Homophobia: It’s A Slippery Slope
No one will come out on top – not the accuser, the defendant, the government, the opposition, nor the media – in the Peter Slipper-James Ashby affair, writes Cameron Woodhead.
From the most poisonous Parliament in living memory comes a freak-show of sleaze and grievance. I’m talking about the Peter Slipper / James Ashby affair. The saga between the former Speaker of the House and his personal assistant raises serious issues: political corruption, sexual harassment and, according to the latest, anonymous and muck-raking allegation against James Ashby, sex with children.
It’s a terrible mess, but our community should be alarmed by the way it has played out. Both major parties seem to be engaged in vindictive point-scoring, as the media indulge the public appetite for scandal, savouring every salacious detail. Anyone who thinks the lot of them aren’t playing on the latent homophobia of the electorate is deluded.
Take the reports about James Ashby. Thanks to the gay rights movement, social attitudes have come a long way in the last half-century, but the conflation of male homosexuality and paedophilia is still page one in the homophobe’s handbook.
This isn’t a defence of Ashby. If what has been reported about him turns out to be true, he’s a serial seducer of underage boys. That’s a crime. But should it have been reported? No.
As the Libs have been only too quick to point out, Ashby’s sex life ten years ago, no matter how shady, is irrelevant to the sexual harassment case. It’s also an unsubstantiated claim from an unnamed source, delivered by the hands of Peter Slipper, a man hostile to Ashby. As evidence, it’s worth nothing. So why report it, unless you’re pandering to the submerged idea that gay men are part of a perverted cult, recruiting innocent boys to their filthy ways?
From Slipper’s and the government’s perspective, revenge by media is understandable. When the story broke in April, Ashby’s legal team leaked a list of alleged conversations and text messages between Ashby and his boss to the Murdoch press. They included, among other scurrilous exchanges, the claim that Slipper had asked his employee: “Have you ever C*** in a guy’s A***?”
Sigh. As most of us know, mention the in-and-outs of anal sex between men, and even people who say “they have lots of gay friends” tend to think: “Ew!” Homophobia 2, Sensible Coverage 0.
Again, I’m not defending Slipper. Sexual harassment is no joke, and if he is found to have committed it, he’ll face the music – but he does not deserve to be smeared in advance simply because of his sexuality. In context, that’s what the reporting, egged on by both major parties, has done.
Even the usually sober Michelle Grattan at The Age called Slipper “a strange man who seems to lead a strange life”. For “strange”, read “dirty closet homo”.
She might have done better to point to the institutional causes of Slipper’s eccentricity: the homophobic history of the Anglican Church, of which he’s a priest; the WASPish, hetero-dominated culture of political office.
Personally, I feel sorry for Slipper. The man is obviously repressing aspects of his sexuality, and when you’re living somewhere between here and Narnia, you don’t always behave appropriately. If words are all you’ve got to express your pent-up desires, finding the right ones is a challenge.
No one comes out of this looking good. Not Slipper, not Ashby. Not the government, not the opposition, nor the media.
As a community, we should be mightily offended that any and all of them would willingly use prejudice against us for their own gain. It’s enough to make queer electors look to the ghost of Bob Brown – a man who carried himself with a dignity this whole episode lacks – and vote for the Greens.