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]

Sharman Stone voted very strongly against same-sex marriage equality

Remembering Simon

December 24, 2013

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Patron of the Australian Family Association, dead at 103 | The Stirrer

December 6, 2012

This article was first published on The Stirrer.

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Patron of the Australian Family Association, dead at 103

Martin Cathrae

Last night Dame Elisabeth Murdoch died, aged 103. She was a much loved philanthropist. She was also a patron of the Australian Family Association.

Whilst on the surface a supporter of a cause that supports families might sound warm and fuzzy, the reality is that a supporter of the AFA supports a cause that is intolerant of same-sex attracted people, and intolerant of same-sex relationships. It upholds a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex attracted couples.

The good dame was also the patron of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Today their web page announces:

Her vision and commitment have saved thousands of children’s lives and improved the health of many more living with rare and common childhood conditions.

The irony of this is that her having been a patron of the AFA, an organisation deeply intolerant of homosexual people, is that her good reputation gave credence to bigoted values that have proven links to contributing to the alarming rate of youth suicide, mental health issues and other forms of self-harm.

While she may have been a wonderful person, she linked herself with a disreputable organisation, in stark contrast to many of the values she espoused in her public life.  She sided with bigots and homophobes and we shouldn’t forget that.

Whilst many remember the great good that Dame Elisabeth Murdoch did for society, we must also remember her as a person who upheld bigotry.

A letter to George Christensen

September 5, 2012

From: Michael Barnett <>
Date: 5 September 2012 02:32
Subject: A matter of importance, for your consideration
To: George Christensen MP <>

Dear Minister Christensen,

Please find attached a letter for your consideration.

I hope you have the time to afford a frank, personal and most importantly considered response.

Michael Barnett.

September 5 2012

Dear Minister Christensen,

Almost two years ago, on a Wednesday afternoon late in October 2010, you gave your first speech to the Parliament and people of Australia.  I can imagine it was a humbling experience.

Kindly allow me to take you back to that day and reflect on a few moments from your speech.

In introduction you spoke proudly of your duty to electorate and country:

“I stand here in this chamber today in the knowledge that I am but one man among many who have been elected by their peers to serve their community and their nation.

I stand here as but one man who feels the enormous responsibility of representing the 94,533 electors in the seat of Dawson.”

Then you spoke in desperation of a tragedy affecting all too many youth and uttered an impassioned cry for help:

“There is a gaping whole in Mackay’s health network which must be mentioned.  I refer to the desperate need for a Headspace youth mental health facility in Mackay.  Two years ago, we had a spate of youth suicides in Mackay.  In one six-week period, five children committed suicide and several others attempted suicide.  That problem has not gone away.  I am told by front-line social workers and GPs in Mackay that every week there is a suicide attempt that someone has to be talked out of.  It was a commitment of this Liberal-National coalition to deliver a Headspace centre for Mackay.  But I say to the government that they need to put politics aside on this issue.  We need a Headspace centre urgently.”

We heard you talk of the values that your parents instilled in you – a sense of duty to serve the best interests of the nation and a sense of social justice:

“I am well aware that it is also my duty to serve in the national interest.  That duty will be aided by the values that I bring to this House, values that were formed by the 32 years of my life thus far.  My mother was an immigrant to this country.  Her family came to this country with nothing but hope.  Both my parents were disability pensioners during my childhood life and we lived very humbly compared to many others.  All of that gave me a social justice conscience …”

You spoke of individual freedoms, individual rights and individual choice:

“It is the conservative principles of those in the Liberal-National coalition that are needed to rectify this situation.  It is the conservatism of those who sit on this side of the House—for now—that is the true philosophy in defence of individual rights.  Conservatism, like libertarianism, seeks to defend individual choice and freedoms but it also points to the consequences of that choice and freedom, be it success or failure.  One of my political heroes, former US President Ronald Reagan, declared as much when he said:

If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism … The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom …”

On a slight tangent from the intent of this letter, I note you invoked the memory of John Lennon and his iconic Imagine:

“To paraphrase Lennon—John Lennon, John Lennon that is—I know I may be a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Lennon paralleled socialist and communist ideals in his Imagine.  He also meant it to convey his desire for a world not without religion but without religious denomination.  I suspect Lennon might have a wry smirk for you knowing a Conservative was broad-minded enough to borrow from his repertoire.

Then you spoke of freedoms:

“… liberty of choice and liberty from regulation are important …”

and of relationships:

“… when we allow and encourage the removal of compassion from relationships that by their nature should be the most compassionate, then we are all the poorer for it.”

You may have been referring here, in a broader sense, to matters of life and death, but these principles do stand up on their own.

Then as you approached the end of your speech you reiterated the need for the rights of the individual:

“I stand here as but one man, a conservative who is prepared to fight for the rights of the individual.  I stand here as but one man ready to do his duty for his electorate.”

And lastly you thanked those who entrusted you to look after their collective interests:

“In closing, I would like to dedicate my speech to … most of all the people of Dawson who have put their faith in me.”

Minister Christensen, you impress me with your vision, your ideals, your hopes and your concern.  And yet simultaneously you perplex me.  In all the good you aspire to, there exists a vast disconnect between this and your attitudes to one section of your electorate and of Australian society.

I refer to your stance on marriage and “traditional family values”.  I refer to your opposition to “marriage equality” or “same-sex marriage”, whichever term you feel most at home with.

I understand your position, one not held in isolation, is based on your personal religious beliefs.  I ask you to momentarily look beyond those beliefs and with impartiality, consider what I have distilled here from your maiden speech.

The spate of suicides and chilling rate of attempted suicide you refer to have obviously rung alarm bells in your head.  Yet what you may not appreciate is the proven connection between attitudes that are intolerant of homosexuality, particularly in religious communities, and rates of self-harm and suicide.

Current Australian research (*) has identified the harrowing fact that gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals attempt suicide at rates between 3.5 and 14 times those of their heterosexual peers.

Quoting researcher Lynne Hillier:

“… those belonging to religious faiths that promulgate negative discourses about homosexuality are particularly vulnerable to suicide and self-harm.  Conflicts between spiritual or religious beliefs and sexuality can result in significant psychological dissonance as well as division and exclusion from family, friends and community.

For many, these experiences manifest in deep feelings of self-loathing and hatred that, in turn, severely elevate the risk of suicide and self-harm.”

When politicians and communities demonise same-sex attracted people and compel them to a second-class existence, when religious leaders tell their flock that homosexuality is sinful, when parents and peers reinforce those values, it should come as no surprise that the plague of suicide that you articulate here exists.  All the while you are vehemently outspoken against abortion and voluntary euthanasia because you belief in every attempt to preserve life, but it seems you are not as nearly as concerned when those lives belong to young people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.  I say that because your opposition to marriage equality is premised by your beliefs that homosexuality is wrong.

If you are genuinely concerned about this spate of suicide in Mackay, you must understand that it is necessary to turn your attitude toward homosexuality on its head and revise your beliefs.

You call for individual freedoms, individual choice and rights of the individual.  You tell us of your sense of duty to your electorate and nation and of your sense of social justice.  You cry out for help to stop the suicides and how important preserving life is to you.  You tell us how poorer society is when we remove compassion from our most deserving relationships.  You call for less government interference.  And in the same breath you tell us how the government should restrict marriage to relationships between men and women and how it should actively deny this right to loving and committed couples who are not “a man and a woman”.

Same-sex couples currently raise happy and healthy children, who may be biologically related to either partner.  Allowing these couples to get married is not going to change whether they raise children.  What it will do is provide a more stable environment for raising their children.  It will also increase the self-esteem of the parents and that of their children.  It will also increase the self-esteem and self-worth of many of those young kids who are contemplating suicide or self-harm, and instead of taking their lives, there’s every chance they’ll be writing you letters of thanks for saving their lives.

If you need further evidence about what I’m saying, please review the research at the web site that over a thousand Australian medical professionals have staked their reputations on.

I ask you to value and embrace all couples in loving relationships and show this by voting in support of marriage equality.  You will then be truly doing the right thing for the people of Dawson and for all Australians.

Yours Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.

* Position Statement: Suicide and self-harm among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities, Suicide Prevention Australia Aug 2009 (PDF)

Note: I incorrectly addressed George Christensen as ‘Minister’. In a subsequent email to him I apologised for and corrected this error.

Australian Jewish Community Security and the invisible terrorist

February 3, 2012

Two stories published on January 31 2012 came to my attention this week: “Safety at all costs” (The Age) and “The Jewish Press won’t be silenced” (The Jewish Press).  After reading these stories it’s clear to me that the greater harm toward members of the Australian Jewish community comes not from outside it’s high security walls, but rather, from within.

The Age story talks about the tens of millions of dollars the Australian Jewish community spends on security each year and questions the merit of such a large investment:

… the inconvenient truth was that the Jewish community had not faced a terror attack in Australia for 30 years, since the Hakoah Club and Israeli consulate in Sydney were bombed on the same day.

The Jewish Press story, coming from a US-based perspective but nevertheless one that is transplantable to the local context, advises:

A significant number of suicide attempts are committed by boys from not just religious but rabbinic homes — because they thought they were homosexual and had no place in the Orthodox world they grew up in, even if they had never acted on those impulses.

If the Jewish community is serious about preventing harm to those within its ranks, which I believe it is, it should, as a matter of priority and urgency, rethink its approach to community security and how best it invests its millions of dollars.  It should be addressing the real and alarming problem of youth suicide, ubiquitous amongst religious communities that are intolerant of homosexuality.  Only then, when all traces of the harm have been eradicated, should the focus be placed on the less evident issues affecting the safety of the community.

It’s time to talk about suicide

September 6, 2011

World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10, 2011.  The official Australian web-site for this event is

Suicide is a difficult topic for many people to talk about at the best of times.  Perhaps you’ve thought about attempting suicide, or have actually attempted it yourself.  Or you may know someone who has, either to completion or not.  Many issues drive people to suicide, and often it’s related to a state of depression or a mental health issue.

Some people don’t know who to turn to for help, or how to ask for help, or they don’t realise they can ask for help.  Sometimes in the depth of a depressive state of mind people don’t want to ask for help because they believe their burden is too difficult or that they believe there is no way to escape from it.  All this and more.

In some dark moments I experienced a little while back, when life seemed all too hard, I thought about suicide on a couple of occasions.  I knew my thought processes weren’t rational at the time but it seemed the easiest way to escape the torment of my feelings.  Fortunately for me, and those around me, I cleared those momentary hurdles in my life, sought professional help and soon found myself in a much better state of mind.  What scared me most was that these suicidal occasions sneaked up on me, with no warning, when I was alone, driving in my car, in a particularly vulnerable and dangerous state.  They went as quickly as they came.

Many years ago I overcame a significant challenge in my life.  At the age of 26, on September 13 1995, I came to the realisation that my feelings of physical attraction to men were something I could not escape, and that no matter how hard I had tried over the years to repress these homosexual feelings, they wouldn’t go away.  It dawned on me that in fact this was something I should embrace, and enjoy, rather than fight and hide.  And so I found that I was no longer scared of the word ‘gay’, and realised that it was something I could identify with being.

I had previously been scared that if people had found out my attraction to men that I would be kicked out of home and that my friends wouldn’t want to know me.  In fact these were completely irrational thoughts, and aside from having moved out of home a few months prior, my parents told me that they would have never kicked me out of home because of my sexuality and my friends all told me that it was ok with me being gay.  Some said they had thought so, others said it came as a complete surprise.  Only one friend told me he disagreed with what being gay was about but he has since grown up and has overcome that obstacle in his psyche.

What I had needed most was an understanding that whatever my sexuality was I would be accepted unconditionally by my parents.  They never gave me that message and so I never knew where I stood with them on the issue.  I didn’t have the courage to ask them and they didn’t have the language to broach the topic with me.  It wasn’t something they were educated in.  Now, it’s a different story.  They are great advocates for equality and acceptance of people from varying sexual orientations.  Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or anything else doesn’t phase them, and they are comfortable to talk about it.

It’s this conversation that I wish they had had with me when I was very young.  I wish they had told me about boys loving boys and girls loving girls, as well as boys and girls loving each other, from when I was aged 4 and up.  If I had known that when I was ten and found myself feeling attractions to boys in my school that it was a normal thing to happen, I wouldn’t have started repressing these feelings.  Maybe I could have told them that there was one boy at school I had a crush on, or that whilst I didn’t have certain feelings for girls, I did have them for boys.

I didn’t know that it was ok to like boys when I was young and going through puberty it because increasingly harder to conform to the expectations that sexually I should be liking girls, yet finding boys most prominent in my sexual fantasies.  And through my teens and into my twenties this became more and more polarised, with no attraction to women and exclusive attraction to men.  I stifled these feelings outwardly, not knowing who I could turn to about them.  I wanted my psychologists to ask me about that aspect of my life but either because they were too respectful of my privacy or simply because I didn’t lead them in the right direction, they never raised the issue with me, over the many years I sought counselling.

This stifling of my feelings also stifled my existence and I was suffering anxiety attacks, feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and generally not liking myself.  Yet once I had “come out” (I believe it was a stage of emotional maturity where many things in my life started coming together, one of them being acceptance of my sexuality), this all turned around.  I was able to open up my emotions, release that person who had been so desperately trying to escape for the best part of 16 years, and begin enjoying life.  I discovered, almost overnight, a new me.  A new Michael who could go through a day and realise that the world had so much to offer, that there was excitement and adventure around every corner, and that no matter what anyone thought of me or who I liked, things were just great.  I was abuzz, abounding with life, and joy, and happiness.  It was good to be gay and that I wished I had been able to come to terms with these feelings so many years earlier.  So many years had been wasted, not knowing what to say or do.  I had no role models to look up to, to tell me it was ok to be gay.  I had to wait until I had worked that out myself.

Actually my brother might have been this person to me.  He had asked me, numerous times over the years, if I was gay.  But I wasn’t gay.  I didn’t identify with that word that he used and so it was right of me to tell him that I wasn’t gay, even though I knew I had homosexual attractions.  If I had been able to talk to him about it maybe things might have been easier for me, but I simply couldn’t bring the two concepts together in my head.  One was physical, the other psychological, a state of mind perhaps.  It took me a long time before I was able to reconcile my homosexuality with being gay.  I haven’t looked back since.

For many people though, they face other challenges in their struggle for acceptance with having same-sex attractions.  There are religious and cultural pressures to conform to a heterosexual norm and these burdens can be extremely hard to overcome.  I grew up in a Jewish household, yet my family was not very religious.  However in many other Jewish households there is a very present understanding that homosexuality is unacceptable, because of religious teachings.  It’s actually more insidious than that.  It’s like an undercurrent of intolerance that is self-perpetuating.  The whole issue is completely taboo and any mention of it in a positive connotation is completely impossible.

The disturbing aspect of this is that for young people growing up in this ultra-conservative religious environment there is almost no way they can access the resources, help or role models to tell them that despite the attitudes of their community they are normal people with healthy feelings.  Because of this, there begins the down-hill spiral similar to what I experienced growing up, the repression, the denial, the avoidance, and so on.  It gets worse and becomes a festering cancer that just eats away every last drop of happiness in a person.

Some people get to the point in their life where they feel there is no easy way out of this conflict, perhaps after getting into a loveless marriage, maybe with having children, and begin to consider suicide as a possible way to deal with their situation.  I was fortunate I didn’t get to that point in my struggle to deal with my sexuality, but it could have happened.  Others are less fortunate and do succumb to the temptation to take their life.  More people fail than succeed in attempting suicide, perhaps leaving them in a harmed state physically, definitely emotionally, and perhaps leaving them further motivated to end their life.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel of the Jewish House in Sydney has told me, from his enquiries of the Sydney Chevrah Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society), that there is an average of about one suicide per month.  It’s not always possible to determine that the cause of a death was due to suicide, which makes it hard to get concrete statistics unfortunately.  I am not aware of any figures for the rate of suicide in the Melbourne Jewish community but I would take a guess that they’d be similar, due to the similar sizes of the two communities.

It alarmed me to hear that there was about one suicide a month in the Sydney Jewish community.  That’s twelve deaths per year that could potentially have been avoided.  Perhaps one of these twelve people was someone you knew, either a friend or close relative.  They were important to someone, and chances are they left a huge void in their community.

In addition to these rudimentary figures of Jewish suicides, there are alarming statistics published by Suicide Prevention Australia.  Their Positional Statement on Suicide and Self-harm among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Communities claims:

Studies conducted over the last decade reveal that GLB individuals attempt suicide at rates between 3.5 and 14 times those of their heterosexual peers (Bagley & Tremblay, 1997; Garofalo et al., 1998; Herrell et al., 1999; National Institute for Mental Health in England, 2007; Nicholas & Howard, 2002; Remafedi et al., 1998).

and further goes on to state:

Similarly those belonging to religious faiths that promulgate negative discourses about homosexuality are particularly vulnerable to suicide and self-harm.  Conflicts between spiritual or religious beliefs and sexuality can result in significant psychological dissonance as well as division and exclusion from family, friends and community.

For many, these experiences manifest in deep feelings of self-loathing and hatred that, in turn, severely elevate the risk of suicide and self-harm (Hillier et al., 2008).

It’s time we all started taking an active interest in suicide prevention and started talking about it, because that one person could be someone you know and love.  It could be your child, or your brother or sister, or a cousin, your best friend, a parent or it could be you.

Once a person is gone, it’s too late to offer acceptance.  They won’t hear you once they’re dead.  Tell them you love them unconditionally, no matter what, and mean it.  There’s no acceptable price to pay for a belief in your religion, or because you are scared of rejection.

Someone will always love you and accept you, no matter what.


  • If you are contemplating suicide or need someone to talk to, you can contact Lifeline.
  • In Victoria and Tasmania, the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard has trained operators to assist with issues relating to sexuality.
  • In NSW, The Jewish House offers a crisis counselling service.
  • If you don’t know who to talk to, or for general issues relating to sexuality and gender identity, I will gladly forward your confidential enquiry to the appropriate organisation.
  • On Saturday September 10, 2011 you can walk to raise awareness, remember those lost to suicide and unite in a commitment to prevent further deaths by suicide.  Details on the Out of the shadows web-site.
  • Thursday 15 September, 2011 is R U OK? Day.  It’s a national day of action which aims to prevent suicide by encouraging Australians to connect with someone they care about and help stop little problems turning into big ones.

Suicide, binge drinking and GLB intolerance in the Jewish community

April 25, 2011

Joe. My. God. recently wrote a short piece about new research, published in Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) –  showing that gay children are less prone to suicide and other harmful behaviour if they are brought up in an accepting environment.

A new study out of Oregon indicates that gay kids that grow up in a supportive environment are 20% less likely to attempt suicide. We knew this, of course, but now there’s some science behind it.

The results of this research advise:

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide in the previous 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%). Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments. A more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts, controlling for sociodemographic variables and multiple risk factors for suicide attempts, including depressive symptoms, binge drinking, peer victimization, and physical abuse by an adult (odds ratio: 0.97 [95% confidence interval: 0.96–0.99]).

In the Melbourne Jewish community there is a diversity of acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality ranging from complete acceptance to complete intolerance, with the visible balance leaning more toward the latter than the former.  Sadly the level of enlightenment in this community surrounding human sexuality has a long way to go before the reality and unconditional acceptance of it outweighs the fundamentalist beliefs in religious dogma opposing it.

As I have recently written, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is giving high visibility to its Youth Alcohol Program (YAP).  Yet it has given nothing but lip service to the issue of the welfare of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in the Jewish community.  Further, the JCCV has made it evident that it is backing the intolerant Orthodox Jewish perspective on homosexuality, whilst being silent on the commendable attitude the Progressive Jewish movement has adopted.

I implore the officer of the JCCV YAP Debbie Zauder to read this research.  It’s likely that a contributing factor to the issue of binge drinking in the Jewish community, the main issue that her project is charged to address, is the intolerance of homosexuality that her employer believes is acceptable and justifiable.  It may not be a large factor but it is likely to be a relevant factor.

A holistic approach to welfare of the community’s youth needs to be adopted, rather than one that targets individual behaviours.  It is likely to be a futile effort to stop binge drinking in isolation when it could well be a symptom of a far deeper and more insidious problem or set of problems.

The community, its leaders, parents and young people need to understand that homosexuality and bisexuality is normal and healthy.  Intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality is abnormal and unhealthy as the research proves.

It is imperative that the vocal leaders, claiming to be the voice of the community, and applying for government funding to look after the welfare of the members of the community (and perhaps their own political careers), put aside their egos and arrogance and adopt some humility and humanity.  Until that time they will continue to need a YAP and they can continue to enjoy alarming rates of suicide and harmful behaviour in the community’s vulnerable youth.


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