A letter to Ann Sudmalis, MP for Gilmore

July 14, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 14 July 2015 at 03:45
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Gilmore
To: “Ann Sudmalis (MP for Gilmore)” <ann.sudmalis@nsw.liberal.org.au>

Dear Mrs Sudmalis,

Not quite two years ago you gave your opening address to Parliament, December 10 2013.  I’d like to take you back to that day, to reflect on some of the important messages you delivered, if I may.

Starting big you invoked two modern giants.  You quoted JFK:

‘Ask not what your country can do for you but, rather, what you can do for your country’

and said of Nelson Mandela:

[he] not only did something for his country but is iconic for developing community self-belief.

Indeed, two visionaries who left an indelible mark on society.

You suggested that rather than look to change the whole country at once we focus on a more manageable challenge:

For some of us the idea of doing something for our country is too broad, a little too big, a concept meant for others, something grand perhaps only for heroes, perhaps something to do with pilots, sailors or soldiers. But humans live in groups each best described as a community, so for us as Australians our question is to ask not what we can do for our country but rather what can we do for our community.

Looking at possible generational change in attitude you suggested we could be more effective as a society if we worked together rather than for our own individual causes:

I am tired of this ‘I, me and mine’ dominating the media and seeping into the mindset of our children and our youth. It is overdone and overdue. We need a change back to the Aussie way. We are famous for a ‘we, ours and us’ way of looking at the world.

You called for collective contribution for the greater good and your desire to see this in action:

So if each one of us does something for our community we will make life just a little better and our whole country will benefit. It is this ideal of making things better, of giving back to the community, that has brought me here as a member of parliament.

Of your grandmother you spoke fondly about all people being equal and of reaping what you sow:

My much-loved gran … taught me generosity of spirit, that we are all equal in God’s eyes, that your actions will always come back to you like a boomerang…

In a not so dissimilar experience to mine, we attended a number of schools.  You made many friends and learnt something valuable from each:

My education, like many Australian children, was not completed in a single primary school nor followed by a single high school. I was in fact blessed, although I did not see it that way at the time, by moving frequently and having to make new friends along the way, and learning to accept all the different experiences.

You reminded us about the important of personal contribution to society:

Giving back to the community has always been important to me.

In the spirit of the Liberal Party ethos of individual freedoms you spoke:

Everyone in this chamber is here to represent their community to the best of their ability, … l am proud to be part of the team that works to reward individual endeavour, to help people to their feet and allow them the independence of their own choices.

You thanked the people of Gilmore, and told us that together with all of them you want to achieve success:

I deeply honour those in Gilmore who decided to put their faith in me to help change the government for Australia. I also respect those who did not, for we have a robust democracy in this nation. Now we must work together to achieve great things. I am determined to make sure the trust and honour granted to me is not misplaced.

Your spoke with praise of the collective ability of your electorate, your desire to not leave anyone stranded and to make Gilmore a better place:

Gilmore has extraordinary human capacity and amazing potential. It is time that we in our region believe this, to lift our community, and its self-respect, to begin the process of achievement and hope, rather than denial of individual merit. We who are leaders—whether community leaders, elected leaders or opinion makers—have a responsibility to increase the social value in our community’s own eyes, despite our own political bias. It is time to go beyond the facade of perception and look at the true worth of our community.

Again you called on JFK:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

and in summation aspired to making Gilmore a better place:

Yes, indeed, it seriously is time to ask: what can we do for our community? From the innocence of childhood to the cynicism of adulthood, it is time for a change for the better. It is time for ‘we will’. The responsibility is ours. It is absolutely up to us to make things better and make a difference. Thank you.

Last month you issued a statement, presenting facts on anxiety and how it can be so harmful to young people:

In Australia, one in six people aged between 16 – 24 years are currently experiencing an anxiety condition. This means that affected young people are constantly worrying, unable to relax, and have trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating on things like work and study.

You went on to say:

Anything that helps our youth to defeat anxiety and stress is a great social improver.

Beyond Blue make the following statement about depression and anxiety:

While depression and anxiety are different conditions, it is not uncommon for them to occur at the same time. Over half of those who experience depression also experience symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, one can lead to the onset of the other.

The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Gilmore will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any 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 September 2013 you made the following statement on marriage equality:

“For goodness sakes, this electorate does not want marriage equality. And where on earth did that become a priority issue in this seat where we’re looking at infrastructure and unemployment? Those are the issues that count in this seat,” she said.

and earlier in June you made the following statement:

“We have a very conservative seat and from the huge number of emails and letters I have received, people don’t want to see a change,” she said.

“So I will be saying no.

In recent days you spoke of the poll you are conducting on marriage equality in Gilmore and how you want to hear from the people and not be influenced by your personal beliefs:

Mrs Sudmalis said it was irrelevant how she felt about the issue because it was her job to collect comments from the community.

Sometimes listening to your community and not having a conversation with them is taking the easy way out.  You’re sending out 65,000 surveys.  I expect you plan inform your views on marriage equality from the results of this survey.  I hope you do not do this in a vacuum.

I say this because of what you believe in and what you stand for.  What are you doing for your country, or your community?  What are you doing to develop community self-belief?  If you simply accept those wishes to uphold the status quo are you giving anything back to the community, for it’s greater good, or are you just taking the easy way out?

You spoke of the amazing potential of the people of Gilmore.  Do you believe a survey will draw on this potential?  I’d be surprised if you genuinely felt it did.

What about the self-respect of the community, and the possibility of achievement and hope?  Can a community whose same-sex attracted and gender diverse youth who experience anxiety, and who cannot aspire to enjoy the same celebrations of life as their heterosexual gender binary counterparts, share in that self-respect and hope for a wonderful future?

How is denying individuals the right to marry the person they love not “denial of individual merit”?  Surely we are all equal and worth the same, going by the understanding your grandmother instilled in you.  By removing the hope and aspiration of young people you are contributing to their poorer mental health outcomes, which lead to anxiety and depression.

Yet you support any initiative to “defeat anxiety and stress”, of which marriage equality is demonstrated to be one.  But if the majority of your electorate tells you they don’t want to support marriage equal how are you standing by this claim of yours?

Please remember the words of JFK, that you quoted in your opening speech:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

Mrs Sudmalis, are you that person who looks at marriage as the crumbling and exclusive institution that it is in an “I, me and mine” way or are you that person who dreams of an improved marriage that brings together the people of Gilmore in a “we, ours and us” way; in a way that paves a change for the better; in a way that helps people to their feet and allows them the independence of their own choices; in a way that allows you to respect the different experiences of your friends in same-sex relationships or who are children with gay mums or dads?

If you are true to your word, and I believe you are, you must stand up for equality, you must treat the people of Gilmore with respect and you must improve its social value despite your political bias.  When do you, you’ll throw that boomerang and it will deliver you a healthier, happier and more productive community.  You can then look up and thank your gran for her wisdom and reflect on the what you did for your community, for the people of Gilmore.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Nola Marino, MP for Forrest

July 13, 2015

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 13 July 2015 at 03:20
Subject: An urgent message about the mental health of youth in Forrest
To: “Nola Marino (MP for Forrest)” <nola.marino.mp@aph.gov.au>

Dear Ms Marino,

In February 2008 you addressed the Parliament of Australia and spoke proudly of how you would represent the people of Forrest to the best of your ability:

I rise to make my first speech with a mixture of pride and honour, because I have been chosen by the people of Forrest to be their voice in federal parliament. I acknowledge and thank them for their vote of confidence in my ability to represent them…

You said that members of the community must look out for each other’s best interests and in doing so this will strengthen the community:

As in most small towns, it is necessary for local people and families to work together to make sure that the community functions effectively. It does not happen on its own.

In speaking of your parents you fondly reminisced how they instilled in you a commitment to your community and the importance of family:

But they both instilled in me a hard work ethic, strong family values and an absolute commitment to the broader community.

With wisdom you told of what and who politics is really about for you:

Politics is about people. I entered politics to be of further service to the people of Forrest.

and you reminded Australians that you will do your utmost for the people of Forrest:

I will provide them with emphatic and strong representation here in Canberra.

In summation, you reiterated these values, because they are so very important to you:

Finally, I need once again to acknowledge and thank the people of Forrest for their support. To them, I say this: you can be assured that I will be ‘focused on Forrest’ and that I will continue to work tirelessly on your behalf as your voice in this parliament.

In October 2012, some four and a half years later, you issued a statement on mental health.  In it you revealed some alarming facts linking mental health to suicide:

This is because of the awful truth that mental illness is a major contributor to suicide. Research shows us that people with mental illness like depression, bipolar or schizophrenia are seven times more likely to end their life than people who do not suffer from mental illness.

You spoke of how so many young people experience depression and that you welcome initiatives to help them:

Depression is the most common disorder which affects four per cent of the general population. More tragic, however, is that about 160,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 live with depression each year, which is why I welcome headspace in my electorate.

Clearly this is an important issue to you:

It is something I campaigned strongly for in the run to the election and have ever since.

I note that you acknowledge that family problems exist alongside these young people who experience depression:

Young people who suffer depression are also usually suffering from other problems in their lives such as drugs, alcohol and family problems.

You relate the profound effect of suicide in small communities:

Everyone is impacted when suicide occurs—family, friends and the wider community, particularly in small regional communities.

The inescapable reality is that a percentage of youth in Forrest will be same-sex attracted and/or gender-diverse.  There is an understood link between poor mental health outcomes for these people and any 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

Only a week ago you reiterated your strong opposition to changing the law in favour of marriage equality.  Hearing this leaves me confused by the disconnect in your messages.

On the one hand you speak of how important representing the best interests of the people in Forrest is to you, how family and community mean so much to you, how committed you are to your job and your people, how serious the issue of youth mental health is and how mental health and depression is so strongly linked to suicide.

Yet on the other hand you say that young same-sex attracted and gender diverse people can’t aspire to get married like their heterosexual gender binary siblings and friends can, you say the families of these people can’t share in the joy of seeing their children get married and can’t invite their friends, family and colleagues to their weddings, and how you wish to deny the children of same-sex couples living in Forrest the right to have married parents, just like the parents of their school mates and friends.

With the clear link between discrimination against same-sex attracted & gender diverse people and mental health issues, and with your understanding of how mental health issues can rip apart families and communities, especially in places like Forrest, it makes no sense to me why you are opposed to a reform that has the potential to benefit the best interests of the people of Forrest, the very people you promised your utmost to.

If you care about the people of Forrest as much as you claim, and I believe you genuinely do, then I urge you to reevaluate your stance on marriage equality, understand that it will not force people of faith to do anything they oppose, that it will help reduce risk factors leading to depression and suicide, and that ultimately it will contribute to a healthier, happier and more productive community.

Those people in Forrest who urge you to oppose marriage equality also urge you to look after the well-being of their children.  The reality is that by upholding the status quo in the law you are not looking after the best interests of the young people in Forrest, and that is sad.  Your job is to educate the people of Forrest why their support for marriage equality is so crucial to them and their community.  Not doing so will only see you fail your community and ultimately all Australians.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett
Ashwood, Victoria.


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


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