Today, the treasurer of Australia, one of the most powerful politicians in the country, publicly stated that he experienced “hate speech and bigotry” for his stance on marriage equality. In doing so, he was directly replying to an impassioned plea by senator Penny Wong that the proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage not go ahead as it would further inflame homophobia in Australia, causing direct damage to LGBT people. Mr. Morrison also likened the experience of people who “hold strong religious views” to that of the queer community. He was wrong. Not only that, he was offensively wrong.
Now it might seem like a minor issue to you. This is a Christian conservative who is outspoken about his position on marriage, and we have come to expect (at best) intolerance and apathy towards the wellbeing of the queer community from such people. ScoMo’s views are actually a step up from the rampantly homophobic and disgusting things that his fellow Coalition party members have said. At the very least he has yet to liken homosexuality to paedophilia. Yipee.
But this ‘minor issue’ kills.
There is the obvious discrimination. It has been less than a month since the biggest mass shooting in US history that directly targeted the queer community. More than 80% of queer people have experienced direct violence or harassment in their lifetime, with 50% of people having had an experience in the last 2 years. We live in a society where it is legal to be gay. That doesn’t make it safe. And these are just the open attacks. There is overwhelming evidence that queer people experience significantly worse mental health than the rest of the population, with rates of depression, anxiety and suicide several times that of the general population. We also know that these figures get worse when, say, an important member of parliament goes on a rant demonising the queer community and its members.
When Mr. Morrison suggests that he has faced discrimination that equates to being a part of the queer community, he is not only misunderstanding what hatred and bigotry are, he is minimising the suffering of an entire segment of society. He is actively saying “being a Christian conservative is as difficult as being gay in Australia”. Now, I have never been a conservative Christian, but I sincerely doubt he has ever had to worry about being assaulted on the street, or never being able to marry because of the person that he is. He has never had any of the myriad pains and embarrassments that come with being a part of a minority community. And as someone who has been the target of actual religious discrimination, I doubt that he has ever truly considered what it means when he says that people with strong religious beliefs face this kind of discrimination. Mr Morrison has never been spat on outside a church. He has never had a man give him a Nazi salute before telling him to “go back where you came from”. He has never even had to explain to a group of new friends why he was the only person in the room not laughing at a Holocaust joke someone told (if you hadn’t guessed, I’m Jewish). To suggest that backlash from his homophobic stance on marriage equality equates to either religious discrimination or homophobia is insulting to anyone who has experienced either.
When a privileged man like Scott tells the nation that he has experienced hatred and bigotry, what he is really saying is that he’s been offended by people’s response to his policies.
It’s his right to be offended. It’s ours not to care.
In case you have forgotten, there is an election coming up. Write to your local Liberal candidate and tell them this isn’t acceptable behaviour. Write to your local Labor candidate and ask them to be outspoken against it (your local Greens member probably already is). Make some noise. Get heard. Because when we all go to vote in 2 weeks time, there is one party who have clearly decided that homophobia is fine, and it doesn’t look like they are changing any time soon.
Edit; since writing this article the election has passed, and Scott remains treasurer. Given the debate about a plebiscite for marriage equality, it is more important than ever to write to your local MP and tell them what you think about senior members of the Coalition government feeling that their hurt feelings are as bad as the discrimination many Australians face day-to-day.