Burns, Israel, and Erasure

"MS_paint93" by PerrySore is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Just at the point when we have hardly ever been more visible in society and the culture, an equal and opposite push to erase us – to push us back into the closet – seems to be underway. Even some of our own are whispering – nay, shouting – that we should stop rocking the boat and be grateful for what we have. Though there is at least one person – who was almost erased physically by homophobia – who disagrees. Now read on…

Rugby Australia

The growing tendency to minimise, if not outright erase, the voice of LGBTI people is on display in the current cause celebre.

Rodney Croome points out that the settlement between Rugby Australia and Israel Folau offers not even the a token apology or reparation to the LGBTI community, the people most impacted by this mess. Writing on Facebook, Croome points out the dangerous spin embedded in the words.

“Folau was harmed, he did not intend to harm others, and, by the omission of any reference to it, no harm was done to LGBTIQ people. Folau emerges with his martyr’s halo intact. The pain of the LGBTIQ community is made invisible. The naivety of Rugby Australia in allowing the “religious freedom” movement to frame the language of the settlement, together with its failure to get an apology from Folau to the LGBTIQ community, or any kind of funding for LGBTIQ support organisations, is why I can’t agree with Equality Australia or Pride in Sport when they congratulate Rugby Australia for the outcome. Perhaps the resolution will help Rugby Australia but it does little for those who have suffered most from this sorry episode. It does nothing to stymie the rise of the anti-LGBTIQ “religious freedom” movement.”

Don’t rock the boat

To remove the spin and reduce the statement to its essentials, “RA and Israel Folau are sorry you were upset”. This offers little more than lip-service. For pointing this out, I have been told that to “shush, don’t ask for anything more, no wonder people don’t like us, you’re sooooo entitled…”

If I want reparations for the LGBTI community from Folau, that’s nothing to do with RA, apparently. I should sue him myself. Well, I won’t, but I know a man who will.

Gary Burns

Yes, I know, you’re already rolling your eyes and going, “Gary Burns!” Gary is what is politely called “a polarising figure” in LGBTI circles. Where other soi-disant activists are content with invites to Canberra back rooms, helping the government chamfer the edges off the latest piece of discriminatory legislation, Gary exploits existing vilification laws to hold people to account.

In Gary’s book – and in mine – words matter, and if people say untrue and damaging things about us, they should be called out. And to make sure the lesson sticks, they should apologise with their cheque books. No pain, no gain.

Despite being in a deep financial hole with existing legal expenses, Gary is starting an action demanding Folau make an apology and donate $100k to  an LBGTI charity.

Burns has in the past tackled people like Jeff Kennett and John Laws. He went after Bernard Gaynor (remember him?), who taunted that “Burns, if he had any integrity at all, would complain against Israel Folau.” Well, he has.

Financial Woes

Gary hasn’t always won, and even when he has, any ‘winnings’ have gone to charity, which is why he now finds himself in financial strife.

“In 2013, Sydney anti-discrimination campaigner Garry Burns filed a complaint … alleging comments published by then Katter’s Australia Party candidate Tess Corbett—comparing gays to pedophiles—breached the anti-vilification provisions of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act.

… TheTribunal substantiated Mr Burns’ application and orders were made by the Tribunal for Ms Corbett to apologise in writing to Mr Burns and publish an apology to the gay community in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tess Corbett did not comply and Mr Burns unsuccessfully commenced proceedings in the NSW Supreme Courts, to get Ms Corbett to comply with the orders.

Mr Burns appealed to the High Court of Australia, which dismissed his appeal and ordered him to pay the respondent’s costs. He now has a legal bill of $81,644.70 which he cannot pay.

Stiffing people with heavy legal costs is the laws way of telling you to shut up and go away.


 Why does Gary do it?

I’m ashamed to say that until now I have never wondered why he bothers, especially in the face of the vitriol he gets from his own community.

He bothers because he was brought face to face with the reality of homophobia, nearly losing his life in the process.

“To understand the genesis of all this legal activity, it is necessary to step back to 1988, to Bondi’s Marks Park, one of the venues for an epidemic of gay-hate crimes across Sydney. Burns says three youths dragged him towards the cliffs and almost murdered him. This and other gay-hate crimes have left him with post-traumatic shock disorder.

“When you believe you’re going to be thrown over the clifftop to your death, and you piss your pants, and you manage to get away, what it does is it puts you in a direction you didn’t think you’d necessarily be in,” Burns says.

“That direction was that I have to do something to ensure hatred and vilification are not part of the Australian psyche.”

Click here to give Gary a helping hand

Other erasures

While you’re here, it’s worth looking at other LGBTI erasures happening in important areas of government activity.


We will not be counted in the national census. There are many reasons why it is vitally important we should be. We don’t know many of us there are – at least, willing to identify themselves to the census takers. We don’t know how many live alone, or with spouses, or in other circumstances.

“Australians who identify as lesbian or gay have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation than their heterosexual counterparts. Transgender and sexually diverse people fare even worse.

… knowing how much of the general population this affects, where these groups reside and the communities they belong to using census data will mean governments can begin to address these issues more adequately.”

In plain English, if we’re not counted, we don’t count. Ministers can shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, there may be a problem, but can’t allocate resources based on mere anecdotal evidence. Show me the figures.”

Mental Health

As I never tire of explaining, LGBTI people, especially young people growing up, often have poor mental health. Because we are born, raised and live in a frequently hostile, homophobic, unsupportive environment. Not everyone can handle the pressure. Nonetheless, the federal government doesn’t want to know.

“The federal government’s draft National Action Plan for the Health of Children and Young People: 2020 to 2030, fails to mention LGBTI youth.

The consultation draft made available on the Health Department website lists four priority populations:

Children and young people from rural and remote areas

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children and young people

Children and young people born in to poverty

Children and young people living with disability

But nowhere in the document, nor in the Healthy, Safe and Thriving: National Strategic Framework for Child and Youth Health the action plan is building from, is the added vulnerability of being an LGBTI young person within the priority populations mentioned.”

Dangerous times

These are undoubtedly dangerous times. We have an extremist Christian PM, backed by a cheer squad of fellow-travellers, burning to get back at us, outraged that we have taken our marriage gains, not as an end, but a beginning.

How dare we? Why are we not thankful? How dare we, like Oliver Twist, ask for more! How ungrateful! We must be punished.

They have no interest in further progress, or even in maintaining the status quo. They don’t like losing, as they showed with their determined destruction of medevac. They are pushing hard to reverse our gains, too. They are ascendant in this government. This is not the time to cower under the bedclothes and hope they go away. They won’t.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)