Free Speech Is Never Free


A lot of people have found to their surprise this week, that while they are perfectly free to say what they think, it has consequences. And they’re not happy.

No-One Was Bullied

Some of them are bleating that Coopers Brewery was “bullied” into changing their stance on same sex marriage by, well, people like me. The charge does not stand up. All we did was exercise our right to free speech and action.

In the first place, Coopers didn’t change their stance on marriage: as far as I’m aware, they’d never had one. But despite – or perhaps even because – they are an overtly Christian organisation, they had in the past sponsored Adelaide Feast Festival and Sydney Mardi Gras. So they were hardly anti-gay.

Most of us, if we thought of them at all, considered them an ally of sorts. Mostly harmless. To judge by that “rabbit in the headlights” apology video, they thought so too. They looked like two basically decent people who just realised the consequences of their thoughtlessness.

Secondly, they were not forced to break with the Bible Society. Most of us felt that wasn’t necessary. But it did help mightily to convince me, and many like me, of Coopers sincerity.

They were not bullied: they exercised their right of free speech by mounting the Bible Society promotion (and having whatever minimal and murky connection with that silly infomercial – I think we can let that slide).

The LGBTI community (and our allies), exercised our right of free speech, saying what we thought of the whole shemozzle, and deciding to spend our money elsewhere.

Coopers then realised the unintended consequences of what they had done, and swiftly moved to put things right. They must have a first class disaster recovery expert.

All perfectly fair and normal. A fine example of a free democratic society in action.

Pearl-Clutching Princesses

Yet the likes of Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie (along with all the usual Christaliban suspects, like the embarrassing Bill Muehlenberg), are indulging in prolonged bouts of pearl-clutching.How dare we talk back! How dare we disagree! The very idea!

Until now they thought free speech was only for them. Especially when it came to trivialising and disrespecting the LGBTI community.

They “Christian” right have long since weaponised free speech and used it to attack us. Well, turnabout is fair play. We have turned their weapon back on them. And boy are they shocked!

Anyone, like me, who is gay, out, and campaigns for LGBTI equality is very well aware of what these precious cosseted ‘Christian’ princesses like Hastie and Shelton have suddenly realised. Free speech is never cost-free.

Levelling The Playing Field

LGBTI people have it drummed into us almost from birth. In the course of my 66 years I have been denied promotions, lost jobs, been denied jobs, been denied housing, been thrown out of housing, lost friends, simply because I am gay, out, and speak out for my rights and those of my community. And my partner has suffered too.

Ah, you might say, but that was then. Things are different now. Really? Some terribly compassionate Christians retain the right to kick LGBTI kids out of their schools. Some are agitating for “Jim Crow” style laws that will see signs put up saying “NO LGBTI SERVED HERE”. They’re called “religious exemptions.” Well, we’re not going to let them.

So please forgive me if I indulge a touch of schadenfreude at the howls of outrage coming from Bolt, Devine, Shelton, Hastie, Wilson and the rest. They have to live by the same rules as everyone else. Their words and actions will have consequences. They cannot disrespect us and expect to get off scot free.

This is not “exercising a chilling effect” on free speech. This is levelling the playing field.

In the words of their new-found chum Pauline Hanson, they don’t like it. Well sorry my little princesses, welcome to the new reality. You’re just going to have to suck it up!

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)