It’s satisfying to reflect on a book on homophobia at a time when the gay and lesbian community has won equal rights on a scale never before seen.
This new literary offering, profiling the history of homophobia, however, warns us not to rest on our laurels when it comes to understanding and combating homophobia in Australia.
Homophobia: An Australian History, edited by Shirleene Robinson, includes chapters from 13 well-known academics and assesses the continually shifting goalposts of attitudes towards homosexuality and the way the gay and lesbian community has been historically perceived.
The book highlights general attitudes over law and ongoing homophobia, or heterosexism, in our society -” or the pervading culture of a heterosexual mainstream impinging on the everyday lives of those not fitting the mould.
The savage gay-hate attacks on Craig Gee and Shane Brennen only blocks away from Sydney’s Oxford St last year is used as a prime example that homophobia is still boiling not too far beneath the surface.
Despite this relatively isolated case, Australia has undeniably come on leaps and bounds in term of a mainstream acceptance of homosexuality. Such is the pace of changing acceptance it seems that even the four-year-old research on which the book bases much of its observations is a little out of date.
Scarcely a day goes by without a new poll on gay marriage or gay adoption coming up in our favour. The research findings are nonetheless worthy and present some surprising results.
In the key contributing chapter, academic Michael Flood and former Australia Institute director Clive Hamilton use data from a Roy Morgan (2003/2004) survey of over 24,000 Australians to map homophobia.
According to the stats, homophobic attitudes are worst in country areas of Queensland and Tasmania. Men are more likely than women to feel homosexuality is morally bankrupt and, perhaps more worrying, one third of Australians believe homosexuality is immoral.
That two thirds don’t is perhaps the unwritten success story the book doesn’t dwell on.
Cardinal George Pell will no doubt be disappointed to learn that despite his best efforts, Catholics are among those who tolerate homosexuality the most, with only 34 percent believing homosexuality is immoral. The most homophobic honour goes to Baptists with 68 percent believing homosexuality to be immoral, followed by evangelical Christians.
Flood and Hamilton write these counter intuitive findings suggest Catholics may have their own personal views, running parallel with church ideals.
According to the data, Victoria scrubbed up as the least homophobic state with inner-city Melbourne named the least homophobic region with only 15 percent of men and 14 percent of women agreeing homosexuality is immoral.
Men are more likely to be homophobic, with overall 43 percent believing homosexuality is immoral compared with 27 percent of women -” a figure consistent across age, socio-economic and regional groupings.
Confirming what we may know, age is also a factor. Of those over 65 years, 53 percent were considered homophobic compared with 26 percent of 18 -” 24 year olds.
The number spikes again for males in the 14 to 17-year-old age group -” with 43 percent thinking homosexuality is immoral compared with 23 percent of females.
Apart from bare statistics the book offers some sobering tales of those fired from employment, sent for electric shock treatment and generally derided and shunned because of their sexuality.
Certainly this collection of essays traces and points out the impact of homophobia in our country. The question is worth asking -” will recent legislation guaranteeing equal entitlements in law have any effect on the sort of violent situation Craig and Shane found themselves in only last year? Only time will tell.
info: Homophobia: An Australian History, edited by Shirleene Robinson is published by The Federation Press and is available from Hares and Hyenas and online at www.federationpress.com.au