Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia | ABC PM

October 30, 2013

Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia

Alison Caldwell reported this story on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 18:34:00

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MARK COLVIN: A rift is developing in Australia’s Jewish community over the treatment of homosexuals.

A major gay and lesbian support group claims Jewish community leaders are ignoring discrimination and hate language aimed at homosexuals. It wants Jewish representative bodies to come up with a clear policy upholding gay rights.

Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: When two young people were shot dead in Tel Aviv last month at a gay and lesbian youth centre, Melbourne-based Michael Barnett wanted nothing more than for the leaders of the Australian Jewish community to take a stand against violence towards homosexuals. But he says his calls for action fell on deaf ears.

MICHAEL BARNETT: The Israeli leadership, the Prime Minister, the President of Israel, they spoke out against intolerance and hatred and said you know, everyone deserves respect.

Yet in Melbourne where there is the family of one of the two people killed, there wasn’t even a single statement from the community leaders.

ALISON CALDWELL: He says the silence from the Jewish leadership was symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

MICHAEL BARNETT: There’s a lot of intolerance of gay people in the Jewish people. Calling gay people perverted and disgusting, comparing gay people to people who commit incest or bestiality, there’s all this language that gets used from people like some rabbis in the orthodox world who speak out against gay people.

ALISON CALDWELL: Michael Barnett is the coordinator of Aleph Melbourne, a support group for homosexual people in the Jewish community. He believes representative groups are afraid to express their support for homosexuals for fear of offending ultra-orthodox groups in the community.

MICHAEL BARNETT: I want every state and national Jewish peak body in Australia to have a specific, unambiguous policy addressing the persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews in regard to homophobic hate and intolerance, irrespective of whether it originates from outside or inside the Jewish community.

The policies must be enforced with the same zero tolerance afforded to anti-Semitism and holocaust rhetoric and other hate crimes.

ALISON CALDWELL: Much of his anger is levelled at a Jewish blog which recently described homosexuality as “depravity and debasement” and extolled the virtues of reprogramming homosexuals.

In July, a Sydney rabbi wrote to the Australian Jewish News, comparing homosexual intercourse with adultery, bestiality and incest.

JOHN SEARLE: If it’s a matter that’s guided by religious laws, then those laws will presumably be applied. Now I can’t say very much about those because I’m not an expert in those areas.

ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle is the president of the Jewish Community Council in Victoria. It describes itself as the roof body of Victorian Jewry. On its website, it says it shows zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism and racism but it has nothing to say about supporting or protecting gay or lesbian people within the Jewish community.

JOHN SEARLE: If we need to rewrite a policy that was written some time ago, we can certainly look at that and if it needs to be adjusted in any way, we can adjust that.

ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle says he’s against vilification of any sort.

JOHN SEARLE: The JCCV has issued statements condemning vilification of all minority groups, including vilification based on grounds of sexual orientation, sexual preference.

ALISON CALDWELL: He says the council has sought advice from numerous sources on how to be more inclusive and will invite gay and lesbian support groups to events in the future.

Michael Barnett says it’s not enough.

MICHAEL BARNETT: Lip service, motherhood statements, platitudes, rhetoric, anything but “yes, we’re going to do this and take it seriously”.

JOHN SEARLE: I reject the allegation or assertion that inviting people to participate in community events is simply lip service.

ALEX FEIN: My blog is called The Sensible Jew.

ALISON CALDWELL: Jewish blogger Alex Fein has written about the issue in recent weeks. She says the vast majority of Jews support homosexuals and describes those who don’t as minority extremists. But she says groups like the Jewish Community Council of Victoria need to be more proactive.

ALEX FEIN: It’s not enough to say that homophobia is problematic. I think all people of good faith would like to see concrete action.

MARK COLVIN: Alex Fein the author of the blog known as the sensiblejew.wordpress.com, ending Alison Caldwell’s report.


Bereft of a cultural identity

October 16, 2013

Today my workplace has foisted upon me “Cultural Diversity Day”.  There have been about two weeks build-up to this grand event, with momentum over the last couple of days growing to fever-pitch amongst the organising teams.  We have been asked to bring in items of food from our cultural background, wear culturally identifying garments (or supply them to be hung on display), bring in items of cultural interest, and so forth.

This has left me totally bewildered, and to a certain extent, depressed.

I don’t have a recognisable cultural identity.  Nor do I want one.  Most especially I don’t want anyone to force me to have one.

Let me explain.

I was born in Australia and as I live here permanently I consider myself Australian.  My parents were born in England and New Zealand.  They don’t particularly consider themselves English or New Zealanderish.  My father probably considers himself more Rhodesian than English anyway, as that is where he grew up, but he’s definitely Aussie these days.

Their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born in England, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Poland and Belarus.  Aside from my English grandparents on my father’s side, the others would probably have distanced themselves from their national identity.  Why?  They were culturally and ethnically Ashkenazi Jews.

Their Yiddish culture permeated my upbringing, in terms of language, food, identity and heritage.  Yet that is not me.  I do not identify as a Jew, as I believe religion is divisive and creates barriers to equality and harmony.  I enjoy the influences I grew up with, but I don’t cling to them.

And so, as a first generation Australian who does not have an ethnic or religious identity, how do I contribute in an event at my workplace that wants me to label myself with a culture?  Hard call, and one that does not make me very happy to have to do, despite wanting to contribute even in a small if not token way.

Yet I came up with a compromise.  I brought in some lively, uplifting, happy, “freilach” Klezmer music.  Music of my ancestors.  Music I can identify with, that does not have a geography, does not have a specific ideology, that does not label me anything, and most importantly is universally loved and is most definitely cultural.

I am more than a label and I don’t want to have to choose one, or have anyone hang a label on me, as labels are restrictive and can be divisive.

This Cultural Diversity Day at my workplace has been very powerful for me and has allowed me to reflect deeply on who I am.  It will be interesting to see how the day pans out and how I feel at the end of it.  First and foremost though, I am Michael.


Not asking. Demanding equal rights!

September 19, 2013


Gregory and Michael – Protesting for Love

September 19, 2013


I will. I do.

September 11, 2013

Tonight Gregory and I went to dinner at Bridges Bali, a delightful restaurant that we had lunch at last Friday.  We returned because the service, food, atmosphere and location were impeccable.  Quite the combination if you get it all right.  Having had the entrée of rare roast lamb and the main of Thai-inspired grilled Barramundi, we settled for espressos and Cointreau chocolate mousse.  Yes, mousse.

And it was during the mousse, yes – mousse, that the conversation turned to one we’d had a number of times in the past, about marriage and our thoughts on it.  Yet, this time, there was a different tone to the conversation.  Gregory became a little more serious and actually asked me if I’d marry him, not if I’d ever marry him, but if I’d actually marry him.  The sort of question that demanded a yes answer, here and now.

Oh, I thought, this is the real thing, not a humorous conversation, but an actual marriage proposal.  I think I started to cry and was trying to maintain my composure between polite interruptions from the impeccably appointed wait-staff who clearly weren’t trained in the art of detecting a marriage proposal between two middle-aged men.  Wiping away the odd tear or two I said yes and continued trying to untangle the mass of emotions that had beset me, amidst what could only be described as one of the most idyllic moments of my life.

A quick phone-call from me back to Australia to let the folks know and a quick text message or two from Gregory back to his kids and sister and the deal was sealed.  I have to say, finding the courage to make that phone call, and finding the actual words to say were amazingly more fraught than I would ever have expected.  But having announced our engagement felt good, and it felt right.  I couldn’t think of a better man to be engaged to get married to.

Of course, the question has been asked, in which country will you guys get married.  Not a question most engaged couples get asked I suspect, because the expectation is they would celebrate their nuptials at home, wherever that was for them.  Yet for us two Australians, getting married at home is not so straightforward, because there is no legal option for us to do this in Australia currently.  We may be able to get married in a foreign consulate in Australia, but that wouldn’t be on Australian soil, and there wouldn’t be the stunningly beautiful Australian Coat of Arms on that marriage certificate.

It was a very simple decision for us.  We are going to get married to each other in Australia, under Australian law, on Australian soil.  It may be in the next three years, or it may be longer, but it will happen in both our lifetimes and most likely sooner than later.

We haven’t exchanged rings.  We probably won’t.  Rings are not our style.  We did get an ‘engagement ring’ from Facebook though, when we made that irrevocable and gay announcement to our social networks:

Engaged

So, thank you Gregory, you’ve changed my life, tonight, and every day since we met on that Tuesday in November 2008.  I love you.

P.S.  I can’t believe my enjoyment of the perfect chocolate mousse was interrupted by a marriage proposal.  Honestly.  Timing!


A letter to John Alexander

August 24, 2013

Dear Mr Alexander,

Almost three years ago you gave your first speech to the Parliament and people of Australia as the Member for Bennelong.  Allow me to reflect on a few sections of your address.

Fittingly, you gave thanks to the people of your electorate and promised to serve them fairly:

It is an honour to be in this position, and I am truly grateful to the people of Bennelong for the trust and faith that they have placed in me. However, that honour is immediately replaced with a deep sense of responsibility to do my best, with integrity, honesty and fairness.

Later, in relating your tennis travels through Europe you reflected on a particularly poignant moment:

We played in Poland and were taken to Auschwitz by Harry’s friend from before the war. He cried and we cried.

and in Africa, you tell of discrimination:

I learnt of discrimination travelling to South Africa with Arthur Ashe. He had been granted a visa declaring him an ‘honorary white’. In Arthur’s home town I practised on the adjoining court at the Richmond Country Club; he was the first African-American allowed to play there.

You paint a picture of how your travels around the world as a sportsman have guided you to understand diversity and how this dovetails with the vibrant diversity of Bennelong:

It is these experiences that have provided me with the opportunity for a real life education and has served as preparation for my role as a representative of one of Australia’s most diverse and multicultural electorates. Bennelong boasts nearly every language and culture, attained through a strong history of migration dating back to the English settlers. People have come from every part of the world to make Australia their home. In many ways, Bennelong is modern Australia.

Bennelong perfectly reflects the diversity and harmony we are so proud of in this country. Why do people leave all that is familiar to go half way around the world to start over again? They bring their dreams for a better life for themselves and their families. They bring their courage to ‘have a go’, with the odds stacked against them, playing so far from home.  Our new Australians bring energy, effort, innovation and, most of all, their hopes. Every soul who comes to our country enriches us and continues the constant redefining of what it is to be Australian.

You share the wisdom of your mentor Harry Hopman and of your friend Alan Jones and how this relates not only to how you play in tennis but also in politics:

Playing safe may achieve a short-term goal against inferior opposition, but the ultimate goal would be lost. As Alan Jones says, ‘To win without risk is victory without glory.’

You spoke of opportunities and of being our best:

To realise our country’s full potential, every Australian must have the opportunity to compete and earn just reward for their effort and success.

and you spoke of having visions:

Let us debate in this chamber a contest of ideas, a contest of visions. As with any endeavour in life, true and honest competition unfettered by political bias will produce, in this case, the best plan and the best result for our nation’s future. We need the courage to attack this challenge. It has been ignored for too long. To shirk this responsibility, to say it is too tough, would be an affront to those who fought to make Australia what it is today—our forefathers, who had a plan, an optimistic vision, and who made the most of their opportunity to have a go.

In summing up, you spoke of your children, and of the children of Australia, of their dreams, of opportunities and of wanting the best for them:

What do I want for my children? What I want for every Australian: opportunity—the opportunity to pursue their dreams, whatever they are, and not be restrained by their age, their sex or their colour. Opportunity is to be able to have a go. Opportunity without discrimination is to be given a fair go. We here have much work to do.

Thank you for an ace of a speech Mr Alexander.

I grew up and live in Melbourne, the first Australian-born in my family, of immigrant parents.  My mum and dad settled in Australia in 1973 for a better life, with hopes and aspirations for themselves and their children.  They came via Rhodesia, a country that had an unstable political horizon and felt it was not the place to raise a family.  My Australian birth some four years earlier helped them make the decision to return here.

In my household sport was a life-blood.  My parents adopted North Melbourne as their football team and of many sports at their disposal to support they adopted tennis with an amazing passion.  I was not a sporting child, that was my brother, but I grew up knowing the names of many tennis greats, watching with them many tennis tournaments and sharing with them many highs, and lows, of the game.  It was one of the more enjoyable parts of my teen years, a troubled part of my life.

Mr Alexander, your speech, your visions, your hopes and your aspirations are great.  You have learned much through your life’s journey, and you bring that with you to public office.  Yet you leave me confused, as the great sportsman that you are, where you learned to play fair and where fairness features in your values, why you do not feel compelled to want to treat all Australians equally.

I talk of the right for any Australian to be able to legally marry the one person of their choice, without regard to gender, under civil law.

It would seem you have tried to avoid this issue at best, at worst you’ve joined the ranks of those who don’t speak out for equality, rather, preferring to call for an inferior form of relationship recognition for non-heterosexual relationships.

In 2010, News Ltd surveyed the people of Bennelong and found 39% were in favour of same-sex marriage and 21% were indifferent to it.  That’s a whopping 60% of your electorate you won’t be disappointing if you support same-sex marriage.  Clearly a majority.

What of your lessons from touring Auschwitz and South Africa Mr Alexander?  Members of my extended family burned in the ovens of Auschwitz.  I don’t need to tell you of the reality of that particular time of persecution in human history but it might help spark a moment of reflection and compassion if I do.

You write of honorary whites.  Not only did the buses in South Africa have a back, but they also had a slightly back, mostly back, nearly at the back, and a “so far back you could think you were in the bus when you weren’t actually in it at all” back as well, depending on just how much your skin wasn’t shiny white.  You may have even heard of how the government decided at one point it wasn’t going to persecute citizens on whether their skin was white or not, so it labelled everyone green, then decided some were dark green and others light green.

Mr Alexander, what of vision, of hopes, of a fairer Australia where personal attributes are not a limiting factor, where children can have dreams and one day realise them?  What of the dreams for your children and for theirs?

What of the dream my parents had, and still have, that one day I might meet someone I want to marry.  At 44 I now have that special person in my life, his name is Gregory, and I want the right to be able to ask him to marry me.  But I can’t.  I don’t have that freedom, that opportunity, that right, because apparently I’m not worthy of it, for some inexplicable reason.  I am not looking to have children or start a family and Gregory has two grown-up children he parented mostly as a single dad.

Mr Alexander, you are playing a safe game in not supporting marriage equality.  You are not taking a risk and chancing a greater victory for all Australians.  Federal Politics is now your tennis court and sadly you are not scoring the points that will bring a win for, in your words, opportunity without discrimination, to the people of Bennelong and to our nation.

You are sitting on a 3.1% margin in your seat.  You are far from guaranteed a return.  With 39% of your electorate in support of marriage equality and with marriage equality being increasingly shown to be a vote winner around the nation, it would bode you well to show unreserved support for a change to the federal Marriage Act that removes all forms of discrimination.

I will finish up by mentioning that in the darkest of moments during my teenage years, the one candle of brightness for me, my role model of greatness, was tennis champion Martina Navratilova.  I could identify with her, as I struggled to come to terms with my sexual orientation.  It wasn’t her sporting prowess that inspired me the most though, it was her honesty and integrity.  I would like to add the name John Alexander alongside Martina Navratilova.  Please, show me your honesty and your integrity.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


A letter to Shayne Neumann

August 14, 2013

August 14 2013

Dear Mr Neumann,

Some five and a half years ago you gave your first speech to Parliament.  It started with your thanks to the people of Blair for placing their trust in you, a representative of the Labor party:

Mr Speaker, it is an honour to stand here today and speak in this chamber as the first ever Labor member for Blair. I am keenly aware of the trust, duty and obligation bestowed upon me by the people of Blair. They voted decisively for change on 24 November, delivering a 10.2 per cent swing to Labor. With emphatic purpose they chose a better way. They voted not for fear and pessimism but for hope and optimism. They voted not for the past but for the future.

You spoke to fresh beginnings, and looking forward, not backward.  You also spoke of your Christian identity, but to maintaining a secular government:

I respect those who hold views which may differ from my own, and I hold firmly—in a good Baptist tradition—to the separation of church and state.

You told us what you believe, of equality and civil liberties:

What do I believe? I believe in reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples. I believe in a republic with an Australian head of state. I believe in multiculturalism. I believe in equal rights for women. I believe in civil liberties. I believe that the rights of the Australian people should be protected by a bill of rights. I believe the law must be utilitarian. I believe the law must help, not hurt.

You spoke of doing more to help people:

I believe in a pragmatic, progressive Labor Party dedicated to practical policies to help people …

and you spoke of working hard, doing more, serving the people and being an upstanding Labor politician:

I have come here to work. I have come here to make a difference. I have come here to make change. I have come here to advocate for the causes in which I believe. I have come here to represent my local community. I have come here to deliver for the people of Blair. I have come here to serve and honour the greatest political institution in this land: the Australian Labor Party.

Mr Neumann, your words impress.  More should share these values.  However I am troubled because as good as it is to hear what you said to the people in 2008, your subsequent actions disappoint.  You see, in 2012 you were one of the 98 against marriage equality and yesterday you reiterated your opposition.

In 2012 the News Ltd Poll on Same-Sex Marriage reported a 44% level of support in Blair, 37% against and 19% indifferent.  That’s 63% not opposed.  Yet you claim your polling on same-sex marriage found 84% against and 16% in favour.  Your polling is in stark contrast to the New Ltd Poll and various polls by Galaxy.

Mr Neumann, where is the hope and optimism, the better future, for the 44% of your electorate who want equal marriage laws for themselves, their children, their friends and their families?  Where is the equality, respect and the civil liberties in voting against marriage equality?  How are you helping people by taking a stance that is rooted in the past, not the future?  And please, tell me, how is this stance supporting a secular perspective, where the church is kept out of government?

Lastly, I ask you, how is upholding a law that hurts people, consistent with your values of supporting laws that help, not hurt?

Mr Neumann, sadly you have not kept your promise to the people of Blair and the people of Australia.  You have also betrayed yourself, and that must be a hard pill to swallow.  I ask you to reflect on your values, look to the promises you made and the values you claim to uphold, and ask yourself how voting against marriage equality is a consistent position to take, most especially when it is not a value of the Labor Party.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


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