f) Lots of other LGBT issues
More harm than good
Do strident opponents of LGBT rights to more good than harm?
(address to TAFE students, Hobart, April 1993)
"George Brookes is doing the gay cause more good than harm".
This is a sentiment that is often expressed by small "l" liberal heterosexual Tasmanians. Their view is that George Brookes and his anti-gay peers are so angry, bitter, hateful and intolerant that they alienate more moderate Tasmanians who would otherwise oppose gay and lesbian rights.
Opinion polls can be used to support this claim. An independent poll that was conducted in 1988 showed that only 31% of Tasmanians supported decriminalising private, consenting, adult, gay sex. The figure was 25% below the national average. But following the anti-gay rallies that marred Tasmanian politics during 1989 the figure had risen to 43%. A majority of Tasmanians (48%) still opposed law reform, but the situation was obviously improving dramatically. By the end of 1990 the scales had tipped in favour of law reform with 47-48% of Tasmanians saying "yes" to decriminalisation. Another poll in 1991 showed a similar response, but by 1992 (and after the Legislative Council, led by George Brookes, had embarrased Tasmanians by airing its militant homophobia) support for legislation to protect homosexual people from discrimination was a high 75%.
Anecdotal evidence can also be cited to support the claim that support for gay and lesbian rights is increasing because of people like George Brookes. Recently I visited a newsagency in Glenorchy. When the newsagent recognised me he expressed his approval for our struggle. "I hate George Brookes", he said. "He gives Tasmania a really bad name".
But, all the same, giving people like George Brookes even some of the credit for a more homotolerant Tasmania can be dangerous.
It ignores the role that the lesbian and gay community has played in its own emancipation. The key to dispelling myths and stereotypes about any minority group is that group's visibility - in other words, its capacity to present itself as it really is - and insofar as lesbians and gays are now more visible in Tasmania than ever before we deserve a substantial part of the credit for changing attitudes.
It also begs the question, how profound is an acceptance of gays and lesbians that's based on contempt for our opponents? People who have traditionally ignored lesbians and gays may be propelled into a consideration of our issues by their dislike of people like George Brookes. However, this consideration of gay and lesbian issues will only flower into an acceptance of homosexual people if it is accompanied by a positive response to human sexual diversity at a much deeper level. Such a response is not generated simply by contempt for George Brookes.
Most importantly it is dangerous to believe that George Brookes does more good than harm because such a belief obscures the very real harm that he does cause. Brookes and his fellow anti-gay campaigners may boost the chances of gay law reform and anti-discrimination legislation in Tasmania, they may even make people think about gays and lesbians in a more positive light, but they also incite discrimination, harassment and violence against lesbian and gay people.
According to the NSW police the overwhelming majority of gay bashers are school age boys. When asked, in the course of police interviews, why they behaved so violently against homosexual people these attackers commonly respond by saying that their actions were motivated by hearing an anti-gay public figure denounce homosexuals. Some of them even go so far as to say they thought they were doing society a favour.
When a gay men is attacked in a Launceston street because "poofters spread disease" or when a lesbian is sacked from her job in Burnie because "lemons are sick and unnatural" people like George Brookes are partly to blame.
In short George Brookes does not do more good than harm. Indeed he has done enormous and irrepairable harm to the Tasmanian community and in response right minded Tasmanians are justified in viewing him and his politics with nothing but the deepest alarm and concern.
This address was delivered to TAFE students in Hobart in April 1993.
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Go to Massachussetts and live happily ever after. We don't need you down here.
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