Ron Kaplan Is Wrong. The Gay Games Aren’t Exclusionary.

June 27, 2017

In Ron Kaplan’s article “Rogel Alpher Is Wrong. The Maccabiah Games Aren’t Racist” a photo is captioned:

The Maccabiah: Just as ‘exclusionary’ as the Paralympics, Gay Games and the Women’s Islamic Games’

Ron Kaplan's article asserts the Gay Games are exclusionary

It is wholly incorrect to claim the Gay Games are exclusionary.

I participated in the 2002 Sydney Gay Games and it was my understanding at the time that anyone could participate, irrespective of their sexual orientation.  At no stage in the event registration was I asked what my sexual orientation was, and no one cared whether I was gay, straight or somewhere in-between.

In fact it was the sense of inclusion that made the Gay Games so important to me.  I wanted to be involved in an event that did not discriminate against anyone, or tell anyone they couldn’t participate because of who they were.

The Gay Games are a welcoming space, not an exclusionary space.


A letter to John Alexander

August 24, 2013

Dear Mr Alexander,

Almost three years ago you gave your first speech to the Parliament and people of Australia as the Member for Bennelong.  Allow me to reflect on a few sections of your address.

Fittingly, you gave thanks to the people of your electorate and promised to serve them fairly:

It is an honour to be in this position, and I am truly grateful to the people of Bennelong for the trust and faith that they have placed in me. However, that honour is immediately replaced with a deep sense of responsibility to do my best, with integrity, honesty and fairness.

Later, in relating your tennis travels through Europe you reflected on a particularly poignant moment:

We played in Poland and were taken to Auschwitz by Harry’s friend from before the war. He cried and we cried.

and in Africa, you tell of discrimination:

I learnt of discrimination travelling to South Africa with Arthur Ashe. He had been granted a visa declaring him an ‘honorary white’. In Arthur’s home town I practised on the adjoining court at the Richmond Country Club; he was the first African-American allowed to play there.

You paint a picture of how your travels around the world as a sportsman have guided you to understand diversity and how this dovetails with the vibrant diversity of Bennelong:

It is these experiences that have provided me with the opportunity for a real life education and has served as preparation for my role as a representative of one of Australia’s most diverse and multicultural electorates. Bennelong boasts nearly every language and culture, attained through a strong history of migration dating back to the English settlers. People have come from every part of the world to make Australia their home. In many ways, Bennelong is modern Australia.

Bennelong perfectly reflects the diversity and harmony we are so proud of in this country. Why do people leave all that is familiar to go half way around the world to start over again? They bring their dreams for a better life for themselves and their families. They bring their courage to ‘have a go’, with the odds stacked against them, playing so far from home.  Our new Australians bring energy, effort, innovation and, most of all, their hopes. Every soul who comes to our country enriches us and continues the constant redefining of what it is to be Australian.

You share the wisdom of your mentor Harry Hopman and of your friend Alan Jones and how this relates not only to how you play in tennis but also in politics:

Playing safe may achieve a short-term goal against inferior opposition, but the ultimate goal would be lost. As Alan Jones says, ‘To win without risk is victory without glory.’

You spoke of opportunities and of being our best:

To realise our country’s full potential, every Australian must have the opportunity to compete and earn just reward for their effort and success.

and you spoke of having visions:

Let us debate in this chamber a contest of ideas, a contest of visions. As with any endeavour in life, true and honest competition unfettered by political bias will produce, in this case, the best plan and the best result for our nation’s future. We need the courage to attack this challenge. It has been ignored for too long. To shirk this responsibility, to say it is too tough, would be an affront to those who fought to make Australia what it is today—our forefathers, who had a plan, an optimistic vision, and who made the most of their opportunity to have a go.

In summing up, you spoke of your children, and of the children of Australia, of their dreams, of opportunities and of wanting the best for them:

What do I want for my children? What I want for every Australian: opportunity—the opportunity to pursue their dreams, whatever they are, and not be restrained by their age, their sex or their colour. Opportunity is to be able to have a go. Opportunity without discrimination is to be given a fair go. We here have much work to do.

Thank you for an ace of a speech Mr Alexander.

I grew up and live in Melbourne, the first Australian-born in my family, of immigrant parents.  My mum and dad settled in Australia in 1973 for a better life, with hopes and aspirations for themselves and their children.  They came via Rhodesia, a country that had an unstable political horizon and felt it was not the place to raise a family.  My Australian birth some four years earlier helped them make the decision to return here.

In my household sport was a life-blood.  My parents adopted North Melbourne as their football team and of many sports at their disposal to support they adopted tennis with an amazing passion.  I was not a sporting child, that was my brother, but I grew up knowing the names of many tennis greats, watching with them many tennis tournaments and sharing with them many highs, and lows, of the game.  It was one of the more enjoyable parts of my teen years, a troubled part of my life.

Mr Alexander, your speech, your visions, your hopes and your aspirations are great.  You have learned much through your life’s journey, and you bring that with you to public office.  Yet you leave me confused, as the great sportsman that you are, where you learned to play fair and where fairness features in your values, why you do not feel compelled to want to treat all Australians equally.

I talk of the right for any Australian to be able to legally marry the one person of their choice, without regard to gender, under civil law.

It would seem you have tried to avoid this issue at best, at worst you’ve joined the ranks of those who don’t speak out for equality, rather, preferring to call for an inferior form of relationship recognition for non-heterosexual relationships.

In 2010, News Ltd surveyed the people of Bennelong and found 39% were in favour of same-sex marriage and 21% were indifferent to it.  That’s a whopping 60% of your electorate you won’t be disappointing if you support same-sex marriage.  Clearly a majority.

What of your lessons from touring Auschwitz and South Africa Mr Alexander?  Members of my extended family burned in the ovens of Auschwitz.  I don’t need to tell you of the reality of that particular time of persecution in human history but it might help spark a moment of reflection and compassion if I do.

You write of honorary whites.  Not only did the buses in South Africa have a back, but they also had a slightly back, mostly back, nearly at the back, and a “so far back you could think you were in the bus when you weren’t actually in it at all” back as well, depending on just how much your skin wasn’t shiny white.  You may have even heard of how the government decided at one point it wasn’t going to persecute citizens on whether their skin was white or not, so it labelled everyone green, then decided some were dark green and others light green.

Mr Alexander, what of vision, of hopes, of a fairer Australia where personal attributes are not a limiting factor, where children can have dreams and one day realise them?  What of the dreams for your children and for theirs?

What of the dream my parents had, and still have, that one day I might meet someone I want to marry.  At 44 I now have that special person in my life, his name is Gregory, and I want the right to be able to ask him to marry me.  But I can’t.  I don’t have that freedom, that opportunity, that right, because apparently I’m not worthy of it, for some inexplicable reason.  I am not looking to have children or start a family and Gregory has two grown-up children he parented mostly as a single dad.

Mr Alexander, you are playing a safe game in not supporting marriage equality.  You are not taking a risk and chancing a greater victory for all Australians.  Federal Politics is now your tennis court and sadly you are not scoring the points that will bring a win for, in your words, opportunity without discrimination, to the people of Bennelong and to our nation.

You are sitting on a 3.1% margin in your seat.  You are far from guaranteed a return.  With 39% of your electorate in support of marriage equality and with marriage equality being increasingly shown to be a vote winner around the nation, it would bode you well to show unreserved support for a change to the federal Marriage Act that removes all forms of discrimination.

I will finish up by mentioning that in the darkest of moments during my teenage years, the one candle of brightness for me, my role model of greatness, was tennis champion Martina Navratilova.  I could identify with her, as I struggled to come to terms with my sexual orientation.  It wasn’t her sporting prowess that inspired me the most though, it was her honesty and integrity.  I would like to add the name John Alexander alongside Martina Navratilova.  Please, show me your honesty and your integrity.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


AJAX Football Club must say “No to Homophobia”

September 9, 2012


From: Michael Barnett <mikeybear69@gmail.com>
Date: 9 September 2012 10:09
Subject: Asking for AJAX Football Club to support AFL’s “No to Homophobia” campaign
To: Ian Fayman <ianfayman@yahoo.com.au>, Ronnie Lewis <rlewis@matchexecutive.com.au>, Mark Feldy <mfeldy@bigpond.net.au>, Peter Kagan <pkagan@bigpond.net.au>, Michael Sojka <msojka@rosepartners.com.au>, Bernie Sheehy <bernard@sheehysaw.com.au>, Darren Seidl <DSeidl@rk.com.au>, Gary Blusztein <bblusztein@bigpond.net.au>, Gary Blieden <bliedz@hotmail.com>, John Rochman <johnrochman@gmail.com>, Adam Slade-Jacobson <asladejacobson@qualitas.com.au>
Cc: Jason Ball <jasonball8888@gmail.com>, Rob Mitchell <rmitchell@rjm.it>

Dear AJAX Football Club,

I am writing to ask for your club to support “No to Homophobia”.  Please read this story in The Age and consider distributing it, along with the associated petition, to the members of your club.

Story: ‘I didn’t know any footballers who were gay’
Petition: I’ve experienced homophobia in Aussie Rules Football first hand — now it’s time to end it.

In addition, please consider issuing a statement of support from the AJAX Football Club.  It would send a strong message and support your clubs aims:

Ajax will assist in the development and improvement of its members, not only by requiring and facilitating the highest standard of physical fitness and skills associated with Australian Rules Football-but also general aspects of life and community to further their careers.

AJAX shall strive to achieve the most successful onfield team performances at all levels whilst maintaining its unique Jewish identity.

I have copied Jason Ball on this email.  He would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.  Additionally I have included Rob Mitchell, who has a close connection to the AFL and takes a keen interest in these matters.

Lastly, I’d like you to read this blog I wrote after meeting Olympian Daniel Kowaslki:

I urge you to bring this matter up with Maccabi Victoria at your earliest convenience, as it is in the best interests of the welfare of all members of AJAX FC and Maccabi Victoria.

Sincerely,
Michael Barnett.
0417-595-541


John Searle, Keshet, Maccabi Victoria, Daniel Kowalski and Olympic Dreams

August 3, 2012
Daniel Kowalski, Mikey & Gregory at Goldman Sachs; August 2 2012

Daniel Kowalski, Mikey & Gregory at Goldman Sachs; August 2 2012

Last night I attended the offices of Goldman Sachs in Melbourne for a diversity event hosted by their Gays, Lesbians and Mates (GLaM) network.  Guest speaker was Olympic medalist Daniel Kowalski.

Daniel described his journey from being a somewhat chubby kid in South Australia, a place not known for its swimming heroes, to becoming a silver and bronze medallist in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games in swimming.

Part of Daniel’s story revolved around how he found he lacked a degree of confidence and that something was holding him back from reaching his full potential.  He said that at the time he wasn’t fully certain what it was.  As the years went by he realised he was hiding his sexuality and this was having an impact on him.

Daniel Kowalski said he felt that if he had been comfortable with his sexuality he would have been able to stand up proud on the starting block, with a sense of confidence, and put in a far better effort.  He believes it may have helped him win gold instead of silver or bronze.

This leads me to a Keshet Australia panel discussion this Sunday evening, August 5 here in Melbourne.  The evening is entitled “The need for educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues” and is moderated by John Searle.  John is the immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and currently the chairman (and only member) of board of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. From the advertising it appears he will be appearing on the night in a private capacity.

What’s especially exciting about Keshet bringing on board John Searle is that through his strong connections in the Jewish community and his involvement in the VEOHRC it places him in a unique position of being able to access and influence a significant number of organisations and people in the Jewish community about the need for a greater understanding of why discrimination against homosexuality is harmful.

On May 17 2012 the VEOHRC issued a media release in which it stated:

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission unequivocally stands against homophobia in all its forms and today reaffirmed its support for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).

As the agency responsible for promoting and protecting human rights in Victoria, the Commission sees the harmful effects that discrimination and inequality have on people and the hurt and damage caused by prejudice, vilification and damaging stereotypes.

Almost a year and a half earlier, in January 2011, the VEOHRC issued another media release on the Fair Go, Sport! initiative in which it said:

At its best, sport is a great way of keeping fit, healthy and socially connected. However, recent research highlights that sport can also be very unhealthy for gay, lesbian, bi‐sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) people, many of whom have experienced discrimination and abuse in sports club environments.

Come Out To Play (2010), a survey of 307 lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Victorians, showed that 42 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality while playing sport.

It’s evident that the VEOHRC is taking discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in sport seriously and is building bridges in the sporting community to help raise awareness of the harms of this discrimination.

The logical progression here, and perhaps the pink elephant on the sporting field, is to get the Jewish community’s sporting association, Maccabi Victoria, involved.  That’s where John Searle fits in perfectly, because as a person who is passionate about human rights, equal opportunities, removing discrimination and “educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues”, all he needs to do is reach out to the team at Maccabi and show them how the VEOHRC, through Fair Go, Sport!, is benefiting the Victorian sporting community.

Maccabi Victoria itself is well placed to take adopt this sort of education, as it lists amongst its values: tolerance, healthy & positive lifestyles, strong community connections, achievement in sport and participation by all.  My earlier message about Daniel Kowalski exemplifies how a sporting community supportive of diverse sexual orientations would have assisted him in all of the same areas that Maccabi takes seriously.

I urge John Searle, together with Keshet Australia, to reach out to Maccabi Victoria and help them fly their rainbow colours for a stronger and healthier sporting community.  Who knows, it may just help someone achieve their Olympic dreams.


A straight colleague challenges the bigotry of Margaret Court

January 17, 2012

Today in the office two of my colleagues embarked on a conversation about the news around Margaret Court that was dominating the Australian Open. Both of these colleagues are heterosexual, married men in their late forties / early fifties, both with a reasonably firm grip on reality and both people who would speak up against intolerance and discrimination. In fact one, of South African Indian background, lived through the oppression of the Apartheid regime.

The conversation started off by my South African colleague asking the other what the deal was with Margaret Court and the rainbow flag protests that were being reported in the news.  My other colleague confidently said:

They need to pull her name off that stadium.  There’s no room for that sort of bigotry in a country like this.

I was sitting next to my colleague when he said this.  He’s not one to mince his words, and to hear this profoundly frank statement made me exceptionally proud to know him.

I posted the comment on Facebook (directly and via Twitter) as soon as what he had said sank in.  In the subsequent 10 hours well over thirty people have ‘liked’ my colleague’s comment, shared it once and reposted it once.  It has also attracted a range of supportive comments.

Clearly it has struck a chord.

I have to agree with my colleague. There is absolutely no room for this sort of bigotry in Australia. Increasingly the wider population is standing up to the hatred of homosexuality that has pervaded our society since the nation was founded.

It is incumbent on the leaders of our society, our governments, to fight the hatred and bigotry that same-sex attracted people face. It has to come from the very top, from the office of the Prime Minister. Sadly Prime Minister Gillard has, to date, shown herself to be completely lacking in the necessary skills to counter this hatred. Maybe she’ll discover them in time to make a difference during her ‘leadership’ but I won’t be holding my breath.

In the meantime I sit comfortable knowing that even if the leader of the nation has sold out to the homophobic right, there is an increasing number of heterosexual citizens who are prepared to stand up to the bigotry and hatred that their same-sex attracted compatriots are having to face.

Thank you to my colleague, and to every other heterosexual supporter fighting for our equality, our rights and our dignity.


Davenport Underwear. You will be dying to wear it

September 8, 2010

Congratulations to Rob Mitchell for taking an important stand yet again in fighting intolerance and the tide of suicide victims.

If you’re not speaking out, you’re part of the problem.

Michael.


From: Rob Mitchell <rob@rjm.it>
Date: 8 September 2010 20:11
Subject: Stephanie Rice
To: customerservice@davenportunderwear.com.au

Hi,

Can I suggest you check out

www.davenportsucks.com

It is a web site I have set up highlighting the link between the systemic vilification peddled by your ‘star’ and the inevitable result is has on the mental health of the 10 % of young people in this country who are not straight.

For years Davenport has banked great wads of money from the gay community by flogging it their expensive underwear, but when the time comes to discipline one of your ‘ambassadors’ for vilifying that community, you are missing in action.

It’s not good enough, and we are not going to put up with it.

Starting tomorrow (Thursday) we are going to be hitting the GLBTI and metro media with the website, and that is just the start. If you google ‘Davenport’ and ‘suicide’ you will see we are already at number six out of 360,000.

You should ditch Stephanie as an ambassador, as Jaguar have done. To do anything less is to simply profit from hatred and vilification.

Stephanie Rice can burst into tears as often as she likes but I can see no concrete offers of help, monetary or otherwise, to genuinely assist the GLBTI community deal with the vilification related rates of suicide and depression that are endemic in our communities.

If it’s one thing we’ve learnt fighting HIV / AIDS over the last quarter of a century, it is that persistence works. Sooner or later, the broader community are going to associate Davenport underwear with bad corporate governance, and you don’t have to be clairvoyant to work out what that will mean for your bottom line.

It’s unfortunate it’s come to this, but for too long sport has been a ‘safe harbour’ for behaviour that would be unacceptable in any other context, and too often companies that profit from the sporting world won’t step up when required.

Those days are gone.

Rob Mitchell

Member Governance & Inclusion Project, Vic Dept. Sport

Member Integrity In Sport Committee, Australian Sports Commission


Gays in the AFL: don’t out them, recruit them

May 27, 2010

The AFL Players Association spoke out against homophobia in sport.  Then the Western Bulldog’s Jason Akermanis made a contentious statement that gay sportsmen should not come out because it wouldn’t be safe for them.  Thus ensued a lot of discussion in the mainstream and GLBT media regarding gay men and sport (start here).

It’s been said that the first person to come out will be in the media spotlight and there will be a lot of money to be made out of the story.  Indeed.

At the same time as all of this speculation and discussion, we have in our midst two gay / gay friendly rugby teams – the Sydney Convicts and Melbourne Chargers.  The relevance of this is that it shows gay men can play sport and they can play “a man’s game”.

I contend by corollary that if some gay men can play rugby, one form of football, then some gay men can also play any other form of football, such as soccer or AFL football.  The rules, skills and equipment differ, but overall they’re still games of strategy, discipline, teamwork, brute force and man on man.

Based on the commonality of rugby and AFL football, I can envisage a situation where there would be some talented gay men in the community who could be recruited into a program to develop their skills sufficiently to bring them to a junior or senior competition level.  Admittedly I am fairly naive on the politics and dealings of the footy world but in its simplicity it makes sense to me.

Rather than out the closeted gay men in AFL, the easier path would be to recruit gay men into existing AFL clubs.  This would have the bonus of helping make the environment comfortable enough for closeted players to consider coming out.  Bring the best men in to play the game, and make the game a friendlier and safer place for all.  Everyone’s a winner.


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