The city that was declared Queensland’s most ‘family-friendly’ by a Suncorp Bank survey this year has also ranked highly for years in police and anecdotal reports of anti-gay behaviour and abuse. Toowoomba is the primary city in the Darling Downs region – locally known as the ‘bible belt’. Many in the community blame the high number of extremely conservative churches for contributing to an atmosphere in which LGBTI people feel unwelcome.
The anonymous, seven-page pamphlet titled ‘Same Sex Marriage – Is it in the Best Interest of Australia’, appeared in letterboxes last week and covers a wide range of seemingly unrelated topics, from Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi to bestiality and HIV/AIDS. It also claims that “there is a natural connection between homosexuality and paedophiles”, apparently quoting “one homosexual activist in New York”.
The pamphlet defends Bernardi’s comments made last year, and reiterated last week, linking marriage equality to bestiality. It also blames the push for marriage equality for health messages about HIV/AIDS being lost and “played down” and quotes “data from Denmark” that shows that while heterosexual married men die at an average age of 74, “partnered gays die at an average age of 51.”
Local gay man Joel Oborn said he was was “angry and offended” to receive the pamphlet, noting that this is not the first time anti-gay propaganda has appeared in his letterbox.
“I’m not surprised at all that these sorts of views are here,” Oborn told the Star Observer. “There is a large conservative population here, and also some religious fundamentalist groups setting up shop in Toowoomba.”
While Oborn claims that most churches in the region are tolerant and don’t advocate for such discrimination, he has heard of incidents of violence and verbal abuse against people who speak up for LGBTI people.
“I don’t feel particularly welcome here. There are no LGBTI things that happen here or groups here that I know about, and if there are, they are pretty underground and are kept quiet. It’s pretty isolating.”
Oborn doesn’t believe that the extreme attitudes expressed in the pamphlet are commonly held throughout Toowoomba but the general treatment of the community only prevents more LGBTI people from speaking out and being open about their sexuality.
“I think if [the LGBTI community] united, we might have a stronger voice, but some are even afraid to come out still, and with groups like Triumphant Ministries and their anti-gay “homosexuality cure”, I don’t blame them. It seems like the negative voices are more prevalent here but only because they are louder, not because the majority supports them.“
You can read the rest of the pamphlet here.
(Photo: Joel Oborn)