the only thing that stands in our way is apathy.

Browned off by bigotry: a campaigner’s insight into the Queensland Civil Partnerships Bill

by guest blogger, Phil Browne

Queensland’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community has been buzzing since Queensland MP, Andrew Fraser, surprised us all by announcing his intention to introduce a Civil Partnerships Bill to the Queensland Parliament. Like many other Queenslanders, both gay and straight, I don’t care about the timing of the Bill or even if it’s a political stunt. Improving our rights late, is better than not at all.

I was among the dozens of marriage equality supporters who packed into the public gallery of Parliament House on 25 October 2011 to hear Andrew Fraser explain his proposal. I was both moved and elated when his presentation drew a spontaneous burst of applause from the public gallery. My optimism grew as the Premier spoke very strongly in support of civil unions. It was exciting to be amongst such positive energy at Parliament House.

I tweeted:

“Thank You @TheQldPremier @AndrewFraserMP for supporting#QldCivilUnions & @gracegracemp for calling “here here” in Parliament RT”

and:

Here’s the text of Queensland’s Civil Partnerships Bill 2011 introduced to Parliament 2 days ago http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/Bills/53PDF/2011/CivilPartB11_P.pdf #lgbt #gay

Next, the Bill was referred to a Parliamentary Committee for their scrutiny. As part of this process, submissions were called for and public hearings scheduled. The committee is due to return their recommendations to Parliament by 21 November. Full content should be made available on here.

A return trip to Parliament the following week provided a sad reality check. LNP and independent MPs attacked the Bill with relentless vigour. It was very obvious they wanted to kill this Bill and keep us as second class citizens. With the Opposition and independents yelling their arguments and snide put downs (presumably based on homophobia and/or ignorance) coming thick and fast it was impossible not to take their opposition as a personal attack. These MPs didn’t even know me, yet here they were yelling out reasons to deny me justice. I wanted to respond to their pathetic reasoning, but we’d been warned that any calling out or even touching the gallery handrail could see us ejected. As a homosexual, you half expect this sort of abuse in the streets, but not in the place where laws are made – supposedly to protect people.

As Andrew Fraser explained, civil unions are inferior to marriage but it’s the best a state government can do. Only the Federal Government has the power to legalise same-sex marriage. So what are some MPs opposed to? Why not allow Queensland to follow Tasmania, Victoria, NSW and the ACT who already have civil unions? It certainly looks to me like they want to prevent treating queers as equal and will do anything to achieve this.

I tweeted:

@AndrewFraserMP Great responses to the LNP Kawana MP at Parl today “mate” Shameful LNP opposing equality. Thank you for doing right thing.”

(My reference to “mate” related to Andrew Fraser addressing a fellow MP as “mate”, rather than “the honourable member”, to indicate that the MP was being totally unreasonable in his objections to the Bill. Well done Mr Deputy Premier!)

Photo courtesy of Ricki Kronsteiner

A particularly nasty insinuation was that the Civil Partnerships Bill should be dismissed because it did not enjoy wide community support. We knew this was untrue, but Independent MP Chris Foley gloated that, on the day submissions were to close, of more than 300 submissions received, only nine supported the Bill. My fellow advocates and I were totally stunned to hear this. The four of us had each lodged a submission; could there really only be five other people in the entire state who had bothered to put their support for the Bill in writing? This was hard to believe, but it sent us into immediate action mode. I sent out a bulk e-mail and urged my social networks to get writing.

On Facebook and Twitter I wrote:

ONLY 9 SUBMISSIONS FOR #QldCivilUnions 292 AGAINST Say you want Civil Unions BEFORE 5PM TODAY e-mail to lapcsesc@parliament.qld.gov.au RT”

“URGENT ACTION CALL: MAKE A SUBMISSION TO QLD LEGAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE BY 5PM TODAY http://fb.me/1jUUxu1tr “.

It was incredibly frustrating. We knew most Queenslanders were behind us, we just had to motivate the masses to make their feelings known.

As with the recent Rip & Roll debacle where the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) orchestrated a campaign to remove tasteful and discrete safe sex posters from bus shelters, our social media networks were invaluable for spreading the word and getting people to take action. We imagined how the ACL would now be lobbying their members and church groups to make submissions opposing civil unions. But each time they oppose us, we become better organized and our networks grow. Now, instead of contacting the company Adshel, we were rallying the troops to make last minute submissions. Interesting how the Australian Christian Lobby group has been involved in both these cases.

Our next task was to challenge LNP Leader Campbell Newman. Despite previously stating his support for same-sex marriage, Newman announced that, not only would he continue the LNP’s long-standing opposition to marriage equality, he would deny LNP MPs a conscience vote.

I tweeted:

Attending Campbell Newman “Listening post” TODAY 12:00-12:45 Seils Park Toomba Ave Ashgrove to ask why not allow Civil Union conscience vote”

and

“If you can get to Ashgrove at midday TODAY to challenge Newman, then join us – Map: http://www.whereis.com/qld/ashgrove/toomba-av?id=11EABE92390B32

Numerous equality advocates questioned Mr Newman in his Ashgrove electorate, but he was adamant his decision would stand. At least I heard it direct from his own mouth. When I vote I will remember how Newman set aside his personal convictions on justice and equality for no better reason than to score political points. It was a truly appalling display of political amorality.

The following week brought another return visit to Parliament House for a full day of public hearings by the Parliamentary Committee. Twenty-one different groups were invited to share their views about the Bill directly with the committee comprising six MPs (ALP, Independent and LNP).

I tweeted:

Program & witness list for public hearing day 10 Nov for #QldCivilUnions Bill http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/LAPCSESC/ 2011/CivilPartnerships/hp-10Nov11.pdf

Will speakers speak of LOVE or HATE??”

The eleven groups invited to speak against civil unions were all church or “family” organisations. I’m a strong person, but I was fearful of what toxic hateful comments I might hear coming from these groups, and how I might react to them. Walking to Parliament House I saw a lesbian couple walking hand in hand, and I took this to be an omen that all would be okay. If there was any justice in the world, love would prevail.

Waiting for entry to the Parliamentary Annexe a crowd was gathering for the day’s proceedings. It was very haunting looking around the crowd at people you did not know. Were they friend or foe? It was hard to tell which side people were on. Who would soon stand up and spew filthy hate from their mouth, and who would speak of love and acceptance? All this was unknown. I acknowledged an elderly woman – could she be a grandparent here to support her gay grandchild, or someone with a narrow closed mind convinced that gays were inferior? I soon learnt she was the latter.

Upon entering the large room where the public hearing was being held, I saw rows of chairs with an aisle down the middle. For the first time it struck me, “Where does everyone sit?” Is there one side for supporters and one for opponents? It was hauntingly like attending a wedding and determining which side to sit on depending if you knew the bride or groom. I almost laughed out loud with the irony of the situation. Here I was fighting for the right of same sex couples (in addition to opposite sex couples) to have legal and social recognition of their love. I was here because I wanted, one day, to see rows of seats for bride and bride and groom and groom, and here I was deciding whether to sit on the bride’s side or the groom’s! To this day I find this rather hilarious. As people who live our whole lives with discrimination, we learn to make light of things that may otherwise upset us, though yes – it still hurts.

The public hearing began with those arguing against civil unions and Wendy Francis from the Australian Christian Lobby was first to speak. Speaker after speaker spoke of the “harm” granting civil unions would do, especially to the “children” and the “family”. It was getting very monotonous and I was wondering when they were going to say it would fade the curtains too! One “family” organisation representative compared us to nuts and bolts, saying a nut and a bolt “marry”, but two nuts or two bolts “are not biologically complementary”.

Another presented each committee member with a photo of a 2.25 metre high basalt sculpture from the 19th century BC – the Amorite dynasty. It contained the Code of Hammurabi which was 282 ancient “laws” written in cuneiform, the script of the Babylonians. Apart from thinking can someone tell this man it’s 2011 not the 19th Century BC, the statue was extremely phallic looking. Like many others, including the committee I suspect, I was left scratching my head and thinking, “When are you going to present your “real” argument?” If it wasn’t November, you could have thought it was April Fools’ Day.

Some speakers seemed not to comprehend the Bill would also allow heterosexual couples to enter civil unions. Instead they spoke only of the harm that would ensue if homosexual couples are granted this right. Even when MPs responded that civil unions will provide immediate legal protection to the children of heterosexual parents (who, otherwise, may have to wait for up to two years for recognition of their defacto status), the speakers remained opposed.

But there were some light moments. When the opponents were making their case, the committee’s raised eyebrows and shaking heads (and even laughter once when threesomes and foursomes were suggested) spoke volumes. It did occur to me (and perhaps to the committee) that these conservative Christians seem to have kinkier sex fantasies than us!

Attending the parliamentary hearing had an added bonus; by the end of the session I had composed a list of churches never to send a gay person to, for fear of them being cajoled into an ex-gay program!

Something that shocked me was that some of these opponents with such distorted views were younger people. Curiously, I was also surprised that some were so good looking – Wendy Francis, for example, is a surprisingly attractive woman, and a couple of the nice reverends would certainly turn heads in a gay bar. I guess I had this perception they would all be old and ugly, like their out-dated and ugly prejudices. Perhaps I was expecting a room full of Fred Niles and Jim Wallaces.

I was also shocked to hear representatives of so many supposedly “loving” churches make the wildly outrageous (and completely unsubstantiated) claim that civil unions will cause “social breakdown”, “family breakdown” and “breakdown the social fabric”. Silly me! I thought religion was about love, acceptance, and not judging others. It sure seems like a truck-load of judging going on here.

The tragic thing is that ignorant people with attitudes like this, many of whom are pastors and ministers, are spreading hate and using religion as an excuse. These attitudes inevitably contribute to LGBT youth suicide as people are told they are inferior and evil, and won’t get to heaven, leading many to feel they have no place in society. Sadly, they are also contributing to full waiting rooms at psychologists across the world. The human toll is immeasurable.

I was pleased to see MPs interject numerous times to correct speakers or challenge outlandish claims unsupported by evidence:

  • Numerous times MPs commented that speakers were arguing against same sex marriage, yet the Bill is not about marriage, and marriage is different to civil unions.
  • When a reverend raised threesomes and foursomes, ALP MP Grace Grace responded “Are you advocating that way?”
  • In response to a speaker saying that, granting civil unions was like changing the rules of a sport “for the sake of some who did not want to play the game in the particular way it was designed”, ALP MP Carolyn Male pointed out that the game of cricket and various football games have all undergone rule changes.
  • John-Paul Langbroek MP said, “Reverend Twinn, you say in your submission, ‘Other nations that have deviated from this bedrock definition have paid a heavy cost.’ Could you outline for the committee what cost they have paid?” “Do you have any empirical evidence?” It was great to see this being challenged, but my elation was quickly deflated by the realisation that, being from the LNP, Langbroek is bound to vote against this Bill – even if the reasons for doing so make no sense.

Everything said on the day can be read on the Hansard transcript here.
Some organisations seem to think that adding the word “family” to their name, gives them the authority to hate and judge others. As the opponents to the Bill concluded their arguments, I was left with the impression that the word ‘family’ had been hijacked. To these critics, a ‘family’ is an exclusive club owned by heterosexuals. As the self-appointed moral guardians of this club, they claim their right to determine who can join and what filthy riff-raff has to be kept out. We homosexuals, it seems, are the filthy riff-raff – and that’s on a good day!

I tweeted:

#QldCivilUnions Public Hearing: Christian haters shoot self in foot. MP’s raise eyebrows & shake heads in response to outrageous statements.”

Finally, we heard from the ten groups supporting the Bill. These included numerous church groups, PFLAG, Australian Marriage Equality, Healthy Communities, the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, the Anti-Discrimination Commission and the Queensland Law Society.

I noticed that when real stories were told the committee concentrated and listened intently. As speaker after speaker stated the case for passing the Bill, I saw no negative facial expressions at all from the committee members. It was a refreshing change to finally hear the word ‘family’ connected with “love” – something curiously absent from the presentations of those who claimed to speak in support of traditional ‘Christian’ values. The word love was mentioned repeatedly in the afternoon session and I was revelling in it. Finally this is what it’s all about … LOVE. Why can’t everyone see that? It’s so logical.

Stories were told of awful discrimination against same sex couples without legal recognition and protection offered by civil unions. With my health care background I, too, had seen cases where a family who rejected a child decades ago for being being gay, suddenly appear at their child’s death bed, claiming next of kin rights, and legally ordering that the same sex partner of 30 years be excluded from seeing their partner in love and life. One such tragic story told to the committee gave me goosebumps. This evil discrimination must stop now.

By the end of the day I felt confident the committee could see through the false and unjustified arguments against civil unions and would recommend to Parliament that the Bill should proceed.

It’s been a roller-coaster ride and it’s impossible to remain emotionally detached. It’s demeaning to have perfect strangers brawling over whether you should have the same rights as other Australians. Seeing this in Parliament is challenging because you are not allowed to respond.

The battle will not be won until MPs debate and then vote on the Bill. This is likely to take place between 29 November and 1 December (with a high probability it will be the evening of Wed 30 Nov) and we have lots of work to do before then. Campaigners against the Bill, who sadly are much more militant lobbyists than us, are flooding MPs with demands they vote against it. It’s essential that our supporters – both gay and straight – make the effort to tell their MPs to vote for the Bill.

If this historic Bill is to pass, we really need to engage our real-life and online networks and encourage as many Queenslanders as possible to contact their local State MP in support of Andrew Fraser’s Civil Partnerships Bill. Please do this before 29 November.

We know some LNP MPs would like to vote for the Bill, but their Leader Campbell Newman will not allow them to vote for what is right and just – despite Mr Newman saying he supports same sex marriage – go figure! With enough pressure, some of these supportive LNP MPs may be “sick” on the day of the vote. This would mean they are not present and cannot vote against the Bill. Similarly some ALP MPs have said they will vote against the Bill, and with enough pressure, some of them may be persuaded, instead, to support the Bill.

So YES, your say can make a difference.

I’m so disappointed that I will be in Sydney when the bill is likely to be debated and voted on. For those of you present in the public gallery when it passes – PLEASE STAND UP AND SCREAM YOUR TITS OFF FOR ME. Scream for me, scream for you, scream for justice, scream for all Queenslanders who will benefit from this Bill.

Phil Browne

Take Action Now!

To Support Civil Partnerships in Queensland

All Queenslanders, please contact your local MP.

How do you do this?

STEP 1Click here.
Type in your address.
This will tell you the name of your electorate.

STEP 2Click here.
On the right, half way down, you will see “FIND A MEMBER”
Beneath that go to “Electorate name” and click the drop down menu.
When you see your electorate name, click it to see your MP’s contact details.

To support the legalisation of Same Sex Marriage by the Federal government:

All Australians, please take action here.

Get Informed – Stay Informed

Why is Fraser only asking for civil partnerships, not same-sex marriage?

Marriage equality advocates are generally opposed to the FEDERAL government
granting civil unions, as the FEDERAL government has the power to grant us full
marriage and anything less is second rate.

However, the STATE governments don’t have the power to introduce marriage at
STATE level, so this is the best the STATES can do – plus it puts more pressure on
the Federal government to act. Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT and NSW already have
civil unions.

The differences between marriage and civil unions are explained here.

Queensland Civil Partnership Bill:

Listen to Podcast – Great explanation by @GaySavvy & @GraceGraceMP listen from the 37:00 mark.

Australian Marriage Equality

You can remain informed by following the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group. Join their e-mail list here , friend them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @AMEQUALITY

Queensland Pride

Queensland Pride will be keeping a close eye on the passage of this Bill. You can sign up for updates from Queensland Pride on their website. Phil’s article, above, is a longer version of an article to be published in Queensland Pride’s December edition.

being ‘really’ gay


I quite like this slogan. Hate is certainly voluntary. And although, as it happens, I’m straight so can’t speak from personal experience, I have no difficulty accepting that being gay is likely to stem from a genetic predisposition. When you consider what most LBGT young people suffer on their way to adulthood, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t choose to fit in if they could. I think most of my gay friends and family would say they are gay because they just are, that it isn’t a matter of choice.

But that’s not the way everyone would see it. One very dear friend of mine identifies herself as pan-sexual. She tells me that it is the person she falls in love with, not their gender, and that she is equally as likely to find herself falling in love with a woman as a man. She tells me she is sexually attracted to both. This makes sense to me when she explains it but there are those – even in the gay community – who think my friend is just kidding herself, that there’s no such thing as a genuine bi-sexual orientation. That a person is either heterosexual, homosexual, asexual or celibate. They would say that my friend is just in denial and that really, she’s a lesbian. Now they could be right for all I know, but I’d ask: why on earth should my friend feel obliged accept a label of someone else’s choosing? Is her sexual identity really anyone’s business but her own?

That’s what I find a little bit worrying. Any suggestion that there is a ‘real’ kind of gay is disturbing. I mean, do we really accept LGBTIQ people only because they are genetically bound to be same-sex attracted? If a person who considered themselves to be of heterosexual orientation did choose to have one, or multiple or even a lifetime of same-sex relationships, and even use the term gay to describe themselves, would that not be OK? I mean, whose business is it why anyone else is in any sort of relationship, same-sex or hetero, so long as the relationship is between consenting adults? Surely people can decide these private matters for themselves without others judging the validity of their motive.

It’s my view that we need to be accepting of diversity, of the idea that consenting adults can suit themselves about how to live and love. We love our LGBTIQ friends and family because of who they are, not because they fit neatly into some box so that we can easily understand them. If we base acceptance on some genetically predetermined orientation – even if genetics are the cause of same-sex orientation for most gay and lesbian people – aren’t we in danger of denying acceptance to people whose sexuality isn’t quite so clearly defined as it is for others? And perhaps then we force people – who are still figuring out where they will land, or may just enjoy a variety of relationships over their lifetime – to pick sides…or else.

I tend to think we’ll see the world taking a more flexible attitude to sexual identity as time goes by. I suspect we’ll find more and more people choosing short- and long-term relationships based on the capacity of those relationships to provide mutual enrichment, without regard to whether they happen to fit rigid gender guidelines. I think we’ll find we have to expand our definitions even beyond gay, lesbian, bi-, transgender, intersex and queer. Maybe the time to include ‘pan-sexual’ on that list is already here.

While I think the fact that being gay isn’t generally voluntary is an important point to make on the way to changing public attitudes, I would not like to see that in an effort to gain the community acceptance they deserve as human beings, LGBT people establish a sort of gay elitist class that excludes those who don’t neatly fit into one box or the other. We should stand against hatred, not because the haters are hating on something that can’t be helped, but because hating people – any sort of people, for any reason – is just plain wrong.

Just some thoughts anyway. I’d be interested to hear from LGBT people on the subject.


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