Conservatives’ failure to practice what they preach leaves LGBTI people in danger
What’s the favourite talking point of opponents of same-sex marriage (apart from “LGBTI people are grooming children like pedophiles”, “gay parents are creating another Stolen Generation” and “marriage equality is like Nazi Germany”)?
It’s that supporters of marriage equality are uncivil and intolerant.
Sometimes, there is truth in this assertion. The trashing of Cory Bernardi’s office, and violent threats to a hotel that planned to host a meeting of anti-marriage equality groups, were disgraceful.
But there is also truth – much, much more truth – in the assertion that the weight of intolerance this year has fallen on LGBTI people, and also that conservatives have redefined hate speech and incivility to mean the most mundane, innocuous comments from supporters of marriage equality.
This redefinition is peculiar, given that it comes from the same people who rail against political correctness and the oversensitivity of others, but who now demonstrate their own oversensitivity in the most infantile and childish way.
Back in March, Andrew Bolt slammed comedian Charlie Pickering as exhibiting “the hatred of the sanctimonious funny man”.
Pickering’s crime? He ridiculed Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton’s arguments against marriage equality – specifically, that if it is legalised, someone might think he’s gay.
Is it really “hatred” to mock something so ridiculous?
In June, Cory Bernardi was furious with Malcolm Turnbull when Turnbull commented that he had “had some firm discussions with” Bernardi about the latter’s homophobic comments – which, let’s remember, include his claim that homosexuality leads to bestiality.
Why is it so unthinkable that someone might dare to ask if there is homophobia among a conservative group of people, and so outrageous if they do?
On the September 13 edition of his radio show, 2GB host Steve Price condemned Greens MP Adam Bandt for pointing out that Lyle Shelton has compared same-sex marriage to Nazi Germany.
After Shelton made that comment, I wrote a satirical ACL press release stating that he was “distressed by people correctly quoting his own words back to him.” I never imagined that my satire would be embraced as a serious argument.
How can it be “hate speech” just to point out what opponents of same-sex marriage have themselves said? If it makes them look bad, it’s because what they said was bad. In the eyes of any rational observer, such an observation is completely and obviously true.
But in the eyes of the oversensitive conservative, it’s “hate speech”.
It doesn’t end there. Two days later, Tasmanian health minister Michael Ferguson was asked if the state government would provide extra funding for mental health services should a plebiscite go ahead.
His response? “Think a little bit better about the community, think a little bit better of Tasmanians for their capacity to engage in an important social question with respect from both sides,” he implored Labor.
Really? Now it’s disrespectful to opponents of marriage equality to merely be concerned about the mental health of LGBTI people? Are our priorities so backwards that we would actually ignore their mental health in case homophobes get offended?
HOW VERY DARE THEY!
Then, on October 5, Australian Marriage Forum president David van Gend was interviewed on Tasmania Talks with Brian Carlton. During the interview, Carlton asked him if he was homophobic.
van Gend replied that it was “an intrinsically insulting question to ask.” He follows in the footsteps of Lyle Shelton, who has repeatedly asserted that “the word ‘homophobe’ needs to be dropped from the marriage debate” – the kind of language policing conservatives claim to be against.
For people who claim to oppose “shutting down debate” and who want to be able to discuss all subjects, they sure want to shut down this one.
Yet the most hilariously absent-minded allegation of “hate speech” by a conservative has to be from Coalition MP Tony Pasin, who argued that the suggestion that the plebiscite debate would be harmful “hurts me.”
In other words: conservatives are asking us to believe that months of consistent, amplified homophobic rhetoric – which has come from politicians and mainstream media, has consisted of calls for violence against LGBTI people, and even has resulted in people following through on those calls – could not possibly be harmful, but to disagree with that premise is extremely harmful.
This ideological denial among conservatives that there has been a surge in homophobia this year is incredible. They are demanding that they be allowed to act in a way that very clearly demonstrates homophobia among opponents of same-sex marriage, and then that everyone else ignore and deny what their eyes, ears and common sense tell them is staring them in the face. To conservatives, the idea that opposition to marriage equality could possibly be motivated by homophobia is utterly unthinkable.
Yet there is a very obvious reason for this, and for why homophobia is the one issue on which conservatives jettison their claim to support debate and oppose language policing. It’s because many conservatives sympathise with prejudice against LGBTI people. They know that to have an appearance of decency, they must claim to not be homophobic. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t sympathise with anti-LGBTI sentiment.
And so they reconcile these two states of mind – opposing homophobia (or claiming to) but sympathising with anti-LGBTI sentiment – by redefining homophobia to make its threshold extremely high, just like they’ve redefined pro-LGBTI incivility to make its threshold extremely low.
Thus, when someone accuses them of homophobia, they usually react with disbelief and horror, because in their minds, no one in their ranks could possibly be homophobic, because the bar is just too high to meet.
Don’t believe me? Back in May, Miranda Devine defended the emails to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ office protesting his support for LGBTI equality – many of which contained comments like “what prohibitions are included to ascertain that ANY child will be safe in charge of these “POOFTERS”???????” – as “perfectly reasonable”.
This idea that such comments are reasonable – which exists because many conservatives see nothing wrong with homophobia – explains why conservatives are shocked that others might suspect some of them are homophobic. David van Gend has justified to himself that he’s not homophobic – despite describing gay relationships as “degenerate” and “perversely disordered”, and LGBTI people as “sexually disturbed” – because he genuinely believes there is nothing wrong with that. He genuinely believes that’s not homophobic.
And when people contend that it is, they are accusing him of something he believes he is not guilty of. So of course he, and people like him, would become defensive and angry in response.
PUTTING US IN DANGER
It’s hilarious to see conservatives foam at the mouth like that, but there is a darker side. Their defensiveness and anger at the use of the word ‘homophobia’ has left LGBTI people in a rather vulnerable position.
If they say nothing in the face of the hatred that has been unleashed on them this year, the absence of reminders to civil society that such hatred is not okay could legitimise it in the eyes of more people.
Yet if they strike back, conservatives will label them uncivil and intolerant, and such allegations will likely create more negative perceptions of LGBTI people.
When conservatives attempt to blacklist the word “homophobia”, they are trying to disarm LGBTI people of their one weapon against bigotry: calling it what it is.
Take the response to Orlando. Bill Shorten was right to bring it up at a debate with Malcolm Turnbull to explain the possible dangers of a plebiscite. The matter was simply too serious to ignore.
For this, he was condemned by many anti-LGBTI groups, many of which had said nothing about the murder of 49 people. Instead, they saved their outrage for their hurt feelings.
The Australian Marriage Forum, for instance, accused him of “label[ing] decent Australians as haters and try[ing] to smear them with the actions of an Islamist mass-murderer”.
If not even the massacre of 49 people by a homophobic terrorist in a gay nightclub in a liberal, Western city can be a legitimate reason for LGBTI people to ask questions about their safety – and, let’s remember, you don’t need to have 49 people murdered before you have a problem – then I think conservatives have demonstrated, quite unambiguously, that they are completely unconcerned by such horrors.
Allegations of homophobia have not placed conservatives in any dangerous position. But because of their delusions to the contrary, LGBTI people are actually in one.