Filed under cranky

Dude with a scythe

The Grim Reaper TV advertisement has cast a shadow over the HIV response since it was first aired more than a quarter century ago. The original ad, with its foreboding “Always use a condom — always” tagline and grim predictions that AIDS could “kill more Australians than World War Two,” has often been credited with raising awareness of HIV in Australia. It’s also been rightly criticised for having the unintended consequence of increasing stigma around HIV and towards gay men.

Those surreal bowling reapers were supposed to represent death, but too many people read them as representing gay men, hurling a deadly virus at the innocent women and kids at the end of the alley. The ad fed into a climate of fear and hysteria and generated a great deal of hateful commentary towards gay men and those living with HIV, who were seen as the diseased vectors of a plague that at the time seemed certain to sweep through the ‘innocent victims’ of the heterosexual community.

Despite its many failings, we’ve never quite shaken off Mister Grim and his bowling buddies. The ad is so widely believed to have been a smashing success that barely a year has gone by in the last quarter century when some ill-informed government minister or pundit calls for a ‘new grim reaper campaign’ to scare people into behaving more sensibly. Luckily, to date those calls have been largely resisted.

All that changed this last weekend with the launch of We Shouldn’t Be Making This Advert, a new TV advertisement from the Queensland government, the first evidence we’ve seen of its new ‘in-house’ approach to HIV prevention following the shock de-funding of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities. And there, proud as punch, is our old friend Grimsby, not looking a day older despite the intervening decades, ready to scare us all back into using condoms.

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Am I, or aren’t I?

our wedding
Above: An event the Canadian government now says never took place.

I woke up this morning to a text message from my husband suggesting I look at the news on same-sex marriage coming out of Canada. “They are a bit concerning,” he said.

Turns out he might not be my husband after all.

Lawyers representing the Canadian Department of Justice are arguing in a Court case that non-residents who married in Canada since 2004 are not legally married if they could not have been married in their country of residence.

Brent and I were married in British Columbia on 25 September 2004.

The case arises out of a peculiarity that those of us who were married in Canada have been aware of for some time: it’s easy enough to go to Canada and get married, but not so easy, when and if the time comes, to get divorced.

Canada’s divorce law carries a one-year residency requirement: to get divorced in Canada, one or both of the parties must have resided for at least 12 months in the province where the divorce is being sought. If you live outside Canada, you are supposed to get divorced in your home country. But that’s of little use if your home country doesn’t recognise your Canadian marriage. Australia, for example.

The case before the Court concerns an unidentified lesbian couple who married in Canada in 2005 and separated in 2009. One of the two lives in Florida, the other in the UK, both places where same-sex marriage is not explicitly recognised. They are seeking a divorce from the Canadian courts (the news reports don’t mention which court the matter is before) and the Canadian government is the respondent in the case.

A submission from the Department of Justice apparently argues that “in order for a marriage to be legally valid under Canadian law, the parties to the marriage must satisfy both the requirements of the place where the marriage is celebrated … and the requirements of the law of domicile of the couple with regard to their legal capacity to marry one another.”

In other words, if you can’t get married in your home country, you can’t get married in Canada either.

The couple are also seeking $30,000 in compensation from the provincial government, for negligent misrepresentation, in the case that their marriage is found to be invalid, which suggests that the government’s response didn’t entirely come out of the blue for their lawyer, like it did for the rest of us. They are reportedly represented by Martha McCarthy, a Canadian barrister who fought the Supreme Court case that legalised same-sex marriage across Canada in 2005.

McCarthy told the Globe and Mail:

It is offensive to their dignity and human rights to suggest they weren’t married or that they have something that is a nullity. It is appalling and outrageous that two levels of government would be taking this position without ever having raised it before, telling anybody it was an issue or doing anything pro-active about it,” she said. “All the while, they were handing out licences to perform marriages across the country to non-resident people.

The response to the news has been one of shock. US sex advice columnist Dan Savage was married in Vancouver in 2005. He has written an extensive blog post on the developments, and is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “When I got out of bed, I was a married man and as soon as I got on my Twitter feed I realized I had been divorced overnight.”

It’s an odd position for the Canadian government to take. The conservatives are currently in power in Canada, but they have said – and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reiterated today – that they have no plans to revisit the issue. I share Savage’s hopes that “Hopefully this is just one rogue lawyer or two and not policy of Canada’s Conservative government. If it is Canada’s Conservative government then the issue has definitely been re-opened.”

UPDATE, just before posting: Dan Savage has tweeted that the decision appears to have been reversed. No details yet but I’ll add them as they come in.

UPDATE, 06:30 on 14 January: The Canadian Justice Minister has said all same-sex marriages performed in Canada are legally recognised and the government is working to ensure foreign couples married in Canada have access to divorce.

Edited, 08:54 (added quote from Martha McCarthy)

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Bill Gates and the Robin Hood Tax


Bill Gates, in a speech this afternoon to the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, speaking about the slow roll-out of HIV prevention and treatment efforts:

Two decades ago, the skeptics said: “We can’t make drugs to treat a virus.” But you persisted – and now they can. Then the skeptics said: “We can make the drugs, but we can’t make them cheap enough.” But you kept pushing – and now they do. Then the skeptics said: “We can make the drugs cheaply, but we don’t know whether people will stick to the regimen.” But you insisted – and now they know.

Gates gave a presser immediately after the speech, in which he was asked a question about the Robin Hood Tax, a tiny 0.05% tax on currency transactions that would raise at least $700 billion a year to help fund HIV treatments and prevention.

I don’t think that would work – I’ve heard a number of experts from the financial sector say they don’t think that would work. So no, I’m not in favour of the Robin Hood Tax. [1]

Aren’t those the same arguments he just criticised a few minutes before? Is he blind, hypocritical or just dumb?

Note 1. Not a direct quote, but an accurate representation of what Gates said. Sorry I didn’t get it down verbatim.

Photo above: Bill Gates © Paul Kidd 2010 – CC-BY-NC-SA license.

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Why I’m not participating in Earth Hour

We won’t be participating in Earth Hour at Bag End tonight, just as we haven’t in previous years. Apart from the fact that we’re on solar power here, so turning off the lights for an hour, a week or even a year won’t reduce our CO2 emissions, I think Earth Hour is a crock.

Earth Hour

Earth Hour, which since 2007 has been promoted by the WWF and the Fairfax press in Australia, seems innocuous enough at first glance. If you’re concerned about climate change, turn your lights off for an hour, shut off the TV and sit in the dark. The promoters of the event make a big deal about figures showing lowered electricity demand during the annual event, and claim their event raises awareness.

Awareness is not action. Climate change is the possibly greatest threat human civilisation has ever faced, and the increasingly gloomy predictions of runaway global warming this century and beyond are a call to action. Most of the people who participate in Earth Hour won’t take any substantive action to reduce their greenhouse emissions, because Earth Hour peddles the dangerous mistruth that you can combat climate change through small-scale actions like changing to fluorescent light bulbs or using ethanol-blended fuel.

To prevent global warming, the developed world will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% by 2050, and even then some warming will occur before the global climate stabilises. Even the small amount of warming that has occurred to date has had significant effects, with more severe storms, widespread drought and glacier melt. Species have already become extinct. I’m sure I don’t have to go through all the science in detail.

The changes that will be required to prevent a global catastrophe are huge, and every day that passes without coordinated global action increases the scale of what is needed and the cost of acting. Symbolic actions like Earth Hour may increase awareness about climate change, but they also risk encouraging complacency – “We did our bit during Earth Hour; now we can go back to driving our kids to school in huge 4WDs and flying around the planet at the drop of a hat.”

Earth Hour doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions in any meaningful way (in fact, all the paraffin-wax candles burning tonight will go a fair way to cancelling out any saving). You could have Earth Hour 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it still wouldn’t be enough. You can’t shop your way out of the climate crisis – the only solution is to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions now, and move quickly to a renewable energy-based economy. Climate change is a looming catastrophe that needs a ‘war effort’-like response, not a bunch of middle-class do-gooders sitting around by candlelight and singing Kumbayah.

So I’m against Earth Hour, and won’t be playing along tonight. If you happen past my house at 8:30 tonight, it’ll be modestly lit with low-wattage bulbs powered by solar energy, as it is every night. If you choose to participate, good on you, but I hope you’ll be fighting for real action as well.

OTOH if you’re one of the loonies joining the ‘Human Achievement Hour’ protest, I hope your SUV kills you.

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You’re gay? Prove it!

(This posting goes on a bit. Sorry about that.)


Some time ago I wrote a cranky email to Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in response to media reports that a Bangladeshi couple may have to have sex in front of witnesses to prove they are gay, as they had claimed on their refugee visa application.

This is the same Senator Chris Evans I wrote about last year, when I called him ‘Australia’s best immigration minister in a dozen years’.

When I heard about what these two Bangladeshi fellows were going through, I felt a bit cranky. When I read the history of the case as outlined in the published findings of the Federal Court appeal on 18 September 2009, I was incensed.

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Video Blog

This is my attempt at video blogging, made as part of a workshop at the Making Links Conference last week. It’s a response to the This is Oz anti-homophobia campaign.

Thanks to the lovely people at SYN Media for a great workshop.

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Intergenerational responsibility

The Rudd government’s announcement that an official apology to indigenous Australians will be the first action of the new parliament continues to generate asshat politics from the conservative side:

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson again stressed the importance of Australians not having to taking responsibility for the actions of previous generations.

“I have great difficulty with the idea of intergenerational responsibility for the good or not-so-good things done in the past,” he said on ABC radio today. (AAP)

We’re not responsible for the good stuff either? In other words, we can no longer take pride in anything we did in the past, just as we cannot be ashamed of our past. Where does that leave important anniversaries like, say, Anzac Day?

Honestly, I am flummoxed as to why the tories continue to play politics with this issue. The apology is a fait accompli, so why not just get behind it and look vaguely statesmanlike for once in your pathetic lives?

Plan to track HIV-positive visitors

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more stupid:

HIV-POSITIVE visitors to the country could have their movements monitored or be prevented from coming altogether, under policy options being considered by the Government.

Prime Minister John Howard has written to his immigration and health ministers asking them for advice on whether HIV/AIDS poses a public health risk and on the public health implications of letting HIV-positive people into the country.

When Mr Howard said last month that he would consider stopping HIV-positive people coming to the country unless there were humanitarian reasons to let them in, his comments were dismissed by some as populist.

But this latest move suggests there is a possibility those infected could find it harder to come to Australia, or, if they can come, to move about the country without having to report their movements.

Read the full story in The Age.

The dog whistler

Silent Dog Whistle-1

I suppose it was only a matter of time before John Howard weighed into the HIV debate. In a radio interview this morning, the PM has said that he doesn’t believe people with HIV should be allowed to migrate to Australia:

“My initial reaction is no (they should not be allowed in),” he said on Southern Cross radio.

“There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases but prima facie – no.”

Mr Howard said Australia already stopped people with tuberculosis coming in and this was why he supported stopping HIV-positive people as well.

Howard knows as well as I do that Australia already bars HIV-positive people from entry as immigrants in most cases. Applications for resident status by people with HIV are routinely denied on the basis that the individual’s condition would lead to undue cost for the Australian community. Getting past this barrier requires that the applicant prove there are genuine humanitarian or compassionate reasons — via a lengthy and expensive legal process.

But now Howard is apparently considering legislative change to tighten the law further. He knows that the vast majority of people know nothing about the current arrangements and won’t bother to find out. If they did, they’d immediately see this is a non-issue — only a handful of HIV-positive people getting through the process each year (a few years back, my husband was one of the lucky ones) and those that do have genuine humanitarian or compassionate grounds for doing so.

Howard’s already said that “humanitarian considerations” will continue to have effect, contradicting his claim that there is a need for tighter restrictions. This is just an opportunity for grandstanding at the expense of a stigmatised group (last election year it was gay marriage, remember?)

This is blatant dog-whistling, and it’s something Howard has proven himself adept at.

A few years ago Howard infamously offered the opinion that Australia was taking in too many Asian migrants. These days he’s not allowed to make such obviously racist remarks, but substitute “HIV-positive” for “Asian” and nobody blinks.

The yellow peril has become the HIV peril, it’s an election year and Howard’s got the dog whistle out.

ALERT: The News Limited website is running a poll: Should HIV-positive people be allowed in?

ALERT 2: The SMH website is running a poll too: Where do you stand? Ban them or not?

Gratuitous, perhaps, but offensive, never

My nomination for the “Best UK Weblog” category of the Queeries award (see this post) has caused something of a storm in a teacup in far-off Scotland, where my erroneous nomination has gravely distressed one of my co-nominees:

Queer Day removed a nominee from our first annual Queery Awards for Best UK Weblog. Ironically, we recently learned an Australian weblog,, somehow found itself in the UK competition. Perhaps nominating participants assumed buggery was a strictly British practice – we’re admittedly baffled. And while Buggery will remain listed under Best UK Weblog, another UK nominee asked to be withdrawn. “Would you please remove my site, Naked Blog, from your Best UK weblog poll. I don’t wish to occupy the same platform as an unpleasantly-named site featuring a gratuitously offensive picture. (The site in question isn’t even British, so far as I can tell.)” Voting in all categories continues through Sunday at midnight.

Let’s address the old queen’s concerns in turn. But first, there’s still a little time to vote for me. Go! Quick! Closes soon!

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