Queer & Transgender Kids & Talking Snakes

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RIP Tyrone Unsworth

Well, what a range of mixed emotions you can experience in the space of a few weeks. It started for me with the tragic suicide of Tyrone Unsworth at a High School my own kids could have been attending now, if circumstances had not changed. The bullying issue at that school is well known; in fact it has a reputation for it. I am not trying to portray myself as a ‘White Knight’, but on at least three occasions over a five year period I have personally stopped my car to intervene, after witnessing what I would call ‘pack attacks’ involving Aspley High students, walking home after the end of class.

If you have experienced physical ‘pack bullying’ you would recognise this scene immediately: a child, normally smaller in stature, closely followed by a ‘mob’ of six to ten kids. The ring leader is at the front, harassing or tripping the victim.  When far enough away from the school, the little kid is attacked for the gratification of the ‘mob’ and elevation of the ring leader’s social status as a ‘heavy’. It normally happens about 100 metres from the school gate on Dorville Rd, as it approaches a bush reserve behind the old QUT complex.

I know in the 1970’s Australia this was a common thing. As the son of a widow, having no father to ‘back me up’ and possessing my Great Grandfather’s Spanish skin (which led to the label ‘wog boy’) this was regular experience. It normally started in the morning with threats and mutterings of what will happen when school is over today.  I have clear memories of the constant fear and terror experienced over a six hour period, from constant contemplation of the threatened events that were to happen after the school bell. This is why I intervened on those occasions on my way home passing the school.

Nervous butterflies and an upset stomach were a normal part of my morning. I counted the days until the weekends, which represented a peaceful oasis and respite from the stress. No, I did not tell my Mum, as she had enough on her plate.  She was coping with the loss of my father (who she nursed until his death from cancer) and looking after two children, alone, without much in the way of financial resources.

What could she have done anyway in the deeply misogynist culture Australia was in the 1970’s where the solution to bullying was to ‘man up’. I cannot imagine how much worse it would have been if I was targeted because I was “gay”! That was a secret I held close to my chest for fear of being exposed right up until I came out in my late 30’s.

Until other events unfolded, as I said above, I did not want to comment on the suicide of Tyrone Unsworth or bend that tragedy to highlight issues I feel very strongly about. I felt the most respectful thing I could do is leave it alone and let a mother and family grieve and work through the pain without background noise. Many used it as a free kick in the ongoing culture war over gender and sexuality but I am sure at the moment all that really matters is a mother’s grief, which should be afforded dignity and treated with respect.

Unfortunately something happened, something I consider so morally bankrupt that I am compelled to reverse my previous stance, and publicly comment.

David Van Gend

Although I cannot speak for everyone, when I make a mistake or my actions hurt someone who is innocent, my first reaction is apology, humility and if they were hurt by my words, silence. Unfortunately representatives of ‘the religion of love’ did not hold back. Believe it or not, anti-gay campaigner Dr Van Gend and his Australian Christian Lobby mirror organisation, Australian Marriage Forum Inc., used this poor kid’s suicide as a promotional opportunity for his poisonous pseudo-scientific gay hating book!

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Dr David Van Gend

Just think about that for a second. I mean really take a minute to contemplate the depth of hate and contempt they have for Trans and Gay people, that they would deliberately use the suicide of a bullied gay teen to promote a book!

This level of hate should give you an insight into how people can dehumanise the ‘other’, to the point they no longer feel restrained by their normal social and ethical obligations to a fellow human being. This allows them to act horrifically, because the pain felt by the ‘other’ is of no consequence. These morally and ethically detestable people use a deliberate cognitive dissonance to justify taking these actions in Jesus’ name!

John Dickson

This is not the first time I have seen a religiously inspired narcissism when it comes to the feelings of victims at the hands of the religious. About 18 months back the Priest John Dickson, who is a founder of Evangelical propaganda think tank the Centre for Public Christianity, was debating on his Facebook page the issues surrounding same sex marriage. He was confronted by a man who had been referred to a treatment programme to cure his homosexuality by his Anglican Priest.

He was treated like someone with a mental illness and after many courses of shock treatment ended up a complete mess. He went through hell and survived several attempts on his own life, to eventually embrace his real nature with the help and support of his present partner. After reading this moving account, all that Dickson, the public face of Sydney Anglicanism, had to say was, “God bless you”. Is it any wonder, with that level of indifference, the Churches have hidden crimes and failed to look after the child victims of their predatory clergy? In some circumstances the raped child was even accused by Bishops and Deacons of ‘seducing’ the perpetrator.

John Dickson: pic Amazon

John Dickson: pic Amazon

The obvious question and underlying subject of this piece is, why do they target and deliberately undermine the safety of LGBTIQ kids and programmes? Why is it they would prefer LGBTIQ kids to continue to die each year rather than change their behaviour?

One core reason the Safe Schools Programme is a red rag to an Evangelical bull is that it quintessentially undermines many of the Biblical certainties with respect to sex and gender. When your business model is based on selling the credulous absolutes, and targeting youth prior to full cognitive development, it’s a serious threat. The number one fear they have is that their biblically derived ‘facts’ regarding gender and sexual preference will go the same way as evolution (which many still refute), and become a lost argument in the face of empirical evidence.

A Franchise Opportunity

When you look closely at Fundamentalist Evangelicals you realise it is essentially a business with very low overheads, and a product which costs them nothing wholesale. What are they selling? Certainty backed by divine authority! Without delving into Psych 101 too far, the human mind craves certainty. With certainty comes a set order which in turn provides peace of mind. I am sure you have heard the sales pitch, come to the lord and he will give you peace, he is a god of peace and so on. Unfortunately this leads to dysfunction, rigidity, false clarity and is defended with ideology that cannot be challenged. The more extreme results of marketing this ‘product’ can be seen at Hillsong in Sydney, or Noah’s Ark theme parks with animatronic dinosaurs playing with pre-flood humans, all with a religious tax break. After all, if the bible is the divine word of god how can it be challenged?

Many modern sects of US origin are essentially a franchise based on the ethics that underpin ‘free market’ capitalism. Having formally worked in the Real Estate industry I can tell you the similarities are very real. The Sydney Anglicans, for example, have sponsored new unbranded church start-ups, often in another diocese using their Moore College graduates. Church Plants are code for ‘new franchise’, and they are run by Pastors with the same mentality as ambitious new Tupperware distributors complete with a catalogue of online sermons and bible course products. Of course they accept all major credit cards and even Paypal now and then.international-franchise-association-logo-600x204

The Sydney Anglicans in NSW are a key Franchisor. They have an almost exclusive deal to supply the curriculum for SRI or Special Religious Education in state schools in New South Wales, just as Scripture Union do in Queensland. The recruiters for these evangelical churches in these “state school mission fields” are school chaplains and SRI teachers, with chaplains funnelling state school kids into off campus activities, deceptively named to imply they are non religious personal development programmes. These activities are normally divided on gender lines.

Christian Sexology

They invite Biblical sex educators such as “Christian Sexologist” Patrica Weerakoon, who will tell all present that Transgender and Same Sex Attraction ‘disorders’ are caused by Satan disguising himself as a talking snake and giving Eve an apple, in the process causing man to be polluted by sin. Yes really, and there lie all the roots of biblical misogyny and female submission in one paragraph.

This nice Christian Sexologist plays along with these deceptions, and she herself engages in their use by using her former ‘Dr of Sexology’ title to project authority and give her pseudoscientific dogma credibility. She is after all a credible scientist and academic, or so it would seem. Fortunately her own son the Rev Kamal Weerakoon gives the game away: on a podcast with fellow right wing religious extremist David Ould, he states his mother is now retired and is providing her religious view, not her academic view, at such seminars. People are conned into thinking she is talking as a credible sexologist, when really she is massaging academic facts to support her fundamentalist biblical dogma.

The FIRIS (Fairness in Religion in Schools) Facebook page contains example after example of these practices and parental complaints and concerns. It’s worth taking the time to join and use the page as a resource. This group has been taking the fight up to state politicians to remove SRI from state schools. They have been doing the work our own LGBTIQ community should have done to remove harmful dogma and anti-Trans/Gay messages.

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“Christian Sexologist” Patricia Weerakoon

If you want to know the full evangelical agenda when it comes to our community, then it’s all laid out in the Sydney Anglican Southern Cross magazine of September 2016. Clare Smith embarks on what could only be described as an ignorant and deliberately deceptive attack on the LGBTIQ community. It’s padded with words like ‘love’ and ‘care’ to deflect criticism but nonetheless her writing leaves you in no doubt that “apart from a rare few” same sex  attracted and trans people “suffer” an emotion condition, encouraged by feminism, and the correct treatment is always alignment with the biblical narrative on sex and gender.

First, she uses the same sleight of hand as Weerakoon, claiming her opinions are scientific and academic. She references a “A Christian GP in a regional adolescent mental health clinic, Scott*”, and the usual discredited agenda-driven organisations such as The American College of Pediatricians (the Australian Christian Lobby loves to quote them), websites like www.sexchangeregret.com and obscure studies like International Journal of Transgenderism: Onset of Type 2 diabetes with feminising hormone therapy, which she used completely out of context.

She goes on to state the impact of feminism has made debates about gender and gender roles commonplace and is, in my view, assigning some blame to that movement for LGBTIQ progress. It goes without saying feminism doesn’t sit well with their “female submission doctrine”. She describes trans and same sex attraction as psychological and emotional conditions but then goes further.

“With the new terminology this mismatch is no longer considered a disorder, rather it is the distress associated with it that is the concern and focus of treatment. Thus, a person with gender incongruence but no associated distress is not thought to have a mental health issue, and the goal of treatment is alleviation of the distress rather than alignment of gender identity with biological sex.”

So the treatment goal should be alignment of gender identity with biological sex and it is a mental health issue? Clare Smith continues by asking what the bible has to say,

 “These texts are indications of the sad reality that, since the Fall in Genesis 3, this creation and all human nature bear the scars of our sinful rebellion against God. The harmony of God’s creation has been lost, such that our relationship with God is now broken, as are all human relationships, our relationship to the created world and the wellbeing of creation itself (Rom. 8:19-26). Our bodies are no exception to this. They are subject to frustration, death and decay through afflictions of the body and the mind But God’s intentions for us as male-men and female-women remain. We see this in the gendered relationships God established for human society: wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, nieces and so on; in Jesus’ affirmation of God’s original design; in prohibitions against blurring sex and gender distinctions through gender bending or adopting the appearance of the opposite sex.”

Okay, so if the bible is the ultimate authority, why try to justify your position using pseudoscience in the first place? It’s plain dishonest, but she comes clean at the very end of her expose and states that she writes as a Bible Scholar and former nurse, not a medical doctor, psychologist or counsellor, and has no professional expertise in the treatment of Gender Dysphoria. So the obvious question is why are you even giving an opinion Clare?

Religious Instruction is driving bullyingsafe schools

It’s essential we understand and recognise that the rising number of homophobic attacks and bullying directed at young LGBTIQ people in state schools happen as the direct result of the messages religious evangelical church groups, and their figures of authority, such as SRI instructors and School Chaplains, spread both in the school and the surrounding community. Disordered, corrupted, mentally ill, in need of treatment, a eunuch, guilty of filthy sexual practices, not in line with God’s plan: we are the result of sin and a talking snake.

Its great to go to a candlelight vigil, have your say on social media, or sign an online petition, but if you really care about the suicide of Tyrone Unsworth, and the hundreds who don’t become the focus of media attention, then we have to do something about these enablers and those who are the cause. We have to discipline those who communicate the messages, often under the cover of religious privilege, that damage the mental health of our young people and provide the bullies with their justification.

We need to pressure the State Education departments to exercise their duty of care to all children regardless of which gender they feel attracted to. It’s time the ‘Talking Snakes’ were removed from our state schools and not allowed to pseudo-professionally ‘assist’ young LGBTIQ kids.

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About the author

Known for his advocacy on LGBTI issues, such as Safe Schools and Marriage Equality, & raising awareness of issues around special religious education in public schools, Stephen is a gay parent of two currently living in Brisbane Australia who has worked in a variety of roles from manufacturing, sales, consulting, and residential youth work.