MANY people were offended by the Bill Leak carton in The Australian on September 21.

That cartoon needs to be put in its correct historical context.

The tactics of a few fringe radicals on both sides of this debate is setting a toxic tone for a debate that should be about bringing people together. As decent people we need to call this out, we need a sense of perspective and respect.

The weight of history is huge on all of us, but it’s what we learn from history that matters most. Students of history know and have learnt that when harassment of the marginalised happens it risks turning words into acts of violence or threats as JOY 94.9 radio experienced this week.

Hate and vilification will always get a run. Pandering and fuelling to people’s fears has always worked and it’s working now.

Just this last week Bill Leak published a cartoon in The Australian comparing the actions of some Marriage Equality advocates as akin the to the Nazi Waffen SS.

He is a cartoonist. Not everything they draw should actually be taken seriously, especially such a bizarre parallel.

A simple glance back at history will tell you that same-sex attracted people were the targets and victims of the Nazis. They were required to wear pink triangles and sent to death camps.

Worse, after the war many were reimprisoned because they’d technically broken the law for their life and love akin to laws in place in the liberating powers.

That is the story of gay and lesbian people. While other minorities have been brought into the mainstream we have always been left behind because other minority groups have often had little solidarity with us.

In 1933 when the Nazis were given power in Germany they embarked on a campaign of terror, torture, imprisonment and murder on a scale never seen before in human history.

They had many targets, the Jews, Gypsies, the handicapped, political opponents and gay men among them, they even gave us our own special concentration camp badge, The Pink Triangle. They knew the power of words and imagery and in particular cartoons.

They basically invented and perfected propaganda to effectively deliver a message of hate; they played on people’s fears and their prejudices. They had it down pat

It started off slowly and gradually but it soon gained pace with the handicapped being the first to be murdered under the guise of them being unfit for the new revitalised Germany. Then there were the Nuremberg laws against the Jews, then the jailing of political prisoners and the methodical rewriting of paragraph 175 (The Weimar republics law on homosexuality).

They were in no doubt about what they were going to do and the law gave them the cover to do it and some very talented if not evil cartoonists put their agenda into a populist and easily digestible format. Does this sound familiar?

Don’t underestimate just how important cartoons were for the Nazis in spreading their message, playing on people’s fears, their prejudices in the most base and clever way. It worked a treat for them; it’s worked a treat for all other extremists of the right and the left then and now. It’s still working a treat now.

No need to print of millions of copies of Der Stürmer, it’s much simpler than that. All you need to do is package up a hateful message and the digital media will deliver it to millions of people whom then share it with everyone they know.

No one really thinks about how this will impact the young, the marginalised, the scared and certainly the cartoonist who draws it and the people whom originally publish it will cry ‘freedom of speech’.

Today it’s no different; this is not about freedom of speech, this is about respect. It’s about respect for the past and wanting a future for all of us, not just those who think they are the arbiters of what’s right and what’s not.

There’s a debate going on in Australia right now about marriage equality, the key word here is equality and that means every single Australian no matter who or what they deserve to be treated equally under our laws.

Parliament makes our laws, that’s what we elect it to do and that’s what we expect them to do – we don’t do it by opinion poll. When we allow that crucial component of democracy to be set aside the consequences can be deadly.

The Nazis never let their Parliament sit again after they passed the Nuremberg laws and the rewriting of Paragraph 175. They didn’t want to be held to account.

This is not about me, it’s about my partner, my friends, my family, my community and our right to live in peace and to love in peace and to share our lives together, to raise out children, to care for our partners and to receive the respect and protection that the laws of the land must deliver to all of us without discrimination.

I am not saying that anyone in the debate about marriage equality is a Nazi, but using the Nazis tools obviously has some appeal.

Nor am I saying that a plebiscite is 100 per cent a bad thing. What I am saying is that a plebiscite is not the way we make laws in our country nor should it be. It certainly shouldn’t be a compulsory vote for the electors and an optional vote on whether our elected parliamentarians support the outcome in the parliament.

In isolation we could probably make a case for a plebiscite on marriage equality, euthanasia, abortion or even going to war.

But isolation breeds narrow minds and narrow outcomes. We can’t ignore the impact that the ‘debate’ will have on young LGBTI kids who already have to deal with institutionalised discrimination, violence, abuse and mental illness.

We can’t afford to let loose the dogs of hate onto our young people that will end up in some of them self-harming or taking their lives.

That will be the impact of a publicly funded campaign of hate which is nothing more than state sponsored terrorism and masking it with a plebiscite.

Those politicians who want to wimp out and have a plebiscite know in their hearts that people will take their lives in desperation at the hateful, vile things that are said about them, the questioning of their family environment, the attack on their sexuality, the marginalisation of diversity.

After all we are all God’s work, every single one of us and no one has the right to pass judgement on another person in the way this debate is running.

We have seen the opinion polls, our politician’s see the opinion polls and these polls influence the very laws they make.

Our laws should and must be made by our elected lawmakers not by a mob fired up by hateful media.

Cartoons are incredibly powerful, they influence opinion they make us laugh. But is a cartoon with an insidious message what we want, lets note the lessons of history.

Equality is too serious a subject to leave it to a ‘cute’ cartoon to shape the debate.

Bill Leak’s cartoon is the flag that marks the start of the race to the bottom, he did miss something though, he left off the pink triangle.

Let’s keep the debate civil and respectful. Our media has a role to play in this and its time they showed some respect. Let the parliament decide.

David McCarthy is the lead host on Saturday Magazine JOY 94.9, former president of JOY 94.9 and former co-convenor Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.

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