Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex

In a month where the Orlando massacre has highlighted the deadly consequences of hate, conservative Australian politicians are trying amidst the late stages of a generally unremarkable election campaign to play both sides of the fence over the issue of same-sex marriage. Being one of the few areas where the ruling (and desperately misnamed) Liberal-National Party coalition can try to temper its conspicuously illiberal and reactionary image with something approximating principled values without offending their primary constituents in the banking and mining industries, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has offered to open the issue to a national plebiscite — in essence, a national vote over the issue.

Advocates for marriage equality in Australia oppose a national plebiscite on a number of grounds, not least of which being that the Australian High Court has already ruled that the definition of marriage in the Constitution already includes same-sex marriages, and that since this is the case, parliament already has the power to legislate marriage equality should it so desire — and, which, given the injustice of discrimination in general, might be considered desirable, and an opportunity for leaders to lead rather than pander to the prejudices of the majority. Not only then is a plebiscite unnecessary, nether is it subject to the same regulations as a referendum on Constitutional questions and is open to manipulation, and the result is not binding on Parliament anyway. Their unwillingness to legislate with the legal mandate they already have does not inspire confidence that they will do so with one from a plebiscite.

In the Lionel Murphy memorial lecture at the Australian National University in late June, the senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong elaborated on these concerns, arguing that heterosexual politicians don’t understand why those supposedly benefitting most from a plebiscite on same-sex marriage opposite it because they have no concept of the treatment metered out to LGBTI Australians at the hands of local bigots. ‘I know that a plebiscite designed to deny me and many other Australians a marriage certificate will instead license hate speech to those who need little encouragement,’ she said. ‘Mr Turnbull, and many commentators on this subject, don’t understand that for gay and lesbian Australians hate speech is not abstract.’ Insofar as that was the case, Wong described the non-binding plebiscite as ‘just the latest in a series of obstacles erected by opponents of marriage equality,’ affirming the description of it offered by Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten as ‘a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia.’

As if to demonstrate the soundness of such criticisms, the federal treasurer, Scott Morrison, responded to Wong’s speech by declaring, ‘People of very strong religious views, they have also been subject to quite dreadful hate speech and bigotry as well. It is not confined to one side of this debate.’ Claiming that as a white, propertied conservative male, he had suffered from the same sorts of discrimination as LGBTI people, Morrison claimed to ‘understand the concern Penny is raising, I know it from personal experience, having been exposed to that sort of hatred and bigotry for the views I’ve taken, from others who have a different view to me’ — though neglecting to elaborate exactly on what basis he was able to experience discrimination on the basis of his views. ‘I have an electorate where I cannot represent the view of every person on this issue,’ Morrison added, appearing to demonstrate the motivations of the conservative party backing a plebiscite. ‘People know my view on this in my electorate, and it tends to be, it would seem, the majority view in my electorate.’ It is, no doubt, the majority viewpoint amongst conservatives.

Some indication of what these kinds of views are come to us courtesy of South Australian senator Cori Bernadi, who continues to insist on the threat posed by halal certification despite a Senate inquiry instigated at his behest at the cost of millions of dollars to the Australian taxpayer finding no substance to those claims. In the same vein, Bernadi has taken the opportunity to dredge up the claim that marriage equality is the thin end of the wedge of animal bestiality, something to which he obviously gives a great deal of thought. They are further significantly demonstrated in an Election Guide from the Australian Christian Lobby, one which encourages readers to ‘Discover the truth about Labor’s rainbow policy positions,’ and demonstrating its patent terror of apparent competition by inviting them to ‘turn to page 5 to read about the ALP’s plans to give the gay lobby privileged status in government decision-making.’ Upon turning to page 5, one finds that ‘The Australian Labor Party’s 2015 National Conference made headlines over the party’s decision to force all of its MPs to support same-sex marriage from 2019.’ Worse, ‘a series of little-known amendments to the party’s national platform went unreported by the mainstream media,’ meaning that, ‘Sadly Labor’s capitulation to radical rainbow ideology is complete.’ This heinous capitulation to privileged interests, the graphic informs us, includes an ‘ALP Forced Vote for same-sex marriage,’ ‘Taxpayer funded sex-change operations.’ ‘Continues to support the so-called “Safe Schools” programme that teaches children that gender is fluid,’ ‘Anti-discrimination law review,’ ‘Government funded rainbow cop to enforce rainbow ideology from pre-school to board room,’ and reprinting documents ‘with new prefixes to remove or change gender markers or increase “identification options,”’ described as ‘make public toilets unsafe for women and girls?’

It appears from such comments that, for all allusions to things like ‘capitulation to radical rainbow ideology’ and ‘rainbow cop to enforce rainbow ideology from pre-school to board room,’ the ACL is preoccupied with a speck in someone else’s eye while carrying a log in their own. If its election guide is anything to go by, it is the conservatives who are capitulating to far-right Pentecostal theocratic ideology premised on the one hand on oppressive gender norms whose primary function is to provide a basis for the imposition of gender-based hierarchies, and on the other on a deterministic cosmological outlook that interprets ideas in terms of ideas that serve the privileged interests the ACL represents, and what was described in earlier periods of history as ‘evildoing.’ It is this agenda that also sees a threat in the ‘Safe Schools’ campaign, which ‘offers a suite of free resources and support to equip school staff with knowledge, skills and practical ideas to create safer and more inclusive school environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.’

Due to its binary and generally authoritarian outlook, which makes it incapable of distinguishing between having its views doubted or contradicted and being attacked or otherwise deprived of its rights, the ACL sees in initiatives to prevent bullying a ‘dangerous queer gender ideology that teaches students and school teachers that you should not to refer to “boys and girls”, while also promoting a view that gender is fluid.’ At no point does the patently homophobic ACL mentality attempt to engage with arguments on this count, a fact that would appear to corroborate the employment of the ‘with us or against us’ fallacy indicative of the failure to distinguish being criticized and being attacked as a tactic admission that it has run out of ideas and is simply unwilling to admit that it is in the wrong. Reaching at this point for ammunition against the object of its fear and loathing, the ACL describes the programme as directing students ‘to websites that give directions on how girls can bind their chests (a potentially lethal exercise) and how boys can tuck their genitals’ — typical activities for transgender teenagers one would imagine, though the suggestion that chest binding is as completely unsupported as any of the other claims the ACL makes, and is generally asinine.

Reflecting again the dangerous Pentecostal ideology that teaches students who don’t fit into traditional gender categories that they should hate themselves, as it performs the role of religious cop to enforce binary gender categories from pre-school until the suicide or mass shooting, the ACL complains that ‘Despite a review, followed by a response from the Education Minister, the program still contains material that teaches that gender is a construct.’ Given the homophobic hate speech of the ACL and their willingness to target anti-bullying campaigns in the name of beliefs it decides prior to making any effort to provide supporting arguments or proof are so legitimate that to doubt them is to give aid to the enemies of justice, their claims to being victimized can hardly be taken as anything other than playing the victim — a classic form of moral disengagement, along with the victim blaming they so enthusiastically embrace.

The parallels to claims from Scott Morrison to having been victimized as a result of being contradicted by people who happen not to appreciate the abovementioned types of views are impossible to miss. Indeed, it is not one bit surprising to discover that Morrison, who by his own admission is a representative of the kinds of ‘very strong religious views’ contained in this guide, is himself the same kind of Pentecostal Christian as the Australian Christian Lobby. While Morrison regards the characteristically binary and hateful attitudes expressed in the ACL Election Guide as the majority viewpoint, as if the basis of the truth of an idea was the number of people who believed it, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Pentecostal Christianity can claim a full 1.1.% of the total population. Given this fact it is ironic in the extreme that the ACL or anyone else accuse their critics or detractors of having capitulated to extremist ideology, much less to say of being extremist ideologues looking to enforce ideological orthodoxies from birth.

It is a truism of life that we tend to project our unconscious shame onto those who tend to remind us of it, a fact that tends to give rise to the inevitable conclusion that those who express the greatest hate about things like homosexuality are usually also those who have the least understanding of their own sexual identity or capacity to fulfill either their own needs or anyone else’s. It is because the ACL and Morrison know full well what they are up do in this respect that gives rise to the subjective moral imperatives to willfully conflate being doubted or contradicted with being attacked or deprived of their rights, to victim blame and to play the victim whenever anyone tries to hold them accountable for the consequences of their actions. As the heinous hate crime carried out by Omar Mateen in Orlando has highlighted, the destructive potential of homophobia and of those with the capacity to influence the attitudes of many others, such as the Australian treasurer, is impossible to miss — for most. Some, such as Family First Senator Peter Madden, have been able to reconnect with moral values with the aid of Twitter. Others, such as incumbent Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, remain committed, in this case accusing Bill Shorten on FM radio in the Northern Territory in mid-June of ‘running a scare campaign about a plebiscite on gay marriage.’ The Prime Minister had, on the other hand, nothing to say about running a scare campaign about ‘radical rainbow ideology.’

Perhaps with good reason, on the grounds of anyone finding rainbows threatening to the sanctity of their worldview, way of life or life being patently unfit to govern — much less to say operate machinery, perhaps, or take a bath unassisted for fear of drowning.

Ben Debney is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).