Suicide, binge drinking and GLB intolerance in the Jewish community

April 25, 2011

Joe. My. God. recently wrote a short piece about new research, published in Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) –  showing that gay children are less prone to suicide and other harmful behaviour if they are brought up in an accepting environment.

A new study out of Oregon indicates that gay kids that grow up in a supportive environment are 20% less likely to attempt suicide. We knew this, of course, but now there’s some science behind it.

The results of this research advise:

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide in the previous 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%). Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments. A more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts, controlling for sociodemographic variables and multiple risk factors for suicide attempts, including depressive symptoms, binge drinking, peer victimization, and physical abuse by an adult (odds ratio: 0.97 [95% confidence interval: 0.96–0.99]).

In the Melbourne Jewish community there is a diversity of acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality ranging from complete acceptance to complete intolerance, with the visible balance leaning more toward the latter than the former.  Sadly the level of enlightenment in this community surrounding human sexuality has a long way to go before the reality and unconditional acceptance of it outweighs the fundamentalist beliefs in religious dogma opposing it.

As I have recently written, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is giving high visibility to its Youth Alcohol Program (YAP).  Yet it has given nothing but lip service to the issue of the welfare of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in the Jewish community.  Further, the JCCV has made it evident that it is backing the intolerant Orthodox Jewish perspective on homosexuality, whilst being silent on the commendable attitude the Progressive Jewish movement has adopted.

I implore the officer of the JCCV YAP Debbie Zauder to read this research.  It’s likely that a contributing factor to the issue of binge drinking in the Jewish community, the main issue that her project is charged to address, is the intolerance of homosexuality that her employer believes is acceptable and justifiable.  It may not be a large factor but it is likely to be a relevant factor.

A holistic approach to welfare of the community’s youth needs to be adopted, rather than one that targets individual behaviours.  It is likely to be a futile effort to stop binge drinking in isolation when it could well be a symptom of a far deeper and more insidious problem or set of problems.

The community, its leaders, parents and young people need to understand that homosexuality and bisexuality is normal and healthy.  Intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality is abnormal and unhealthy as the research proves.

It is imperative that the vocal leaders, claiming to be the voice of the community, and applying for government funding to look after the welfare of the members of the community (and perhaps their own political careers), put aside their egos and arrogance and adopt some humility and humanity.  Until that time they will continue to need a YAP and they can continue to enjoy alarming rates of suicide and harmful behaviour in the community’s vulnerable youth.


A peace of pride

April 24, 2011

Channel 31 TV’s Jewish show The Shtick was at the Melbourne Pride March on February 6 2011.  Henry Greener and his team spent a few moments talking to me in the marshalling area by Lakeside Drive just before the march.  They then made their way toward the end of Fitzroy Street to capture the colour and excitement of the parade.


Rabbi Dovid Freilich shows his ignorance of marriage in Australia

April 21, 2011

The following appears on page 6 of the April 22, 2011 Melbourne edition of the Australian Jewish News:

Majority for gay marriage

GARETH NARUNSKY

IN Wentworth, the Sydney electorate with the highest number of Jewish voters, more than 72 per cent of people support same-sex marriage.

That figure comes from a survey conducted by shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull after the House of Representatives called on MPs to gauge voter opinion on extending the definition of marriage.

Jewish gay, lesbian bisexual, transgender and intersex group Dayenu has welcomed the results, but the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) said it remained opposed.

Out of 2333 Wentworth residents who responded to the survey, 72.7 per cent said they were in favour of gay marriage.  Wentworth takes in the suburbs where a majority of Sydney’s Jews live.

Dayenu president Roy Freeman said the survey’s results were “amazing”.

“It would be great to see a Liberal MP of his standing taking a particular stand on this particular topic,” he said.

ORA president Rabbi Dovid Freilich said his organisation opposed any legislation to legitimise same-sex marriage.  “This is not intended to show any discrimination against the gay community, but simply to uphold the sanctity and purpose of marriage, which is the union of man and woman in not only expressing their love for one another, but in also bringing future generations into this world,” he said.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins of Sydney’s progressive Emmanuel Synagogue said “new times called for new readings”.

“Both the Progressive and Masorti movements have gone on record to endorse the rights of same-sex couples to have their exclusive committed relationships recognised and honoured by tradition,” he said.

Michael Danby, the MP in Melbourne Ports, which has the highest number of Jewish voters in Melbourne, has invited submissions rather than running a survey.

Today I submitted the following Letter to the Editor:

Thank you for your article on gay marriage.  The overwhelming evidence shows a clear change in thought on how modern Australians believe in equality for all citizens.

However, it is evident that Rabbi Freilich does not fully understand about marriage in Australia when he talks about a purpose for marriage, because the federal Marriage Act does not stipulate that a married couple must bring future generations into this world.

Despite this, numerous same-sex couples successfully raise happy, healthy children, even in the Jewish community.  If Rabbi Freilich would like to see these children raised with the full support of the Jewish community he should be campaigning for the removal of the legislation preventing marriage equality.  His actions will only harm those in same-sex relationships and their children.  Is this what the rabbi wants?

I suspect the good rabbi is more interested in blindly following harmful and outdated religious dogma than the welfare of the people in the Jewish community, but I remain open to correction.


IBM – setting the standard for GLBT inclusion

April 20, 2011

IBM has been an advocate for equality for many years.  Since 1984 it has spoken out about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) equality and inclusion and has fought discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation:

[Source]
On September 21, 1953, Thomas Watson, Jr., the company’s president at the time, sent out a controversial letter to all IBM employees stating that IBM needed to hire the best people, regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or gender. He also publicized the policy so that in his negotiations to build new manufacturing plants with the governors of two states in the U.S. South, he could be clear that IBM would not build “separate-but-equal” workplaces.[30] In 1984, IBM added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. The company stated that this would give IBM a competitive advantage because IBM would then be able to hire talented people its competitors would turn down.[31]

Today IBM released its 2010 IBM GLBT Inaugural Annual Report.  It’s remarkable that one of the most significant corporations on the planet has taken this positive step in demonstrating that everyone of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity in its workplace is valued and respected.  There are many organisations in which people are not encouraged to feel comfortable to be who they are and it’s in these workplaces where both the employee and employer suffer.

I’m confident IBM’s GLBT Annual Report will help lead the way for other organisations to show how they are also making their workplaces just as inclusive, productive and safe.

IBM and JOY 94.9 at the 2011 Melbourne Midsumma Carnival

IBM and JOY 94.9 at the 2011 Melbourne Midsumma Carnival

Lastly, I’m pleased to see my photo featuring IBM and Melbourne GLBT radio station JOY 94.9, taken at the 2011 Midsumma Carnival,  is included in the report on page 12.


Is your Passover really about freedom?

April 16, 2011

Passover has become for me a time of great conflict between what I have grown up with and what I now know.  I find it a time of mixed emotion and I struggle to deal with it very well.  I don’t like the message of human suffering and destruction that the traditional story of Passover glorifies.  I also don’t like the lie it perpetuates that invokes the notion of a supernatural deity, or “god”.  I find that offensive to my intelligence and that of the people with whom I am sharing the Seder table.

Essentially Passover is a celebration of the freedom of the Jewish people, but in that freedom, there are many Jews who have become slaves of the bondage of the more fundamental aspects of the Jewish religion.  I talk about the gay and lesbian Jews, the bisexual and transgender Jews; those Jews who are forced to live a life of lies and deceit, and who struggle in trying to do so.  And then there are also those who have had their freedoms reduced by the Jewish people.

If you are inclined to think about Passover and what it stands for, think about freedom and the people who have it, and the people who don’t.

I have been shown a Haggadah that offers a more meaningful look at the Passover celebration and offers a more dignified Seder service than the one that many of us have been brought up with.  You may want to use this Haggadah at your Seder and, in doing so, tell a better story of freedom.

To demonstrate your support for those who are denied the same freedoms as everyone else, put an orange on your Seder plate alongside the other items.  There’s an explanation why in this Haggadah.


JCCV trots out research when it suits and rabbis when it doesn’t

April 7, 2011

It’s apparent that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria is pandering to the sensitivities of its Orthodox constituents when it comes to tackling the uncomfortable issue of homosexuality.

Compare the radically different approaches it has adopted regarding youth alcohol abuse and the extremely vague problem of “issues affecting GLBT people”.

With the former, it has obtained government funding, trotted out respected academic research and is dealing with it like it is the most pressing issue on the planet.  Refer to the latest JCCV media release “YAP begins a new DAY”:

Current research shows that the rate of drinking at harmful levels by 12-17 year olds has doubled in the past decade. Research undertaken by the Victorian Drug and Alcohol Prevention Council has found that 90% of young people have tried alcohol by age 15.

And, there’s not a single rabbi in sight, despite much of this alcohol abuse occurring due to exuberant religious celebration.

Compare this with the uncomfortable problem of “issues affecting GLBT people”.  The JCCV has trotted out an Orthodox rabbi, apparently an authority on all matters homosexual, whose most useful piece of advice is that GLBT organisations cannot be members of the JCCV as they will fracture the community.

The JCCV has been briefed by Associate Professor Anne Mitchell, a respected Australian academic on relevant issues of human sexuality, yet the JCCV have not published a single reference to an iota of credible research on the matter.  Examples of the research they have not yet quoted include:

Studies conducted over the last decade reveal that GLB individuals attempt suicide at rates between 3.5 and 14 times those of their heterosexual peers

and

Those belonging to religious faiths that promulgate negative discourses about homosexuality are particularly vulnerable to suicide and self-harm. Conflicts between spiritual or religious beliefs and sexuality can result in significant psychological dissonance as well as division and exclusion from family, friends and community.

Why is it necessary for the JCCV to engage an Orthodox rabbi in order to address serious issues like homophobic bullying in schools, mental health issues, self-esteem and suicide, but not for the issue of youth alcohol abuse?  Is there no cause for concern that the exuberant religious celebrations might be the catalyst for the binge drinking?  Perhaps it’s necessary to bring in the rabbis and suggest they should sermonise on the community tempering celebrations a little if they are going to result in youth alcohol abuse.

So far the only thing the JCCV has achieved in dealing with “the issues that affect GLBT people” by bringing in an Orthodox rabbi is to demonstrate blatant homophobia and further exacerbate the problems they are reluctant to identify and address.

If the JCCV is at all serious about tackling the issues that are affecting GLBT people, such as bullying, marginalisation, invisibility, homophobia, intolerance, mental health issues and suicide, then they must understand the academic research, refer to the academic research and avoid Orthodox rabbis.  The Orthodox dogma is the cause of many of the problems, and will never be helpful in finding a solution to these problems.


A letter to Anna Burke about Marriage Equality

April 3, 2011

Get Up told me Anna Burke, my local member in the federal seat of Chisholm, wanted to hear from me.

From: GetUp <info@getup.org.au>
Date: 3 April 2011 10:36
Subject: Ms Anna Burke wants to hear from you
To: Michael Barnett

Dear Michael

Your MP, Ms Anna Burke, is conducting a survey in your electorate, Chisholm, to determine community support for marriage equality. Can you participate? Click here to share your views with Ms Anna Burke.

Last spring GetUp members sent over 10,000 emails in support of a Parliamentary motion that encouraged Members of Parliament to gauge their constituents’ views on marriage equality. Now, many MPs, including yours – Ms Anna Burke – have started consulting their electorates.

Under current laws, same-sex couples cannot get married and are denied the same rights and recognition other married couples enjoy. But now, as MPs consult their electorates, you have a unique chance to help form their opinion and inform their vote. Click here to have your say.

Thanks for making your voice heard,

The GetUp Team

I wrote this email in response:

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 3 April 2011 18:07
Subject: My views on marriage equality
To: Anna Burke <anna.burke.mp@aph.gov.au>
Cc: Gregory Storer

Dear Ms Burke,

My partner Gregory Storer and I have been in a committed relationship since November 2008.  We love each other deeply and would like the right to be able to marry each other.

There is no justifiable reason for preventing us from getting married.  We are identical in every way to any heterosexual couple, except that one of us is not female.

Some people will claim that we can’t conceive a child between us and other people will say that any children we raise will suffer from not having a parent of either gender.

My response is that there are plenty of heterosexual people who cannot or choose not to have children.  There are also plenty of single mothers and fathers who ably raise their own children.

As it happens, my partner Gregory Storer has two teenage children that he raised single-handedly and so he is not looking to have any more children.  I am not looking to have any children either.

We would like the right to get married though, as we currently feel we are treated as second-class citizens by our government and we believe we are entitled to the same rights and privileges as all other Australians.

We pay the same taxes as all other Australians and we contribute to society the same as all other Australians.  Yet we are treated differently to all heterosexual Australians simply because one of us is not female.  Do you think that is fair to discriminate against us because one of us is not female?

I encourage to you to understand that it is harmful to the mental health and self-esteem of all people who are treated less than anyone else simply because of their gender or their sexual orientation.  You would understand that, being female.

If you have any doubts or questions about what I am saying, I would encourage you to listen to this presentation by Rodney Croome, delivered at the Wheeler Centre in 2010.  It’s worth every minute of time it takes to watch.

http://wheelercentre.com/videos/video/rodney-croome-the-case-for-gay-marriage/

Sincerely,
Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC
0417-595-541


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