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A study in contrasts

Consider these two stories, both of which are fairly current:

1. In the UK, the British government has told Catholic adoption agencies they must comply with new laws which prohibit discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to adopt children, as must all adoption agencies. The agencies have two years to comply with the rules, and in the interim they have a statutory duty to refer would-be adoptive couples to other agencies. Predictably, the Catholics have responded with anger and warnings of ‘a new morality‘ being imposed by government via the workings of the UK Equality Act 2006. The Catholics don’t like the idea of a new morality because the old morality, in which they were legally entitled to discriminate against people on the basis of their religious superstitions, suited them just fine.

2. In Australia, where it’s an election year, the federal government has announced plans to ban same-sex couples from adopting children overseas. This is somewhat old news, as the legislation has been announced before, but it wasn’t an election year then. Last time it was an election year, the same federal government outlawed same-sex marriage (not that it was legal or anything). The Catholics and their fellow travellers applauded that action (which was supported by the lickspittle Labor opposition) and no doubt they are now drafting sermons in support of this move too.

The contrast between Australia and its former colonial power is clear. Britain is demonstrating that it is a confident, secular nation which cares deeply about the principles of non-discrimination. The British government’s actions on to bring adoption agencies into line with that principle have drawn considerable protest from the god-botherers, as did their decision to legislate for same-sex civil unions a few years ago, but Blair and his team have shrugged that off, as they should.

In Australia, anti-discrimination legislation at all levels of government universally provides an exemption for religious organisations. In most cases, this exemption permits the churches to discriminate against gay men and lesbians even in activities which are unrelated to their ‘core business’ of proselytism and ministry — so Catholic employment agencies, Catholic welfare agencies, Catholic hospitals, schools, homeless shelters and so on are all free to discriminate against individuals based on their gender, race or sexual orientation. Why is this allowed? Do we really believe discrimination is wrong, or not? I can (just) accept that some people carry these antediluvian superstitions in their head about Heaven, Hell and the rest, but I can’t see why this should qualify them for an exemption from the law.

The reasons why politicians allow this nonsense to persist are, of course, cynical in intent. Politicians pander to the churches to shore up their political support.

The churches continue to wield a great deal of influence in Australia, as they do in many countries including Britain. The British government doesn’t seem too deeply bothered by the prospect of an anti-government backlash from the pulpit, but in Australia the memories of the dark age of the DLP and Cardinal Mannix, when for two decades our political process was hijacked by the Catholic church, are still fresh — fresh enough that I don’t expect a lot of opposition from the ALP on this latest anti-gay move. They may even vote for it.

The argument behind all this posturing is familiar: children have a right to a mother and father, we’re told. But of course many kids don’t have a father and mother, for lots of reasons, and this has always been so. Even when the law changes to give children in same-sex relationships access to their third parent (as was the case earlier this year in Canada) there is an outcry from the religious lobby. The elephant in the room is that this has nothing to do with children’s rights and everything to do with perpetuating discrimination against normal, loving people who happen to be homosexual and who want to raise a family. The politicians and churches want to shoehorn human behaviour into a narrow, inflexible, and unnatural set of ‘norms’ — and we are the ones accused of ‘social engineering’!

In the 21st century, Australia is a notionally secular country which remains in the thrall of the Christian churches, while Britain, with its constitutionally established church, is an avowedly secular humanist state. Why?

The sheer willfulness of it all

Like many people, I’ve been watching events unfold in Lebanon and northern Israel with growing disquiet. It’s been hard to say much so far because the world-weary part of me just takes over; saying “here we go again” doesn’t add a lot to the discourse.

I’ve also not had the benefit of considering other viewpoints, as our internet connection has been decidedly shaky and slow1, and there are better things to do than stare at slowly-loading webpages, like work in the garden, play ball with the dogs, explore our little patch of the bush.

But the thing that strikes me about this current excursion into war is the sheer willfulness of it all. The almost-palpable thirst for war, and killing, and death and destruction that permeates both sides — all sides — of the current conflict. Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Fatah, Syria, Iran, the US and Australia (and, to some extent the UK, although I picked up some sense of dissent emerging there, as it did before Iraq) are all so thirsty for war, blood and death.

They couch their excuses carefully — Israel says it is acting in self-defence (by bombing busloads of escaping women and children, it seems) and Lebanon says it is being unfairly blamed for Hezbollah’s actions. Kofi Annan suggests that diplomatic efforts be made to prevent all-out war, and George Bush says no: Israel has the right to defend itself. John Howard parrots Bush, of course2. Australia’s only concern (and it took a rather long time to establish itself) is the evacuation of Australian citizens from Lebanon3, after which time we’ll presumably be happy to sit back and watch the Israelis obliterate the country, while the evacuees are gratefully returned to the land of “Fuck off Lebs“.

The G8 summit, conveniently meeting as the war breaks out, finds time to remind Israel to “be mindful of the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions”. It sounded like “don’t kill them too harshly” to me.

Today, after 13 days of tit-for-tat (mostly tit, as one side is infinitely better armed, more belligerent, and quick to anger than the other) it looks like this war won’t be over soon, and that many more will die — mostly Lebanese women and children, if the toll so far is any indication. If it expands to the stage that Syria becomes directly involved, I suppose all-out-war in the middle east is a real possibility, and from there any number of scenarios can be drawn. Israel’s true intent, however, probably isn’t war on that scale — they just want to use Hezbollah’s recent actions to justify bombing Lebanon back to the state of destruction, despair and hopeless subjugation it was in 20 years ago. This will increase the power of extremist groups such as Hezbollah and open Lebanon further to Syrian influence. And from there the cycle will start again.

War breeds war, hatred breeds hate, and willfulness breeds greater willfulness. It doesn’t stop until somebody on one side stops playing the game that way. And it won’t stop soon.

Footnotes:

  1. Satellite installer man is due to arrive on Thursday to broaden my band. Frabjous!
  2. Howard, born into a different world which he steadfastly clings to even today, actually said “Israel has the right to defend herself.”
  3. Unlike other countries, Australia has only agreed to pay for the evacuation of Australian citizens who usually live in Australia; other citizens who join the convoy potentially face a hefty bill. Even those who qualify for free evacuations will be required to pay if they can claim the cost on the travel insurance. Cheap bastards!

Eric Rofes is dead

Pioneering gay activist, academic and author Eric Rofes has died unexpectedly in Provincetown, Massechusetts where he was on holiday.

Over a 30-year period, Rofes had an indelible impact on queer thought, was a respected AIDS activist and an iconoclastic thinker whose loss will be significant.

I met Eric a number of times, mostly in connection with the International Gay Men’s Health Think Tank, which he, Brent and Will Nutland co-organised. Eric was a colossus of a man — physically as well as metaphorically, often exasperating, prickly and sometimes surprisingly vulnerable. His written work, especially Dry Bones Breathe, had a significant impact on me.

Here’s a photo of Eric, taken in Berkelouw’s Bookshop, Oxford St, Sydney, on 27 February 2002 on a field trip associated with the Sydney leg of the Think Tank. (We were in the bookshop to talk about gay spaces, particularly libraries and sex clubs — if you know the history of the building which houses Berkelouw’s you’ll probably be able to guess the connection.)

Dcp 1433

Eric’s death has come as a great shock to a number of our friends. As prickly and exasperating as he was, he will be missed.

In the music, we find our truths

Joe.My.God has been “live blogging” (with a few days’ delay) the Black Party which took place last weekend in New York. It’s an odd idea, trying to convey the energy, spirit and sensory smorgasbord that is a large gay dance party, but as always Joe’s writing is engaging and often insightful.

I was particularly struck by this passage, which resonated pretty strongly with my own experience as someone who’s spent the occasional night in the thrall of a DJ, a darkened room, and a few thousand friends:

10.10 AM … We are survivors, all of us, a fact underscored, amplified, by the 20, 25, 30-year old tunes being played, each song removing us to a place and time back when we danced with The Lost. In the music, we find our truths, we find our souls, we find ourselves, we find The Lost. It’s not uncommon to notice someone dancing with tears rolling down his face. Still, he dances. He dances in memory, in tribute. He dances with his hands up to heaven, channeling love, channeling spirit.

Nicely put.

depressing.news.google.com

Depressing-News.Google.Com

After all the news telling us our relationships aren’t worth a damn, is it any wonder we’re depressed?

(Screenshot from news.google.com.au.)

Stencil graffiti capital

“Melbourne is the proud capital of street painting with stencils,” writes Banksy in the Guardian.

Its large, colonial-era walls and labyrinth of back alleys drip with graffiti that is more diverse and original than any other city in the world. Well, that was until a few weeks ago, when preparations for the Commonwealth games brought a tidal wave of grey paint, obliterating years of unique and vibrant culture overnight.

Dlux Stencil

As the legendary stencil artist goes on to explain, Melbourne’s status as Australia’s street-art capital is not something the authorities are particularly proud of. “Graffiti’s not art; it’s vandalism,” says our Police Minister, whose youth (he’s 32) has obviously not given him an open mind. Earlier this year, there was an outcry over a photographic exhibition showcasing some of the best of the city’s work, organised to launch a fantastic book on the subject.

(The Victoria Police, we’re told, sent some officers to the exhibition on an intelligence-gathering exercise. Such are the police priorities in Australia’s organised crime capital.)

In the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games, the $1.1 billion white elephant event which is currently running in this city, much of that street art has now been obliterated, with a special “rapid response clean-up crew” working overtime to cover it with bland grey paint in a $1 million program to render Melbourne as sterile and generic as possible.

In place of a vibrant collage of often brilliantly executed, thought-provoking artwork, inner Melbourne now feels as dull as Geneva or Helsinki. Millions of yards of blue fabric hang from flagpoles and shroud construction sites, painting the city in a monochromatic, corporate palette. In a few days’ time, the Commonwealth Games will be forgotten forever (except by those of us left to foot the bill, perhaps) and the blue bunting will be consigned to landfill. But the grey paint will remain.

There’s something deeply fascistic about this, no? It says the authorities don’t trust the people to write on the walls, and so must suppress them. In an enlightened society, the right to write on the walls would be protected by law.

  • Some photos of street art, in Melbourne and elsewhere, can be seen in this photoset on my flickr page

(Image above: “Don’t be scared, it’s only street art”, by “Dlux”, scanned from the book mentioned in this post.)

Are we relaxed and comfortable yet?

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The man in this picture is not under arrest. He is being protected by the police officer (who is carrying what I assume is a bottle of capsicum spray) from the mob behind.

The man is being pursued by the mob, part of a 5000-strong rabble that converged on Cronulla Beach in Sydney yesterday, because he is (or at least looks like) a “leb”.

“Leb” is a derogatory term, short for “Lebanese” but referring to anyone of Middle Eastern origin.

Here’s a couple more pictures of the same man, before the police came to protect him:

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Yesterday’s riots in Cronulla have left most Australians shocked and have shown in harsh and unforgiving light what a desperately divided, confused and fearful nation we have become under the stewardship of John Howard and his gang.

When Howard became Prime Minister in 1996 he promised that Australia would be more “relaxed and comfortable” under his leadership. Today he has condemned the riots but he has refused to describe the rioters as racist.

Last night on television I witnessed the spectacle of thousands of drunken people waving Australian flags and chanting “Fuck off Lebs! Fuck off Lebs! Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Fuck off Lebs!”

If that isn’t racist then what the fuck is?

(Pictures from the SMH photo gallery of the riot.)

A Singaporean Victorian Hangman Tells His Love

Dear one, forgive my appearing before you like this,

in a two-piece track-suit, welder’s goggles

and a green cloth cap like some gross bee—this is the State’s idea…

I would have come

arrayed like a bridegroom for these nuptials

knowing how often you have dreamed about this

moment of consummation in your cell.

If I must bind your arms now to your sides

with a leather strap and ask if you have anything to say

—these too are formalities I would dispense with:

I know your heart is too full at this moment

to say much and that the tranquilizer which I trust

you did not reject out of a stubborn pride

should by this time have eased your ache for speech, breath

and the other incidentals which distract us from our end.

Let us now walk a step. This noose

with which we’re wed is something of an heirloom, the last three

members of our holy family were wed with it, the softwood beam

it hangs from like a lover’s tree notched with their weight.

See now I slip it over your neck, the knot

under the left jaw, with a slip ring

to hold the knot in place . . . There. Perfect.

Allow me to adjust the canvas hood

which will enable you to anticipate the officially prescribed darkness

by some seconds.

The journalists are ready with the flash-bulbs of their eyes

raised to the simple altar, the doctor twitches like a stethoscope

—you have been given a clean bill of health, like any

modern bride.

     With this spring of mine

from the trap, hitting the door lever, you will go forth

into a new life which I, alas, am not yet fit to share.

Be assured, you will sink into the generous pool of public feeling

as gently as a leaf—accept your role, feel chosen.

You are this evening’s headlines. Come, my love.

‘A Victorian Hangman Tells His Love,’ Bruce Dawe, 1967. Written in response to the execution of Ronald Ryan, the last man to be hanged in Australia.

The worst kind of news

I was watching The Sound of Music on TV last night when the news flash crawled across the bottom of my screen. Several bombs have been detonated in tourist areas of Bali; this morning there are 24 confirmed dead, many dozens injured. The toll is likely to be dominated with Australians, just like the first Bali bombings three years ago.

It’s just heart-rending to think of the suffering this will cause. To the victims, to the people of Bali, to those of us at home for whom this will be used to justify god-knows-what new government powers in the name of beating terrorists.

As you’d expect, the Indonesian terror group Jemaah Islamiah has been blamed. Makes Gareth Evans look a bit of a dill.

Weapons of mass destruction

Sixty years ago today:

Hiroshima

This was the work of good guys, done in the name of peace. We can only hope it never becomes “necessary” again.

Today is also an anniversary of mine. Fourteen years since diagnosis, and at least twenty living with HIV. Happy birthday, Iris.