Silence is corrosive. It can condone hate speech and legitimise bullying. When that silence comes from our elected leaders, it has an even bigger impact.
If all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then our Prime Minister needs to take a long, hard look at himself and ask whether throwing LGBTI people under the bus is really how he wants to cling to power.
Malcolm Turnbull - who paints himself as an ally, and last year became the first sitting Prime Minister to attend Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – has not only remained silent on some of the most heinous verbal attacks on the LGBTI community in recent memory, he has willfully ignored their links to his own government.
The Prime Minister failed to reprimand Liberal backbencher George Christensen after he addressed a Q Society fundraiser just days after the extreme right organisation hosted cartoonist Larry Pickering, who attacked Muslims then said, “They are not all bad, they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings.”
At the same event, Sky News commentator and former Liberal MP Ross Cameron said, “The NSW division of the Liberal Party is basically a gay club,” before adding, "I don't mind that they are gay, I just wish, like Hadrian, they would build a wall."
Mr Turnbull also had no problem with the Western Australia Liberal Party negotiating a preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation for the upcoming state election, despite several candidates expressing extreme homophobic views.
On her Facebook page, Michelle Meyers, a candidate for the seat of Bateman, likened the push for marriage equality to a “Nazi mind control program.” She also previously described LGBTI people as “sexually confused”, said they were “indoctrinating our kids,” and branded transgender people “broken.”
Is it any wonder equality campaigners fought so hard against a same-sex marriage plebiscite, which Mr Turnbull assured us would be conducted with dignity and respect?
As the Prime Minister remain tight-lipped, Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos defended the preference deal, saying One Nation is more “sophisticated” than in previous years.
Really? One of the candidates who will receive Liberal preferences is Richard Eldridge, who has described gay men as “poofters” who engage in “poo games” and said same-sex marriage certificates should be called “the poof proof certificate or the licker letter of law.”
This, it seems, is all fair game when it comes to winning votes. But if aligning with groups who applaud gay people being murdered or compare the LGBTI community to Nazis is not enough to receive censure from the Prime Minister what is? Have we become so inured to hate speech against queer people that there is literally no slur too low?
Perhaps the most important question is: what message does this send to LGBTI people struggling with their identity if the nation’s leaders care so little about them they will happily be complicit in their continued dehumanisation?
It is a tragic and entirely avoidable state of affairs but these homophobic attitudes will continue to flourish as long as the law legitimises discrimination.
Just this week we saw powerful evidence of what’s at stake here. A study published in the journal, Pediatrics, revealed the number of suicide attempts among American high school students decreased between 1999 and 2015 in states where same-sex marriage was legal.
While the study identified that this was a correlation, not a direct causation, the data showed that rates of attempted suicide fell by 7 per cent for the overall student population and “the effect was concentrated among adolescents who were sexual minorities.”
The study’s authors noted: “Policies preventing same-sex marriage constitute a form of structural stigma because they label sexual minorities as different and deny them legal, financial, health and other benefits that are associated with marriage.”
They added that legalising same-sex marriage led to increased visibility of LGBTI people and more social support for their rights.
In other words, if you treat people like second-class citizens it will take a toll on their mental health and embolden those who seek to debase them by maintaining the status quo.
In Australia, we have the highest rate of youth suicide in 10 years. Same-sex attracted young people are six times more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm than their straight peers. Against this backdrop it is not only irresponsible to remain silent on homophobic and transphobic abuse, it is unconscionable.
We all know Malcolm Turnbull supports marriage equality. We also know he is hamstrung by the right wing of the Liberal party who have pledged a full-scale revolt if he allows a free vote in Parliament.
But some things are bigger than politics. Right now, there are LGBTI kids all over Australia who are hearing that their rights and dignity don’t matter. Many of them will have the courage and strength to be true to themselves despite the risks.
If the Prime Minister wants to be remembered as a man of principle rather than a man who placed more value on power than human decency, he would do well to follow their lead.
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