A letter to Ken O’Dowd, MP for Flynn

July 10, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 10 July 2015 at 14:04
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Flynn
To: Ken O’Dowd <ken.o’dowd.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Mr O’Dowd,

In your opening address to Parliament in October 2010 you thanked the people of Flynn for putting their faith in your ability to represent their best interests and assured them you would do your best to look after their well-being:

Mr O’DOWD (6:23 PM) —Mr Speaker, I am extremely proud to rise for the first time in this chamber. In doing so, I would like to acknowledge the people of Flynn, who have chosen to put their faith in me to represent their interests. So far it has been a sharp learning curve. I am excited by the prospect of being able to contribute to the wellbeing of my electorate and by the thought that my work in this place will be meaningful and will enable the residents of Flynn to enjoy the quality of life that they richly deserve.

Not once but twice you stressed you would not let anything get in your way when there was an urgent matter than needed addressing in your electorate:

Some people refer to me as ‘the bulldog at the gate’. Some people have unkindly said that I look like a bulldog! I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that when I have an issue that needs to be followed though on for my electorate, I will be an absolute ‘bulldog at the gate’ with sharp teeth and a loud bark, making sure that the Prime Minister honours the promises made to Flynn in the days immediately prior to the election.

I promise the people of Flynn that I will be the ‘bulldog at the gate’ and I will work in this place for the restoration of our regional towns and cities.

Lastly, you reminded your electorate you were there for them:

I thank the people of Flynn for their vote of confidence and, Mr Speaker, I thank you.

Four years later you issued a media release advising a new Headspace centre would be opened in Gladstone.  You wrote:

Mr O’Dowd said “It is our youth that have greatest prevalence of mental illness – more than any other age group – with three quarters of all mental illness presenting in people aged under 25 years,” Mr O’Dowd said.

There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth and the discrimination they face:

Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf

In particular, the inability to get married to the person of their choice is a contributing factor to this problem.  By denying these people the dignity and inclusion in society, they are marginalised, treated as second-class citizens and are not able to participate in the richness of the community like everyone else.

I urge you to reflect on your promise to the people of Flynn to look after their best interests and think about what standing up for equality will do to increase the hope and aspiration of the young people who are an over-represented demographic in mental health issues.  Be that angry growly “bulldog at the gate”.  Take a stance on this issue.  You may be unpopular with some, but remind those people it’s the welfare of their children you’re acting in the best interests of, and then ask them if they’d rather you didn’t take that interest.

By supporting marriage equality you’ll be saving lives.

Thank you Mr O’Dowd.

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


Message to Federal MP for Murray Sharman Stone on Marriage Equality & Youth Suicide

July 2, 2015


Sharman Stone - Federal MP For Murray“Our rural youth, descendants of the pioneers who overcame the harshest conditions, now take their own lives at rates which are amongst the highest in the Western world.”

“I want to assure the electorate of Murray that I … willingly take up the challenge of helping to deliver to them … the standards of human services that are essential if our region is ever to reach its full potential.”

Sharman Stone – First Speech – May 6 1996.


Same-sex attracted Australians are more likely to experience below-average health outcomes including higher levels of depression, due to this prejudice and discrimination. The statistics are particularly alarming for younger and newly-identifying LGBTI people who have consistently higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, early school leaving, conflict with peers and parents and suicide ideation, all directly related to the discrimination and prejudice they experience.[v]

http://www.glhv.org.au/files/writing_themselves_in_again.pdf


Sharman Stone voted very strongly against same-sex marriage equality


Caulfield Synagogue President Robert Weil smears gay people following his transphobic attack

June 5, 2015

The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse has brought to light a litany of hideous sexual abuse against children.  Consistent with past behaviour, Robert Weil has again tried to smear homosexual people, this time by labelling paedophiles exposed in this Royal Commission as “gay”, evidenced in a comment posted on J-Wire story “Transgender wedding in New Zealand“:

Robert Weil says:

I’ll grant you it wasn’t well handled at the Yeshivah Michael, but it wasn’t Rabbi’s who “caused the mess”. The mess was caused by sexual predators who delighted in sodomizing little boys. The Rabbis you refer to were not the perpetrators, unlike the gay Catholic priests at Ballarat and the gay teachers at Knox Grammar.

Robert Weil

Robert Weil

The sexual orientation of paedophiles is irrelevant and does not contribute in any way to the abuse.  Further, the victims of some of these male paedophiles were girls as well as boys.

The following comment by Robert Weil compounds the bigotry demonstrated in his attack, this time on transgender people.  He diminishes the merit of the relationship reported in the story by labelling it as a “dysfunctional situation” and presenting it as shameworthy:

Robert Weil says:

Ben, don’t be so dismissive of Rabbis. They understand far more than you, as they are generally the ones that have to be called in eventually to try and clean up the mess caused by dysfunctional situations such as this. Have some sympathy for the parents too.

Neither the wedding nor the relationship are dysfunctional.  The couple are normal, happy people in love with each other.  That they lack the support of family members is unfortunate and not their fault.

Ordinarily I’d be less alarmed by this type of transphobic and homophobic attack, putting it down to ignorance of the harm caused by such attitudes.  However what disturbs me most is that the author of these comments is the President of the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, and as such holds a position of influence in the Jewish community in Melbourne:

Robert Weil - President - CHCThe prejudice on display here demonstrates a considerable disregard for a vulnerable and marginalised segment of society.  Physical attacks on homosexual and transgender people are not uncommon, are frequently brutal and may even result in permanent disfigurement, disability or death.  More common though are the self-loathing, helplessness and isolation that same-sex attracted and gender diverse people feel due to intolerance and bigotry, leading to poorer mental health outcomes, self harm and possible suicidal behaviour.

It would be helpful for Robert Weil and those who align with his intolerant perspective on sexual orientation and gender diversity to become more informed about the harms their attitudes can cause to the members of their community.

In 2015 there is no excuse for ignorance of these issues.  Over two years ago the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) began promoting the No To Homophobia campaign.  Robert Weil’s synagogue, Caulfield Hebrew Congregation (CHC), belongs to the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria, a JCCV Affiliate.  It is incomprehensible that CHC would have been oblivious to the JCCV’s push for its affiliates to join in the No To Homophobia campaign, given that the JCCV recruited at least 25 other affiliates accordingly.

It is my hope that the board of the CHC, together with their spiritual leadership, are able to formulate a way forward that includes education on sexual orientation and gender identity, whereby they can proudly put their name to saying No To Homophobia, and stamp out the small-minded and harmful attitudes demonstrated here by their President.  Doing so will strengthen their community, build social cohesiveness and hopefully save lives.  Failing to grow in this way can only do irreparable harm.


Put a Marriage Equality statement in your wedding ceremony

December 28, 2014

My husband Gregory and I went to Canberra for the wedding of our friends Melanie and Ari on December 7 2014.  That day was also the first anniversary of same-sex marriages being temporarily legalised in the Australian Capital Territory.

Ari invited me to deliver a message of Marriage Equality at the wedding, as a friend of his who is an activist for marriage equality and as a man who was recently married to a man in New Zealand.  I was honoured to have been asked and without hesitation I accepted.

Order of Ceremony - Mel & Ari - Dec 7 2014

Ari and Mel object to the Federal government’s refusal to legislate in favour of Marriage Equality in Australia and they, along with an increasing number of opposite-sex couples, are incorporating statements of protest in their wedding ceremonies.

I read the following statement:

Speech for Mel & Ari’s wedding – December 7 2014

Today… the celebrant will declare as a requirement that marriage is the coming together of a woman and a man.  Just remember that as these mandatory words are said today my husband Gregory and I stand in defiance of them.

I know Mel and Ari would rather this formality was not part of the proceedings.  So rather than let it diminish the occasion, I’m going to treat the clause as a gift from the government, to mark a point in time where we all aspired for greater freedom, equality, dignity and humanity.  When the discrimination in the law is erased and marriage is available to all, this will be a memento of the sweet success of that win.

I’m grateful for the friendship Gregory and I have with these two fine people, about to be married here today.  We value the respect they have for our relationship and without hesitation we deeply respect theirs.  As different as we may be individually, we share a love for our respective partners and in that, our relationships are truly equal.

If you’re attending a wedding between a woman and a man in Australia, ask the bride or groom if they’ve planned a Marriage Equality statement for their ceremony.  If they haven’t, send them this article and suggest they do it, in the name of equality.  It’s important, and it’s too easy.


“Ask me once again” – Qwerty Girls

September 9, 2014

Katy and AleatheaWe are the QWERTY girls. We are partners in life as well as in music.

We would love you to hear our wedding song “Ask Me Once Again”. This song tells the story of how we fell in love. Despite the current laws against gay marriage, we hold out hope we’ll play this song at our wedding one day.

YouTube video:

About the QWERTY girls
The QWERTY girls are:

Aleathea Monsour (singer/composer)
Katy Forde (lyricist).

We live in a beautiful hinterland town in Queensland, Australia. We’ve been together for over a decade, and love each other deeply. We’ve written this song for our wedding day – even though that day might be a few years away, because of the laws in Australia!

About the song
Song name: Ask Me Once Again
Performer: Aleathea Monsour
Songwriters: Aleathea Monsour and Katy Forde
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/ask-me-once-again-single/id911601483?uo=4


My Marriage Vows

September 5, 2014

Wedding Vows

January 30, 2014
Stoneridge Estate
Queenstown, New Zealand

 

I ask everyone here today to witness that I Michael Nathan Barnett choose you Gregory Paul Storer to be my legal husband.

Gregory.  If I were asked to describe in one word what you mean to me it would simply be: “Everything”.  You mean the world to me – in *so* many ways…

Setting out to climb Mt Amos in Tasmania, a 15 year goal of mine.  Reaching the top, together, amazed at our efforts and the breathtaking views surrounding us.

Stopping by the roadside as we return from Mt Gambier to watch a koala bound up it’s tree.

Sitting in a forest at dusk, just us and some tiny bats getting their dinner.

Walking through a Croajingolong coastal heathland filled with the prettiest wild flowers.

Dining on Bala’s curries while enjoying a St Kilda beach sunset, then journeying to see the fairy penguins and the mischievous water rats.

Returning from our first equality rally in Albury to find a magnificent echidna, roadside, digging and snuffling for ants.

Drinks at the Laird enjoying the best of what it means to be a man.

Sharing a dinner of poached salmon and ginger while watching Q&A.

Standing on a 380 million year old mountain range in the Grampians, free from every care in the world.

Coffee and cakes at Grecos with Caitlin & Tomas.

Protesting for our rights at every Equal Love rally.

Brunches at La Cafe and walks along Carlisle Street.

Our kiss, in front of wildly fanatical protestors at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention that starts a worldwide viral sensation.

Standing by your side as you buried your sister and your parents.

Having a fight… and learning from our mistakes.

Your face nuzzled in *my* furry chest.  Your arms around me.  Your warm kiss on my lips.

Star gazing together into infinity at Mt Baimbridge and Bastion Point.  Trying to comprehend the sheer insignificance of our presence in *this* universe.  Realizing the meaninglessness of our existence.  Marvelling at the scale of just *what* is out there.

He’ll have a long black, make mine a long macchiato… with Equal.

Smoked salmon on Vita Weat.

Despairing together over the plight of those who don’t have a meal, those who don’t have a home, those who don’t have a country, those who have less than us and those who don’t know what they don’t have.  Crying, and trying to feel *their* pain.

You finding a tiny orchid on the forest floor, so delicate and pretty, for *me* to photograph.

Transforming our bodies from beyond obese – to amazingly healthy and fit.

Watching skillful New Holland Honeyeaters at Gypsy Point, them – plucking bugs from the air and us – sharing a freshly baked blueberry muffin.

Warming our frozen bodies with a delicious brewed coffee and hot toast and honey at the Sundial carpark.

Gado gado and Bali Coffee at Wong’s Cafe.

Becoming a truly loved son-in-law, brother-in-law and uncle to *my* most immediate family members.

A warm embrace after a long day as we fall asleep – together – in bed.

Interrupting my Cointreau chocolate mousse at Bridges last September in Ubud, to sweep me off my feet with the most unexpected and truly wonderful marriage proposal.

Gregory, YOU are the person who has brought so much into *my* life – every one of these amazing experiences – and *so* much more.  Each one different from the other and all equally wondrous.

The first five years of our relationship have been a fantastic journey.  I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to completing this journey with you – in whatever form it takes.

Life is unpredictable – and *forever* is hard to comprehend, but I want to do it with you, by your side, for however long we can be together – as your friend… your companion… your adventurer… your activist… your lover… your man… your Mikey Bear…… and your husband.


You can read the vows Gregory said to me here.


The absurd reasoning for his prejudice

August 27, 2014


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