Two weeks ago tomorrow, the Australian Christian Lobby announced that Prime Minister Julia Gillard would be the keynote speaker at their annual conference in October. Given it was only a day after the Houston Report on asylum seekers was released, and the Government’s shameful adoption of offshore processing, this announcement did not receive a great deal of coverage in the mainstream media.
Nevertheless, it did provoke an instant backlash within the gay and lesbian community. I was among those who reacted with dismay at the decision by Gillard (or her advisers) to accept an invitation to speak at the ACL’s annual gathering. Two weeks later and I am still upset at the action taken by the ALP leader. Many others are too. Why?
By agreeing to appear at the ACL conference (which presumably also doubles as a fundraiser), the Prime Minister is endorsing the legitimacy of this organisation. Note that I am not necessarily saying she is endorsing each and every view of the ACL (because of course speakers can address audiences with whom they disagree on particular subjects). But simply by being there, Julia Gillard will be endorsing the ongoing participation of a hateful and extremist group in public debate. By turning up, she will give them her imprimatur to continue their campaigns based on prejudice and discrimination.
Make no mistake. The Australian Christian Lobby is a hate group, whose primary reason for existence appears to be founded on the denial of human rights to Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender community. The ACL is to homophobia what One Nation is to racism.
The evidence comes from examining the public comments made by the Lobby. An analysis of the ACL’s website, by Jacob Holman, found that the ACL’s press releases and media mentions made 122 references to campaigning against LGBTI rights over a six month period. This was almost five times more than the next most referenced issue (prostitution and human trafficking). And many more times than any other issue (like, for example, asylum seekers or global poverty and hunger).
Imagine that – denying equality to gay men and lesbians is five times more important than any other issue in the world. That is an unhealthy obsession with denying the rights of a minority group, and shows that homophobia is at the core of the ACL. This is confirmed by some of the more ‘colourful’ tweets from the ACL – including that “Legitimising gay marriage is like legitimising child abuse”, or the infamous tweet by Managing Director Mr Jim Wallace concerning ANZAC Day (“Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!”).
This alone should be sufficient justification for any political leader to rule out attending an ACL event. It certainly would be if their campaigns were against the rights of indigenous people, or people from other races. Well, just as in other matters, the LGBTI community demands equal treatment – our political leaders should refuse to speak at the events of organisations founded on gay-hate in the same way they steer clear of race-hate groups.
Even if the Prime Minister thought it was appropriate to address a christian organisation (and whether that would be appropriate is a subject for another day), it is unclear why she would choose the ACL. This is an organisation which does not speak on behalf of any particular church. It is also reticent when it comes to nominating its membership figures. Indeed, their 2011 Annual Report proudly states the number of facebook fans it has (now 3,550), and the number of twitter followers of itself and Jim Wallace (1230 and 1800 respectively, which are all low for a supposed ‘national peak body’), but does not state how many people are paid up members. This, together with its extreme views, surely makes one question just how representative the ACL is of Australia’s christians.
In fact, on the main issue on which it is active – lobbying against equal marriage – the ACL clearly does not represent mainstream christians. A galaxy poll in August 2011 found that the majority of Australians who identify as christian support same-sex marriage: 53%, with only 41% opposed. It is likely that, just as in other segments of the community, this level of support will continue to grow.
That makes the ACL a self-appointed ‘peak body’, claiming to represent all of Australia’s christians but in reality only directly representing a small number, advocating hateful policies based on discrimination. It should be relegated to the fringes of society, not placed centre-stage by a supposedly ‘progressive’ Prime Minister. That alone is enough to justify the outrage of myself and other activists. But it does not fully explain why Julia Gillard’s decision has cut so deeply.
The reason we feel so completely let down can be found by comparing the Prime Minister’s official participation at an ACL event, with her position on gay and lesbian equality and treatment of supporters of equal marriage. It is no secret that Julia Gillard is one of the key reasons why equal marriage is unlikely to be achieved during the life of this parliament – in addition to her personal opposition, she led the charge for a conscience vote within the ALP virtually guaranteeing that it would not receive sufficient votes to be passed into law.
Compounding this, the Prime Minister has, as far as I am aware, held only one formal meeting with advocates for same-sex marriage during her tenure (the ACL alone had two meetings just in 2011 – as helpfully boasted about in its annual report). Even worse, Julia Gillard took eight months to organise a dinner with same-sex couples wanting to get married, which had been won publicly at a charity auction in June 2011.
This was despite the fact it was supposed to be held within ONE month, and that the same-sex couples involved were flexible with timing, their only request being to hold the dinner before the ALP national conference last December (a request which was not met). And it is almost unimaginable to envisage the PM addressing a major gay and lesbian event or conference any time soon.
Given the issue of same-sex marriage is inevitably one of ‘us v them’, the Prime Minister’s decision to be keynote speaker at the ACL annual conference underscores just whose side she is on. A hint: it is not those who are standing up for equality under the law, and for a progressive and fairer Australia. Instead, yet again, Julia Gillard has chosen to side with the bigots and religious fundamentalists. No wonder it hurts.