There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is a duck. And the same thing can be said for statements and actions that look like discrimination,motivated by prejudice.
If people express opposition to equal marriage, if people oppose same-sex adoption, then they are arguing that gays are second class citizens, that gay relationships are second-class relationships, that gay parenting is inferior to straight parenting.
All the rigorous, peer-reviewed evidence we have says the opposite. Those are the facts. People who cling to beliefs which do not accord with this mounting evidence are expressing prejudices. They are discriminating and stigmatising.
So what are we to think of a newly appointed minister for mental health and ageing, with responsibility for programs for GLBTI youth and seniors, who expresses such prejudices, and does not resile from them?
Yesterday on ABC radio’s PM program, Senator Jacinta Collins was challenged on that very point. Her answers were smart and politic, but not very reassuring.
ASHLEY HALL: The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd . . . [has] highlighted the fact there are now six women sitting in cabinet.
But the appointment of one of those women, the Victorian Senator Jacinta Collins as the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing has raised more than a few eyebrows; particularly within Australia’s gay and lesbian community. . . . .
DOUG POLLARD: She comes from a very strongly catholic background, she’s made various statements in the past that are not very gay friendly, shall we say. And yet she’s been put in charge of a portfolio which is probably the ministry which is the largest supporter of gay and lesbian issues.
ASHLEY HALL: So why does it matter that she has socially conservative views?
DOUG POLLARD: We know that gay and lesbian youth suffer mental health problems and suicide at far higher rates than their heterosexual peers, and also homelessness incidentally. And one of the reasons for that is that they are stigmatised, by people, and particularly people from, with strong religious views.
ASHLEY HALL: Doug Pollard is especially concerned that Senator Collins may not show the same level of commitment as her predecessor Mark Butler towards programs that target the gay and lesbian community.
DOUG POLLARD: I would like to see her make a public statement that she is committed to these programs.
The reporter went on to raise these points with the Senator.
ASHLEY HALL: Critics say that because you’ve stated previously that you’re anti-gay marriage, that you have opposed lesbians having access to IVF, and committed to stable biological parenting as a social norm. That makes you one of the most anti gay senators. How do you respond to that description?
JACINTA COLLINS: I think some of my colleagues have highlighted that irregardless of personal views on some areas, such as same-sex marriage, they have not seen me exhibit over the many years anti-gay views.
Note that she does not say that she does not hold anti-gay views, only that she has not been observed exhibiting them in front of her colleagues – presumably, her colleagues in the party and parliament. Oh really?
Cross-Eyed Bear Chrys Stevenson – who called Collins appointment “incomprehensibly dumb” – has a more thorough takedown of her here.
Collins hints that her personal views won’t affect her decision-making, but unless she’s claiming sainthood, it’s hard to see how she can make sympathetic and supportive decisions from such an unsympathetic standpoint. For the moment, we are forced to take it on trust and keep her under close scrutiny.
Bear in mind that those personal views have already caused her to vote against IVF for lesbians and marriage equality, and to speak against same-sex parenting and adoption.
ASHLEY HALL: How will it influence your decision making as the minister for mental health?
JACINTA COLLINS: Look I think that it is very important to note that discrimination and stigma do affect mental health, which is why the Government has important programs to address these issues. And I’m absolutely committed to continuing those programs.
A master class in not answering the question. She accepts that discrimination affects mental health, but doesn’t admit that her own behaviour and attitudes are discriminatory. And she says nothing about how her views will impact her decision making, leaving one to conclude that they will indeed colour her actions.
It’s a fine political answer, and one begins to understand how she got where she now is. She follows it up with several more in the same vein.
ASHLEY HALL: Labor’s spent a lot of time focusing on Tony Abbott’s religious views and how they might influence his policy agenda or the policy agenda of a Coalition government. If we should be concerned about his views influencing policy, why not yours?
JACINTA COLLINS: Well I’ve never worn religion on my sleeve so to speak. My religious views are personal.
ASHLEY HALL: But you have spoken in the Senate about your commitment to certain issues.
JACINTA COLLINS: I’ve spoken in the Senate on my views on a vast range of issues.
ASHLEY HALL: So, why should we be concerned about Tony Abbott’s beliefs, but not about yours?
JACINTA COLLINS: Well I think I’ve highlighted the important issue here, which is that we do note that discrimination and stigma do affect mental health. And that’s why the Government has important programs to address these issues, and I am committed to them.
I guess that’s the best we will get. Fortunately she is part of a caretaker pre-election parliament, which means she won’t rock the boat. She will dutifully toddle round making the right noises as the Age Care programs are rolled out.
When: Wednesday 10 July 2013
Where: Northbridge Hotel, 210 Lake Stree, Northbridge
Time: 4.15pm – 6.00pm
Light Refreshments to follow
FREE EVENT, but registration essential.
If you’re in the area you might want to pop along and engage her in conversation.
I still think this appointment is a serious mistake on the Prime Minister’s part, but it’s only until the election. And in the unlikely event Kevin Rudd manages a “Lazarus with a triple bypass” win, it’s hard to think it could be renewed.
Rudd would also be in a position to sideline another un-LGBTI-friendly face.
Senator Collins, assuming she’s returned, would be better off chatting with our Muslim allies to the north about dealing with people smugglers. Given their views on LGBTI, they’d have a lot in common to bond over.