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Let’s have an honest conversation about the history of Psychoanalysts:

A Response to Dr Pertot Opinion Piece regarding Transgender People and Psychology

In Dr Sandra Pertot opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 November “Now I’m hopeful we can talk about teens and gender”, the psychologists seemed pleased that the threats to her from taking an alternative view concerning transgender people around their diagnosis of gender dysphoria may dissipate from a new position statement by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

Unfortunately, whilst the position statement does include the wording, “There are polarised views and mixed evidence regarding treatment options for people presenting with gender identity concerns, especially children and young people. It is important to understand the different factors, complexities, theories, and research relating to Gender Dysphoria”. The College remains strong in its recommendations, which are quite clear.

“Psychiatrists should engage with people experiencing Gender Dysphoria in a way which is person-centred, non-judgmental and cares for their mental health needs.

Assessment and treatment should be based on the best available evidence and fully explore the person’s gender identity and the biopsychosocial context from which this has emerged.

Health services should take steps to accommodate the needs and ensure the cultural safety of people experiencing Gender Dysphoria/Gender Incongruence.

Further research should be supported and funded in relation to wellbeing and quality of life during and after medical and surgical interventions for Gender Dysphoria/Gender Incongruence.”

https://www.ranzcp.org/news-policy/policy-and-advocacy/position-statements/gender-dysphoria sourced 3 November 2021
Portrait of a teenage transgender boy (sourced Bigstock.com)

As a Christian, member of the LGBTIQ community, a person with long term mental health issues and a good understanding of the health system in Australia, I think it would be helpful for Psychologists to be reminded of their history with the LGBTIQ community.

In Kathy Baldock’s seminal work “Walking the Bridgeless Canyon”, she documents the damage foisted up the homosexual community in America by Psychoanalysts who were sure that homosexuality could be cured.  Proponents of this thinking included George Henry, who wanted to decriminalize homosexuality and treat it as a mental condition.  His published works Study of Variants” was a controlled textbook, with his theory that gayness was related to gay people’s interactions with their families and society.  His study’s participants were offered confidentiality for his work. Still, it was released very broadly, causing harm to the community through voyeurism and used as the basis for additional attacks on LGBTIQ people.

After him, Irvin Beiber wrote a Psychoanalytical Study of Male Homosexuality, based around 106 patients from his and colleagues’ practices, some of whom have very few homosexual clients. Although there was no scientific sampling with his study, he claimed to “cure” around 25% of his patients from their homosexuality. Unfortunately, his thesis became the underpinning of reparative therapy or conversion therapy that many Christians in Australia and Churches around the world still practice.  The harm of these practices is now leading to a global movement to criminalize the practice.

It wasn’t until Evelyn Hooker, who took on her peers in the male-dominated Psychoanalytic world and demonstrated the flaws in the “studies” that tried to justify homosexuality as a mental condition.  One of the critical flaws in many studies was that they never included homosexuals who led very healthy lives and didn’t have mental disorders.  It took decades for her thesis to be acknowledged and recognized as valid, and commenced the move to accept that homosexuality is not a mental health condition.

Why is this history important in discussing Dr Pertot’s article?

Her reference to Lisa Littman’s paper on rapid-onset gender dysphoria immediately raised my concerns.  Whilst she mentioned it was controversial, she did not explain its controversy and why the history of homosexuals is now being relived upon transgender people.

When reviewing academic papers, it is also essential to review the scholarly criticism of the paper.  As with the studies on homosexuality determining they had mental conditions, the flaws in the construct of the Littman study are foundational as to the problems with the conclusions and value of her work.

Firstly Littman uses a pathological framework and language, which Restar critic points out in their summary “use of a pathologizing framework and language of pathology to conceive, describe, and theorize the phenomenon as tantamount to both an infectious disease” which is an inappropriate model. Furthermore, since 2013 the American Psychiatric Association has not considered being transgender a disease or a mental disorder.

Secondly was her sample.  This may now sound familiar.  Littman only sampled parents from Facebook groups who expressed concerns about their children presenting as transgender.  There were no families that were supportive or supporting their transgender children.  It could be considered that if parents had demonstrated anti-LGBTIQ sentiments to their children whilst growing up, those transgender kids might not mention any of their gender dysphoric feelings until perhaps later in their teens.  This was creating the minds of these rejecting parents a “rapid onset” situation.

The Littman study is fatally flawed, as were the studies during the 20th century that pathologicalised homosexuality.  In her work, we hear of the concept of contagion, which sounds similar to the “moral panic” that exists around homosexuality through much of the 20th century.

If you follow many of the anti-transgender and gender-critical proponents of today, you will find much of the same language that was used against homosexuals, now being recycled against transgender people. My prayer or wish for the transgender community is there will be a modern Evelyn Hooker. They will come to the fore very quickly. The history of poor research and the painful consequences of the homosexual community is now being pushed onto the transgender community, need to go into the annals of horrible stories surrounding disastrous psychoanalyses rapidly.

Watercolour Transgender pride flag in blue, pink and white background. Illustration banner for Transgender Day of Remembrance backdrop, November 20 (source Bigstock.com)

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I have written an extensive paper submitted to the NSW Upper House Committee on Mark Latham’s Proposed Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 on behalf of Uniting Network (NSW/ACT) the LGBTIQ advocacy and support network within the Uniting Church in Australia Synod of NSW/ACT. That paper incorporates amongst other matters, a more detailed discussion on the Littman Paper. My paper and one submitted by Pitt Street Uniting Church can be found on the Uniting Network Australia website by clicking here.

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If any matters in this blog cause you any concerns I would encourage you to contact in Australia any of the following:

If you are from outside Australia, please contact your country’s emergency mental health support telephone line.

Evangelism and the First Third of Life

Trigger Warning:
Includes Sexual Assult, Domestic and Family Violence

Since the last NSW/ACT Synod meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia, I have been thinking about the fantastic journey we are starting. One of the primary focuses is on people in their first third of life.

My meandering mind has also been looking at what lessons we should be learning from the COVID Pandemic.

I have been frustrated by many of our political leaders whose calling cry has been for the return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible, whatever normal is.

The old normal was one of the defining factors for the spread and response issues to the pandemic. However, that is another long topic.

We have seen social construct issues through this pandemic as our society has become more I-focused rather than We-focused on. Jesus has been the clarion call for society being we focused, as seen in his clear summary to love one another.  

As a church, we have to be challenging the old normal and provide leadership as part of the pandemic recovery to drive a better balance in society. This would be across areas such as distribution of wealth, access to health care (of all forms) everywhere, improving social connectedness, thinking of the people on the margins, either due to race, disability, being in prison, about homes for the homeless, health, drug additions etc. With this is ethical decision-making of governments, being driven by lobbyists and organisations with the largest donations for influence.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shutterstock_635325116-scaled.jpg

As we reach out to people in their first third of life through evangelism, social justice activities, community engagement etc., I think our old normal may no longer be acceptable, relevant or useful. Do we need to develop something new? What are some of the old normals we need to contemplate and change our ways, thinking, etc.?

1. They know about Child Sexual Abuse

The people we are reaching out to, the youth, are very are aware of the recent history of child sexual abuse within religious organisations. The Uniting Church has not been immune from this. However, we have confronted our past with more integrity and a more victim-centred approach, but not perfectly.

Unfortunately, other denominations are still dealing with this horror. Often with a reputation of not dealing with victims ethically and campaigning against laws to make notification of child sexual abuse mandatory. Further, many younger people see that there has not been any real consequence around the years of abuse on children.

So, in moving forward with the younger generation, how prepared are we to talk about our past and that of the broader Christian Church in Australia and its horrendous impact on young people? What do we offer them now?

2. They know about Sexual Assault

2021 will go down as the year that sexual assault in our community gains much more comprehensive visibility. This visibility has come via the appointment of Grace Tame, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, as Australian of the Year. Brittany Higgins who was raped in our Federal Parliament House. And finally, Chanel Contos’ whose survey identified the significant amount of sexual abuse that high school students have suffered (primarily in Sydney in the initial study), often in our wealthy private schools.

Our younger people are getting important information on sexual assault from many leading shows such as ’13 Reasons Why’ and ‘Riverdale’ on Netflix, and other series such as ‘Why’, ‘Skam’, ‘Split’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Skins’ and ‘Euphoria’. The video below by YouTube content creator ravenclaw’s has drawn together a montage from these shows, which I have blended with another from creator zoe edits. This video also incorporated the sexual assault of young men. (Trigger Warning on the video content, sexual violence and graphic discussion).

In the 13 Reasons Why scene where Tyler tells Clay how he was raped, we see Clay’s consent to approach and touch Tyler, the victim. Many of our religious leaders fail on this essential step.

Further, Christian leaders have a history of saying to victims, focus on forgiving your attacker as well as forget it and get over it.

Importantly, Contos’s study brought into the public domain that our youth believe relationship and sex education in NSW schools is woefully inadequate. Our youth see Christian leaders have played a significant role in limiting relationship and sex education in NSW schools. Parents can withdraw their children from even this minimal education.

Mark Latham’s One Nation Party has a bill in the NSW Parliament to expand parents rights to withdraw their child from any lesson they view a controversial. This could include, for example, Aboriginal History that he sees as controversial. This bill has the strong support of many Christian denominations and Christian advocates.

So when our young people want to have robust, informed and detailed discussions on relationships and sexuality, how do we overcome what they perceive is irrelevant and 18th-century thinking and ideologies from Christians?

3. They know about Domestic and Family Violence

Our younger people are a lot more alert to the issues of domestic and family violence. Fortunately, at an earlier national Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, this has been recognised. As a result, a significant reflection on domestic and family violence within the Uniting Church is underway.

See the Assembly resources here https://uniting.church/dfv/ and the Assembly resolution on Domestic and Family Violence at this link https://mk0unitingchurcq6akw.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/09-Domestic-and-Family-Violence-15th-Assembly-Resolution.pdf .

However, many young people still hear Christians saying that victims of domestic and family violence should remain in their marriages or families. They hear that, above all, they should forgive the abuser rather than seek refuge and safety. Unfortunately, too many young people have already had their lives devastated by domestic and family violence.

The broader Christian churches have a history of being on the side of the abuser rather than the victims.


So as we reach out to people in the first third of life, how do we demonstrate the reality of our recognition of domestic and family violence to those who are victims, know victims, or are socially aware of these issues our role in this area in the past?

4. They have Friends and Relatives who are LGBTIQ

Most young people will know someone who is LGBTIQ and realise that, unlike the views of many Christians, they are not inherently disordered and sinful people. The majority also expect that LGBTIQ people can marry a person of their choosing.

Their experience of LGBTIQ people is often one of two, either an LGBTIQ person with a level of depression or joyfulness.

For those that suffer depression, this often stems from their family, usually based on religious dogma.

The other end is a fully alive, joyful and engaging person. Their families and friends fully accept them without any reservation.

They hear the Christian message of love for one another but see the lack of love and inclusion of LGBTIQ people in most churches. Often the only time they hear of churches is where there is some negative view towards LGBTIQ people, based on exclusion rather than inclusion.

Further, they are aware that the Mark Latham “parental right’s bill” which has support from some in the NSW Government, is designed to ensure that transgender and gender diverse kids in our schools are erased. The proposed legislation will have the effect that if a school staff member provides any support to a transgender or gender diverse child they will be sacked. If that person is also a teacher they will have their teachers license revoked. The majority of support for this bill has come from Christian churches, other faiths and Christian lobby groups.

This article demonstrates some of the messages those against transgender people often use as one example. https://medium.com/prismnpen/trans-women-are-not-abusing-children-religious-leaders-are-f23f018732bc


So how do we reach out to young people in our societies and communities when even within the Uniting Church in NSW/ACT when outr congregations don’t have a consistent position around LGBTIQ people?

The risk is that due to that inconsistency, when young people may have doubts about their safety for themselves or their friends about a local congregation, they may never engage.

Concluding Comment

As we in the Uniting Church NSW/ACT start executing this first third of life strategy, just as with COVID, I believe our old normal will not cut the mustard. We need to consider developing a new construct and consider if our theology is still sound as we navigate this vital mission?

I don’t have the answers now, but I know these are the questions we need to consider.

o O o

10 October 20201, Sydney

Margaret Court – Dangers of an Upgraded Australian Honour

I have written to the Australian Governor-General to express my concern about the leaked of the proposed Companion of the Order of Australia award to Rev. Dr. Margaret Court AO, MBE, Australia’s highest civilian award.

The following is a copy of my email to the Governor General sent this afternoon requesting that he reconsider and revoke the award.

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My Dear Governor-General

I write to express my sincere concerns about Rev Margaret Court AO’s proposed appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia.

I understand that she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2007 for her services to tennis.  There is no doubt that she was and continues to be the most successful women’s tennis player globally, even to this point of time, so that award then (apart from being rather late) is entirely appropriate. Rev Courts was also a Centenary Medal recipient in 2001 and received an MBE in 1967 for her involvement in sport. Let’s also recall that she has a significant stadium named after her and was recognised at the Australian Open in 2020 being 50 years from her success.  (I do note that it appears it was something that she demanded rather than was humbled to participate in).

Whilst we don’t have the privilege of being aware of the reasons for her being upgraded to the Companion, it cannot be for tennis, so the question is for what?

We know that Rev Court has been one of the most divisive people in Australia in the last 9 – 10 years.

A person who has used their platform as a tennis player to spread hatred towards the LGBTIQ community in Australia and misinformation about LGBTIQ people.

I write this letter as an active Christian within the Uniting Church of Australia, and a member of the LGBTIQ community and an advocate for the community.  For clarity, I am writing in my own capacity and not on behalf of any organisations I have an association.

I think it is vital that we review some of the commentary of Rev. Court over the recent years.

From a background perspective even before her engagement with her anti-LGBTIQ crusade, there are real concerns about her thoughts towards non-white people.

Rev Court’s public commentary condemning the LGBTIQ community and marriage equality goes back to at least 1990 in the public domain.

1990’s

In 1990 in the UK on the front page of one of the large daily newspapers, she attacked members of the LGBTIQ in professional sport. She was falsely stating that Lesbians players would turn other tennis players gay.

December 2011 (which reference commentary back to 2002)

“Court, who is the founder and senior pastor at Victory Life Church in Perth, has urged Australians to make a stand against same-sex marriage, saying no human law could ever change God’s divine laws.”

“Court said society was best served by strong family units that comprised a mum, dad and children and that there was no reason to put forward “alternative, unhealthy, unnatural unions” as a substitute.

“Court has had a history of anti-gay comments, accusing lesbians of ruining women’s tennis and calling Navratilova a bad example to young players.”

“In 2002 she said Damir Dokic’s concern about daughter Jelena being exposed to lesbians on the circuit was “understandable” and campaigned against Western Australian laws that gave gay couples equal legal rights as de facto couples.”

“To dismantle this sole definition of marriage and try to legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices that include sodomy, reveals our ignorance as to the ills that come when society is forced to accept law that violates their very own God-given nature of what is right and what is wrong,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/court-in-same-sex-tennis-furore-20120112-1pwux.html

When looking at families, it is essential to recognise that children within LGBTIQ families perform as well, if not better than their peers in heteronormative families. “We identified 79 scholarly studies that met our criteria for adding to knowledge about the well-being of children with gay or lesbian parents. Of those studies, 75 concluded that children of gay or lesbian parents fare no worse than other children.  …..   Taken together, this research forms an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on over three decades of peer-reviewed research, that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children.”

2019 Marriage Equality

Court’s engagement in the Marriage Equality campaign was very destructive and also very ignorant.  During her commentary, she stated that “lust for the flesh” and that LGBT tendencies in young people were “all the devil”. “That’s what Hitler did. That’s what communism did,” Court said, “get in the minds of the children. There’s a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get in the minds of the children.”

Her suggestion that LGBTIQ advocates where like Hitler were unacceptable.  Like many Australians, they knew of the history of Hitler’s atrocities to the Jews; unfortunately, our education system has failed. Most people are unaware of what Hitler also did to the homosexuals, disabled, Gypsies and others.

In particular, all the homosexuals were rounded up.  The gay rights movement symbol of the Pink Triangle came from the concentration camps as that was a patch on the clothes of the homosexuals.  It was much larger than for other groups, and they were hoping that they would be bashed in the concentration camps.  Further, they were subject to medical experiments, and it is estimated that 15000 were killed in the gas chambers.

https://www.ushmm.org/information/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/special-focus/nazi-persecution-of-homosexuals

https://www.history.com/news/pink-triangle-nazi-concentration-camps

“Hatred of homosexuals was determined by both party ideology and the personal obsessions of the leaders, and especially of Heinrich Himmler, the main originator of the plan to exterminate homosexuals. For Himmler and other Nazi ideologues, homosexuals—like Jews—were the incarnation of degeneracy. They saw Jews and homosexuals as outsiders and inferior human beings who threatened the purity of der Volk.”

http://auschwitz.org/en/history/categories-of-prisoners/homosexuals-a-separate-category-of-prisoners/robert-biedron-nazisms-pink-hell/

“Those who wore the pink triangle were brutally treated by camp guards and other categories of inmates, particularly those who wore the green (criminals), red (political criminals) and black (asocials) triangles.”

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-homosexuals-in-the-holocaust

Further, it is important to recall that one of the first acts that Hitler’s regime undertook was the destruction of the “Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, a German name that roughly translates to the Institute of Sexology.” This library was considered the most extensive LGBTQ library globally and probably the most important around transgender people.

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/lgbtq-institute-in-germany-was-burned-down-by-nazis

https://theconversation.com/how-the-nazis-destroyed-the-first-gay-rights-movement-80354

Would you allow a person with similar sentiments towards Jewish people to receive the top honour in the Australian system? 

There are so many other examples around Rev Court’s comments, but I will leave those here, and I am sure with some very quick Google searches (if we still have that capability) you will be able to find even more.

Translational Issues of the English Bible

One of the challenges is that many Christians use the Bible to condemn the LGBTIQ community.  One of the critical issues is that until 1946 the word homosexual didn’t appear in any English translations of the Bible.  It was introduced into the 1946 RSV version by error.  When people look into the context and culture, the translation to homosexuality does not make sense.  When you look at translations into other traditional languages, you don’t see the equivalent of homosexual.  So, I contend, just like with Biblical justification of racism and slavery, the Biblical rationale for rejection of LGBTIQ people is not sustainable within the Christian thinking.

https://www.forgeonline.org/blog/2019/3/8/what-about-romans-124-27

There are Consequences of these types of Comments

During the Israel Folau matter, I have been aware of some youth/young adult suicides/suicide attempts, some through my Church network and one through an article in the public domain such as this quote. “Julie rang me late yesterday. Matt [12 years old] is in hospital after a suicide attempt. He’s twelve. He’s a great kid who has been terribly distressed by everything that is happening right now about Israel Folau’s fight with Rugby Australia over Folau’s right to freedom of speech, and about Matt’s idol’s continued stance on homosexuality as a sin against God.”

I therefore earnestly urge you to reconsider the awarding to Rev Dr Margaret Court the honour of the Companion of the Order of Australia and withdraw the award.

I look forward to your correspondence in response to my request.

***

The Privileged Position on Gender Dysphoria Discussion

It is with reluctance that I write this opinion piece on two grounds. I don’t have the benefit of Parliamentary Privilege to comment on Transgender People.  Secondly, as a cis-gender transgender ally, I might lead to the continued exclusion of transgender voices in this discussion.

Senator Chandler’s article in The Australian on the 10th of December, which was an extract from her speech in the Senate on the 9th of December, does require a response. (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/orwellian-gender-change-bill-must-be-a-turning-point/news-story/b8b6586b28da6158586ee415c3d4f88d0)

Senator Claire Chandler (Source: The Australian)

The Senator connected two issues, firstly a decision in a court in the UK and its apparent relevance to Australia around transgender youth having access to treatment, and the proposed Victorian legislation to stop conversion practices of LGBTIQ people in that state.  In the space, I have available I have chosen to respond solely on the first issue because there are nuances that take time to consider, and we live in our world where matters are generally are not black and white.

During the Cardinal Pell court cases, many of the conservative commentators demanded that people hold back on their comments until the matter was fully ventilated through the court system, with his conviction ultimately overturned in the Australian High Court.  Whilst I have significant concerns over the behaviour of the Catholic Church regarding child sexual abuse, I very much tempered my comments until legal challenges were exhausted, and I respect the final decision.

It is a pity that Senator Chandler hasn’t followed the same approach give there is already an indication and a significant amount of funds raised, to launch an appeal of the ruling.  It is important to understand that the UK Court has not banned the treatment of transgender youth, they simply have inserted themselves in the process, and the implementation of the decisions is stayed until at least the 22nd of December 2020.

In my view, one of the dangers in the judgement is, in fact, the judges’ use of the term that they consider puberty blockers “experimental drugs”.  This is lazy language and generally used by many for positioning purposes.

According to a recent academic paper [1] , puberty blocker has been used with gender dysphoric youth since the 1990s, near 30 years, so their use is hardly experimental anymore.  Drugs can be (and are often) used off label for a variety of reasons, and their administration remains ethical.  In the field of paediatrics, “off label” use of drugs is not uncommon due to the cost of having the medication “labelled” when the clinical studies have been primarily involving adults.  Whilst some countries are encouraging pharmaceutical companies to expand their clinical trials for paediatric efficacy, these funding pathways do not usually cover already labelled medicines.

What many of the anti-transgender treatment commentators call for is a “traditional” clinical study on the use of “puberty blockers”, meaning randomised control studies.  However, such studies would be unethical, nor would a “double-blind” study be possible.  A gender dysphoric youth seeking treatment and seeking pubescent delay in such a study; half would receive placebo’s and their transition into puberty would continue, be visible to themselves and the clinical researchers.

Ethically, there is a significant question as to the appropriateness of a trial that permits a transgender participant to go through puberty and subsequently have to have additional avoidable surgical intervention, increasing numerous risk factors for those participants.

The Senator omitted to discuss the Australian case law, which is very relevant.  Australia was previously the only country where a court-imposed itself into the process to access Puberty Blockers.  In 2013 the Family Court removed itself from that process, as it had not over-ruled the medical evidence submitted and now only becomes involved where there was a dispute between the youth and parents or between the parents.

In a recent case known as the “Imogen Case”, the Family Court permitted the youth to commence transitioning with gender-affirming hormone treatment (an option past puberty blockers) where there was a dispute between the separated parents.

So, we have several cases in Australia where there are no longer any appeals afoot supporting the competency test for transgender teenagers.

Finally, I am sad for Keira Bell that in the end, the treatment was not successful for her.  Studies show that between 0.3 – 3.8% of transgender people do have some level of regret [2] .  There are a variety of reasons for regret, often (in earlier years) due to dissatisfaction with surgical outcomes, but more commonly due to their continued lack of acceptance by family and society.  Notably, there is evidence that transgender people who have “detransition” retransition in years later.  If this level of efficacy is not of an acceptable level, then we would not allow any of the COVID vaccines to made available to the public.

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References

1.         Giordano, S. and S. Holm, Is puberty delaying treatment ‘experimental treatment’? International Journal of Transgender Health, 2020. 21: p. 113-121.

2.         What does the scholarly research say about the effect of gender transition on transgender well-being?The Public Policy Research Portal [Web]; Available from: https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/.

Christ the King Sunday and 2020

In our Zoom worship this morning, our leader talked about the lectionary, how it is structured, how it can be useful in how we approach the Bible and connect with God and each other.

For a variety of reasons I haven’t been blogging much this year, but as we end this Christian year on Sunday 22 November 2020, I thought there was something to write.

2020 has been the year of COVID-19. I am so lucking that I live in Australia, with one of the few countries that have managed this Pandemic well. Interestingly it has been mainly our neighbours in Asia and the South Pacific that have also performed well, and not the “powerhouses” of civilisation, Europe and the USA.

Even in Australia, however, I have noticed a level of selfishness that has caused me concern. The main reason for my limited blogging has been I had a nasty fall, resulting in a significant shoulder injury in March 2020. So far, that injury has led to 3 major operations on the shoulder, two other procedures that required anaesthetics and another non-invasive procedure that ended up with me being in an Intensive Care Unit for two nights. I have at least one more surgery to come, and I will end up with a permanent partial disability with my left arm. So with COVID, it has been a taxing year.

I can’t drive at the moment, and occasionally I have used public transport to travel to large shopping centres to access some services. The selfishness I have seen has been the lack of mask-wearing, even when highly recommended by our State Government. My systems are weak, and it seemed many people were focusing on themselves rather than on others.

But compared to Europe and the United States, I consider myself highly blessed.

Our State Political Leaders have led, and on more than one occasion stared down the Australian Prime Minister who seemed more focused on the economy rather than society and the health of our people and our community.

All this brings me to today’s lectionary, marking the end of the Christian Calendar for 2020.

You can use this link to find the readings. https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=170

In the Ezekiel reading, we hear of God who sits in Judgement and determines which people will be in and out of his nation and anointing David as the King. But the King will feed all of his flock.

In the Psalm reading, we are called to worship joyfully. There is no requirement that it being in a physical building that we might now call a Church. In my Christian communities, we have been able to be joyful and worshipful, using Zoom live or YouTube on demand. In this way, we have protected each other and our broader society. I am saddened by so many Christian leaders who demanded their religious right to open their Churches against medical advice, only to have themselves, and many in their communities become infected with COVID. That is not loving, that is arrogance and self-centredness.

Then finally, the Gospel reading, the centre of the Christian faith. Matthew’s telling of Jesus story of the “Sheep and the Goats”.

  • “for I was hungry and you gave me food
  • I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
  • I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
  • I was naked and you gave me clothing,
  • I was sick and you took care of me,
  • I was in prison and you visited me.”

At least my observation in Australia, we tried to do some of these things better.

Once we got over panic buying, many people did try to ensure that those without food were able to get some as the usual community sources had limitations.

To protect the rest of society, we rounded up the homeless and housed them. I am not convinced that as a society, we will continue that care and compassion when we should.

I am not sure we did so well with strangers, as we closed borders, and here in Australia, many Australian’s of Chinese heritage were verbally assaulted by their neighbours. Probably in part due to racist overtones in our society and some political leaders in Australia and abroad calling out the virus as a China caused problem.

We did focus on the sick, with reasonably an extra effort for those with COVID. I have been fortunate in being able to access a world-leading health system. Whilst not perfect, I never had to wait for treatment, but I didn’t rely on fully the public health system, and if I did, it might have not as great. As a society, are we going to fund our health system so all can have access to timely, safe and supporting medical support without an extensive waiting list? I do want to thank the medical teams that have helped me so amazingly this year.

When prisoners were locked down to protect them from COVID, they didn’t have access to visitors. One side effect was the early release of prisoners who weren’t a risk to society. For me, this raised the political question, that we need to stop the ratcheting up of “law and order” politics with a “lock them up mentality.” This does society no benefit in the longer term.

From Australia, I watched in horror the evangelicals who seek power in the USA at the expense of all these elements Jesus has so plainly laid out.

As we end this Christian year, our New Years Eve for the new Christian year, perhaps it is time to reflect on 2020, and how Christ the King is calling us to be a society in 2021.

Many political leaders are calling for the resumption of normal. COVID had drawn our attention to many things that were normal but not acceptable, particularly if taken through the eyes of Jesus.

I believe as the people of Jesus, we need help society and our political leaders find a new normal. This sounds like an excellent starting model:

  • “for I was hungry and you gave me food
  • I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink
  • I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
  • I was naked and you gave me clothing,
  • I was sick and you took care of me,
  • I was in prison and you visited me.”
.

JK Rowling and the Transgender Community

There has been some press even here in Australia around JK Rowling’s recent Tweets and subsequent blog article around her concerns with transgender people. On the one hand, she is supportive; on the other hand, wants to put limits.

Transgender flag.

Pretty quickly three high profile actors (Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) from her famous Harry Potter series movies came out extending their full support for the transgender community and politely challenged Rowling on her views. Additionally, Eddie Redmayne (from the Harry Potter spin-off film series Fantastic Beasts) has also come out fully supporting transgender people.

Her defending blog is quite extensive, but unfortunately, like many who hold an unfavourable position to full inclusion of transgender people, it is selective in how it is written.

Rowling does complain about threats, which are not acceptable in any discourse (I know I received numerous implied death threats during the Marriage Equality debate).

Within the Uniting Church in Australia, (where I am a member), it should not need to be restated, but I will, Transgender people hold full and equal rights of membership as any other member within our Church.

While this may seem to be an international issue, News Corporation, mainly in The Australian since July 2019, and to a lesser extend The Daily Telegraph and SkyNews, have been running an extensive anti-transgender campaign. NewsCorp has also been running a comprehensive anti-transgender campaign in the United Kingdom.

There are fundamentally two critical elements of the campaign, firstly the increase in the number of transgender people and children wanting to access puberty blockers and with this, the “sudden” high growth “detransitioners”. Secondly, a particular focus on Transgender women, are they women and should they have access to women’s space putting other women at risk?  The Australian is now morphing its campaign around concerns of people on the autism spectrum and “an apparent correlation” to transgender people.

Part of the News Corporation campaign is to have an inquiry in to transgender support health programs in Australia (as they have succeeded in the UK).  The Federal Minister of Health sought the advice of the Royal Australian College of Physicians who rejected the need for an inquiry and responded that such an inquiry would have negative mental health consequences for transgender people stating[i]

The RACP strongly supports expert clinical care that is non-judgemental, supportive and welcoming for children, adolescents and their families experiencing gender dysphoria” and “Withholding or limiting access to care and treatment would be unethical and would have serious impacts on the health and wellbeing of young people” and “Finally, our clinicians noted that there are substantial dangers posed by some of the proposals that have been put forward during the recent public debate on this issue, such as holding a national inquiry into the issue. A national inquiry would not increase the scientific evidence available regarding gender dysphoria but would further harm vulnerable patients and their families through increased media and public attention.”

There is so much I could say, but I want to focus on a few key points that I think need rebuttal, and hopefully an educational piece for members of the Uniting Church and other Christians.

Much of The Australian’s early work had a connection to the research of Lisa Littman, a researcher in the USA that indicated that the sudden rise in the number of transgender children was a result in the term “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” through “social contagion” (ie social media/peer pressure).  JK Rowing also refers to her work and study.  Her university initially pulled her research due to some questions on the method and approach, and additional work was required while her study results remained largely unchanged.

There continue to be significant questions on the credibility of her work, primarily through its study method. I won’t go into all the details here, but you can read an academic criticism of the study by Arjee Javellana Restar[ii]. It is important to understand that being transgender is not a mental health issue/or disorder (although many transgender people have mental health issues as a consequence of how they are treated by society, and often by religious people and organisations).

The key issues that concern me with the Littman study are (a) there appears to be an underlying negative pathological position and terminology towards transgender people which is against all accepted health professional bodies and the WHO, (b) there appears to be a self-selection bias in the recruitment of parents which was biased towards anti-transgender social media groups and (c) the study did not engage with the transgender child/youth, which is a concern as there was a very high percentage of parents 76.5% who did not believe their child was transgender. 

So, I have concerns that Rowling is pinning some of her non-affirming of transgender people on what does appear to be a flawed piece of research. It is in my opinion that if parents show a negativity towards LGBTIQ people, children will delay sharing themselves with them. If a home appears to be anti-transgender, then a transgender child is less to raise the issue. When their gender dysphoria becomes severe, often in their later teens and parents become aware sometimes via mental health issues, it then appears to these parents as “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”. In contrast, the child has been aware of this for many years.  As an example as a cis gendered gay man, I didn’t come out until some 24 years after my father had died.

Concerns around puberty blockers have been a key part of the News Corporation campaign, and they and Rowling make comments such as “extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria” and yet Rowling does not provide a link to any such evidence. 

There is no demonstratable evidence that puberty blockers cause long term harm to Transgender children (who are often on them for shorter periods than children with other medical presentation for the use of the medication).  The linked website in the end notesvprovides links to a considerable number of studies that refute this assumed issue.[iii]

Australia, like many countries, has a very well-established protocol for the assessment and managing the treatment of Transgender children, and if you are interested, you can read and download the document. I would encourage readers to download[iv] the document to be informed of the actual protocols and not what is often in the media as misinformation.

Another area Rowling talks about, with expansive language without data is the apparent “increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning (returning to their original sex)”. But when we look at meta studies undertaken by Cornell University[v]

“Regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved. Pooling data from numerous studies demonstrates a regret rate ranging from .3 percent to 3.8 percent. Regrets are most likely to result from a lack of social support after transition or poor surgical outcomes using older techniques.”

The evidence doesn’t support the anecdotal commentary from Rowling.

The last thing that concerned me around Rowling’s article was that having suffered sexual abuse she didn’t want transgender women to share space with her. It is horrifying that she has been a victim of sexual abuse and I don’t in any way downgrade that experience or impact on her life.

I too am a victim, in my case of domestic violence, so does that mean that as my abuser was a male, that as a male I should exclude all other men from the spaces I need to be in?

I am not going to suggest that you cannot find an example of a woman assaulted in a women’s space by a Transgender woman. Still, it is essential to remember that cis women also assault women in women’s areas. Commentary from police forces in the USA[vi] that has had long-standing anti-discrimination policies (and the lack of the discriminatory “bathroom bills”) do not record this as an issue.

All gender restroom sign.

Sadly Rowling tries to play down the suicidality that is often an issue for Transgender people. The LGBTIQ Health Alliance 2020 “Snapshot of Mental health and Suicide Prevention Statistics for LGBTIQ People”[vii]

  • 48.1% of transgender and gender diverse people aged 14 to 25 have attempted suicide in their lifetime 
  • Compared to the general population ….Transgender people aged 18 and over are nearly eleven times more likely …. to attempt suicide
  • 41% of transgender people and non-binary people aged 18 years and over reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm in the last two weeks 
  • Transgender people are six and a half times more likely … to engage in self-harm in their lifetime
  • 53% of transgender people aged 18 and over have self-harmed in their lifetime, 11% currently self- harming 
  • 74% of transgender and gender diverse16 people aged 14 to 25 have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime 
Young sad trans teenager boy suffering from depression.

This is why the power of people like JK Rowling is so dangerous, and why we as a Christian community should be taking a stand.

There are other issues I have in the JK Rowling blog, but I will stop here!

Unfortunately, many Christian communities reject Transgender people adding to the traumas in their lives.

We should not.

The Australian ABC Television show Compass recently showed a new film about two transgender Christians. I was fortunate enough to go to the World Premiere in Sydney 2020 just before COVID took over our world. It would be worth your time (28 odd minutes) to watch this documentary.

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/watch/compass/faithfully-me/12258752

I would encourage everyone in the Uniting Church and more broadly in the Christian community to become informed of the issues around transgender people, and carefully analyse the sources and background people present. The Australian and the Australian Christian Lobby regularly present a Professor of Paediatrics as an expert against transgender people. His status sways some people. Unfortunately, he has no peer-reviewed academic research in the area, his field of medical education is not in the area of transgender people, and he finally admitted last year that he has never treated a transgender patient. His positioning comes from a very conservative Christian perspective.  So, titles can be used to confuse and deflect.

Similarly, a Professor of Law at another university, who in research around children and the Family Court encourages courts to listen to Children, but when it comes to Transgender children, he takes the opposite position.  The media fail to note that he has had strong connections with the Australian Christian Lobby.

Transgender people have been part of our society for eternity. It is time they are treated with respect and inclusion as any other member of the human race.

JK Rowling created a fantastic series of books, that my children loved, as so many children around the world. Her, in my view, uninformed views on Transgender women should not detract from those works nor the benefits they have provided to so many children, particularly those that didn’t read until that series arrived. However, using her platform to support exclusion and the rejection of transgender people is, in my view, not acceptable and should not be tolerated.

Jason Masters

Member of the Uniting Church and LGBTIQ Advocate

These views are of the author and not any group within the Uniting Church or outside.


[i] https://www.racp.edu.au/docs/default-source/advocacy-library/racp-letter-hon-greg-hunt-minister-for-health-gender-dysphoria-in-children-and-adolescents.pdf

[ii] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-019-1453-2

[iii] https://growinguptransgender.com/2020/06/10/puberty-blockers-overview-of-the-research/

[iv] https://www.rch.org.au/uploadedFiles/Main/Content/adolescent-medicine/australian-standards-of-care-and-treatment-guidelines-for-trans-and-gender-diverse-children-and-adolescents.pdf).

[v] https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/

[vi] https://transequality.org/what-experts-say

[vii] https://lgbtihealth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-Snapshot-of-Mental-Health-and-Suicide-Prevention-Statistics-for-LGBTI-People-LGBTI-Health-Alliance.pdf

Gay Hate Crimes – the Australian Version – A Play

Tonight formally ends Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2020 for me. The Parade and the After Party were on the weekend, but I couldn’t fit in all I wanted to see in plays, theatre (I didn’t get to any exhibitions!) over the 2 -3 weeks of the Mardi Gras season. Fortunately, a couple of plays associated with Mardi Gras started the season before, and some, such as the play I saw this evening, continue afterwards.

My final play was “Our Blood Runs In The Street”[1] put on by Redline Productions, and a beautiful little theatre in Woolloomooloo, just outside the CBC, attached to and underneath a pub – the Old Fitzroy. The play runs until 21 March 2020, and I would highly recommend you see it.

I knew some of the story from my volunteering at ACON Health, and also from that being aware of the NSW Upper House Inquiry [2] “Gay and Transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010 – 57th Parliament.”

This inquiry follows on from ACON’s report – I”n Pursuit of Truth and Justice: Documenting Gay and Transgender Prejudice Killings in NSW in the Late 20th Century – shines a light on the suspected anti-gay homicides that occurred in NSW from the 1970s and 1990s.” [3]

Given that I didn’t come out until 2015, was married in 1995, and hid my sexuality for most of my life, there were a couple of things that struck me.

Firstly, there is a connection for me, not here in Sydney, but in Adelaide, where I grew up as a child until I finished university. The first time I became aware of the word homosexual, I was nine years old, already knowing I was different, but not why, and this event didn’t help. Adelaide University senior lecturer, English born Dr. George Duncan died on 10 May 1972 after he was bashed, his body thrown into the Torrens River, where he drowned.

Soon after my 13th birthday in 1975, homosexuality was decriminalised in South Australian in 1975, around the time of major trauma in my family over my involvement with another boy. My father’s severe dislike for Don Dunstan, the Premier who brought about this change, plus I suspect his own war experience, meant that he was not supportive of this change at all.

In 2020 his murder has never been solved, and it is thought by many that members of the SA Police Force were involved. In the coronial inquest, members of the SA Police Force refused to answer questions. [4].

While this play (and other TV series on SBS) focus on the gay murders in Sydney, there is a history of the same in Adelaide also, and SBS has produced a web series on their summary of informaiton, “Out of Sight – Untold Story of Adelaide’s Gay Hate Murders.” [5] That was my town.

Each year post-Orlando Massacre, people in various places will read out the names of those that died in that horrendous gay hate attack in Florida. Candle Light vigils are still held to remember those who died in the AIDS crisis.

For me, one of the powerful parts of this play was to hear the names and the date of death of the some 80 or so people of the gay hate murder spree in Sydney.

Whilst some of the choreography of the play, I wouldn’t say I liked the overall presentation of the story was compelling.

Excepts of recordings of listening devices of criminals already in jail to gather more evidence of other gay crimes they committed.

The play explored the probably underreporting of transgender murders in Sydney (and Australia).

We were reminded that the NSW Police, in the case of an American student, determined that it was suicide without collecting any evidence. Three coronial inquiries later, the State Coroner determined that his death was a gay hate crime, some thirty years after his death.

Other stories, of bashings and attacks, and the LGBTIQ communities unwillingness to go to the Police because couldn’t trust the NSW Police, they either didn’t care, may have supportive of the attacks happening or may have been involved.

As I look back over my time in Sydney arriving in 1991 after spending time in Melbourne post-university, I have little or no awareness of these murders.

So I have begun to think, who else is complicit in all of this.

First and obviously the NSW Police Force who it appears failed to investigate these (and possibly more murders) actively.

Secondly, where does Christianity come into this? The Sydney Anglican Church was well on its way of being a leading anti-gay religious community in Australia (and has expanded that activity globally). The Catholic Church which has historically had strong political ties is also notoriously anti-gay. While Australia’s third-largest Christian denomination was progressing on LGBTIQ acceptance during this period, there were still strong pockets of resistance, and significant parish have had (and still have) a significant anti-LGBTIQ stance.

The NSW Police and religious have had a long relationship and did the religious leaders in Sydney put any pressure on the NSW Police Force to not focus on these 88 or more murders?

Thirdly the media. There remain influential groups within the media who are clearly of homophobic and/or transphobic. You only have to look at the ongoing campaign of News Corps “The Australian” with its very regular and unbalances articles running since about July 2019 against transgender youth. There were some journalists who researched and considered these issues, but how did 88 murders go unnoticed by the media? If it these murders had been of almost any other group (probably with the exception unfortunately of Aboriginal people) at that point of time, there would have been a significant outcry. But it was only the murder of the gays.

The families of these victims will never have a sense of finality (as the play said closure is not appropriate here, because you can never close of these events in your lives) until these murders are solved. Unfortunately, with the progress of time, the lack of evidence maintained by the Police, this is getting increasingly unlikely. One hope is that as many of the murderers were likely teenagers, they are now probably in the ’40s or 50’s as life moves on, maybe for some of them, clearing up their conscious is something they might do. Somehow, I think that is a hope too far, but we can always hope.

“Our Blood Runs In The Street” is a play that people should see, particularly our younger members of our society, LGBTIQ and straight. Some rights still need to be achieved, particularly when governments around the world, including our Federal Government in Australia who want to wind back LGBTIQ rights. The winding back of rights will inevitably lead to increasing violence against the LGBTIQ community, starting with verbal abuse, and that may well escalate to the return of significant physical violence and deaths.

And it is those same churches, the Sydney Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, and other conservative Churches in Australia that are rightfully seeking anti-discrimination laws for people of faith, but are also wanting a sword to attack others. They wish to withhold employment and health care from people they don’t approve. They want the right to intimidate LGBTIQ people and others in our society. Where in Christianity is the justification for having a right to intimidate others?

These are the very attitudes that were part of the framework for setting up the environment where there are 88 unsolved murders of gay men in Sydney.

This is why this play, at this point of time, is so important.


[1] https://www.redlineproductions.com.au/our-blood-runs-in-the-street

[2] https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2562

[3] https://www.aconhealth.org.au/report_into_historic_gay_hate_murders_calls_for_justice_and_healing

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-41964671

[5] https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/feature/out-sight-untold-story-adelaides-gay-hate-murders

A need to reject proposed Australia’s Religious Freedom Legislation.

Not being well this month, and working on other submissions, my own submission to the Exposure Drafts of the Religious Freedom bills for Australia (https://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/religious-freedom-bills-second-exposure-drafts.aspx) was left with little time to prepare and finalise.

Consequently it is a little disjointed, high level, but hopefully conveys the key points.

***

31 January 2020

The Hon Christian Porter MP

Attorney-General of Australia
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Via email FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

Dear Attorney-General,

Re: 2nd Exposure Drafts on Religious Freedom and Associated Legislation

Firstly, I am happy for my submission to be made public and to be placed on the Department’s website.

By way of background, I am a businessman owning and operating a boutique consulting firm, sit on a number of boards, am an educator of company directors, a Christian heavily involved in my denomination at practically every level with a variety of leadership roles, a father of two young adult children and a member of the LGBTIQ community.

It is from all these different perspectives that I have a relatively uncommon perspective, but one that is not unique.

This week, many political leaders around the world, including here in Australia, have been remembering seventy-five years of the closure of Auschwitz as part of the Holocaust.  What most of the media hasn’t reported on outside the horrors of the Jewish Community, is that that same regime rounded up all the homosexuals, Gypsies, disabled and others.  It is estimated that over 15,000 homosexuals ended up in the gas chambers.

Why is this piece of history so important?

We need to understand the significance of othering.  Making minority groups othered and unimportant in a society.

We also need to remember the role of religion, particularly Christianity, that in some areas was complicit in allowing the Holocaust to occur.  Fortunately, some of our greatest theologians come from the concerns, such as Barth and Bonhoeffer, with the latter executed by the Hitler regime.

We also need to recall some of the history of Christianity:

  • Many supported slavery and racism
  • There has been and continues to be, global discovery of child sexual abuse that has been significantly covered up by the churches and in some cases, continues to abuse those people during the investigations and settlements.

UnitingJustice, an agency of the Uniting Church, in their document “Dignity in Humanity – Recognising Christ in Every Person, A Uniting Church in Australia Statement on Human Rights, adopted by the Eleventh Assembly July 2006, Resolution 06.20.01”[1] states:

“We must never forget that people who claimed to be Christians and the Christian church itself have been responsible for colluding with and perpetrating violence and oppression. Our history is scarred by greed and fear and so we have, too often, failed in our mission of love. However, there have always been Christians committed to ending violence and poverty and in the last hundred years or so the church has been engaged internationally to this end. In 1937 representatives from churches around the world met to ensure that human rights were included in the United Nations (UN) Charter and the churches went on to play a significant role in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

It is interesting to note that during a series of consultations around an earlier concept of a Bill of Human Rights, where there were case studies, many of the Christian Churches strongly objected to this direction.  Of the submissions received to build the case studies, the Uniting Church was rejected because it supported the development of a Bill of Human Rights.

There has been a drive by conservative Christians since the 1970’s to focus on the exclusion and erasure of LGBTIQ people.  However, it is also important to understand that the word homosexual was only introduced in the English translation of the Bible in 1946, and a major research project to be published this year will demonstrate that this was an academic error.

Just as the American Psychological Association determined that being homosexual was a mental illness through poor research (which took years to correct and untold damage to gay people), we are moving into a new time, just as the Churches had to come to a view, that racism and slavery weren’t Biblical in this age; the same will happen with attitudes of the Churches to LGBTIQ people. They will ultimately apologies for the abuse for which they are responsible towards LGBTIQ people, when they finally accept that there is no justifiable position for their rejection of LGBTIQ people. 

In fact, there are those that hold the view that the future evangelists of Christianity will come from the LGBTIQ community. Given that they are also made in the image of God and are one of the many oppressed communities that should Jesus be walking the earth today, he would sit down and spend time with, rather than reject.

The Report of the Expert Panel into Religious Freedom[2] (the Religious Freedom Review) created by the LNP Government commented that Australians whose faiths face persecution overseas appreciate the ‘relative safety that Australia affords people of different faiths’ (para 1.13). Importantly that Report recommended only small additions to Australia’s legislative protection of Australians’ religious freedoms.  Yet what the Government has offered is extreme in nature and moving from the concept of protecting an individual from discrimination, to a new and highly concerning legal structure of protecting a non-natural person (an organisation) from discrimination, and allowing both an individual and organisation unprecedented powers of discrimination against others.

Now coming to the legislation:

Enabling Discrimination

The proposed legislation appears to start from the premise that religious freedom is an absolute right, and one that does not need to be balanced with other human rights.  I would argue that the proposed legislation creates the position that a religious right is superior to all other human rights.  This is clearly untenable, that a choice to hold a faith is superior to the actual existence of a person.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 18 of the ICCPR[3] outlines the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and section 3 of that article says:

“Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

The Bill agrees, section 3(2) stating that regard is to be had to ‘the indivisibility and universality of human rights, and their equal status in international law; and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights’. However, the proposed Bills provided an almost unfettered legislative right to religious freedom, without balancing that with other rights, the Bill divides the right of religious freedom from other rights, and will result in some Australians being less ‘free and equal in dignity’ than others.

Effectively, this Bill creates of system of religious apartheid in Australia. This will form of apartheid will be as destructive to our society as the systems of racial apartheid used in other countries, that Australia has historically been leading global voice to have removed.

Historically, there has been a significant amount of discrimination built into legislation in Australia, much of which has permitted discrimination against LGBTIQ people.  As a minority group, the LGBTIQ community has had to work very hard over long periods of time to gradually have discrimination against them removed.  However, it has been the trend of legislators over recent years to remove unreasonable discrimination enabled by law.

Some of these have been hard fought, as we saw with the national postal survey and parliamentary process to remove discrimination in marriage; the first time in Australia’s history where a human rights matter has been put to the people where Parliament could have acted, as it should have.

In the lead up to the Wentworth by-election in 2018, the Prime Minister promised to remove discrimination against LGBTIQ students in schools and has failed on that commitment and moved and delayed the matter for additional consultation.

This proposed legislation will enable a dramatic increase in discrimination in Australia.  Much of the activities where discrimination will occur will actually be funded by the Australian taxpayer, which is completely unacceptable.

In welfare services, there is no justification for discrimination of employment, while it is reasonable to ask staff to be supportive of the ethos of the organisation.  The concept of supportive of the ethos should not be used however to restrict employment of LGBTIQ people, people in same sex relationship/marriages, people of particular gender.  The only area where such as exception may be reasonable, is in the area of formal appointment of ministers of religion, such as Chaplains at schools, hospitals, aged care facilities etc, and to some extent members of an organisation’s governing body.  These limited exceptions must be significantly controlled and transparently justified.

To that extent, rather than providing additional rights for discrimination in employment, the Government should work to reduce discrimination.  There is no justifiable reason for a school to be exempt from hiring a maths teacher because they may be LGBTIQ.  Years ago, churches would have said they should be allowed not to hire a disabled person because their disability is a sign of sinfulness.  We all know that is not right, so why do we allow such injustice to LGBTIQ people now?

There is no justification to allow people who hold a religious faith to be abusive to other people outside of their religious setting, such as a taxi driver being abusive to a lesbian couple in their taxi, or a school teacher telling a divorced father looking after their kids that he is sinful as a divorcee, or a manager emailing a staff member that being transgender is not acceptable in the eyes of God.

Some of these would breach any reasonable employer code of conduct today, so why should these be acceptable in the future?

Why is it acceptable for a religious person to intimidate another person, when this is not acceptable for any other citizen?

Professional Bodies/Commercial Limitations

I am currently involved in a number of professional bodies and have been involved with more in the past.

Over time, there has been an increasing acceptance that it is not appropriate to bring private religious material that could bring discomfort or harm to other people into a professional setting, ie that have no bearing on the matter at hand.

This Bill will unwind many years of advancing of good professional practice.

The notes with the Bills provide an example of how a doctor can legally comment in a derogatory manner towards a transgender patient.  There is no justification in a clinical setting for such comments to be made in the first place.

Access to health for many people is already difficult, and the proposed legislation will make access to health for women, disabled people, LGBTIQ people significantly more difficult and put their physical and mental health at risk.

On one hand the Government is attempting to dramatically improve the mental and physical health of people in Australia, yet on the other hand, groups that are dependent on high health care are increasingly at risk of inappropriate treatment, if they will be able to get it at all.

There are no religious grounds for this dangerous expansion of the removal of health services, particularly to vulnerable Australians.

This Government has prided itself on getting out of the way of business, however, through these Bills, wants to interfere in business and ensuring safe workplaces and maintenance of their brands in society.  I note that the Government continues to give rights around codes of conducts and outside activities that it is now denying the private sector.

The dangers of some conservative religion are being shown as states around Australia are working on legislation to outlaw conversion therapy because of its dangers (such acts are being supported by the majority or relevant professional health associations because of their dangers).  Religious schools are fighting to retain the right to send children to conversion therapy.  Just as they denied sexually abusing children, they want the right to mentally abuse children through programs that at best leave long term mental health issues or at worst case, suicide.

Nature of Discrimination Acts

Discrimination Acts by their nature are to protect the individual, however, for the first time, these Bills will provide protection and the right to discrimination by religious organisations.  This is not consistent with the standard of these types of Acts and is not acceptable.

Overriding Other Jurisdictions

There is no justification for these Bills to override some Tasmanian Laws, or to allow religious people to not comply with Local Council regulations with which other citizens need to comply.

Other Matters

There is no requirement for a Religious Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, as the Ruddock Inquiry indicated there is little risk for religious people and organisations in Australia.  What there is a need for, is an LGBTIQ Commissioner as there is a long history of violence and discrimination towards LGBTIQ people.  Much of this discrimination supported by many religious organisations.

While there has been an attempt to correct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spiritually via notes to the bill, I remain unconvinced this issue has been appropriately addressed, and once again Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be disadvantaged and subject to further discrimination.

Summary

This proposed legislation is some of the most dangerous legislation in recent Australian legislative history.

It creates a level of differing rights and standards between different classes of Australian citizens and organisations.

It is unnecessarily complex.

It lacks reasonable definitions and tests.

It reverses the rightful trend of Australian parliaments to reduce discrimination and to improve protections for minorities in favour of creating a system of systematic discrimination against large sectors of Australia’s society, and targets some of the most vulnerable minorities in Australia.

It is without a doubt a system of religious segregation that is no better than race-based apartheid which Australia has been a global leader fighting against.

Rather than moving Australia together as a cohesive society, this will pit Australian against Australian and create disharmony among so many.

Rather than assist with the ongoing improvement in the health and well-being of Australians, this will have a direct and negative impact on the health of many.

If religious organisations can convince the Government that they need the right to discriminate, then they should not receive any taxpayer funding.  Likewise, if health professionals want to discriminate against patients, they should not have access to Medicare funding at all and should seek to only have patients who are willing to consult with them outside of the Medicare system.  Their Medicare biller code can then be reallocated to doctors who are willing to serve all the public.

Accordingly, I have no option but to call on the Government to abandon this legislative strategy and recommence with a Human Rights Bill that seeks to balance competing human rights.  When balancing competing human rights, it seems to me that the innate nature of a person, such as their race, gender, sexual orientation etc is a is given a higher order than their rights from areas of choices, such a religion.

These exposure bills are an abject failure in balancing human rights.  They virtually guarantee that religious rights (the rights from a personal choice) are always held above all other human rights (those that are innate about a person).

The only way forward is the creation of an effective Human Rights Bill.

I would be more than happy to discuss my submission with you.

Yours sincerely

Jason Masters


[1] https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/human-rights/uca-statements/item/download/111_40d235aeb99ba1eb6e46503f5490416d (sourced 30 January 2020), page 7

[2] https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/Documents/religious-freedom-review-expert-panel-report-2018.pdf (Sourced 30 January2020), page 10

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx (sourced 30 January 2020)

MY SUBMISSION TO NSW CURRICULUM REVIEW

https://nswcurriculumreview.nesa.nsw.edu.au/home/siteAreaContent/19e4f544-6d8b-4fbf-ba85-d3f9fc0b55e5

13 December 2019

NSW Curriculum Review

Online Feedback Portal

Re: Submission on PDPHE Curriculum

Context

I am a more recent LGBTIQ Advocate, having been married in a mixed orientation marriage for some 20 years, coming out late in life in my mid 50’s.  I have two young adult children who in recent years completed their schools, one in a public school, the other in a religious private school.

Contextually, apart from being a national executive member of Uniting Network the LGBTIQ community within the Uniting Church, I also hold a number of leadership roles within the Uniting Church, both on the board of a major commercial enterprise, and as well as Parish Council of my local church at Eastwood, I am a member of the Sydney Central Coast Presbytery and have been a member of both the recent NSW/ACT Synod and national Assembly meetings.

I also volunteer on the Finance Audit and Risk Committee of ACON Health and so have a broader understanding of the health issues in the LGBTIQ community.  I recently attended Stanford University to attend their LGBTIQ Executive Leadership Program.

I am also an adult educator, as a facilitator with the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

I am the Managing. Director of a boutique management consulting firm.

In summary, I have a broad understanding of the needs of business, the LGBTIQ Community, the religious community and families as well as involvement in the education sector.

This context being said, the comments expressed in this submission are purely my own.

I apologies in advance for spelling and grammatical errors in this submission, as there are a significant number of issues currently confronting the LGBTIQ community and a wide variety of submissions that are requiring attention, and unfortunately this submission has been prepared at the very last minute.

Preliminary Commentary

We are at a challenging point of time within the Australian community.  There has been much greater acceptance of the LGBTIQ community within Australia, as seen by the significant vote for marriage equality and the subsequent carriage of related bills in the Australian Parliament.

Unfortunately, there is a push back from the conservative religious quarters in Australian society, with the current Australian Prime Minister releasing the latest exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bills, which I suspect may well remain friendless, or only have a very limited number of friends.  Regrettably these bills are they stand are likely to create further disharmony within Australia and could be said to create a “religious apartheid” within Australia.

It is therefore even more important that the PDHPE curriculum in NSW adequately incorporates the existence of LGBTIQ students in schools and the broader community. Failure to do so will only continue the high levels of bullying of LGBTIQ kids in NSW as well as maintaining homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia within our society.

It is very concerning that NSW will continue to ignore LGBTIQ students and have effectively erased their existence of LGBTIQ students from the Interim Review and the curriculum.

Interim Review Commentary

The report quite correctly comments:

They are witnessing increasing public cynicism about traditional institutions, including religious and political institutions and their leaders; the erosion of traditional values; growing questioning of ‘truth’; and the emergence of ‘fake news’. Many are concerned about environmental sustainability, social inequalities and the future, and large numbers of today’s students are exposed to the realities of substance abuse, easy access to age-inappropriate online content, and cyber-bullying.”[1]

And yet in many of our schools, religion is used as justification for limited effective PDHPE education, particularly around sex education, modern understanding of gender and more broadly the LGBTIQ community.  Yet at the same time there is an awareness of social inequalities as the report states, but LGBTIQ exclusion in education is a contributor to this inequality.

The lack of willingness for inclusion leads to bad outcomes for students and families.

As an example, a school in Sydney north west where friends of mine had their first child attending had to withdraw their child from school as the end of K as the school was unable to adequately deal with the bullying that their child suffered because he had two mums. The failure to identify different types of families I believe is a direct contributor to this type of outcome recently in our school system.

Rapid changes are also occurring in workplaces and to occupations that once provided destinations for school leavers. “[2]

Workplaces expect well rounded and educated people to enter their workforce, and modern workplaces have LGBTIQ inclusion as part of their safe workplace environments.  And yet our education system fails to include and prepare our students even on the basic understanding of LGBTIQ people and  their existence.

Page 5 of the report discusses the diversity of our student population, but completely ignores the existence of LGBTIQ students within our education system or students of Rainbow Families.  These students are valuable, but unrecognised and often rejected people in our education system.

My search of the document identified 44 references to the work Aboriginal, which is completely appropriate. 18 references to students with disabilities, again most worthy. 10 mentions of non-academic students.  8 references to “other than English” a particularly challenging cohort of students.  There is not one mention of LGBTIQ students, who make up at least 10% of our population plus children of Rainbow Families and for whom their school period of life can be the most challenging as they become aware of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (from about the age of 10 years), bully, issues with mental health, all of which can have a very significant impact on their learning capabilities.

After the recent international testing results, there will be further push back on the “crowded curriculum” beyond what the report already indicates.

Numerous references were made to other pressures resulting from decisions to delegate to schools responsibility for addressing various social issues. One person observed that schools had become ‘the solvers of all of society’s ills’, with new issues constantly being added to the curriculum. The Review was told that a recent scan of political announcements had identified a diverse set of issues that schools were now being asked to address, including ‘anxiety/depression, resiliency training, childhood obesity, road safety, water safety, Asian studies, healthy school canteens, bush fire safety awareness, languages, cyber safety and anti-bullying’. Others mentioned drug education, first aid, stranger danger, healthy eating and pet safety. Additional programs of these kinds consumed significant teaching time and detracted from other aspects of teaching and learning. (my emphasis in bold)[3]

LGBTIQ are in need of resilience training, assistance with anxiety/depression and definitely anti-bullying within the school environment.  It is important to be reminded that many LGBTIQ kids are threatened by their sexuality in their home environment and may not obtain the necessary support there.

Ensuring that all students can maximise their learning capability should be a key focus of the education system, which therefore means the visibility, inclusion and fully acceptance of LGBTIQ students within the school environment.

There is a consequential issue with ‘Reform Direction 13: Introducing a major project’[4], and in particular the proposal that this project – which would apparently contribute a significant proportion to a student’s final school results – be undertaken by working in teams.

I agree that developing these skills is an important student development and one that is required in the world place.  However, requiring students to work together in teams is only possible where schools are safe learning environments for everyone – and that NSW schools, both government and non-government, currently are not safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students.

This is not just because of the exclusion of LGBTI issues from the PDHPE syllabus (see further commentary below), but also because of high rates of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersex bullying within our schools (and the broader society).

Regrettably LGBTIQ students in non-government schools are especially vulnerable given the exceptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), allowing all private schools and colleges (whether they are religious or not), to discriminate against and expel LGBTIQ kids.  Whilst the Prime Minister has stated this discrimination should be withdrawn, the NSW Government and the NSW Department of Education have been silent on this matter.  Parent may enrol their child into a non-government school in year K, and it is only from the age of around 10 do students start to become aware of their sexual orientation (transgender children often know much earlier).  It creates a greater danger for these students to know that they may well be unsupported at home and risk being expelled from their school and removal from their circle of friend as a result of their innate sexual orientation.

Whilst page 45 of the interim report states:

“studies have highlighted the importance of inclusive, supportive environments in which all learners’ backgrounds, strengths and starting points are recognised and welcomed, strong relationships are built, and collaborative learning (including project-based and problem-based learning) is encouraged.”

Unfortunately for too many LGBTI students, in too many NSW schools, they do not enjoy ‘inclusive, supportive environments’ in which they are ‘recognised and welcomed’. Unless and until this is fixed, then any proposal for a team-based major project in the final years of the NSW curriculum will not be achieved and should be considered for rejection from being implemented.

2018 PDHPE Curriculum

The 2018 PDHPE curriculum is not appropriate for our century, and after the withdrawal of the ‘Safe Schools Program’ in NSW, continues to ensure the ongoing invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTIQ) content, and therefore of LGBTIQ students.  More than invisibility, it is actually contributing to a current trend of some in the political sphere of trying to erase the existence of the LGBTIQ community.

As in the above interim review where LGBTIQ students are completely non-existent. In the 138 pages of the syllabus, these words occur three times each. However, two out of these three appearances are found in the document’s glossary – with a definition of each term, and then as part of the broader definition of LGBTI people.  Q is completely missing and as is the concept of queer, questioning and gender non-conforming students and the like in society.

Teachers are only required to teach the content for each year stage of the syllabus. And the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex can be found only once in the prescribed content, together on page 96:

‘investigate community health resources to evaluate how accessible they are for marginalised individuals and groups and propose changes to promote greater inclusiveness and accessibility eg people in rural and remote areas, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI), people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, people with disability.’

The problem with this is that LGBTI comes after ‘for example’ therefore suggesting that any commentary on LGBTIQ students or population is optional.

Effectively LGBTIQ students and the broader LGBTIQ community appear just once in the entire NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus, as part of an exercise around marginalised groups and inclusiveness, and schools and/or teachers can choose to remove even this most cursory of references, meaning a student in a school may never hear about LGBTIQ people in their entire PDHPE schools live.

The school curriculum is effective reinforcing the marginalisation and exclusion of LGBTIQ content and students which is not acceptable in the 21st century.  This approach is not only damaging to LGBTIQ students, but also to all students who will not be prepared for their interaction of LGBTIQ people in schools, their communities or the workplace.  This is a failure in our education system.

The curriculum continues to fail to adequately develop students understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Again, we know that transgender children often have a particularly difficult time a school and their lack of acceptance there and elsewhere is a significant contributing factor to the very high rates of suicide within the transgender youth community.

Unfortunately, the anti-transgender movement have been successful in creating the concept of gender ideology, but the continuing evolution of medical and science understanding of transgender people only continues to confirm and conform with that transgender people have always know.  When education steps away from knowledge and falls into position of political and religious ideology, then society becomes disadvantaged.

The erasure, or lack of visibility of LGBTIQ people in the NSW PDHPE Syllabus is itself nothing short of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic.  Which is ironic where the curriculum does briefly discuss homophobic and transphobic bullying on pages 77, 88 and 111

Once again, these references to homophobia and transphobia are merely examples, and so therefore options that schools and/or teachers could use or reject to discuss.  Again, issues for bi-sexual and intersex people are once again ignored and queer or gender non-conforming students don’t exist.

We continue to see an antiquated approach with the new NSW PDHPE K-10 Syllabus in relation to sexual health.

The curriculum has only two compulsory references to sexual health one on page 96: ‘explore external influences on sexuality and sexual health behaviours and recognise the impact these can have on their own and others’ health, safety and wellbeing’.

The other reference is on page 95, describes ‘identify methods of contraception and evaluate the extent to which safe sexual health practices allow people to take responsibility for managing their own sexual health.’

This approach is rather problematic. Firstly is places an emphasis on contraception rather than on sexual health.  Sexual health, and LGBTI sexual health especially, is a much broader concept. 

Critically, and with the rise of STI’s in our society, it does not specifically mandate that schools and teachers instruct students about sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

It is amazing that the only reference to STIs in the general curriculum is found on page 84 (‘identify and plan preventive health practices and behaviours that assist in protection against disease, eg blood-borne viruses, sexually transmissible infections’) makes teaching about them optional. The only time the term HIV even appears in the entire document is in the glossary.  Whilst many unfortunately see HIV as a “gay issue” recent reports from WA Health show that there have been more new incidents of HIV in the heterosexual male population than the homosexual male population.  It is important to also remember that female are also susceptible to HIV.

In terms of STI-prevention, it can be observed that the NSW PDHPE syllabus has actually gone backwards from the previous 2003 document, which at least outlined that students should be learning about:

‘sexual health

  • acknowledging and understanding sexual feelings
  • expectations of males and females
  • rights and responsibilities in sexual relationships
  • sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne viruses and HIV/AIDS’ as well as to
  • identify behaviours that assist in preventing STIs, BBVs and HIV/AIDS and explore the interrelationship with drug use.’

Page 12 of the PDHPE K-10 Syllabus states the aim of the curriculum is:

‘The study of PDHPE in K-10 aims to enable students to develop the knowledge, understanding, skills, values and attitudes required to lead and promote healthy, safe and active lives.’

Regrettably, the 138-page curriculum does not support this aim generally for students and particularly it completely fails to promote healthy, safe and active lives for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students. How can they learn if they do not exist in the curriculum?

Conclusion

The ongoing erasure and non-inclusion of LGBTIQ students poses them and the wider society a significant risk, and this must be addressed.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require additional information or clarifications.

Yours sincerely



[1] Page 4

[2] Page 4

[3] Pages 26 and 27

[4] Page 97

In need of a prophetic voice

Unfortunately, the minister at my parish has been extremely ill, and we are all helping out where we can. Last Sunday was the first time in the five or so years I have been at the Parish that I have preached in the main service. (listen hear https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCDAj80N_IA&t=710s)

With my busy business and a lack of discipline with my spiritual life, I do find preaching helpful as it forces me to spend time contemplating the Bible. What does the Bible say, what is happening in society, what is God calling me to say in this place at this time?

Chatting to friends afterwards, receiving feedback around my sermon, which was more political than usual for our parish, one friend made an interesting comment along the lines of:

I studied and read history at school and after. I often wondered how the people of Germany let Hitler happen, why didn’t they see it? They are intelligent people. How did they let it happen? I look around and see what is happening in our world currently, and I am getting to understand better how.

This well enunciated what had been traversing my brain for a while.

Around the globe, we have numerous religious political leaders at the moment. Morrison in my own Australia, Trump in the USA, Bolsonaroin Brazil. All are professing faith as leaders, yet seem to operate in the exact opposite direction of the man they claim to follow.

  • These type of men appear to not have the interests of their indigenous people at heart.
  • These type of men don’t appear to be interested in providing for the sick.
  • These type of men don’t appear to want to help or care for the refugees.
  • These type of men appear to be more interested in putting people in prison rather than helping those in prison.
  • These type of men appear to be more interested in the rights of the corporate over the environment.
  • These type of men appear to be more interested in the well being of business rather than the workers who labour within these business.
  • These type of men seem to be more interested in power than in service.
  • These type of men seem to be more interested secrecy than openness and transparency.
  • These type of men seem to be more interested in oppressing minorities than allowing them to flourish as valuable additions to society.
  • These type of men seem to think that sexual orientation is binary and will oppress, erase and harm people rather than recognise the inordinate contribution that being different provides society.

These type of men represent the political elite, power and control.

Then we have the religious communities, what some might call the evangelicals. Unfortunately, those who follow Jesus are called to spread his word, but the “white evangelicals” have destroyed that concept for me and many others.

  • We have religious leaders who are fighting against the protection of children.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting to ensure women are reduced to second class citizens.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting to ensure they can exclude people on their own grounds.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting to ensure that they have extraordinary power and privilege that no other citizens can have.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting for the right to abuse youth and adults of different sexual orientations, in a process that often lead to suicide or at best severe mental health issues.
  • We have religious leaders who are fighting for the right for health practitioners not to help people based on their own religious views, which will negatively affect the health of women, disabled people, LGBTIQ people, people of different races and faiths.

We have religious leaders who are seeking power to control rather than the free people.

We are now being faced with a number of countries where the political and religious elite are working for their own power, and not for the betterment of all humankind.

Jesus, the person they all say they follow, called for inclusion, healing, for the sick, support for those in prison, acknowledgement and engagement with people of different faiths and ethnicities, bringing in the outcast (often the outcasts are caused by the political and or religious elite), caring for our world and so much more.

The canary in the coal mine is very ill.

Each country that is heading down the pathway of political and religious elitism, exclusion, power and control, needs a new prophetic voice.

In some way, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the canary of an earlier period. His voice wasn’t listen to and the results were devastating.

Can we wait any longer to find the 21st century Bonhoeffer prophetic voices to rise, to ensure we have civil society tomorrow, next week, next year?