Senator Matt Canavan has derided advocates using statistics around mental health and suicide in the LGBTI community during the marriage debate, calling the tactic “blackmail”.

During last night’s Q&A,  a young gay man in the audience brought up Canavan’s previous comments criticising LGBTI people as “delicate little flowers” who need to “grow a spine”, before asking the Senator if he believes the role of leadership is to support society’s most vulnerable.

“I’m very worried about the fact that we’re struggling in modern democracy to respect other people’s opinions,” Canavan replied.

“There’s certainly a push from some calling those who support traditional marriage bigots.

“I think we should be able to have a respectful debate on these issues.”

He was then asked by fellow panelist and Greens leader Richard Di Natale whether he had tried to silence bank Westpac after it sent an email to staff urging them to vote Yes.

The email had included estimates on suicide rates in Australia and suggested a Yes vote would reduce the number of LGBTI people taking their own life.

“That particular note was attempted blackmail,” Canavan responded.

“They accused people who support traditional marriage of causing 3,000 suicides each year, when in fact there was only 2,800.

“I think using the always tragic circumstances of individuals to win a political debate is blackmail.”

Di Natale responded by claiming that was the whole point.

“The whole point is that people are actually heard by a society that says they’re not normal, they’re not welcome,” he said.

“As a doctor who saw young people struggling with their sexuality, this debate hurts people, it harms them.

“The reason we have higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide among young people who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and intersex is because of a debate in society that says you’re not like us, you’re different, you’re abnormal.”

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