[Editor’s Note: Today’s post includes an anti-gay slur that may be difficult for some readers.]
Hate speech against LGBT people has appeared in Australia’s intensifying debate over marriage equality, which Australians will vote on in a non-binding plebiscite this fall. ABC is reporting that in Melbourne, a poster had apperared which contains language that is linked to both neo-Nazis and a U.S. Catholic priest who is a university scholar:
“The anti-LGBTI poster, seen in Heffernan Lane [in Melbourne], says ‘Stop the fags’ with an image of two hands holding rainbow coloured belts and a child sitting with its head down.
“The poster includes statistics credited to Donald Paul Sullins, a priest at Catholic University of America whose research has been widely discredited.
“The sign, which has been shared widely on Twitter, includes claims: ’92 per cent of children raised by gay parents are abused. 51 per cent have depression. 72 per cent are obese.'”
Only one such poster has appeared in the city, according to the Melbourne City Council, which promised to remove any offensive material that may appear in the future.
Sky News reported that the poster seemed to originate from a neo-Nazi website. It cited a 2016 study by Sullins entitled “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents.” That study is considered illegitimate and has “little or no credibility” as the work of a “noisy fringe,” according to sociologist Michael Rosenfeld of Stanford University. The Week reported further:
“Of 79 studies looking at children raised in same-sex households gathered by Columbia Law School, all but four found no significant difference in outcome for children of gay parents compared to their peers in heterosexual households.
“Nathaniel Frank, the head of the Columbia project, says that the four dissenting studies – including Sullins’ 2016 paper – were all authored by religiously motivated authors. ‘Their transparent efforts to commandeer an entire social science field to advance a religious agenda makes their scientific claims – and them – into laughing stocks. . .'”
While Sullins stated, “I strongly denounce the pejorative language and fearmongering in the poster,” Sullins defended his research by saying “the statistics it cites are essentially accurate.” The journal in which the study was published is, however, greatly distancing itself from Sullins. On the journal’s website, the editors highlighted an extensive and critical Letter to the Editor which the journal had published against Sullins’research. The journal’s publisher also included a disclaimer about the research on their webapge.
The New York Times reported that in Sydney a pamphlet in Chinese and in English was distributed which claimed, “Homosexuality is a curse of death in terminating the family line” and included a number of damaging myths about the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Government officials and campaigners on both sides of the issue quickly condemned the hate speech. Bill Shorten, head of the Labor party, said opponents of the plebiscite “feared exactly this kind of hurtful filth would emerge” and that “[t]his kind of garbage isn’t ‘debate’, it’s abuse.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic who is pro-marriage equality but chose to continue with the questionable plebiscite, condemned the posters saying, ” I deplore disrespectful, abusive language” and that this is a time to “put your arms around” distressed friends.
Former PM Tony Abbot, also a Catholic and a key opponent of marriage equality, urged Australians to not be “distracted by a handful of extreme and unpleasant posters or flyers.”
Thus far, Australia’s bishops have been silent. Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart last week threatened to fire church workers who entered into civil same-gender marriages. The question is why is he not now condemning hate speech against LGBT people, given that such harmful language is strongly condemned in church teaching.
Though the bishops may remain opposed to marriage equality, they should follow recent advice from Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx. He said the church focus more on the ways it has failed to stop discrimination against lesbian and gay people rather than stopping marriage equality. With hate intensifying in the debate leading up to this plebiscite, this would be a very good shift in focus for all Catholics .
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 24, 2017