Queer mental health

Originally published in FUSE, November 2010

On the 22nd of September, Tyler Clementi, a young man studying music at Rutgers University, walked up to the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey and then threw himself to his death. He did so only days after two of his roommates’ streamed footage of him having sex with another man live on the internet.

This tragic loss was just one of many high profile incidents over recent years. With it, the issues of queer bullying, mental health issues for queer people and the extremely high rate of suicide for queer people has once again been highlighted as issues needing urgent attention.

Growing up as a young queer man it very quickly became clear that depression was simply part of life for many queer people. For me, it began largely after I came-out as the realisation that I was living in a world where some did not accept me became a reality. With it came an immense feeling of sadness that most of the time I did not understand.

However, I was one of the lucky ones. My family was nothing but supportive and overall my friends were great too. Many people I knew however were not so lucky. Some had family that rejected them outright, others had friends who bullied them; many suffered from both. For many this lead to severe depression; a sense and feeling of being alone and isolated from a world that didn’t accept you. For some this escalated into attempted suicide (I am lucky to have never known someone who has committed suicide).

The statistics around queer mental health issues are stark. A research scoping paper commissioned by the national depression initiative, Beyond Blue, in December 2008 found that same-sex attracted people, in particular women, are the most susceptible group to depression and suicide in our community. According to the study, in any twelve month period, approximately 42% of queer people suffer from some form of mental illness (this includes affective disorders, anxiety and substance abuse), compared to fewer than 20% of heterosexual-identifying people.

The realities are the worst for young people. According to the paper, some studies show that more than 50% of young queer people have suffered from severe anxiety or depression, with approximately 42% of young queer people attempting suicide at some point in their life. The study found that young gay men were 3.7 times more like to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts; a figure that increases for same-sex attracted women and even more for bisexual people.*

Yet, even with such strong statistics, and despite increasing attention being put onto mental health issues, queer mental health has often been forgotten as an issue needing attention. Whilst many have spent decades putting huge amounts of work providing support services and running campaigns to end discrimination, funding has continued to be short and no national organisation has put any major resources into addressing the problem.

There are even reports that Beyond Blue, Australia’s largest mental health organisation has repeatedly ignored the queer mental health crisis. After re-releasing its issues paper ‘Mental Health, Depression and Anxiety in Same-Sex Attracted People’ in June 2009 (after initially releasing the report in January 2008) criticism began to flow that the organisation wasn’t doing anything to address the problem. In June 2009, queer activist Rob Mitchell argued that Beyond Blue had only released their initial report after significant pressure from queer activists and even after releasing the report they continued to refuse to put money into addressing the problem.

Even now, neither Beyond Blue, nor any other major mental health organisation, has any major projects or campaigns addressing this issue. Whilst small scale work continues from committed people across the country, there is a lack of resources to aid any form of national campaign. Whether these organisations will conduct these campaigns in the future is yet to be seen.

There are clear reasons why some queer people suffer from mental health issues more than their straight counterparts. Evidence shows that there are clear and obvious links between social stigmatisation, discrimination and isolation and mental health problems. Whilst official discrimination is now limited in Australia, there is still a high level of low-level queerphobia in the country; something that has a clear effect on many queer people.

What is unclear however is why, given the serious nature of queer mental health problems, the issue has continued to be ignored. Whilst one could easily say that it is a case of queerphobia from mental health organisations and those who fund them, there is not clear evidence that this is the case (although it much be considered a factor). It is possible that the most prominent reason for the lack of action on this issue is that tackling queer mental health issues requires a lot more work than awareness raising and providing easily accessible treatment options. Tackling queer mental health problems requires tackling the high levels of low-level queerphobia that exists in our society, particularly that targeted at young people. Possibly more than any other mental health issue, queer mental health problems require an approach that is focused on preventative health – it is not until we tackle discrimination that we are going to be able to solve the queer mental health crisis.

This has been a problem for the mental health lobby for a number of years. In the initial stages of what is becoming the mental health revolution, campaigns and funding have been focused on awareness raising, service delivery and treatment. This unfortunately forgets that a large percentage of mental health problems are preventable with the right proactive measures. In some cases this means giving people access to services such as youth groups where they are able to discuss issues in their lives, whilst for others it means tackling some of the serious social issues that still dominate our society. In cases such as queer mental health, this means tackling queerphobia within our society and particularly within our schools. This is a difficult task. Anti-discrimination campaigns require devotion to longer term change, rather than finding short term solutions. Campaigns such as this would be hard to measure and somewhat difficult to implement. The long term solutions however, would see the results we so desperately need.

However, the unfortunate reality is that there is a queer mental health crisis; a crisis that is predominately caused by the way our society operates. Tackling this crisis therefore does not just mean investing in treatment programs, but rather preventative programs aimed at ending discrimination and social stigmatisation.

If we don’t begin to tackle this problem we will continue to be shocked and saddened by deaths such as Tyler Clementi’s. I know I don’t want to live in a society where anybody feels as though they have to do what Clementi did, but I am sure that until we tackle the queer mental health crisis these sorts of stories will continue.

* Note: The Beyond Blue study was based on a literature review. This meant that some statistics were unavailable due to a lack of research and not all statistics presented are from Australia. The study can be found at: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=4.1255

Election 2010: Where to from here?

Originally published in FUSE, October 2010

The 2010 federal election campaign could be summarised by one key criticism; it was boring.

The stage managed campaigns focusing on style over substance (or at least that’s how the media reported it) drew criticism from all quarters. Politics was seen to have hit its shallowest point. At one point former Liberal leader John Hewson stated that the contest was like the South Park episode, where there was a choice of ‘picking between a douche and a turd’.

It is no wonder then that the result ending up being one of the closest in Australian history. For the first time since the Second World War, Australia ended up with a hung parliament.

With the ALP on 72 seats, the Coalition on 73 (including a WA National) and 5 cross benchers (1 Green and 4 independents); the post election period saw not only intense negotiations to see who would form the next Australian government, but also intense about the nature of Australian politics. After 17 days the ALP was able to form Government with the support of four of the five cross benchers. For this support the ALP committed to a range of new policy measures, including the establishment of a climate change committee (with the Greens), the move for a national denticare scheme (with the Greens), changes to pokies regulations (with Andrew Wilkie), a regional Australia package (from Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor) and a parliamentary reform agenda aimed at giving power back to individual members of parliament.

Yet in the midst of all of these changes, criticisms of this new situation flew fast from all corners. Apparently the time it took for decisions to be made was creating political and economic instability. The new situation was also extremely undemocratic as the views of five electorates were now going dominate over the views of the rest of the country.

Many seemed unable to make up their minds. Whilst they wanted more substance in our political debate during the campaign, when it arrived, complaints arose that those who were bringing the substance should not be in the power to do so (as the country didn’t elect these cross-benchers). Apparently the independents should have just fallen in line with what their electorates and/or the country (based on 2 party preferred or primary vote depending on who you listened to) wanted. Now, instead of substance we wanted ‘stability’ instead.

What many have forgotten is how exciting this new situation is. Within one election cycle we have moved from two party system where similarities in policy are more common that differences to one where any Government will be required to genuinely negotiate with the Parliament and the people of Australia to have their policy platform implemented. In the time that we needed to wait for stability, we saw more substantive debate about Australian democracy and public policy than did throughout the entire election campaign. Finally, the substance has been brought back.

This has already resulted in fantastic outcomes. In the negotiation period following the election more significant policy changes had occurred in some areas than over the last number of years. The changes to parliamentary procedures would have been good enough, but the implementation of the new policy agenda from the cross benches will bring significant positive changes.

Hung parliaments bring great outcomes to parliaments around the world and will do so in Australia as well. After complaining about the lack of it for so long, policy substance has finally been brought back into our political system. Instead of finding the negative therefore, we should be looking at the positive outcomes this situation is going to bring. It is what we asked for and it will deliver.

The politics of coming out

Originally published in FUSE, July 2010

On the 20th of May, AFL player Jason Akermanis caused a storm after writing an article arguing that queer AFL players should not come out. Apparently, the league isn’t ready for it.

A few days later Seven News publicly outed the NSW transport minister David Campbell by showing film of him exiting a gay sex club.

Within this week, an issue that all queer people have to grapple with, coming out, entered the political sphere in an extremely public way. In doing so, these stories opened up the questions; why is it still so hard for many people to come out and is it ever okay to publicly out someone without their permission?

Coming Out

Coming out has always been an integral part of queer identity. It is something all queer people have to deal with, whether it is a decision to come out, or one not to come out. Unlike our straight counterparts, if queer person wants to be open about their sexuality they have to go through the process of coming out. In doing so, coming out is something that can cause a lot of pain, a lot of joy and a lot of growth as a human being.

I will always remember when I came out to my family and friends. It was an important and empowering time for me. Coming out made me feel accepted and loved by the people around me, in turn making me feel extremely comfortable with who I was. Telling my friends and family lifted a weight off my shoulders, not because I believed that it would ever be a problem, but because I felt like I could finally be myself.

Unfortunately however, not everyone has such a positive experience. At the same time I came out, many people I knew faced serious problems because they came out. I know of a number of people, whose family and friends had real problems with their sexuality, causing major grief in their lives. For these people coming out was a terrible experience and for many others it is considered something that is simply impossible to do.

Jason Akermanis’ Article

The week of ‘coming out’ discussion began when AFL player Jason Akermanis argued in a newspaper column that any gay AFL player should refrain from refrain from revealing their sexual identity. Akermanis argued that the AFL was simply not ready for a gay player and that any player who did come out would find life very difficult. He recounted a story of an out player he knew during his early years and the awkwardness that his sexuality apparently caused with the team. This player, whilst apparently a well respected man, causes problems in the club as uncomfortableness from other players around his sexuality was prominent.

Akermanis argued that this sort of culture had not changed in the AFL and that the public outing of a player would still make players uncomfortable, and could “break the fabric of the club”.

Akermanis’ comments revealed a lot about much of the underlying homophobia that still exists within our society. Whilst his comments weren’t overtly homophobic (i.e. he didn’t argue that all gay players were bad people), they were underlined by deeply held homophobic beliefs about what okay for people to think about queer people. Akermanis’ underlying assumption was that it was okay for AFL players (or other people) to feel uncomfortable around queer people as there are certain things about queer people that inherently make other people uncomfortable. It would therefore be the queer players fault if the ‘fabric of the club’ was broken, because he did something that made other players uncomfortable.

Therefore, whilst I can agree with Akermanis that there is a lot of underlying homophobia in the AFL, which would make it difficult for any AFL player to come out, his article was homophobic because it blamed queer people for this. Instead of arguing that it was the straight players who were in the wrong, Akermanis blamed gay men for making situations uncomfortable. By criticising anyone who wanted to come out, Akermanis was simply accepting the homophobia inside the league rather than challenging it.

Seven News and David Campbell

A few days after Akermanis’ column, the NSW transport minister, David Campbell resigned suddenly after it was revealed that Seven News had footage of him leaving a gay sex club, which they planned to show on their nightly news.

The breaking of the story brought outrage across the country as people argued that Seven News’ actions crossed an ethical line. Seven News argued that the story was legitimate, using a Christmas card that Campbell sent to constituents using a photo of his family as the reason. They argued that by using his family in his card he was campaigning on ‘family values’; something that his visit to the club apparently contradicted. This quite clearly ignores the fact that one is able to be a family person, whilst still visiting sex venues. Just because Campbell was visiting a sex club, that doesn’t mean he didn’t love his family. The fact that he has been with his wife for almost 30 years should be proof of that.

The Question of Coming Out

Within this week, the underlying homophobia that still exists within our society was brought to the front of the political sphere as people’s sexuality was put on to show for everyone to watch. In doing so these issues opened up the key question of why coming out is still such an important and difficult thing for many queer people.

Quite clearly for many people, coming out is still very difficult. Prejudice and discrimination still exist within our society and many still suffer when they come out. Given this, one can easily understand why someone may decide not to come out. For many it is a question of life or (metaphorical) death, with coming out still being something that is just too hard.

That doesn’t, however make it okay to blame queer people for that fact. Discrimination against queer people is never the fault of queer people and it should never be told that way. The only people to blame for discrimination, is those who are doing the discrimination, not those who are suffering because of it.

One the other side though, many people can actually cause damage through not coming out. People who a well known as being queer, but refuse to publicly acknowledge it, actually hurt other queer people. These refuse to publicly challenge homophobia in our society when they have an opportunity to do so, leaving many to suffer in silence. In these cases it can be argued that publicly outing people is okay as it shows that queerness in the public sphere can be considered acceptable.

As such an important part of many people’s identity, coming out is a key issue for the queer community. However, we cannot just assume that it is only a personal manner. Coming out is inherently political and whilst what Jason Akermanis and Seven News did was terrible, it at least brought this manner out into the public where it should be.

The silent queerphobia of the entertainment industry

There is an episode of Will and Grace that I always seem to remember. In this episode Jack gets excited because his favourite TV show is going to show a ‘man on man’ kiss for the first time on prime time television. When the episode goes on air however, the kiss is not actually shown, but just implied. Jack is rightfully upset and spends the rest of the episode fighting with the network over the treatment of queer people on television. The episode ends with Will and Jack kissing on Regis Live, therefore becoming the two men who have the first ‘man on man’ kiss on prime time television.

This episode sticks out for me because it manages to hit the nail on the head when it comes to the issue of homophobia in the entertainment industry, whilst doing so through a very homophobic prism.

This episode has a great narrative around the treatment of queer people in the entertainment industry. Queer people are still regularly left out of prime time film and TV, and queer sex is extremely rare and never graphic in its description (i.e. it is only ever implied, never shown). For example, after a successful run at film festivals around the world, a new film called I Love You, Phillip Morris, has recently found it extremely difficult to break through in cinemas. Whilst the film managed to get some distribution Europe, it was not until many of the gay sex scenes were deleted that it found a distributer in the US. Even after this though, the film has been delayed a number of times and when released is unlikely to be widely distributed.

I Love You, Phillip Morris, just like the characters in Jack’s show, is the victim of overt homophobia from the entertainment industry. Being a film with some raunchy ‘man on man’ sex scenes the film was clearly considered either not appropriate for mainstream consumption or at least unable to make any money for any of the mainstream distributors.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Many DVD stores now have decent queer film sections. But these films are still part of a niche genre – a niche that is normally only targeted at queer audiences and normally receive very little success. As Scott Stiffle says:

“Lesbian gay bisexual and transvestite cinema is still seen as an underground, specific genre. When it comes to Hollywood mainstream, they (film distributors) want the widest audience possible for the amount of money they spend.”

This is true, even for mainstream queer films. Brokeback Mountain for example, only grossed $83 million dollars in the US, whilst I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry [about two heterosexual men who enter into a civil partnership as part of a pension scam] was able to bring in $120 million.

Yet, this sort of homophobia, which is the most obvious, is not actually the most prevalent. The most prevalent, and the most silent, is that of the Will and Grace type. It is the homophobia that puts queer characters in a special box where their queerness is quite evident (through pushing stereotypes) and laughed at. Queer characters are rarely serious and if they are, they are pushed into the niche genre. As Scott Stiffle, author of ‘Why Hollywood Avoids Gay Movies’ states:

“Mostly straight, multiplex-going audiences don’t want to see a romantic comedy in which two dudes get it on; unless it is meant as a joke.”

Will and Grace is full of this type of homophobia. Will, one of the main characters, starts off relatively ‘straight acting’. The other gay character in the show, Jack, offsets this by being overtly camp. This creates the comedy for the show; something that would have been missing if both characters were straight acting. As the show goes on, Will get more camp – quite clearly a reaction to the popularity of Jack as a character.
Jack and Will are also never seen having any form sex, or even getting close to it. Whilst they talk about sex, they are generally only spoken about after the fact and even kissing is not shown. This is despite the fact that Grace is shown kissing and occasionally having sex (although not graphically).

This broad treatment of the gay characters in Will and Grace can be seen across the film and television industry (I say gay characters, because it is extremely rare to see Lesbians, Bisexuals, Intersex or Trans* people on mainstream TV – more about this soon).

In fact, when looking at any mainstream TV shows or movies that involve gay characters you can see that they are always put into particular boxes. Either they are a ‘mainstream’ character or they are a joke character. Mainstream characters are those who play the lead in a show – i.e. Will. These characters’ generally have very little character depth, apart from their sexuality, which is displayed in a very sexual way even though they are never shown having sex on screen (for example, Will is always shown walking around in tank tops, but never has sex). Joke characters, such as Jack, fill the comic void, through making a joke out of their sexuality. They do so through acting overtly camp and making a joke over their homosexuality. Normally these characters are the same person – they are a sexy person who you can laugh at.

These roles are generally only true for gay men. That is because other queer people are simply not shown on mainstream TV or film. Why?

Because it is considered hard to make stereotypical non-gay queer characters either sexy or funny (which is the aim of the queer characters in other genres)? For example, the stereotypical angry, butch lesbian is someone who you apparently can’t make sexy or funny. The facts that not all lesbians are butch and angry, that just because someone is butch and angry that doesn’t mean they can’t be funny and sexy or that even if they aren’t funny and angry they can still be a good and serious character, are simply ignored. There are certain roles queer characters are there to play, and according to general stereotypes, it is only gay men can do this.

This silent homophobia of the entertainment industry is present and extremely strong. Queer people are left out of mainstream television and film and when they are let in are placed into a stereotypical box that creates a character role that is focused solely on the funniness of their sexuality.

It doesn’t have to stay like this. Some queer film is now moving away from being a niche category. Films such as Brokeback Mountain, A Single Man and I Love You, Phillip Morris are starting to bring queer entertainment into the mainstream. Yet, even though these films are good, they are still narrow in their focus (i.e. they are still solely based on gay men). We should support these films, but do so in a way that encourages the broadening of the genre itself to fully reflect the diversity of queer people.

However, it is not the queer film industry that is solely going to solve the problem. We are not going to see any major change in the entertainment industry until we start to break down the queer stereotypes that still dominate our society. This is a tough challenge, but one we must rise to.

The religious left

Originally published in FUSE, May 2010

“Judge not, that you be not judged”

When looking at this statement, which comes from the extremely important collection of Jesus’ sayings, the Sermon on the Mount, it is hard to believe the root Christianity, as well as other religions, have been taken on by so many. Whether it is the Pope spouting anti-queer rhetoric or religious groups campaigning in the US against pro-queer legislation, religion is seen by many as being synonymous with judgementalism and institutionalised oppression. For so many, it is now seen that the religious right is representative as a whole.

It is therefore not surprising that it confuses people when progressive people ‘come out’ as religious. How on earth could someone who is left wing be part of such an oppressive institution; especially if they are queer or a woman? Isn’t there are direct conflict with their progressive nature and their religious beliefs?

What is often forgotten is that although the religious right may get all the attention they are not representative of religion as a whole. In fact, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any of the many other religions, religious left groups exist and are active. In fact, many claim (and are backed up by evidence) that most religious texts are not necessarily conservative in nature, but rather have a strong progressive feel.

For example, there is a strong thread of egalitarianism in the New Testament. The Bible is in many ways dominated by present progressive issues, including pacifism, social justice, racial equity, human rights and importantly the fair spread of wealth. Many also argue that references to conservative issues such as anti-queer or women statements are misinterpreted by conservative and don’t actually exist at all.
With such readings, in mind, well formulated religious left groups have been active for centuries. By focusing on the egalitarian principles of religious texts, these groups have taken a strong social justice stance and are often as pro-queer and as pro women as progressive social groups. Yet, they are often forgotten.

This is largely it is because people in the religious left don’t necessarily organise solely around their religion, but rather with broader social justice groups. This is different to the religious right, who use religion as the sole basis for their conservative arguments. The religious right uses the religion far more than the left simply because progressive issues don’t need religious texts for their arguments. Equality and social justice have simple arguments to back them up, whilst conservative issues need something like the Bible to become relevant, even if what they are claiming is simply false.

Therefore, whilst the social justice movement doesn’t suffer, as they are simply bolstered by the influence of the religious left, the loudness of the right in church creates the perception that we have that religion is automatically conservative. If you are religious you are seen as being clearly anti-queer and anti-women. Quite clearly however, this perception is not accurate. There are many different readings of religious texts and whilst some take a conservative approach, many more focus on the progressive, social justice and egalitarian approaches to texts.

Whilst I am not religious, I have come to learn that being religious does not automatically mean being conservative. Whilst conservative religious leaders may get a lot of the headlines, progressive religious leaders are doing a lot to help progressive causes. Whilst it is important therefore to oppose and fight against many parts of the church, remember it is not religion that is the problem, it is the way conservative religious leaders have interpreted religion and used it to further their conservative cause.

The political history of Mardi Gras

Originally published in FUSE, April 2010

The 2010 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was one of the biggest in the festival’s history.

After 32 years, the festival still is extremely important for queer people around the country. Yet, even with this continued success, Mardi Gras has lost some of the roots that make it so important. Whilst the celebration, the diversity and the party remains, the desire to fight back against oppression has for many been lost. In this article I’m going to examine the rich political history of Mardi Gras and argue that in order to keep the festival’s tradition alive we need to return to some of the political roots that make it so important.

The Origins of Mardi Gras

On the 24th of June, 1978, approximately 2000 people took to the streets of Sydney to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969. This march, or Mardi Gras, was the final event in a day of political action in the city. Its aim was to bring people onto the streets in a peaceful way, not only to commemorate Stonewall, but also to show that queers in Australia were starting to fight back against discrimination in the country.

Entering its final stages trouble began to brew. It began with police harassing a truck driver operating a PA system and chanting messages onto the street. When the driver refused to stay silent, he was pulled out his truck and it was confiscated. This was followed by a full scale assault on the march, with police pushing the crowd, closing off streets and blocking the way of marchers. Once the crowd had reached the end, the situation got worse. When some marchers tried to leave the route, being unsure as to what was about to happen, police began laying into them. What followed was a full scale physical assault. Soon paddy wagons appeared and 53 protestors were arrested for no apparent reason.

The attack on Mardi Gras lead to a rebellion by queer people around Australia. Fed up of being beaten and marginalised people took to the streets. In Sydney more protests were organised, with over 100 more people being arrested in the coming months. Marches were also held in other big cities, not only to protest what happened at Mardi Gras but to signal that the Australian queer community was starting to rebel against the oppression in society.

In the end, the 53 arrested on the original Mardi Gras were released with all the charges dropped. The following year, Mardi Gras was held again, continuing a tradition that has lasted until this day.

Politics in Mardi Gras Today

With the 2010 theme being ‘A History of the World’, this years’ parade was a great opportunity to remember the strong political history of Mardi Gras. Yet, even thought the politics still exists in the Mardi Gras parades (in fact, even having a parade is political), in many ways the essence of what made the original march in 1978 so important has left the festival.

This doesn’t mean that the politics has disappeared. In fact, politics has been an ever present theme in the march. For example, marches in the 1980s were dominated by campaigns to end the stigmatisation around HIV/AIDS, the 1990s saw marchers move their focus onto the new right in Australia, with attacks on the Howard Government and Pauline Hanson, whilst the early 2000s saw campaigns over the Afghanistan and Iraq War enter the march. On top of this there has always been a continued equity theme, with marchers focusing on different institutional and social inequalities at different times.

Politics has therefore been always been a part of Mardi Gras. Yet, looking at the march today there is a sense that the importance of the political history has been lost on many. It is not that the politics is not there, but rather that the fighting spirit, which is what made the first Mardi Gras so influential, has been lost.

The Importance of Continuing the Fight

1978 was not just important for beginning the yearly parade; it was also a key year in the mobilisation of Australia’s queer community. After the stonewall riots in 1969, queer people around the world began to mobilise more heavily and more militantly. Instead of taking the assault, people were now fighting back on a large scale. 1978 was the year this started in Australia. Over the years this fight continued with the Mardi Gras participants taking stronger political stances at different times. Recently however, the feeling of the Mardi Gras has been more of party and celebration, rather than of a need to fight against the heteronormative society.

Many would say that this is because the need for a fight has lessened or almost disappeared. When the Mardi Gras first started in 1978 homosexuality was still illegal and institutionalised homophobia was not simply common, but it was the norm. Today however, legal equality has almost been achieved and major gains have been made in ending discrimination. Many now believe that the fight seems to be at its end or if not at least coming towards an end.

Take for example, the role of the police in the march. In 1978 the police were the enemy and it is the rebellion against them that made Mardi Gras so important. Today, however the march includes an organised float from the police. This contradiction is explained through stating that having the police march is a sign of a harmonisation between the two groups. This would be great if it was true. In reality however, although there are good police officers (who I encourage to march if they wish), the police as an institution is still designed to enforce the social and institutional norms as they are. If ever faced with a similar rebellion such as that that occurred in 1978, the police would quickly be back on the other side. It is their job.

The simple fact is that the fight to end queer oppression still exists. The heteronormative society is still dominant and as long as that is the case there will be a continued need to fight against the institutions and societal practices that is a part of it. As a symbol of that rebellion, Mardi Gras is an important tool for continuing this fight.

This doesn’t mean that Mardi can’t be fun. In Sweden for example, Pride Week involves a great mix of fun events and continued political fights (which are often the same thing). In 2009, the theme of Sweden’s pride was ‘end the heteronormative society’ and the feeling of a continued need to fight against oppression was still there in everyone’s mind. This is true even though Sweden has gained almost full legal equality.

For Next Years’ Mardi Gras

When reflecting on this years’ Mardi Gras and planning on next years’ march it’s important to remember the history of the festival. Mardi Gras was built upon fighting back against society’s oppression. Whilst victories have been made, the need for this fight continues today. Mardi Gras should continue to both be a celebration, but also a representation that we are still fighting and will continue to do so until we have won our battle against the heteronormative society.

Opposing CPRS is right

Originally published in FUSE, March 2011

In 2009, the Australian Government introduced its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) to parliament.

On the same day, Kevin Rudd spent his afternoon in Queensland, turning the first sod on a rail and port expansion that will treble the states’ coal exports. In doing so, he provided the greatest possible symbol for the reality of what the ALP’s climate policy is; a scheme that will take Australia and the world backwards in the fight against global warming.

Its pathetic targets aside, the CPRS has a number of problems that leave it not only as a completely useless tool for emissions cuts, but will actually facilitate increasing emissions in Australia. There are two key elements that will lead to this situation.

First, modelling has revealed that the scheme will not actually cut emissions in Australia until 2033. Until then, “cuts” will be based upon the purchase of offsets, mostly through forest initiatives in Indonesia. In 2033, cuts in Australia will apparently be possible as by then clean coal will be commercially viable. Clean coal is currently an unviable technology with no proof of possible success: apparently this does not come into account. The scheme therefore does nothing to change Australia’s energy system, but rather holds back money for doing so by sending it to what will often be dodgy offset schemes.

Second, under the CPRS carbon emitters will receive compensation in order to ‘adapt’. The more a company pollutes the more money it will get. This is problematic: if the idea is to make polluters pay for the damage they have caused, there are problems with compensating these polluters for having to do so.

Compensation voids the point of the scheme in the first place, leaving tax payers to pay for the mess companies have caused and giving companies no incentive to change their ways.

Given that major emitters will not actually have to adapt (as emissions cuts will be met through offsets until 2033), research shows that the CPRS will boost coal investment in Australia. There are now talks about recommissioning two coal power plants in Western Australia which will become profitable again as the compensation comes in. Other new coal investment is also planned across the Eastern seaboard.

But is this really a reason to oppose the scheme? Isn’t this just a start; something that we should pass now and build upon in the future? No. The CPRS is such a rigid scheme that making changes to it in the future will make it almost impossible. When you legally create a scheme that determines that way our economy will work for decades into the future, you cannot simply change it that easily. Some constitutional lawyers have advised that any future government would be liable to billions more in compensation if the scheme were to be changed.

With the introduction of the CPRS, an important decision had to be made; whether to take it as a first step for climate action or oppose it to get something better. This decision had to be based on whether the scheme will genuinely facilitate action or whether it will just cause more problems than it solves.

The Greens and environment groups opposition to the CPRS was not because it didn’t go far enough, but because it will hinder action and take Australia backwards in our fight against climate change. The CPRS will lock in failure for many years to come. For this reason, we must oppose it and fight for action that will genuinely tackle Australia’s emissions. Instead of locking in failure, we need a scheme that locks in success.

A history lesson from Berlin

Originally published in FUSE, February 2010

On recent travels through Europe I made a stop through Berlin. One of biggest reasons people visit Berlin is explore the history of and pay their respects to the victims of the Holocaust. Yet, when doing so one can notice something missing in the stories of this terrible crime.

In the centre of Berlin there is a massive monument; the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’. The monument is the biggest holocaust memorial in the city and attracts thousands of visitors every day.

Across the road lies another monument; that to the murdered homosexuals during the holocaust. This memorial is small, obscure and receives very few visitors. Memorials to the murdered Roma people, Jehovah’s witnesses, black people etc. are similarly obscure, non-existent or just being developed. This is common throughout Europe. When it comes to the Holocaust what has been called by some a ‘hierarchy of victims’ has been created; where the suffering of the Jewish population is placed above that of other victims. Not only do non-Jews get less coverage, in most cases their suffering is simply written out of the history.

Ensuring that the holocaust it is a fully Jewish story is in part done to help garnish support for the Israeli state. It breeds guilt about what occurred and therefore makes people more accepting of Israel. As a state created directly after the Holocaust it is important for Israel’s support that the Holocaust is remembered solely by Jewish suffering. If not, people may question why for example a Jewish state exists, but no queer or Roma state.

Yet, this is not the only reason non-Jews have been forgotten from the Holocaust. Whether it is persecution or the positive role played in society, all oppressed minorities have had to fight for recognition of their history. This is no different for queers.

Reading about the role of queer people and queerness in our history books is a rare thing and when it does occur, it normally focuses on gay men, leaving even further behind the stories of lesbians, bisexuals, trans*, intersex and other queer people. This creates a history in which queer people simply didn’t exist and a feeling that ‘queerness’ is a new phenomenon.

Bending history like this is a systematic part of the heteropatriachal society. In an unequal society the dominant structures not only have dominance in the present but are also given dominance of the past. In doing so, it is easier to re-enforce these structures and give them the legitimacy they require to survive. This gives these structures the perception of being both the only long lasting structures, but also the only ones to have had a (positive) real effect.

However, this does not mean that other stories are not there, nor that they shouldn’t be told. Just as other groups are fighting for their place in history so should queer people. This means not only discussing the fact the queer people, along with many others, died in the Holocaust but also investigating the role of queerness and the queer movement within our own society. These sorts of stories exist all around the world. Knowing and telling them can provide one way to help break the back of the heteropatriarchal society. As long as we let the heteropatriachy dominate our history it will be harder to stop it dominating our future.

There are many organisations and groups documenting, discussing and educating people about queer and other minority people’s history. The Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, a volunteer organisation, documents Australia’s queer history. You can visit them here: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~alga/

It’s time to reconsider our political alliances

Originally published in FUSE, January 2010

In November, the ACT Legislative Assembly passed Greens legislation providing legal ceremonies for same-sex couples entering a civil union. Two weeks later, the federal ALP decided that unless changes were made, they would veto the law.

Apparently, ‘legally binding ceremonies’ made them uncomfortable. As Kevin Rudd made this decision, one became thing increasingly clear; the ALP is a conservative, anti-queer party and looks likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. The only way we can create a progressive future therefore, is through active opposition of the ALP.

When the Coalition was voted out of office in 2007, hopes of sweeping changes ran throughout the country. It seemed as though it was the end of Howardesque policies. Yet, after two years of ALP rule, it has become clear that these changes are not going to occur. Policies on climate change, refugees, workplace relations, and indigenous issues just to name a few, have all shifted very little as our Government has changed.

On queer rights the story is similar. Whilst the ‘same-sex omnibus bill’ provided often unrecognised gains for same-sex couples in Australia, in other areas the ALP continues to fail.

Whilst one may point out the continued failure to support same-sex marriage, the biggest issue here is the continued anti-queer rhetoric coming from ALP members. This has come in the form of Julia Gillard spouting homophobic comments in the House of Representatives, Senate ALP members voting against motions of condemnation against international anti-queer moves and the continued support of the anti-queer religious right by many in the ALP.

For many the answer to this problem is to change the ALP from the inside. This means voting for ‘progressive’ politicians such as Andrew Barr of Kate Lundy, who will then work from the inside to make the ALP more progressive. Such a strategy however, is fatally flawed.

First, it covers up the lack of principles from progressive ALP members. Key principles of the progressive movement, such as social and economic justice, environmental sustainability etc. should be considered non-negotiable by progressive parliamentarians. Yet, when Barr and Lundy join the ALP and vote against progressive policies, they say to the public that these principles are something that they are willing to compromise over. This is unacceptable.

Secondly, the fight for progressive principles needs to take place out in the open; not behind closed doors. When it moves into the dark the conservative movement is allowed to dominate public space, giving them more power and legitimacy. This creates an impression of Australia as an inherently conservative country where progressive goals are unrealistic. This impression is only valid because, by staying silent about progressive issues, ALP politicians and their supporters (including those in social movements) allow it to occur. In the end, this perception becomes the reality.

If we want to make Australia a progressive nation we need a movement that is willing to take the fight out in the open. This involves, amongst other things, both holding our government to account and supporting politicians who principally fight for progressive policies. You will not find these politicians however in the ALP. We therefore must not only voice our anger at ALP positions, but also support a party, such as the Greens, who are principally progressive. As the ACT experiences shows, a strong Green Party can make positive changes in society and this is possible throughout the country. In the end, when given the choice, ALP politicians will always pick their party over their principles, whilst Greens’ politicians will never be given that choice.

New oppressive law in Uganda

Originally published in FUSE, December 2009

On the 14th of October the Uganda Parliament introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009. Building on previous legislation that enforces up to life imprisonment for ‘homosexual acts’ this bill follows years of increased pressure and oppression against the queer community in Uganda.

The new law attacks queers in two areas. First, there is increased punishment for ‘homosexual activity’. This includes a criminalisation of obtaining same-sex marriages overseas, punished with lifetime imprisonment, as well as the introduction of a new category of criminality called ‘aggravated homosexuality’, which met by the death penalty. Those who fit this category include ‘repeat offenders’ of ‘homosexual acts’ and those who participate in ‘homosexual acts’ that are HIV-positive.

The second attack is on the rights of civil society. This includes a ban on any activity that is deemed to ‘promote homosexuality’; including the criminalisation of any speech or peaceful assembly that advocates the rights of queer people. Added to this is a legal requirement for all people to report LGBT persons to police within 24 hours of learning about that person’s queerness. Failure to do so could result in fines or imprisonment for up to 3 years.

This law complements increased oppression of queers by the state, media and society in Uganda. Reports state that queer people and activists have come under increased pressure over recent years with regular death threats and violent attacks in the country. This law is particularly scary therefore, as it will make any attempts to improve this situation by queer activists almost impossible, leaving the Ugandan queer community facing an extremely unpredictable future.

The role of international anti-queer activists in its inception is the second particularly scary part of this legislation. The push for this law began in earnest during a conference held in March by the ‘Family Life Network’. Attending the conference was two prominent anti queer activists from the United States, Don Schmierer and Scott Lively. This is part of an increasing trend for anti-queer activists becoming active in international anti-queer fights, especially in the ‘developing world’. American conservatives are now making more appearances in countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and South America in an obvious attempt to ‘internationalise’ the extreme anti queer movement.

Such an internationalisation of the anti-queer movement needs to be countered by a continued internationalisation of the queer movement. It is essential that people from around the world join together to oppose any attempts to oppress people (whether queer or not) anywhere in the world. In late October, the Labor and Liberal Party rejected a motion in the Senate from Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young condemning Uganda for the introduction of this legislation, saying it was not the role of the Senate to comment on international issues. With this legislation looking certain to pass the Ugandan Parliament it is our role to support our comrades in Uganda to end their continued oppression and to demand that our government does the same through condemning the Ugandan parliament for this action.