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.”
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.
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.
If any matters in this blog cause you any concerns I would encourage you to contact in Australia any of the following:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
By the age of 9 I was struggling at my local public school, and my parents, a railway clerk and dressmaker decided that I needed to be moved to one of the local private schools, at a huge sacrifice to themselves, for which I am forever grateful.
By grade 5, I started at Westminster School in Adelaide and received the educational and pastoral care I needed to get me through schooling and on to university.
During my high schooling, as Dad has finally become a junior manager towards the end of his working career, there was an opportunity for him to take a significant promotion, moving to Broken Hill. This was only the middle of the 1970’s, but in the end they could not. I would have needed to be moved into the boarding house, at significant extra cost, but as mum was married, she would not have been able to work in Broken Hill and reverting to one income make the move not financially sustainable.
Religion and women have always had a challenging place, particularly as more religions are run and managed by men.
As a Christian man, I am grateful that I am a member of the Uniting Church, that has recognised that women to have a leadership role in the Christian tradition, and currently our national President is a Women, and now living in NSW, our General Secretary is a woman.
There is currently a major debate underway in Australia around the need for religious discrimination law or religious freedom laws, which I prefer to call religious privilege laws.
The push for these laws is a continued push back from conservative religious elements from the marriage equality laws, and more recently from the dismissal of Israel Folau from Rugby Australia over his infamous comments about amongst other things that homosexuals will end up in hell.
Many religious organisation want to continue with their existing legal right to be able to exclude LGBTIQ kids from their schools (which are significantly funded by the secular society), and to sack teachers of mathematics, English, or office staff and gardeners who are LGBTIQ even though they may make no comments around their orientation in their workplace environment. As a gay Christian I do find this very distasteful, as it seems to go against the principle teaching of Jesus, the central person of the Christian faith, who brought the faith down to two key principles, Love God, Love one another, with no * with a list of exclusions at the bottom of the page.
The conservative Christian leaders in my mind are currently focusing on LGBTIQ people, because they are at the margins of society, don’t really affect people in the mainstream, and unfortunately many people in the broader society think that now there is secular marriage equality, all issues of LGBTIQ equality have been solved, which unfortunately is not the case, schools is but one example.
Unfortunately, the LGBTIQ community is exhausted from the marriage equality debate, we don’t have a lot of resources, which plays nicely into the timing of the Government and conservative religious organisations.
So why should women be worried about religious freedom?
In an article by Dr Kevin Donnellyof the Australian Catholic University, in “The Catholic Weekly, the Melbourne Archbishop is quoted with a section, “Based on natural law and the inherently moral and spiritual truth evidenced by religious faith Bradley [a Law Professor at Notre Dame University in the USA – another Catholic institution], as does Sydney’s Archbishop Fisher, argues religious freedom should be treated as a positive right essential to human flourishing.”
I contend that the push for positive rights by the conservative Christian groups, currently focused at the LGBTIQ community, is the back door entry point to then work on reversing women’s rights that have been won, but really only over the last century.
So where could this positive religious freedom go in relation to women, a church could if they wished say that within the tenants of their faith
Women could not be Principles of Schools as women can not be superior to men.
Women may be denied the opportunity to teach high schools classes as boys have moved to men and women can not teach men.
Should it be found out that a women has had an abortion they could be removed from any role.
Women could be limited to nursing in hospital as that is the role of a women and not a doctor.
Women could not be the head of any religious organisation as women can not be superior to men
Women when they are married need to leave their jobs as their role is to nurture their family.
It is only in the mid 1970’s that my father could not take on a promotion because my mother would not be able to work. That was an unwritten secular rule, but those within faith communities can develop old rules that could once again be used to roll back women’s rights.
The above list might be seen by some as extreme, but they were in existence not that long ago.
The pushback on LGBTIQ people by some communities of faith is the trogon horse some religious leaders are looking for.
Mental health is a significant issue in the LGBTIQ community, not because people are LGBTIQ, but because of the way LGBTIQ people are treated in society.
I recently wrote an article for my local parish magazine. I am not sure the average Australian understand what has happened and continues to happen to the LGBTIQ community in Australia. On Richard Glovers ABC Drive radio show on Monday evening (24 June 2019) a highly educated commentator suggested that now there is marriage equality all issues are solved. As I keep telling people, marriage equality is just one of the inequalities against LGBTIQ people.
The following is what I wrote for my parish magazine. Are you willing to respond to a call to action, as Jesus did to walk with the marginalised rather than the powerful?
I recently had some conversations with several leaders within the Uniting Church about repetitive and cumulative trauma.
I have been concerned about this for some time as an issue for many in the Aboriginal community.
There are those among us and within the media that go out of their way to identify flaws or weaknesses within the Aboriginal people, and upon finding one or two individuals, entire communities are then made to feel at fault.
In my roles within the cemetery sphere, I have become far more attuned to specific cultural and faith requirements around death and interment. When working with a significant Aboriginal Land Council here in the Greater Sydney area last year, I was shocked to be confronted with the fact that the number one cause of intergenerational poverty is the cost of funerals. Trauma passes from generation to generation.
I have also been aware of the concept of ongoing trauma within the community of people who have suffered from ‘institutional child sexual abuse’. Firstly, they were abused. Then when they told someone, it is unlikely they were believed. Later (if they were brave enough to report it to the police or other authorities), they were often considered to be making up stories, or the authorities interfered to protect the institutions or individuals within them.
Later, with the Royal Commission, many had to retell their stories, provide facts to investigators, both privately and publicly when asked to take the stand. This only added to the trauma they have suffered.
Now, as cases are going through the criminal courts (even if the situation doesn’t involve a particular individual), the wall-to-wall media interest in high profile cases brings back their trauma. They are being repeatedly traumatised.
While LGBTIQ issues are very different from these issues discussed above, they have a parallel. As I journey through writing my book, I have seen the impacts of little events and problems along the way. These little things cumulate.
When I talk with people around the Israel Folau matter, there are those that say there are no consequences concerning Folau’s posts. But there are. We all know the saying ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’. Cumulative trauma is a real issue within the LGBTIQ community.
A youth may hear a slur in the playground, or the phrase “That’s gay,” on the sporting field as a derogatory comment. If they read much of the News Corporation’s newspapers available in Australia (in Sydney, The Australian and the Daily Telegraph), they would always be reading and exposed to articles that suggest that LGBTIQ people should not be recognised and ultimately, should be disregarded. If they happen to enter many churches in Sydney, there can be outright hostility to LGBTIQ people.
I recently heard of two people from a Uniting Church here in Sydney – both cisgendered (a person whose gender identity corresponds to their biological sex at birth) and heterosexual, who happen to be employed by an Anglican Church child agency. They were told that as their Minister was gay, they would either need to leave their employment or leave their Uniting Church. They needed work so, unfortunately, they have been forced to leave their parish.
Teens see lots of negative information on social media. This becomes cumulative.
People rarely commit suicide because of one event; suicidality usually builds or cumulates from a series of events.
This is why Isreal Folau’s post was so dangerous. I contend that it was not theologically accurate, but for some young people, it is the proverbial straw.
Uniting Network, the LGBTIQ community within the Uniting Church has many aims, but the two big ones are pastoral care and theological engagement. This work is becoming a real challenge for members of the Uniting Network. Theological engagement is continuing but will now need to be ramped up to respond to the increasing commentary of non-affirming Christians in Australia and their perceived growing political power. But the Uniting Network members are tired, exhausted.
Pastoral care is now failing as we can barely care for ourselves, let alone others within our community. Repetitive and Cumulative Trauma is having its toll. The last few years have been huge for advocates, and from reading about some of the 30-year plus veteran advocates, they say the last three to five years have been the most intense in a long time.
The following is just some of my engagements over the last couple of years:
Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with marriage equality
Invovlement to stop the plebiscite on marriage quality
Campaigning for marriage quality through the postal survey. In my case, I received numerous social media nooses as threats, guns pointed to a head, and many horrendous comments such as “all LGBTIQ kids should die”
Dealt with my own homophobic attack in late 2017 connected to my sporting community
Continuing the momentum during the marriage equality debates in Parliament
Engaging with the Uniting Church Assembly process around same-gender marriage decision within the Uniting Church
Advocating during the attempts to delay the Assembly decision through a never previously used clause in the Uniting Church’s constitution
Supporting transgender people’s rights who have received inappropriate treatment by medical practitioners
Engagement around the Israel Folau issue that is now into its second year
Engagement with the secretive Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom
Responding to misinformation by so many around Transgender people, across the media, some elements of the medical profession (usually driven by conservative Christian views overriding medical knowledge), and politicians, including our Prime Minister before the election
Upcoming engagement with the Australian Law Reform Commission on the Prime Minister’s referral of religious freedom to them
Meeting with Local, Federal and State MP’s on LGBTIQ issues, including HIV in our area
I am expecting an increase in hostility towards the LGBTIQ community as a result of the recent election, primarily due to the stance taken by News Corporation and the conservative Christian
Some Christian leaders and associated lobby groups who feel they are owed something from the return of the Government.
I was pleased to see that during the election, the Prime Minister announced increased funding to support mental health issues within the LGBTIQ community, as well as supporting the movement to be primarily driven by states to stop gay conversion, ex-gay, reparative therapy or similar “treatments”.
As this next three years are going to continue to require considerable advocacy by the LGBTIQ Community to retain civil rights that have been a long time coming and to continue to move for further civil rights (such as no LGBTIQ discrimination in all schools), this is the time for Allies to step up.
In what way can LGBTIQ Allies step up?
Perhaps undertake a Mental Health First Aid Course and other pastoral care courses focused on LGBTIQ issues to ensure good pastoral care of your LGBTIQ church members, family and friends.
Take time to learn more about LGBTIQ issues.
Identify areas of advocacy that may interest you around LGBTIQ issues and engage with the media, your local members, the broader church, and the wider community.
Repetitive and cumulative trauma is here within so many groups across our society – are you willing to engage?
Warning this is a long blog, as responding to short blog that may seem to be inconsequential by that author, but it needs detailed consideration, analysis and an appreciation of nuance, which unfortunately many who want to attack LGBTIQ people wish to avoid.
So, get a cup or a mug of coffee or tea, with your favourite biscuit and settle in for a read!
I propose to respond to the key challenges and issues with this article and why there are other perspectives that I personally believe is more important and more valid.
But as a refresher, I am an active Christian, with multiple
leadership roles in one of the largest Christian denominations in
Australia. And for transparency, I am
also gay. This means that I regularly
struggle for acceptance within the broader Christian community, and because of
the harm that Christians have caused to the LGBTIQ community, sometimes treated
with caution within the LGBTIQ community.
Let’s start with some broader context.
Some years ago, the Out on the Field study, one of the first and most extensive studies of homophobia in sport, it involved many countries and identified significant homophobia within the sporting community[ii].
80% of participants in the study experienced or
witnessed homophobia in sport.
75% of participants in the study believe that an
openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event
34% gay of participants in the study have been
bullied, 27% of gay participants have received verbal threats, and 15% of gay
participants have been physically assaulted
70% of gay youth (under 22) believe youth sport
is not safe for gay people
I would encourage readers of this blog to read the report in
detail. A link is in the endnotes.
This follows on from years of gay bashings, LGBTIQ people suffering discrimination in all types of situations. In the Australian context, we know that LGBTIQ kids can currently be discriminated in non-Government schools in Australia, and many religious organisation are fighting for the retention of this right of discrimination, under the guise of religious freedom.
I recently had some conversations with several leaders
within my Church about repetitive and cumulative trauma.
I have been concerned about this for some time as an issue
for many in the Aboriginal community. There are those among us and within the
media that go out of their way to identify flaws or weaknesses within the
Aboriginal people, and upon finding one or two individuals, entire communities
are then made to feel at fault.
I have also been aware of the concept of ongoing trauma
within the community of people who have suffered from ‘institutional child
sexual abuse’. Firstly, they were
abused. Then when they told someone, it
is unlikely they were believed. Later
(if they were brave enough to report it to the police or other authorities),
they were often considered to be making up stories, or the authorities
interfered to protect the institutions or individuals within them.
Later, with the Royal Commission, many had to retell their
stories, provide facts to investigators, both privately and publicly when asked
to take the stand. This only added to the trauma they have suffered.
Now, as cases are going through the criminal courts (even if
the situation doesn’t involve a particular individual), the wall-to-wall media
interest in high profile cases brings back their trauma. They are being repeatedly traumatised.
While LGBTIQ issues are very different from these issues
discussed above, they have a parallel.
As I journey through writing my book coming out early next year, “A
Journey Towards Acceptance – an evolving memoir”, I have seen the impacts of
little events and challenges along the way.
These little things cumulate.
When I talk with people around the Israel Folau matter,
there are those that say there are no consequences concerning Folau’s
posts. But there are. We all know the saying ‘The straw that broke
the camel’s back’. Cumulative trauma is a real issue within the LGBTIQ
The last few years have been huge for LGBTIQ advocates, and
from reading about some of the 30-year plus veteran advocates, they say the
previous three to five years have been the most intense in a long time. In just the recent few years my own
Engagement to have Parliament directly deal with
Commitment to stop the plebiscite on marriage
Campaigning for marriage quality through the
postal survey. In my case, I received numerous social media nooses as threats,
and many other horrendous comments such as “all LGBTIQ kids should die”
Dealt with my own homophobic attack in late 2017
Continuing the momentum during the marriage
equality debates in Parliament
Engaging with the Church process around
same-gender marriage decision
Advocating during the attempts to delay the
Assembly decision through a clause in the Church’s constitution never used
Supporting transgender people’s rights who have
received inappropriate treatment by medical practitioners
Engagement around the Israel Folau issue that is
now into its second year
Engagement with the secretive Ruddock Inquiry
into Religious Freedom
Responding to misinformation by so many around
Transgender people, across the media, some elements of the medical profession
(usually driven by conservative Christian views overriding medical knowledge),
and politicians, including our Prime Minister before the election
Upcoming engagement with the Australian Law
Reform Commission on the Prime Minister’s referral of religious freedom to them
Meeting with Local, Federal and State MP’s on
LGBTIQ issues, including HIV in our area
Post the 2019 Federal election I am seeing an
increase in hostility towards the LGBTIQ community as a result of the recent
election, primarily due to the stance taken by News Corporation and the
conservative Christian Churches and associated lobby groups who feel they are
owed something from the return of the Government.
So, this is some of the context that brings me to the
writing of this particular blog. I have
selected some quotes from the blog, and offer an alternative perspective that I
believe better meets the sporting arena and also a Christian reflection.
“It has been reported today that Israel Folau wants
to play Rugby for Australia again, and he is willing to allow vetting of his
social media posts. He is also willing to seek expert guidance on using social
media to express his Christian views. Rugby Australia, there is your window.“.
It is always challenging to comment upon “it is reported”
without actually providing a reference.
The Australian reported on 2 June 2019[iii]
that “Israel Folau was set to accept a deal with Rugby Australia that would
have saved his job until his father intervened to stop him, according to a
report out today.”
Folau first fell foul of his social media roughly 12 months
earlier than this current incident that led to his contract being
terminated. Surely, he should have taken
on the process of social media education after Rugby Australia provided him
with a lifeline from that earlier incident.
He was provided with a window, and he decided to smash it.
“You have made a mountain out of a molehill. Israel
was writing to those who chose to follow him on social media. They chose.”
This is one of the most egregious points in this article and
shows a lack of understanding of social media and its reach.
Many young people follow their stars from a very young
age. What we know from research that
from around the age of 10 is the age of development of sexual attraction and
Therefore, a young person may be following their idol not
being fully aware of their sexual orientation, and then as that awareness
develops, they are still pursuing their hero, who then posts messages of
I know that Christians like Folau sincerely believe that
they are loving homosexuals by telling them unless they repent, they are going
to Hell, and unfortunately, there are many that support of his position. However, this is why LGBITQ teenagers are
significantly over-represented as homeless people, why LGBTIQ people attempt
self-harm and suicide many multiple times more than compared to their
peers. The Folau comments are not
“love”, they are based, in my opinion, on a prejudice that is not substantially
supported through Biblical enquiry, nor following the principles of the key
person they purport to represent, Jesus Christ.
The issue is that a post like Folou’s may be unlikely that
this is the first and only message that may cause a suicidal event (but it is
possible), but it may well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s
back, leading to suicide.
When LGBTIQ have suffered, and continue to suffer abuse, you
don’t know whether your minor comment can cause a catastrophic effect. Folau’s post was not a minor comment, but the
continuation of misuse of the Bible and a history of Christian attacks on the
Even the Liberal Government recognised in the last Federal Election
that there are significant mental health issues in the LGBTIQ community. These mental health issues are not because people
are LGBTIQ, but as a result of the response of others towards LGBTIQ people.
“What is more, you know it wasn’t hate speech. It was a
warning based on what he believes is the truth and it was motivated by love.
You’ve seen enough hate speech to know the difference.”
I wonder if the author has ever experienced actual hate
speech. They may well have, but if they
had, I am surprised they would make this comment.
I have suffered hate speech, I have been racially abused,
which may seem strange given that I am a white male Australian. The tribunal dealing with the matter was
following the protocols used in these type matters.
The accused in the hearing kept saying it wasn’t hate
speech, but I, as the recipient of the hate speech, knew and felt it was hate
It is a common position of conservative Christians in their
interaction with LGBTIQ people that their comments, no matter how
inappropriate, no matter how theologically dubious they are, if you add the
clause “the comments were made in love”, all is alright.
When you are telling anyone that they are going to Hell
simply because of the way they were born is abuse. The more subtle abuse is to say being LGBTIQ
is not sinful, but acting on your natural sexuality is. God doesn’t call people to celibacy, it is acknowledged
it is a very hard calling and only a few are called, there is no blanket call to
celibacy for a class of people in society.
Imagine you are a 15-year-old person, perhaps even playing
in your school or local rugby club, coming to acceptance of your sexual
orientation, knowing that others will cause you grief, and then your idol tells
you that you are going to Hell? That is
not a great scenario for any young person.
Yes, I’ve seen hate speech, both hate speech towards LGBTIQ
people and myself, and other forms of hate speech, and the Folau social media
post meets that threshold.
Most concerning is that if this author is a Chaplain, I am very
concerned about their capability to provide adequate pastoral care to people
who are “others” in our society, if they seriously maintain that Folau’s
comments are not a form of hate speech.
“Rugby Australia, you are alienating so much of your
player base and your supporter base. Where would we be without our Polynesian
brothers and sisters? Where would we be without our Catholic, Anglican, and
other church school teams?”
There is much to talk about theology and its understanding
across all our communities. In my
business life, church life and theological education, when I have provided a
different theological interpretation that makes sense, most people respond, why
haven’t I heard this?
That’s because many religious leaders will only provide
their congregations with a view that suits their theology, rather than having
the strength of their own understanding to explore with their congregants a
wide variety of interpretations to develop their own robust theology.
As we research cultural history, we understand that in so
many countries and cultures, LGBTIQ people were accepted, and the English
colonisation and its Victorian perspectives on sexuality and associate laws
removed the acceptance of LGBTIQ people.
As a significant number of Western countries have recognised that damage
imposed on LGBTIQ people by laws and societal attitudes, unfortunately, many of
the colonies are only starting to follow these reforms.
Most people in Australia would be shocked to learn that the
first time the word homosexual appeared in the English versions of the Bible
was in the Revised Standard Version in 1946.
More concerningly is that research that has been underway for the last
several years on the translation of the RSV and the subsequent NIV Bible is
indicating that no serious academic translation work was undertaken around its
introduction. This research project is
expected to be published in the USA later this year. Some have argued that the translation of
“arsenokoitai” and “malakos”, as one-word “homosexual” was driven through a
cultural lens and an ideological construct rather than detailed academic and
So, the word homosexual hasn’t been a lifelong word in the
English translations of the Bible.
If we look the various translations of Folau’s selected
versions, the New Revised Standard Version uses “male prostitutes”, the New
Living Translation also uses “male prostitutes”, but then adds “or practice
homosexuality”, the King James Version uses “nor effeminate, nor abuses of
themselves with mankind”, and the NIV translates as “nor men who have sex with
men.” We clearly have translational
issues. Do we use a version of the Bible
that fits our cultural and ideological perspective?
So how do we move forward with this? We can take a literal view, and rely on our
preferred translation of the Bible, for a construct we wish to achieve, but
unfortunately, this leads to issues around consistency. Remember, that the Bible was used forcefully
to justify the continuation of slavery in the United States of America, the
country from which much of the evangelical Christian thought emerges. The Bible is still used to exclude women from
leadership roles in the Christian Church, even here in Sydney right now.
The Bible was part of the justification for the taking of
Aboriginal people in Australia from their homes and culture into the Missions,
destroying their culture, hope and spirituality.
Is there an alternative?
I tend to follow the Biblical interpretation method of trying to
understand the Bible through an understanding of the text, the culture and
context of the time, and what history might tell us. Being a member of the Uniting Church, our
Basis of Union calls us to “enter into the inheritance of literary, historical
and scientific enquiry”.
I contend that Paul’s world at the time, Rome, Corinth,
there certainly was a significant level of sexual immorality. Sexual exploitation, and in particular in the
context of the Folau references, the practice of pederasty, men were
maintaining young boys for sex. What is
also important from a literary inquiry perspective is there is very little in
the subsequent literature around the word “arsenokoitai” to help translators
understand its use, context and meaning.
There are equal reasons to surmise that “arsenokoitai” may be more
connected to economic sexual exploitation.
Peeling this back further, there are only 6 verses out of
some 31,100 verses in the Bible that some people use to condemn homosexual
people. However, if this is considered
through the lens I am offering, they do not refer to homosexual relationships
as we understand them today. This is
where our understanding of homosexuality (our medical and scientific knowledge)
comes into play. I would suggest that
homosexual people have been in existence since the beginning of humankind, and
why would God create people only for the purpose of condemning them to Hell?
The arguments for LGBTIQ exclusion are not strongly
supported in the Bible. What is strongly
encouraged is the concept of Love, which is mentioned in the NRSV 601 times,
NIV 590 times and the King James only 310 times.
Australia and Rugby have benefited from our Christian
Schools, however, when Chaplains at a Christian school in Sydney within the
last 20-30 years tells LGBTIQ kids to commit suicide so they don’t infect other
children at drag them into Hell, you have to ask is that firstly appropriate, secondly
does this attitude represent Jesus Christ, and finally it adds to homophobia in
sport discussed earlier?
The New Testament, the books pointing to God through Jesus,
is summarised in two principles “Love God and Love one another”.
“You have painted Izzy into a corner.”
This is false victim narrative. The religious conservative movement in
Australia, since the Marriage Equality process have tried to claim the victim
position, often not telling the truth in the process. The current religion freedom (which I call
privilege) debate post the Australian 2019 Federal Election is trying to build
a narrative that Christians in Australia are suddenly being threatened, abused
and oppressed, none of which is true.
What is happening is that communities of faith that have
historically had their position accepted without challenge are now having to
present and justify their place in society, and with a more informed society,
the faith demand for acceptance of their position is not automatically being
accepted. That is not abuse nor
“You demanded that he take down a post. That seems
reasonable, but you haven’t attempted to walk in his shoes.”
This is potentially the second most egregious comment in the
article, may I suggest that Folau and the author actually walk in the shoes in
the LGBTIQ community and also LGBTIQ Christians. When they are walked in those shoes then we
can revisit this comment.
I refer readers to my earlier blog article on the man born
blind and the shoes that Jesus actually asks us to consider (and spoiler alert
this passage is not about healing)
“Take the opportunity to forge a new future for
religious and cultural liaison in Rugby. Lead well. Show some grace.”
This one area that I agree, but not in the way I suspect
that the author intended. When Folau’s
first anti-LGBITQ tweet came out I tried to connect with Folau on Twitter
asking that he and some of his friends and that some of my LGBTIQ Christian friends
and I sit down and talk. Maybe together
on a Tongan mat. Unfortunately, I was
I am not sure that it is Rugby Australia needs to show
grace. Rugby Union understands the
issues of abuse of LGBTIQ people and is one of the launch national sporting
bodies of Pride in Sport, intending to reduce homophobia and transphobia in
Folau would have been well aware of Rugby Australia
involvement and support of these initiatives.
Folau breached the code of conduct earlier and was given
another chance. I know the Bible encourages
us to forgive our fellows seven times seven but does Folau have some
responsibilities in this issue.
He has been provided grace.
He chose to reject that grace.
In rejecting that grace, he again has put the lives of
LGBTIQ people at risk.
Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of
religion does come with responsibility, it does come with consequences.
I contend that the author of this article and Folau need to
engage in a religious and cultural liaison with LGBTIQ Christians and people in
the LGBTIQ community gracefully and show grace in that direction.