Gillard butts ACL over ‘heartless’ gay health claims
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has sensationally withdrawn from addressing the national conference of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) early next month after the head of the fringe religious group yesterday claimed smoking cigarettes was healthier than same-sex relationships.
Gillard said in a statement today she had found the comments “offensive” and “heartless and wrong”.
ACL managing director Jim Wallace (pictured) made the claim during a debate on marriage equality at the University of Tasmania on Wednesday afternoon which also featured Greens leader Christine Milne.
SMOKING HEALTHIER THAN BEING GAY?
Taking a question from a student about the relevancy of his views in modern society, Wallace said the health of members of the gay community was much poorer than that of smokers.
“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health - which it presents when it wants more money for health - are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years,” he told the audience.
“The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”
After the debate, Milne said she was shocked to hear such a poor analogy.
“It’s a complete nonsense to suggest that governments are promoting any kind of lifestyle and also it is a complete nonsense to say that gay people are somehow going to have higher health, bad health profile and so on.
“This is all part of trying to suggest that there is something wrong with a person's sexuality if they are gay,” Milne told reporters.
“Gay people have illnesses the same as everyone else but what I know is that the mental health issues for young gay people particularly are certainly increased when discrimination occurs.”
The National LGBTI Health Alliance was also quick to dismiss the claims as nonsense.
“Smoking is a serious public health issue resulting in thousands of preventable deaths each year,” Health Alliance general manager Warren Talbot told SX.
“The National LGBI Health Alliance has called for specific measures in the National Tobacco Strategy to respond to the fact that gay, lesbian and bisexual people are twice as likely to use tobacco as the wider population.
“To link this serious public health issue to society’s re-consideration of marriage does nothing to improve the health of LGBTI Australians.”
PRESSURE BITES AS GILLARD BACKS DOWN FROM SPEECH
Calls were also made by Australian Marriage Equality convener Alex Greenwich for Gillard to reconsider her decision to headline the ACL’s national conference on October 6 in Canberra.
Following the community outrage, Gillard earlier today said she could no longer accept the invite to be the keynote speaker for the conference which will explore the topic of “religious freedom in a secular democracy”.
“I believe yesterday's comments by Jim Wallace were offensive.
“To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong,” Gillard said.
“Although everyone is entitled to their own view, these statements reiterated again today on behalf of ACL are totally unacceptable.
“In light of this, I believe my attendance at the conference would be inappropriate.”
Greenwich welcomed Gillard’s announcement, saying the ACL not only misrepresents Christians but it has misrepresented facts on too many occasions.
“We thank the Prime Minister for so strongly rejecting the extremism of the Australian Christian Lobby,” he said.
“This news will also be welcomed by the majority of Christians and Labor voters who support marriage equality.”
Members of the Australian Rainbow Labor Network (ARLN) also congratulated Gillard for the move and standing up to homophobia.
“We are proud the Prime Minister has acknowledged the struggles many gay and lesbian Australians face every day,” ARLN Co-Convenor Neil Pharaoh said. “Her comments will make a difference.”
MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTS CONFIRM DISCRIMINATION
Wallace’s comments have been criticised by mental health professionals and bodies as well.
LGBTI-specialist psychologist Paul Martin, from Brisbane’s Centre for Human Potential, told SX the remarks could actually contribute to the mental health issues Wallace was referring to as the ‘gay lifestyle’.
“Teenagers are up to 15 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Before coming out they usually have no support or ability to challenge the homophobic comments often made by irresponsible conservative fundamentalist Christian leaders.
“They therefore believe what they hear,” Martin said.
“This reinforces deeply held beliefs such as defectiveness, social exclusion, shame and hopelessness which are the building blocks of suicidality.”
National depression and anxiety initiative Beyondblue also criticised Wallace over the comments coming as they did on the same day the organisaton launched its ‘Stop, Think, Respect’ multimedia campaign to help reduce discrimination and bullying experienced by members of the LGBTI community.
“Comments made yesterday by Mr Jim Wallace, acknowledging that GLBTI people have higher rates of substance use and suicide than the broader community show just how important and timely the campaign launch this week by beyondblue to reduce discrimination really is,” Beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell said.
“Mr Wallace’s linking of the deleterious outcomes of smoking with gay marriage is ludicrous. Suggesting that same-sex marriage is bad for the health of GLBTI people is simply wrong. The thing that is bad for GLBTI people’s health is discrimination.”
Last year, Wallace was forced to apologise over comments made over Twitter suggesting the Anzacs didn’t fight for “gay marriage and Islamic [sic]”.
The former SAS commander then again found himself in hot water earlier this year when he complained that the support given by Channel Seven show Sunrise to marriage equality was akin to Nazi propaganda.
A study released this year also found the ACL had made over 100 public comments on homosexuality from January to June but was virtually silent on issues such as poverty or homelessness.
Wallace has today claimed his comments during yesterday’s debate have been taken out of context and misinterpreted.
- Tags: Alex Greenwich, Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Marriage Equality, Beyondblue, Blaze, Centre for Human Potential, Christianity, Christine Milne, Discrimination, Health, Jim Wallace, Julia Gillard, Kate Carnell, Marriage Equality, MCV, National LGBTI Health Alliance, Neil Pharaoh, Paul Martin, Politics, Queensland Pride, Rainbow Labor, Religion, Same-Sex Marriage, Smoking, SX, Warren Talbot