How do we protect ourselves from the culture wars?

OPINION: Colin Longworth is a psychologist in private practice and a long-term volunteer with Living Proud.

I believe our Prime Minister may have a conflict of interest between his pentecostal religious beliefs and his role as leader of the country. He has even been quoted as saying “Australia needs more prayer”.

Unfortunately all this reignited public debate about the rights of LGBTI people, under the guise of ‘religious freedom’ this also has the potential, and will almost certainly create mental health issues for all LGBTI people, i.e. the suburban and ‘quieter’ ones, not ‘not living their lives out on the LGBTI scene’ and those in their own LGBTI families (no matter how defined).

It would seem to me our Prime Minister has a proverbial ‘bee in his pentecostal bonnet’, about LGBTI issues, in light of his reported comments about transgender people’s use of toilets and the religious fervour with which he has pursued these ‘religious freedoms’ bills.

However, we seem to be getting mixed messages from the Prime Minister, in that in the context of proposed changes to the Sex discrimination Act, (about protecting young LGBTI students in religious schools) the Prime Minister said: “No Australian frankly, because of their sexual identity or their sexuality, their faith, their race, their ethnicity, should be discriminated against – that’s my view – because of who they are.”

As well as his comments in the context of Brunei’s anti-gay laws that “The government’s view is clear: criminalisation of consensual same-sex relationships is unacceptable. We believe in equal human rights for LGBTI persons and an end to violence and discrimination against LGBTI across the region and globally.”

Yet there was no consultation with those to whom this ‘religious freedom’ is really directed – LGBTI Australians.

Whether they be employees, e.g. teachers at religious schools (notwithstanding that the schools get massive amounts of our taxpayers funds); young LGBTI people who risk being expelled from their schools (with no real right of redress) if they are honest about their emerging non-heterosexuality; the parents of these young people; or similarly, children from same-sex parented families.

Research published in January, after the Marriage Equality Postal survey and conducted by Ecker, Riggle, Rostosky and Byrnes says in its summary that: “Findings suggest that the marriage equality debate represented an acute external minority stress event that had measurable negative impacts on mental health of LGBTIQ people and their allies.”

It is reasonable to assume that the current and pending debates about this proposed ‘religious freedom” laws, or as I think of them ‘special religious rights’ laws, will continue to create difficulties for LGBTI Australians, with increased anxiety and depression and fears (justified or not) about verbal, cyber (i.e. social media) general media and or physical attacks on them.

I feel it is no secret that these laws came about because of the sour losers in the Liberal party, (as I wrote about in OUTinPerth in November 2017) who were vehemently opposed to marriage equality, wielding power within the party.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO PROTECT OURSELVES?

In my July 2017 OUTinPerth article, A mental health survival guide for the religious freedom debateI suggested a few ideas, which I’ve amended to become, in no particular order;

  • Writing to, or visiting your Federal Members of Parliament and Senators to express your opposition to this unwarranted extension of ‘special eights” to those of a religious persuasion.
  • Catching up with LGBTI and supportive family and friends to e.g. watch positive LGBTI films and or historical documentaries, like The Hidden History of Homosexual Australia.
  • Reading about LGBTI history, e.g. via books like Stonewall by Martin Duberman or From this day forward : marriage equality in Australia : where the debate came from, why the reform matters, how change will be achieved, with some digressions on Australian history, gay identity and Tasmania by Rodney Croome; Gay & lesbian, then & now : Australian stories from a social revolution, by Robert Reynolds and Shirleene Robinson, as a few examples.
  • Consider a digital holiday – i.e. avoiding social media where you might be reminded of the presence of the homophobes and haters lurking in cyberspace.
  • Since I wrote that article, OUTinPerth reported how Switchboard Victoria prepared a single page handout, Let’s Talk Self Care During the Religious Freedom Debate that may be worth putting up on your fridge or noticeboard.
  • Or head online and lodge your own submission about this potentially discriminatory package of laws.

In conclusion, we should not fall into the trap of believing that the passing of this discriminatory law is inevitable, we do have the power to turn this around. From my own letter writing to politicians, I feel it can also be worthwhile looking at what individual politicians have said in the past and quote their own words back to them. In particular, their inaugural speeches. For example, Christian Porter saying:

“Important moments in history are determined by all kinds of factors. However, the single most important factor is almost always the quality of the people in charge of decision making. And hinges of fate are lubricated by the collective outcome of quality decision making.”

As well as his Parliamentary colleague Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, who in her first speech to the Senate when she quoted reverend Hesburg, with the Senator noting how he said:

“My basic principle is that you don’t make decisions because they are easy; you don’t make them because they are cheap; you don’t make them because they are popular; you make them because they are right.”

Remember support is available, in various way, not just supportive family and friends, but also Q-Life on 1800 184 527 from 3pm to midnight and Lifeline is available 24/7 on 131114.

Colin Longworth


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