I wish Tony Abbott had a gay child. Then there’s a chance he might have enough empathy to propose a policy that benefits them, as he’s just done for women with his maternity leave proposal. But instead, he’s given voice to his inner homophobic panic on national television several times in the past few days.
Of course, it’s a good thing to speak one’s mind without running every word through a focus group, and that’s why Abbott has been so appealing to an audience that’s tiring of the tepid utterances of Kevin Rudd. But it’s another thing to speak without thinking, and in particular to speak without empathy.
Abbott’s candour, unlike Rudd’s obfuscation, allows us to see what he really thinks. The problem is, what he really thinks is often rather ugly, as is the case here. His view that homosexuality goes against the “orthodox notions of the right order of things” is particularly disturbing, because it shows him attempting to cloak what are presumably religious beliefs in the rhetoric of nature.
This happens a lot with homosexuality. In fact, if you examine humans with genuine objectivity, we should be able to agree that it has existed in every known human civilisation, regardless of its social mores. It’s no less “natural” than heterosexuality, as matter of fact – it’s just something that naturally occurs in a minority of people, instead of the majority.
This point appears to be hard for some people to grasp, so let me put it this way – gays are no less unnatural than albinos. They’re a minority, certainly, and they look very different from the mainstream. And that’s why, in Tanzania, dozens of albinos have been killed in recent years because of fears of witchcraft. Now, we see that instance of people feeling “threatened” as ignorant, because we understand that albinism is a regularly occurring phenomenon.
But there are a great many more homosexuals than albinos, and yet our society seems incapable of truly embracing the idea that it’s just the way some people turn out, regardless of whether you think the causes are genetic or environmental. Even people who are deeply opposed to homosexuality, like Catholic priests and certain hypocritical Republican senators, find themselves unavoidably attracted to people of the same sex. And that’s why, ultimately, Abbott’s honesty reveals nothing more than his ignorance.
I was disappointed to read Abbott’s comments, because when our leaders give voice to their inner fears, it sets a tone for the nation. In all her years of controversy, Pauline Hanson never really said all that much about race – she wasn’t exactly Jean-Marie Le Pen. But she expressed a general sense of unease about immigration, and that was enough to serve as a lightning rod in the community for those with more extreme views. Now her former nemesis Tony Abbott has expressed similar feelings of discomfort about gays, and who knows what nastiness it may unleash?
His admission that he “probably feels a bit threatened [by homosexuality], like so many people do” is a particularly concerning one. It’s long been viewed as reasonable to fear homosexuals, so much so that it has been used as a defence to murder in some jurisdictions. Only last year, an Illinois man stabbed a neighbour 61 times after he made an unwelcome sexual advance, and the court decided it was acceptable because, as Abbott might put it, “so many” people feel threatened by gays.
I know it’s become a bit of a cliche, but the Opposition Leader appears in so many ways not to understand it, so I may as well repeat the words of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird – “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” How can we get him to exercise a little more empathy? Should we perhaps suggest that Tony run a half-marathon in a gay man’s shoes?
Having daughters taught him how tough working and parenthood can be for women – so perhaps he should adopt a gay son, so he can see what it’s like for him to be discriminated against and made to feel abnormal by the ignorant views of politicians. The Opposition Leader had a road-to-Damascus experience on paid maternity leave, which he once said he’d support “over this government’s dead body”. Well, that government did die, and now he’s reconsidered, which is a fine thing. And he’s just visited remote Aboriginal communities, nearly getting lost overnight in the process, to try and understand how their lives work. He’s even met with Mia Freedman in an attempt to relate to the women of Australia. How long do we have to wait until that restless brain of his devotes a moment of thought into what it must be like to be gay?
Fear is not a good quality in a leader. After 9/11, our leaders preached tolerance rather than admitting to feeling fearful when they saw a Muslim on the streets. Similarly, I’d suggest that next time someone who wants to lead this country feels scared of gays, he should save his concerns for the confessional, where some sensible priest may be able to reassure him that in fact, gays are ordinary, law-abiding people like him, who are extremely unlikely to do anything nasty to his body without his consent, no matter how much he parades it around in Speedos.