Tony Abbott: “Some of my best friends are gay”

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Following Tony Abbott’s intransigent refusal to either support marriage equality or to allow his party a conscience vote on the matter, there’s been a slew of reports protesting that “‘The Tony I know‘ is not homophobic.”

In April, last year, Tony Abbott’s sister came out publicly as a lesbian.

“Voters know that Tony Abbott opposes gay marriage but what he hasn’t been able to share with the electorate until now is the compassion and support he’s shown towards his sister, Christine Forster, since she has come out as a gay woman,” reported Kate Legge in The Australian.

Oh, so Abbott’s sister is a lesbian? And that’s supposed to make us feel better about his opposition to full equality for GLBTIQ Australians? Am I missing something here?

Later in the year, following a scathing article on Abbott by David Marr, Tony’s friend, Christopher Pearson, wrote in the Australian about his friendship with Abbott.

 For the first five of those years of friendship, before my reception into the Catholic Church, I was an out-and-proud gay man,” says Pearson, defending his friend against scurrilous charges of homophobia.

The aim was to let the country know that Tony wasn’t homophobic. How could we think that when ‘some of his best friends are gay’?

Hell, Abbott even attended Pearson’s mother’s funeral – even though he knew Pearson was (gulp!) a homosexual!  What a guy! What’s more, in an incredible show of solidarity with the GLBTIQ cause he … wait for it … patted Pearson heartily on the back. Yep, grab a tissue – I was moved to tears, too.

Curiously, Pearson doesn’t identify as ‘gay’ any more. Through his conversion to Catholicism,  Pearson has come around to Tony’s view that gay sex is sinful.

“Despite my apprehensions that Catholicism wasn’t going to be a bed of roses, it was clear to me that if I wanted to return to the practice of the faith, there was nowhere else to go. I could never have been happy as a gay Christian — with or without a rainbow sash — because it always seemed to me a contradiction in terms. There was no getting around the fact the New Testament said we were all meant to be chaste or monogamously married and I had reluctantly concluded that St Paul was right about homosexual sex.”

Christopher, I really hate to be the one to break this to you, but abstaining from sex doesn’t take away “teh gay” – you are still a gay Christian. No matter how chaste you choose to be, you are still one of those people your dear friend chooses to treat as second class citizen.

Today, with an election looming ever closer, against a sweeping tide of change in favour of full equality for the GLBTIQ community, Janet Albrechtson takes her turn at sticking her finger into the hole in the homophobia dyke.

It seems that another Abbott compadre, Malcolm McGregor – a former army officer, journalist and political staffer to John Hewson and Bob Carr – is transgender. Now known as Cate, McGregor has recently detailed her transition from male to female in a book:  An Indian Summer Of Cricket – well reviewed by her good  friend, Tony Abbott . Throughout Ms McGregor’s transition, says Albrechtson, Abbott has responded, “With compassion and humility about human frailty. With gentle humour and stalwart friendship, too.”

Frailty? It’s unclear whether the word is Abbott’s or Albrechtson’s but the implication that transitioning from male to female (or vice versa) is a mark of human ‘frailty’ reveals how poorly Albrechtson papers over the prejudiced and wholly discredited belief that sexual identity (at least for those who are not heterosexual) is a ‘choice’ and that those who ‘choose’ it are ‘frail’ or ‘weak’.

While McGregor is painted as the Mary Magdalene of the piece, Abbott is portrayed in Christ-like terms:

“Catholic teachings against transgender had no bearing on Abbott’s concern and support for McGregor. The Opposition Leader segued seamlessly from offering up his usual vigorous handshake to a mate to greeting his old friend with a hug and a peck on the cheek.”

But, that’s as far as it goes, apparently. He’ll give her a ‘peck on the cheek’, but if Ms McGregor should ask her dear friend Tony to exercise his power to grant her full equality with other Australians and support her right to comprehensive protection from discrimination, she will find just how cold and perfunctory that kiss really is. It’s a Judas kiss.

Yet, Albrechtson castigates Abbott’s political opponents  for their depictions of  “his misogyny”, his “macho image”, for being “a relic of another time”, “a man’s man”, “seriously dangerous” with a “narrow worldview”, a “zealot and an “ideologue”, who will “lead the country back to the dark ages”.

The aim is to make us feel all warm and fuzzy about Abbott because, after all – some of his best friends are gay, lesbian or transgender.

Well, I’m sorry, but this doesn’t make Abbott look better – it makes him look worse!

If Abbott didn’t know any gay people – if his attitude towards marriage equality was based only on the caricature of ‘gay’ perpetuated by the Catholic church, his position would still be obscene, but it would be understandable.

Anyone might think poorly of an individual or group of people before actually getting to know them. We all make rash judgments.  I’m pretty sure Paris Hilton is a waste of space but, I accept fully that, if I actually got to know the girl, I might think differently. Still, I certainly wouldn’t think to limit her right to equality based upon my, admittedly superficial, opinion of her.

Abbott’s view that homosexuals should be ‘less equal’ to other Australians – that they should not be allowed to marry, that it is dangerous to allow them to adopt children or have the same rights as any other Australian to IVF or surrogacy, that it’s OK for religious institutions to refuse to employ them, that heterosexual families are somehow ‘better’ than homosexual families – is not based on some crazy Catholic caricature of homosexuals. He holds these views even knowing the pain it causes his sister, the loveless future that Catholic indoctrination imposes upon his friend, Christopher Pearson, and fully aware of the journey undertaken by Cate McGregor; a journey no-one in their right mind would ‘choose’ to embark upon on some kind of whim.

The fact that Abbott knows, and apparently loves, a range of GLBTIQ people makes his position against full equality even more unforgivable. Even knowing these people intimately as friends and relatives, he still chooses to see them as inferior to heterosexuals; as frail sinners who have ‘chosen’ a path he disapproves of on religious grounds.  Despite seeing, close hand, the pain, the sacrifice and the humiliation that his friends and relatives suffer from being treated as ‘other than equal’, Abbott rationalises his position by clinging to the teachings of a church now so discredited no decent person should have any truck with it.

Tony Abbott has often been criticised for being child-like in his behaviour and his attitudes. Indeed, most adults grow up to realise that, although their parents may have been well-meaning, they were not infallible. As we mature, we test our parents’ attitudes and values against the real world and make our decisions about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ based on the evidence we find to support or reject their views.

Abbott does not seem to have matured in this way. Mother Church continues to tell Tony what to think and, like a dutiful son in short pants and untidy socks, he does as he’s told – ignoring the barrage of evidence from the real world which suggests that Mother Church is talking out of her very large, very wealthy, behind.

These “the Tony I know” articles do nothing but reveal how Abbott has had every opportunity to get to know members of the GLBTIQ community – that he is far from ignorant about the grief and harm his intransigence causes.

Granted, Abbott has shown he can be kind to GLBTIQ people within his inner circle, but this does not offset his failure to show similar kindness, compassion and selflessness to those in the wider GLBTIQ community who no longer wish to be treated as second-class citizens. They don’t want a kiss on the cheek or a pat on the back; they want to be equal.

Ultimately, “some of my best friends are gay” just doesn’t cut it – unless it’s used to explain to the Australian people why Tony Abbott MHR has decided, like his political role model, Colin Barnett, to allow a conscience vote on the next marriage equality bill that passes before the Parliament.

Chrys Stevenson

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About the author

Chrys Stevenson is a freelance writer, speaker, blogger, historian and secular and skeptical activist, better known online as Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear http://thatsmyphilosophy.wordpress.com/. She has a BA and first class honours degree in Australian history, literature and cultural studies.