MY name is Janelle Trees. I am a medical doctor from Australia. I have a good life. I am beloved and cared-for. I have good access to food, shelter and medical care. I am respected, listened to. I feel safe in my home and at work. In short, I live a life of great privilege in the world at this time.
I am lesbian, gay, homosexual. This way of being is called many names, some of them derogatory and abusive. People like me, attracted to their same gender, loving others of the same gender, that is, homosexual people; or people facing a different reality — experiencing themselves as a different gender than that the world has judged them to be, so-called transgender people; people who are born without a definitive gender who are called intersex; those who disregard gender in their attraction to a partner who are called bisexual. All of us constitute a rainbow of diversity; diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. All of us suffer to some extent because of the attitudes of some powerful, backward humans to how and who we are.
I am attending this meeting as a representative of the Australian Lesbian Medical Association — an organisation of same-sex attracted women doctors and medical students and their partners. Some of our members have done excellent research in lesbian and bisexual women’s health — notably Dr Ruth McNair, who attended the first week of this meeting. Some of you will have met Ruth last week.
Even in such a wealthy country as Australia, same-sex attracted women endure at least twice the levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, as a reflection of marginalisation, misogyny and hatred of gay people.
My wife and I were legally married in New Zealand in 2007 in a civil union ceremony, but this formal relationship is not recognised in Australia, where gay marriage of any kind remains illegal. We did not invite family and friends to our wedding because we did not want to impose extensive and expensive travel costs upon them. We didn’t want to provoke conflict in our families about our wedding, either. So we married quietly on our own, with strangers who became new friends. It was nevertheless a joyous occasion. We are, every day, happy to be together. There is now robust evidence that same sex attracted people living in jurisdictions that legally recognise their relationships have significantly better health than those in jurisdictions that do not.
Many of you are aware that in Australia, the Indigenous peoples are marginalised and deprived, enduring death and sickness at a rate many times that of the non-Indigenous peoples. Many people in Australia live in poverty. There is hunger and homelessness. Thousands of refugees remain imprisoned in camps. Alongside the economic and social deprivation which is a product of racism and the class system, having different sexual orientation and gender identity is an independent risk factor for poorer physical and mental health. Many of the asylum seekers imprisoned in Australia’s detention centre — jailed indefinitely — have run for their lives because they are suffering oppression because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In 2013 I was working as a doctor in the community on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean which has been used by the government as a place of indefinite detention of thousands of asylum seekers. It was Friday night and my partner and I were relaxing with my work colleagues — doctors and nurses. Watching the sunset, having a cool drink, waiting for our dinner to be cooked. The conversation turned to one of our patients in the hospital that week. This man was from a privileged layer in his country of origin. His mother was a wealthy and highly-respected doctor. This man had a terrifying experience coming to Australia seeking asylum. His physical and mental health was damaged by the experience.
“Why did he do it?” asked one of the doctors. The conversation following seemed to imply that the man was a fool, perhaps a greedy one. My partner spoke up: “I haven’t met the man, but obviously this man is gay. He lived in a land where gay people face execution. His wealthy and respected mother may have turned him out and could not, in any case, offer him protection from imprisonment, torture and execution. Of course he would do anything to find a better life.”
Hatred toward people like me, hatred of those of us with different sexual orientation and gender identity — this hatred is serving the interests of many who have power. This hatred is sustained by corrupt churches, by reactionary political leaders, by exploitative capitalists, by those who have their own interests in keeping people backward and divided from each other. This hatred, homophobia, in despising a minority, keeps the majority repressed and fearful, keeps the majority looking at marginalised individuals as the enemy, keeps the majority alienated and ignorant about the nature of love.
Opposing such hatred and deliberately dignifying sexual orientation and gender identity minorities in your own heart, mind and consciousness, as well as endorsing affirming laws, will allow us to live as full citizens, so that we can contribute to creating a better society for all.
We are all part of the rainbow of human diversity.