John Searle, Keshet, Maccabi Victoria, Daniel Kowalski and Olympic Dreams

August 3, 2012
Daniel Kowalski, Mikey & Gregory at Goldman Sachs; August 2 2012

Daniel Kowalski, Mikey & Gregory at Goldman Sachs; August 2 2012

Last night I attended the offices of Goldman Sachs in Melbourne for a diversity event hosted by their Gays, Lesbians and Mates (GLaM) network.  Guest speaker was Olympic medalist Daniel Kowalski.

Daniel described his journey from being a somewhat chubby kid in South Australia, a place not known for its swimming heroes, to becoming a silver and bronze medallist in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games in swimming.

Part of Daniel’s story revolved around how he found he lacked a degree of confidence and that something was holding him back from reaching his full potential.  He said that at the time he wasn’t fully certain what it was.  As the years went by he realised he was hiding his sexuality and this was having an impact on him.

Daniel Kowalski said he felt that if he had been comfortable with his sexuality he would have been able to stand up proud on the starting block, with a sense of confidence, and put in a far better effort.  He believes it may have helped him win gold instead of silver or bronze.

This leads me to a Keshet Australia panel discussion this Sunday evening, August 5 here in Melbourne.  The evening is entitled “The need for educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues” and is moderated by John Searle.  John is the immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and currently the chairman (and only member) of board of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. From the advertising it appears he will be appearing on the night in a private capacity.

What’s especially exciting about Keshet bringing on board John Searle is that through his strong connections in the Jewish community and his involvement in the VEOHRC it places him in a unique position of being able to access and influence a significant number of organisations and people in the Jewish community about the need for a greater understanding of why discrimination against homosexuality is harmful.

On May 17 2012 the VEOHRC issued a media release in which it stated:

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission unequivocally stands against homophobia in all its forms and today reaffirmed its support for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).

As the agency responsible for promoting and protecting human rights in Victoria, the Commission sees the harmful effects that discrimination and inequality have on people and the hurt and damage caused by prejudice, vilification and damaging stereotypes.

Almost a year and a half earlier, in January 2011, the VEOHRC issued another media release on the Fair Go, Sport! initiative in which it said:

At its best, sport is a great way of keeping fit, healthy and socially connected. However, recent research highlights that sport can also be very unhealthy for gay, lesbian, bi‐sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) people, many of whom have experienced discrimination and abuse in sports club environments.

Come Out To Play (2010), a survey of 307 lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Victorians, showed that 42 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality while playing sport.

It’s evident that the VEOHRC is taking discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in sport seriously and is building bridges in the sporting community to help raise awareness of the harms of this discrimination.

The logical progression here, and perhaps the pink elephant on the sporting field, is to get the Jewish community’s sporting association, Maccabi Victoria, involved.  That’s where John Searle fits in perfectly, because as a person who is passionate about human rights, equal opportunities, removing discrimination and “educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues”, all he needs to do is reach out to the team at Maccabi and show them how the VEOHRC, through Fair Go, Sport!, is benefiting the Victorian sporting community.

Maccabi Victoria itself is well placed to take adopt this sort of education, as it lists amongst its values: tolerance, healthy & positive lifestyles, strong community connections, achievement in sport and participation by all.  My earlier message about Daniel Kowalski exemplifies how a sporting community supportive of diverse sexual orientations would have assisted him in all of the same areas that Maccabi takes seriously.

I urge John Searle, together with Keshet Australia, to reach out to Maccabi Victoria and help them fly their rainbow colours for a stronger and healthier sporting community.  Who knows, it may just help someone achieve their Olympic dreams.


VEOHRC chair John Searle speaks out in support of same-sex marriage

May 15, 2012

In an interview with ABC journalist Alison Caldwell today, Chairman of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria John Searle declared that he “has no issues” with same-sex marriage:

ALISON CALDWELL: What are your views regarding same sex marriage?

JOHN SEARLE: My views?

ALISON CALDWELL: Yes.

JOHN SEARLE: My personal views, I have no issues with it.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the chairman of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, John Searle. He was speaking with Alison Caldwell in Melbourne and Professor George is still Victoria’s deputy chief psychiatrist.

Well, a most welcome admission indeed.  For a person who is out of character in making supportive public statements on GLBT issues, this admission that he “has no issues with it” is a quantum leap forward.

Only a pity he was unprepared to make such a declaration on GLBT matters during his recent term as President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.  Having done so would have actually assisted many in need in the community he was claiming to act in the best interests of.

With John Searle’s new-found support of marriage equality I’m sure the team at Equal Love will be booking him in to address the August 11 Equal Love Rally.  They should be prepared for his unavailability though, with the rally being on a Saturday, so a pre-recorded address from him should suit nicely.


John Searle, Vilification and the Seventh Commandment of Animalism

August 25, 2011

[SOURCE]

The new VEOHRC chairperson John Searle has spoken out against racial vilification, making reference to racial vilification legislation and stating that a placard portraying a swastika “represented a disgraceful and outrageous threat.”

Will Searle be as strident in his response to equivalent vilification on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity as he is to vilification on the grounds of race?  He has a concerning record of ignoring the former when presented with it, claiming that by not giving it oxygen it will go away.  He told me that in his house in August 2009.

On the basis of his aforementioned logic, Searle should be ignoring this anti-Jewish swastika-ridden placard, because in doing so the hate should magically vanish if ignored.

Searle has adopted an Orwellian approach to vilification – that all vilification is unacceptable, just that some vilification is more unacceptable.  He is wrong.  All vilification is equally unacceptable.  All vilification needs to be stamped out, not by ignoring it, but by exposing it and eradicating it.

It is imperative for Searle to adopt the approach that no vilification is acceptable and to guide the VEOHRC to speak out strongly against discrimination and vilification on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Victoria.  Is Searle willing to go this far for all Victorians?


Taking a walk on the wild side (or “John Searle takes on Human Rights”)

August 24, 2011

[SOURCE]

Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to be walking around the shore of the Mallacoota Inlet with my partner Gregory.  It’s a delightfully beautiful part of Victoria and we were absorbed in the magic of moment.  We live in a part of the world where we have many liberties and rights that others in less fortunate parts of the world are unable to similarly enjoy.  Living in a legal same-sex relationship, having the right to criticise government and having the right to vote in a democracy are but a few of these.

Yet in all of this our community faces many challenges before we can call ourselves world-class in the human rights arena.  And so we have the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to help us get there, one way or another.

Between sampling wild cherries, photographing sting-ray and marvelling at the ability of pelicans to hover mid-flight inches over the surface of the lake, my phone alerted me to a new email.  I quickly checked the message and saw it was a media release announcing the appointment of the new chairperson to the board of the VEOHRC.

Over the course of the evening and into today I fielded an amazing barrage of emails from all manner of human rights activists, media and other interested parties in Victoria, particularly from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community.  The messages were mainly along the lines of “have you seen this…”.  Yes, I had, only minutes after it had been announced.

The concern of these people was mainly centred around my past involvement with John Searle and my call for him to raise the visibility of GLBT human rights within the Victorian Jewish community.  It’s been a real challenge getting any traction on the issue, and I must admit that I never for once expected any degree of cooperation on this fraught topic.

Yet now with John Searle being appointed to the chair of the board of the VEOHRC (note, not the role of Commissioner), it puts him in a more public and accountable role on the issues of human rights and equal opportunity, for all Victorians.

Of particular concern to me is Searle’s ability to lead his board in making the best decisions for the welfare of GLBT Victorians.  He has shown glimmers of hope in wanting us to believe he’s genuine in his commitment to this cause.  Take for example the current Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) inquiry into the extent of vilification and discrimination against GLBT people in the Victorian Jewish community.  Listen to his interview on JOY 94.9 FM here.

What I find most intriguing about this high-profile appointment is that I would expect the incumbent to have a gleaming A+ record on being a strong and outspoken advocate for all human rights.  In my human rights activism over the past 3 years dealing with John Searle, in his presidency of the JCCV, I have found that that he has an unconventional approach to human rights.

Allow me to highlight three particular scenarios.

1. The Progressive Jewish movement has for a long time been amongst the foremost proponents for equality and inclusion of GLBT people in their religious communities.  The Australian Progressive Jewish community has proven to be a shining light on how a religious community can go beyond tolerance of GLBT people and actually include and accept them unquestioningly as equals.  So much so that the Australian Progressive Jewish community has called for full marriage equality for non-heterosexual Jewish couples.

Progressive Judaism Victoria, the Victorian organisation representing the Progressive Jewish community, is a member of the JCCV.  Yet despite PJV being a voting member of the JCCV, John Searle has yet to acknowledge their exemplary stance on GLBT human rights, and goes so far as to refuse to acknowledge their legitimacy as Jews in the Australian Jewish context.

2. Orthodox Judaism is uncompromising on its intolerance of homosexuality.  A significant number of the member organisations of the JCCV are actively members of the Orthodox community, or closely aligned with it.  Searle himself strongly follows Orthodox Jewish tradition.  Yet despite the absolute and uncompromising intolerant nature of Orthodox Jewish dogma when it comes to homosexuality, Searle has never once distanced himself from this repressive and homophobic attitude.  Simply put, he endorses it’s right to exist, under claims that it is “Jewish Law” and is immutable.

This spin never fails to amaze me, as the Progressive Jewish community have worked their way through these tough issues of “Jewish Law” and come out intact on the other side.  It seems the Orthodox Jewish community lacks the desire to confront this particular challenge, despite them having confronted countless other issues over many hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Most notably, they don’t stone homosexuals to death any more, as their dogma still dictates.

Even though the JCCV promotes itself as “The voice of Victorian Jewry”, under Searle’s presidency it has taken a strong stance in favour of its Orthodox membership, leaving its more open-minded and accepting Progressive, Conservative and Secular membership starkly unrepresented.

This situation was recently evidenced when the JCCV put out a media release claiming

Rabbi Rapoport contends that the GLBT community must accept that they cannot become official members of the JCCV as this would fracture the Jewish community.

I commented on this here.

3. Since late 2009 John Searle has singularly refused to have any contact with the only Jewish GLBT social and support group in Victoria, Aleph Melbourne.  He has not stated a credible reason for this situation and frankly it strikes me as a bizarre situation for his organisation, especially when it is trying to understand why GLBT Jews in Victoria feel vilified and discriminated against.

I can only hope that under the eye of public scrutiny John Searle will act in a more transparent and accountable fashion in his role as chair of the board of the VEOHRC than he has done with his presidency of the JCCV.

Further, I can only hope that he works to restore a healthy and wholesome relationship with the organisation I represent, of which there are a sizeable number of GLBT Jewish members.

To this end I hope that under the chair of John Searle, the VEOHRC can provide the best protection for GLBT Victorians on the grounds of human rights and equal opportunity.


The reason why vilification of homosexuals exists in the Jewish community

August 16, 2011

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria has called for submissions “to investigate issues surrounding vilification, discrimination and mental health concerns faced by members of Victoria’s Jewish GLBT community.”

In considering preparing a submission for this investigation I have sought definitions of ‘vilification’ and ‘discrimination’ from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC).

The VEOHRC defines ‘vilification‘ (in the context of race and religion) as:

Vilification is behaviour that incites or encourages hatred of, serious contempt for, revulsion or severe ridicule of another person or group of people on the grounds of their race or religion.

Further, it defines ‘discrimination‘ (in the context of sexual orientation and gender identity) as:

Discrimination is treating someone unfairly because of a personal characteristic protected by law and causing them to be disadvantaged as a result.

Initially I thought it would be appropriate to prepare a comprehensive list of examples of vilification and discrimination that I have experienced on a personal level and those which I have witnessed through the media in the Jewish community.  My archives over the past decade or so provide me with ample material for this exercise.

However, the time and effort necessary to undertake this task is substantial, and I feel that it would not necessarily convey the best ‘return on investment’.

Instead, what I have decided to do is present the underlying reason that vilification and/or discrimination exists against homosexuals and same-sex attracted people, relevant to the terms of reference for this submission.  This reason unarguably underlies every single instance of attack, hatred and intolerance against homosexuality or same-sex attraction.

What I am presenting is the proscription of homosexuality in the Torah.  I draw from two verses from the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra), specifically Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13.  My source here is my personal copy of The Chumash (Artscroll – Stone Edition, 4th Edn, 1994).  I present the abovementioned verses and any accompanying commentary.

Leviticus Chapter 18 deals with “forbidden relationships”.

Leviticus 18:22

22 You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, it is an abomination.

22-23 Sodomy and bestiality.  The chapter of immorality ends with two forms of sexual perversion: homosexuality and bestiality.  The harshness with which the Torah describes them testifies to the repugnance in which God holds those who engage in these unnatural practices.

22 Toevah – An abomination.  None of the relationships given above are described with this term of disgust, because they involve normal activity, though with prohibited mates.  Homosexuality, however, is unnatural and therefore abominable.

Leviticus Chapter 20 deals with “punishments”.

Leviticus 20:13

13 A man who lies with a man as one lies with a woman, they have both done an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon themselves.

In these two verses from Leviticus, dealing with homosexuality, I encountered the terms ‘abomination’, ‘immorality’, ‘sexual perversion’, ‘repugnance’, ‘unnatural practices’, ‘disgust’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘put to death’.  These are extremely harsh and unambiguous terms, so much so that to me they comprehensively and without a doubt exemplify the definitions of both vilification and discrimination that I supplied earlier.

If the JCCV is looking for the single reason that any vilification and discrimination exists against same-sex attracted people, they need look no further than any Torah or Chumash in the Jewish community of which a literal or absolute observance is expected.  The Orthodox interpretation of these two verses of the Torah, and any associated commentaries, leave no doubt as to the expectations and obligations of same-sex attracted people.

The rabbis and others who teach and those who perpetuate these doctrines, doctrines that are out of touch with modern medical and psychological practices, are all complicit in vilifying and discriminatory behaviour against same-sex attracted people.  Further, these attitudes contribute to the mental-health deterioration of same-sex attracted people, while rigorous and uncompromising adherence is demanded.

I believe this submission offers sufficient evidence to demonstrate vilification and discrimination against homosexual and same-sex attracted people in the context of the Victorian Jewish community.


A succinct message from Helen Szoke on sexuality

August 5, 2011

[SOURCE]

As Helen Szoke finishes up as the head of the Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, she leaves us with some sage words on sexuality:

For the first time in years, I believe that, as a society, we are poised to recognise the enormous harm we do to same-sex-attracted people when we dismiss, deny or simply refuse to recognise their sexuality.

This message is one that we must heed, otherwise we will increasingly realise the cost of ignoring it, measured in human suffering.


IDAHO and the JCCV

May 17, 2011

Today, May 17 2011, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).  Many organisations and people go to great effort to acknowledge the occasion and take a stand against homophobic and transphobic intolerance in society.

Take for example the head of Victoria Police, Chief Commissioner Simon Overland.  He has a pretty supportive message.  Similarly, Dr Helen Szoke from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has an unambiguous message on inclusion.  Even Hilary Clinton and Jeremy Browne each had a message of support.

As I’ve previously mentioned, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria set up a reference group to investigate the issues affecting GLBT people in the Jewish community.  They’ve also made it pretty clear, via their messenger of intolerance Rabbi Chaim Rapoport (here and here), that GLBT people are not welcome as members of their organisation, despite JCCV President John Searle saying that “racism and prejudice in all its evil forms will not be tolerated.”

This week the JCCV published a number of media releases.  There was one on how they’re getting on well with the Catholic community,  another on working with Victoria Police on combatting anti-semitic hate crimes, yet another on working with people with disabilities, and lastly one on welfare organisations in the community (mind you, not one of them openly advertises services supporting GLBT people).

I had trouble finding the JCCV media release on how they’re supportive of initiatives that combat homophobic intolerance in the Jewish community in this week of IDAHO.  I tried to find one, but I just couldn’t see it.  I guess they had it all prepared, but didn’t manage to get it out in time.

Now I’ll just have to wait until next year’s IDAHO to see if the big bad JCCV bully has learnt a lesson from the wider community and has realised it’s time to stop creating the hate and intolerance and start fighting it.

And lastly a message to John Searle.  You talk about racism and prejudice in all its evil forms.  Take a look in the mirror mate.


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