In the lead-up to the International Day Against Homophobia we have witnessed a timely reminder that the journey to equality for our community is far from over.
Earlier this week, Victorians learnt that Professor Kuruvilla George, Victoria’s Deputy Chief Psychiatrist and board member of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), is a signatory to a submission opposing marriage equality made by a group named Doctors for the Family. Professor George has since resigned from his position on the VEOHRC board.
The submission itself and George’s involvement are matters of great concern for the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
As a signatory to the Doctors for the Family submission, George has asserted publicly that same-sex marriage should be opposed for the health risks it presents to children, citing evidence that children who grow up in a family with a mother and father do better in all parameters and pointing to the danger of ‘normalising’ homosexual behaviour, namely, the increased risk of HIV infection.
It is deeply troubling that the members of Doctors for the Family are using their influence as medical experts to promote views which are, in fact, ill-informed and based on highly selective and flawed uses of medical research. Indeed, the reality is that there is a growing body of medical opinion which supports the opposite view.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have stated publicly their support for marriage equality. Longitudinal studies have found that adolescents living with lesbian parents function as well as, or sometimes better than, those reared by opposite-sex parents. In another study, psychologists have found that gay and lesbian parents tend to exhibit characteristics in their parenting which are associated with positive child outcomes.
Thankfully, the Australian Medical Association and individual clinicians have responded swiftly to rebuke the claims, speaking for the vast majority of doctors who do not share the views of Doctors for the Family.
There is no question that George and the other doctors are entitled to an opinion on the issue of marriage equality, just as any member of the community can freely express their views. However, when these publicly advocated views are fundamentally inconsistent with the mandate of the organisation which George serves as a board member, a clear conflict arises.
The Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission works to eliminate discrimination and harassment, including discrimination against members of the LGBTI community. The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) specifically outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or lawful sexual activity.
The homophobia that underpins the views expressed in the submission unquestionably places George at odds with the mission and functions of the VEOHRC and therefore his statutory responsibilities as a member of its board. For this reason, George should urgently reconsider his position as a board member. If he wishes to continue to publicly advocate views which are fundamentally inconsistent with his statutory duties, George should resign from the VEOHRC.
That such a conflict has been able to arise highlights the need for greater transparency and public input in the appointment of board members by Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark.
Another cause for concern is that George advises the Victorian Government on matters relating to mental health policy and practice in his role as Deputy Chief Psychiatrist.
The damaging effect of discriminatory and homophobic attitudes on the mental health of LGBTI people of all ages, but particularly young people, is well documented. The state Coalition Government has recognised this by funding specific programs to support the mental health and wellbeing of young LGBTI people and “address discrimination, challenge homophobia and transphobia” (media release issued by Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge, April 4 2012).
For our state’s second most senior mental health practitioner to publicly perpetuate homophobic views which directly counter state Government policy in this area and, indeed, indirectly serve to contribute to these poorer health outcomes, raises serious questions about his suitability for this office. Wooldridge has rightly called for an explanation of his conduct.
Victoria’s political leaders need to respond swiftly and appropriately to ensure that LGBTI Victorians can feel confident that public officials are performing their duties free from conflicts of interest and in a manner compatible with our fundamental human rights.
By ANNA BROWN, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor.