From: Michael Barnett <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 5 September 2012 02:32
Subject: A matter of importance, for your consideration
To: George Christensen MP <email@example.com>
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.
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 drs4equality.com 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.
- 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.