ON Saturday morning as the rest of Australia was preparing to enjoy the long weekend, I was dragging myself out of bed to head into Sydney’s CBD to check out the Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) conference.
It might seem bewildering that Australia’s oldest LGBTI media outlet would want to cover the conference of a lobby who do not support marriage equality, safe schools and think LGBTI people are trying to take over the country with the ‘gay agenda’. But the purpose of attending was to hear what they have to say and try to understand their point of view a bit better.
So I turned up to the Pitt St venue, without confirmation I had been added to the media list, despite a promise from the ACL’s media contact I would be. Multiple calls and emails in the lead up to the event were not returned and I made the assumption they were trying to stonewall me (see what I did there) to avoid me turning up. I was kind of hoping this was the case, that I would get there on a cold, rainy Saturday morning, I would be rejected from entering and I could go on to spend my day off doing fun things. Then my story would be easy to write: ‘ACL doesn’t want pink media at its conference’.
Alas, I had been emailed late on Friday night to say I could come along, I just hadn’t checked my emails and I was welcomed into the venue with warm smiles. I settled into my seat for what was sure to be an interesting eight hours.
A number of speakers addressed different topics such as surrogacy, Christians and Indigenous recognition, Jesus’ mission, a history of church and state, the sexualisation of women and a keynote address from Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison who thanked everyone for their prayers and mainly talked about new economic policy rather than declaring solidarity with the values of the ACL.
On a side note, Morrison spent much of his time laying Australia’s economic woes at the feet of single parents and to read exactly what I think of that, check out my tweets – I may have used a Nicki Minaj GIF to express myself. He also spoke about the rising divorce rates, in what I thought as an attempt to discourage gays and lesbians from wanting to get married at all.
What unfolded in the various presentations really surprised me and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Predictably, many speakers spoke about how marriage should be between a man and woman, Telstra should not get involved in politics, safe schools is sexualising children etc.
While a lot of these assertions would not be something I would agree with, they were presented in a reasonable (albeit sometimes out of context) fashion. There was no fire and brimstone hysterics, that we’ve come to know and expect from the ACL.
Except for Queensland ACL state director Wendy Francis, who declared “it’s urgent everybody, the world is crumbling around us” and Jeffrey Ventrella telling the crowd “we’re on the winning side”, the tone of the conference was restrained and so bloody polite.
This understated rhetoric is what worries me. There is an upcoming plebiscite to decide if the Marriage Act will be amended to recognise same-sex couples and despite polls showing the majority of Australians think marriage equality is inevitable, there are whispers around the halls of Canberra that it isn’t a shoo-in (this is according to some of my sources who have asked to remain anonymous.
As one of the most outspoken and highly visible proponents of the ‘No’ camp, the ACL perhaps also know this and therefore are toning down their style to help convince voters who might be on the fence, leaning towards voting no.
Not everyone in the LGBTI community cares about marriage equality and that’s ok. And it’s ok for the ACL to not support it. But I left feeling that the ACL conference was not only about their right to express their views, but that there is a rising tide against LGBTI issues.
I worry that arguing marriage should stay between a man and woman is an excuse to then call out other queer and rainbow issues the ACL does not agree with. I worry that whatever progress Australia has made towards being more understanding is being unravelled and we are going backwards. I worry that young people won’t feel loved just because some people don’t support a program that is designed to protect them.
So, whether you believe marriage equality is important or not, it might be time to become more active in supporting the rainbow community by reaching out to your networks to explain why being gay et al is ok. Just as the ACL can be moderate in its message, so can we. It’s time to speak up more loudly and spread the queer word.