Defences of Israel Folau’s homophobia boil down to claims that the action taken against him violates his privacy or suppresses his faith.
Posts to hundreds of thousands of followers on social media are hardly private, and Rugby Australia has not frustrated Folau’s attending church or engaging in religious practice. So much for those.
Of course, pundits forward these excuses with a mind to making a melodrama of the pious besieged by an authoritarian brand of social justice. Bad faith abounds. From here discussion slips to their real argument: that religious belief insulates homophobes and transphobes from repercussions.
This notion is the logic of ‘personal opinion’ electro-charged by the systematic legitimisation of queerphobia during the postal survey. It shields chauvinism from critique, justifying expressions of hate by cloaking them in spurious claims to human freedoms.
The Sydney Morning Herald capitalised on this thinking with a potboiler calling for a ‘diversity of opinion’ on queer rights and admonishing so-called ‘bully tactics’. High profile transphobes like Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries feature as victims of ‘queer fascism’.
The vulgar equation of queer advocacy to fascism aside, this position is riddled with holes. No reasonable person would argue for a diversity of opinion on racial or gender equality. Further, calling queers bullies for demanding respect is confused—like pointing at someone blocking a coup de grâce and saying that they are the pugilist.
Queers bear the brunt of homophobia while being told that we cannot hold the perpetrators to account. Whether it is campaigning against our equality or promoting jaundiced ideas, the political action of homophobes and transphobes negatively impacts our lives.
The obvious question, then, is why should it not have consequences for theirs?
The centre of the aisle loftily opines that it is immoderate to de-platform queerphobes or relieve them of employment and awards. Queerphobia is an abstraction for heterosexuals, a topic worthy of debate or a tool for political point scoring. For queers it is existential and threatening.
The meanings attached to actions and speech aﬀect our social standing and the opportunities available to us. In this sense, queerphobia is not an individual opinion but a political system. It organises institutions and social practices, and distributes power unequally.
Approaching queerphobia as a power structure emphasises the way that it is inegalitarian and inherently violent. Young queers on the receiving end of homophobic abuse like Folau’s, are twice as likely to self-harm. Those who survive homophobic violence are more than four times more likely to try to kill themselves.
Scandalous rates of mental illness, self-harm, suicide, harassment and violence are not an accident but the obvious consequence of a society which is willing to accept and protect queerphobia. The presumption that these beliefs are an individual or theological concern is an ideological distraction from the reality of systemic domination.
Apologists base the notion that faith justifies homophobic activity on the errant assumption that queerphobia is reasonable and inseparable from worship. Moreover, white supremacists and misogynists hold ardent beliefs which they may claim are grounded in doctrine, but we rightly reject all such bigotry. Religion is no trump card for critique.
When challenged, queerphobes perform pantomimes about censorship and oppression. So it is that we hear about the freedom of speech but never the responsibilities that come with it. To draw a parallel, we might say that we are ‘free’ to defame someone in that no-one can stop us but we are, naturally, liable for the results.
Though, the singling out of a person of colour in a country which recently subjected minority rights to a popular vote is somewhat suspect. Politicians have made careers off queerphobia and (to use a sporting example) Margaret Court’s name still adorns an arena despite years of homophobic antagonism.
Selective outrage does not let Folau off the hook, however. Saying that queers are deserving of Hell is to argue for their moral, social and spiritual inferiority. This also highlights the ludicrous rules of civility: calling politicians names is ‘obscene’, ‘nasty’ and ‘indecent’ but calling queers sinners, deviants, and paedophiles? That’s just personal opinion.
At its heart, the issue is not privacy, religion or speech but a system of political domination which licences violence. Any discussion which fails to acknowledge the deliberate cruelty of anti-queer politics is, viewed charitably, misinformed.
It is by no means a neutral act to champion the expression of intolerance over the dignity of other human beings. There is abundant sympathy for the battered careers and reputations of queerphobes but where are the column inches for the targets of their disgust? Too late for some and overdue for many.
Joshua Badge is a writer, philosopher and queer activist. he tweets at @joshuabadge