e) Life, love and belonging
From Taroona to Tórshavn, homophobia hurts everyone.
This article was published on the Tasmanian Times website on December 1st, 2006.
When Mary Donaldson became Crown Princess Mary of Denmark she vowed herself not only to her husband Frederick, but to her future subjects…all of them.
In the words of the presiding cleric, Mary had come from the other side of the world and would now have to acquaint herself with Danes, Greenlanders and Faeroe Islanders.
I was recently reminded of the details of Mary’s vows by Kurt Krickler, Austria’s leading gay activist, and the only Austrian Vienna TV could find to translate Mary and Frederick’s wedding.
Kurt is also one of the few people I know who’s been to the Faeroe Islands.
In June 2005 he rode around the semi-autonomous, Danish dependency on a Harley Davidson. In his words “it really seemed as if all gays and lesbians had left the islands or were in the closet”.
Was he proven wrong when, two months later, the Faeroe capital, Tórshavn, witnessed its first gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride parade?
“Probably most of them came back from the mainland for that occasion”, he ruefully observed.
But not all. Rasmus Rasmussen is a popular Faeroe radio host and an openly-gay man. In October he was gay-bashed in a Tórshavn pub. When the attack was reported his family was threatened.
The incident has highlighted Faeroese homophobia.
The Faeroe Islands are an anomaly amongst Nordic nations. They have no laws preventing sexuality discrimination or giving same-sex couples equal entitlements, and no intention of passing them.
When the issue was raised earlier this month in the Nordic Council by Icelandic representatives who labeled Faeroe homophobia “a matter of global concern”, Faeroe Education and Culture Minister, Jógvan á Lakjuni, declared his islands are run “according to Christian and conservative values”.
For many Tasmanians this is all very familiar.
In the 1990s Tasmania was held up to global ridicule because our Parliament refused to decriminalize homosexuality despite condemnation from the UN, the Federal Government and Amnesty International.
Then Attorney-General, Ron Cornish, justified this intransigence by declaring Tasmania “a Bible-based society”.
In the British press we were labeled “Bigot’s Island”. In Sydney and Melbourne thousands of people stopped buying our produce.
Hundreds of gay and lesbian people who might have stayed or moved here, wiped the island out of their life-plans.
The national and international ignominy Tasmania suffered sent out the message that change, innovation and difference were not welcome on the island. According to economists like Saul Eslake, it was no coincidence our economy and even our population went into decline.
Since then things have changed, dramatically.
In 1997 Tasmania’s former anti-gay laws were repealed. In 1999 it enacted Australia’s most progressive anti-discrimination laws, followed in 2003 by relationship laws that, for the first time in Australia, allowed same-sex couple to officially register their unions. These changes were accompanied by a shift in community attitudes towards greater acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
At the same time, and again not by coincidence, the Tasmanian economy and population went back into the black, with many more people staying in, moving to and/or investing in, Tasmania. Some are gay but most are heterosexuals, drawn by Tasmania’s greater tolerance of innovation and diversity.
There is an obvious lesson in this transformation for other island communities like the Faeroe Islands: homophobia doesn’t just harm homosexuals, correspondingly, openness can bring greater prosperity.
This lesson about change and its benefits was represented by and encapsulated in an anti-homophobia radio ad campaign launched in Hobart less than a fortnight ago. The campaign involves the broadcast of four ads several hundred times on commercial stations across the state, and is the largest of its kind ever in Australia. Such a ground-breaking initiative was unimaginable ten years ago. It’s theme?...“homophobia hurts everyone”.
Fine, but every lesson needs a teacher, which is where Princess Mary comes in.
Not only did her marriage create a direct link between Tasmania and the Faeroes. She has witnessed first-hand both what Tasmania was, and what it has become; the flight of talent, creativity, prosperity and hope from the cruel reign of intolerance, and their return when intolerance is overthrown.
Mary’s High School in the self-styled “Princessipality of Taroona” tells this side of the story well.
Like Mary, many of her friends and class mates from Taroona High left Tasmania to live elsewhere.
But, unlike Mary, some of these people were gay or lesbian, and were driven out by prejudice and discrimination.
In a sign of how much Tasmania has changed since Mary was at school (and of how the sky stays aloft despite this change) media reports of the Viking and Princess competition held at Taroona High School to celebrate her marriage, highlighted the fact that the majority of Vikings were girls and the winner of the best Princess competition was a boy.
I understand that the winner of the 2005 Couple of the Year competition at Taroona High School was a young male couple.
Taking all these connections into consideration, the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group wrote to Princess Mary last week, asking her to speak up for Tasmanian’s new tolerance and the benefits it has brought the entire island (a copy is enclosed below).
The letter naturally acknowledges that it would be completely inappropriate for Princess Mary, as the future Queen of a constitutional monarchy, to speak publicly about Danish or Faeroese political and legislative matters.
But there are precedents for Mary gently and graciously talking up Tasmania, and human rights, to the benefit of her future subjects.
The Crown Princess has been an excellent ambassador for Tasmanian tourism, produce and design. Now she can be an equally good ambassador for Tasmanian ideas, including the idea that island societies can transform themselves from being closed and intolerant to open and accepting.
Mary has willingly involved herself in cutting-edge human rights issues. In one of her last engagements before her latest Tasmanian visit, she awarded prizes to those Danes who have championed the rights of children. Now she can do the same for another vulnerable minority.
No-one’s asking her to become a gay activist. Just a word in the right ear or a gesture at the right time, could make all the difference.
The conditions are right, the precedents’ set, history’s arguments are solid, personal experience and royal duty match; the one thing that’s missing is a compelling call to action.
For that I return to Kurt Krickler and his gay, island exiles.
How can I begin to describe what that exile means, how it feels to be wholly of a land and its centuries-old sagas - swirling in their frigid gales, stumbling through their bogs and swelling in their sunbursts - only to be uprooted, blown away and lost, like driftwood floating on an endless ocean?
Beyond economics and demographics, cultural diversity and creative classes, lies the heartbreak of the exile. Has Princess Mary seen that heartbreak in the faces of others? Has she felt it herself? Has she ever wondered what the scattered, global archipelago that pays her homage might be like without it? If she has, then I don’t need to petition, persuade or explain any more.
~ Homophobia in the Faeroe Islands
~ Social change in the Princessipality of Taroona
~ Princess Mary and children’s rights
~ Tasmania’s anti-homophobia radio ad campaign including audio files of the ads
LETTER FROM THE TASMANIAN GAY AND LESBIAN RIGHTS GROUP TO HRH CROWN PRINCESS MARY OF DENMARK
Ms Claire Bonner
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group
Rm 17, Level 3
McDougall Bdg, Ellerslie Rd
Battery Point, Tas., 7004
Ph: +61 (0)3 6224 3556
Fax: +61 (0)3 6223 6136
Her Royal Highness
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark
Christian VIII Palace Amalienborg
Slotsplads 7 DK-1257
PO Box 2143 DK-1015
Copenhagen K Denmark
Ph: +45 33 40 1010
Fax: +45 33 40 1115
Re: Human rights in the Faeroe Islands (delivered by facsimile transmission, at 5pm AET, 23.11.06)
Your Royal Highness,
Recent media reports of discrimination and harassment against an openly-gay citizen of the Faeroe Islands have highlighted the failure of the Faroese Government to enact laws preventing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and giving equal entitlements to same-sex couples.
The absence of such laws has sparked indignation in Denmark, condemnation from representatives of other Nordic nations, and a petition for reform from Faroese human rights advocates which has been signed by over 20,000 people worldwide.
We understand that you are the future Queen of a constitutional monarchy and that it is completely inappropriate for you to intervene in the legislative process or comment publicly on political matters.
However, we also understand that you are loved and admired by the Danish and Faroese people, and that they will respect your right to talk about how your home island of Tasmania has benefited from the kind of legal and social reform which has taken place in every Nordic society except the Faroe Islands.
As a young woman growing up in Tasmania in the 1980s and 90s you witnessed the way prejudice can divide and damage an island community.
You saw discrimination, vilification and violence, sanctioned by bad laws and unmitigated by good ones, drive young gay and lesbian people away, divide families, and deeply damage Tasmania’s social cohesion, international reputation and economic wellbeing.
Since then, you have witnessed Tasmania benefit from becoming a more tolerant and inclusive society in a remarkable transformation underpinned by the passage of some of the world’s most comprehensive anti-discrimination and relationship laws.
Because it now welcomes the contributions of a much wider range of people, Tasmania is socially and culturally richer, and its economy more diverse and resilient. Having opened its arms to all those who wish to belong, the name “Tasmania” has gone from a by-word for bigotry to another word for inclusion.
Perhaps most importantly, you have seen first-hand how social change occurs in proud, tight-knit island communities, not always through heavy-handed pressure from outside, but from a slow and steady process of interpersonal education, a process you are perfectly placed to foster and participate in.
We urge you to draw on your experience in Tasmania to counsel and educate the Faroese Government and its people towards a more inclusive future that benefits all Faroese citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.
Thank you for your time and we hope you enjoy your current Tasmanian visit.
for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group
November 23rd, 2006
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