Content Warning: homophobia biphobia bullying violence

A feature of the news from Australia since the election of John Howard as Prime Minister in March 1996 has been the escalating maltreatment of vulnerable peoples. That, of course, includes indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, and those young enough to feel the full brunt of climate change and ecological ruin. Whilst there have been occasions where hope has been given real expression, (such as Kevin Rudd’s apology to indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation[1] and Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech,[2] both of which are truly inspiring) it has never taken long for it to be snuffed out. The overall trend line, then, has been either a downward spiral, or perhaps just staying on a consistently unpleasant path. This began even before the 1788 invasion and occupation of New South Wales, with Britain’s brutal treatment of prisoners and of the accused.

One recent expression of bigotry from Australia’s 21st Century political classes has been at the expense of the human right of equality of the queer community. Tony Abbott initially railed against same-sex marriage, but eventually capitulated to the extent of setting in motion a plebiscite on the issue.[3] In spite of massive public support for same-sex marriage;[4] in spite of the enormous cost of running the plebiscite;[5] and in spite of warnings from the Senate that the plebiscite will be harmful to children and other vulnerable people in the queer community;[6] the supposedly-moderate sheep in wolf’s clothing, Malcolm Turnbull, is continuing down Abbott’s vulgar track. What a leader should instead be doing is allowing a conscience vote or taking the truly honourable option of demanding party-line voting in support of human rights.

The fact of a public debate on the human rights of a minority, coupled with journalistic slavery to “balanced debate” (the principle is farcical when the facts are plainly opposed to certain views, like denial of anthropogenic climate change) means that people whose views are detached from reality, intelligence and ethics get a full airing.

And so it is with bigots making outrageous comments and accusations about the queer community. For example, a couple of Liberal Party Members of Parliament have falsely asserted that a programme to reduce bullying of queer children in schools is actually some sort of indoctrination effort.[7]

This kind of discussion isn’t merely balderdash. It is, without irony, bullying. Indeed, it is bullying by people who – as Members of Parliament – have the national media as their loudspeaker, and it is perpetrated against people who do not. The power imbalance is enormous. The feeling of disempowerment is proportionate.

The weight of that helplessness is even greater when, on top of this, one turns their mind to the fact that millions of people voted for the Liberal Party. Including all of the coalition parties, about 5.8 million people voted for this government. And if all that isn’t bad enough, then there is the reality that some of our family members vote Liberal. It feels as if they are participating in this epic scale of bullying.

When you experience this all together – being queer, being bullied about it by horrible people magnified through the media, and being related to people who wanted those bullies to control national communications and policy – it is profoundly awful.

My personal response has been to feel properly depressed, stressed, upset … even traumatised. All of the feelings that I experienced from being teased, bullied and beaten at school have come up again. At aged 42.

This is what these “debates” do to people. This is what happens to people who are used as clay pigeons by politicians. This is what happens when people choose an interpretation of their religious text to match their pre-existing bigotry. This is what happens when members of a majority dare to judge a minority they simply cannot understand without a concerted, intelligent, ethical effort to imagine themselves in the shoes of others. — [1] “Sorry, Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generation” < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3TZOGpG6cM>;. [2] “Julie Gillard’s misogyny speech” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOPsxpMzYw4>;. [3] A plebiscite is a non-binding referendum. In other words, the electorate gets to vote on a matter of public policy, but the Legislature does not have to follow the expressed will of the people. [4] “A majority of Australians have supported marriage equality for several years” AustralianMarriageEquality.org <http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/who-supports-equality/a-majority-of-australians-support-marriage-equality/>;. [5] “Separate poll on same-sex marriage would cost $158 million: Australian Electoral Commission” Sydney Morning Herald <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/separate-poll-on-samesex-marriage-would-cost-158-million-australian-electoral-commission-20150908-gjhd1j.html>;. [6] “Senate report warns same-sex marriage plebiscite could potentially harm people in LGBTI community” ABC <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-17/senate-backs-parliamentary-conscience-vote-on-same-sex-marriage/6781992>;. [7] “Safe Schools: Malcolm Turnbull requests investigation into program helping LGBTI students” ABC <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-23/turnbull-requests-investigation-into-safe-schools-program/7192374>;.

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Nathan Ross is a bisexual, cisgender male in an opposite-sex marriage with two step-kids, and he works as a research fellow in international climate change law, based in Wellington, New Zealand.