It has been my privilege to preside over the Star Observer for the last five years, but today I say goodbye.

I was initially going to use this space to say thank you to my staff, the board of directors, shareholders and the wonderful community members I have met along the way. But on reflection they are messages I’d rather share privately.

Instead I’d rather use my farewell column to sound an alarm about the community and its future.

Over the course of the past five years, I have grown increasingly concerned at the lack of maturity with which sectors of the LGBTI community engage in debate.

It seems for many the natural reaction to criticism is to jump on the defensive and spray a handful of bitchy insults at our opposition.

It’s the kind of petty schoolyard politics that does little more than confirm to our oppressors the very stereotypes we fight to shake off.

And we don’t just react this way to comments from those outside the community. In fact I’d say we treat each other worse.

We call each other names, white-ant others’ positions and generate scurrilous gossip and rumours that have no basis in fact. When someone in the community finds the courage to take a stand, we bitch about them, belittle them and hide behind the cloak of online anonymity to take personal swipes at them.

I know it is true — I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of these attacks, and almost every community leader I know has been through the same cycle.

They are disturbing, vicious, gutless attacks designed not to further debate, but to hurt and wound. And they do us no favours.

If we as a community are to successfully progress our demand for equal treatment at every level we must learn to debate with maturity and reason. We must learn to treat those who disagree with respect and basic human courtesy — no matter how irrational and unreasonable their statements may be.

Because freedom of speech comes with responsibilities — it is not a wholesale term that can be used to excuse substandard behaviours.

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