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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  , 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  . 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Member of the Uniting Church and LGBTIQ Advocate
These views are of the author and not any group within the Uniting Church or outside.
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.
Conservative Australian Christian blogger Bill Muehlenberg continues his assault on the LGBTIQ community, and is currently focusing on the Transgender Community.
I am becoming quite fascinated why the conservative Christian movement seems to almost have its theology built on sexuality and gender (plus the pro-birth movement) and not on Jesus and his calling to Love One Another.
As has been the strategy of the Australian Christian Lobby, using one or two example to justify excluding an entire community, Muehlenberg has built this current article on the dangers of transgender transitioning to their gender and then detransitioning from one or two stories, and in this case a book review, thereby trying to justify the exclusion of potentially 25 millions transgender people around the world.
Getting good data on the number of transgender people in the world is difficult when leaders such as Trump wishes to exclude questions of sexuality and gender from their census. This consequently make it difficult for groups, support services, medical professionals etc to better understand the size of LGBTIQ communities and their locations to optimise service delivery.
I do generously feel compassion for people who have transitioned and ultimately de-transition, that their life has not worked as they had hoped.
However, Muehlenberg’s arguments are not only disingenuous but also dishonest, and add to the poor level of knowledge and information in the broader community and also in the Christian community.
I had responded to Muehlenberg’s blog on his site, and naturally, any commentary that provides an alternative perspective is not published on his blog – again a tendency of the conservative Christian movement, failure to be open to criticism only reenforces the lack of knowledge and insight of that community of people.
“We identified 56 studies that consist of primary research on this topic, of which 52 (93%) found that gender transition improves the overall well-being of transgender people, while 4 (7%) report mixed or null findings. We found no studies concluding that gender transition causes overall harm.”
In their overall research findings, they bring to light the possible causes of detransitioning, that may be at play in Muehlenberg’s example person.
“4. 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.
5. Factors that are predictive of success in the treatment of gender dysphoria include adequate preparation and mental health support prior to treatment, proper follow-up care from knowledgeable providers, consistent family and social support, and high-quality surgical outcomes (when surgery is involved).”
What Muehlenberg also fails to acknowledge is that any surgery has risks and any surgery can have outcomes that are not desirable for a whole raft of reasons. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons reported in their press release on 10 October 2017 that in 2016 there were adverse outcomes of surgery in 2.9% of surgical activities, which is a reduction from approximately 6% in 2009. So in relation to the case presented by Muehlenberg we don’t know if there was surgical misadventure, which is a possibility. So if these people transition some years ago, not only was the surgery techniques in earlier stages of development, and the rates of misadventure were statistically higher. (Source https://www.surgeons.org/media/25518478/2017-10-10-med_anzasm_national_report_2016_media_release.pdf)
Muehlenberg quotes from the book he is reviewing that “Candidates for sex change surgeries are vulnerable and ill-equipped to grasp the consequences of surgeries on their bodies and the effects on their future. They are easily approved for unnecessary procedures by surgeons willing to accommodate them….”
The problem for Muehlenberg, Miranda Devine and others who are attacking transgender kids is that they don’t have surgery when they are 10, and they don’t start medical supervised drug treatment when they are 5 years old. The trouble again with this ilk of people is they refuse to read the literature and report honestly information that doesn’t suit their narratives.
So once again we have a Christian voice mis-using information, and not being open and willing to contemplate evidence that is inconsistent with their narrative of disrespecting a significant group of people in our world population.
I sit back and wonder, why the Christian movement has lost the key message of Jesus, love one another? I set back and look at the Gospels of Jesus time on earth and see that Jesus is disrupting the religious leaders of the time who are destroying lives, and why can’t those doing the same now see that.
I know I have a plank in my own eye, but the LGBTIQ community doesn’t deserve this level of abuse. Being Christian is about love, forgiveness, hope, and that is not that in Muehlenberg’s blog.