Community shocked over Gillard’s decision to give ACL speech
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has shocked large sections of the LGBTI community after agreeing to deliver the keynote speech at the Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) national conference in Canberra later this year.
The conference to take place at Canberra’s Hyatt Hotel over October 5 and 6 has been marketed as: “Building a Nation of Character – Religious Freedom in a Secular Democracy”.
Gillard will be joined for the event by the likes of ACL managing director Jim Wallace, Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Professor Greg Craven, Moores Legal charity lawyer Elizabeth Turnour and Compass Australia’s Paul Henderson.
Gillard’s decision to give a major speech to the fringe organisation has many within the LGBTI community as well as some Labor members concerned, with the ACL on numerous occasions in recent years linking gay people to paedophiles and Nazis, while also blaming same-sex couples for another potential Stolen Generation.
Only last year, Wallace drew the ire of many, including war veterans and the RSL, when he tweeted on Anzac Day that gay people and Muslims were not important to Australia’s past or future.
“Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!” he tweeted.
Melbourne-based gay rights activist Michael Barnett told SX while it was understandable for politicians to engage with their constituency he had serious concerns about Gillard’s reasons for accepting the ACL’s invite.
“As an Australian citizen in a same-sex relationship I don’t feel proud of my nationality when my country’s leader trades human rights and equality for job security,” Barnett said.
“With the news that Prime Minister Julia Gillard is keynote speaker at the 2012 National Conference of the Australian Christian Lobby group, it sends a strong message that she is keen to buy a very narrow and fundamentalist Christian vote.”
Australian Marriage Equality national convener, Alex Greenwich, said the ACL was an extremist, anti-gay group.
"Between January and June this year the ACL made over 120 statements condemning equality for gay Australians and said virtually nothing about poverty or homelessness, with some of its statements linking gay equality with the stolen generation, Nazis and paedophiles,” he said.
"The ACL is an unrepresentative, anti-gay group which it is completely inappropriate for the leader of our nation to endorse in this way."
The Greens meanwhile have alleged Gillard is slowly transforming into a version of former Prime Minister John Howard, who in 2004 amended the Marriage Act so as to preclude same-sex couples from marrying.
“The Prime Minister seems to be morphing into John Howard, not just sending refugees to Nauru but now cosying up with the Australian Christian Lobby,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
“We have a Prime Minister who is refusing to stand by her own party policy, and rather than showing leadership on the issue is standing at the wrong side of history.
“We want to see the Prime Minister embrace marriage equality like her ALP states Premiers, move forward and back her federal members to deliver these inevitable marriage reforms that are supported by 62 per cent of Australians regardless of their faith.”
Mental health experts and Christian leaders have as well shared their dismay.
Baptist Minister, Rev Carolyn Francis, said it had to be questioned whether the ACL actually represented the majority of Christians in Australia.
“The ACL's predominate focus on issues relating to sexuality is disproportionate with the priorities of scripture and Christianity,” she said.
“Many Australian Christians are concerned about the ACL's statements because they contradict the central Christian message of love and compassion.”
Clinical psychologist, Dr Robert Battisti, said statements by the ACL concerning how marriage equality would lead to paedophilia and polygamy contributed to poorer mental health outcomes among same-sex attracted Australians.
“We know from local and international research that when same-sex attracted people are stigmatised and denied equality they have higher levels of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation,” Battisti said.
“A lot of the fears around same-sex marriage are unrealistic and will not actually come to pass. What is realistic is actual improvements in mental health outcomes for many Australians as a result of marriage equality.”
Gillard’s decision to appear at the ACL’s national conference stands in stark contrast of never having spoken in an official capacity at a gay and lesbian community event, or even at the Rainbow Labor caucus within the Labor Party itself.
"Gay and lesbian Australians and our families want a Prime Minister who shows us equal respect and does not legitimise hate, and at the moment Julia Gillard is not that Prime Minister,” Greenwich said.
Barnett told SX the Prime Minister, a committed atheist who continues to publicly oppose marriage equality, was now even more so obliged to connect with the LGBTI community should she want to be seen to be a fair and impartial leader.
“Anything short of her offering equal time to our community, one that is oppressed by the likes of the ACL, shows that she is all too easily bought and to me that says she is not worthy of her status as Prime Minister of Australia.”
The decision to attend the ACL national conference comes only weeks after media reports suggested former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had divulged details to same-sex marriage advocates about Gillard doing a deal with religious groups and right-wing unions to oppose marriage equality in return for their support.