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Peter Jensen’s dangerous proposal

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Not every topic is worthy of debate. In fact some are downright dangerous.

On Mondays’ Q&A program, Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen repeatedly called for having a national discussion on the supposed lower life expectancy of homosexuals.

This issue already made headlines last week when the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)’s Jim Wallace claimed homosexuality was a bigger health risk than smoking.

Whilst Jensen distanced himself from the inflammatory nature of Wallace’s comments, he agreed with the basic premise that homosexuality is itself dangerous. Jensen was careful to claim that his intention wasn’t to demonise gay people, but to start a much needed conversation.

Although he put forward his case in a seemingly polite and sincere manner, what Jensen is actually proposing has the potential to be extremely damaging to the LGBTI community.

The claims that gays have a lower life expectancy, which have been repeated ad nauseam by various anti-gay groups in the United States, stem from a 1997 Canadian study which found the life expectancy for gay and bi-sexual men in Vancouver was up to twenty years lower than other men.

However, as Crikey pointed out, the data for this study was collated at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, well before effective treatments that significantly prolong the life of HIV positive patients. This means that the study’s conclusions are not a reliable signifier of the current life expectancy for gay and bisexual men.

This has been pointed by the study’s authors. So incensed were they at the way their research was twisted ‘to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others’, that they released a statement way back in 2001 to set the record straight:

 The aim of our research was never to spread more homophobia…In our paper, we demonstrated that in a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 21 years less than for all men…if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved…As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.

The fact remains that gays are at a higher than average risk of suicide, but as was pointed out by the other Q&A panellists, this is almost universally considered to be a result of homophobia rather than any intrinsic aspect of being gay.

Jensen’s words are dangerous because they are attempting to start a debate where none actually exists. Publically announcing that homosexuality is inherently destructive when there is no scientific basis for such a claim places an already marginalised community at even greater risk of discrimination.

It is also an excellent way to try and shut down the gay marriage debate. How can gay marriage be acceptable when simply being gay is likely to kill you?

Stirring up these sorts of non-debates is a favoured tactic of groups who oppose what the scientific community already accepts.

Climate change, for instance, is accepted by 97% of scientists as a real phenomenon caused, at least partly, by human activities. And yet, despite this scientific consensus, climate change sceptics continue to inflame the ‘debate’ by insisting the science is ‘still out.’

Almost invariably, when the issue is discussed, what we actually see is not scientists debating but lay sceptics refuting the science, many of whom stand to personally profit by delaying the implementation of climate change policies.

If we are still arguing about whether climate change is even real, then we don’t actually have to do anything about it.

The same goes for evolution. It is commonly accepted by scientists that there is more evidence establishing the theory of evolution than that of gravity. Gravity.  And yet, religious commentators  in the US insist it is ‘only a theory’. By completely misrepresenting the concept of scientific theories, they decry the teaching of evolution in schools and insist on children being exposed to the ‘other side’, i.e. creationism, as if the two were equally legitimate. Consequently, many American children grow up thinking that religious mythology has scientific credibility and is a viable alternative to evolution. .

For the record, in the United States (the country which has a higher degree of belief in creationism than any other), a 1991 Gallup poll found that out of 480, 000 scientists working in life and earth sciences, only 700 were creationists. That’s just .015%.

Likewise, Jim Wallace’s inflammatory words and Peter Jensen’s softly spoken reiteration could spell a dangerous new era in the homophobic agenda to deny gays marriage and civil rights. Their attempts to stir up debate when none actually exists is a smokescreen designed to cast further negativity on homosexuality and derail that community’s ongoing fight to end discrimination against them.

Don’t be too taken in by Peter Jensen’s politeness. He may speak softly, but he wields a mighty big stick.

Written by Ruby

September 14, 2012 at 7:02 am

In America, as gay rights expand, women’s rights shrink.

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The United States is no stranger to unintentional irony. The Star Spangled Banner, with its proud ‘land of the free’ proclamations, was adopted as national anthem in 1931, even as segregation and lynchings abounded, and Jim Crow was the law of the land.

Last Monday, Americans celebrated Independence Day, secure in the knowledge of their place as the world’s greatest bastion of freedom and democracy. But the familiar Fourth of July spectacle once again masks a barely concealed hypocrisy, evident in the way the rights of two groups, long the victims of discrimination, are currently faring in America’s legal system.

For the gay community, the long march towards equality continues. The latest, and many say most important, victory came three weeks ago, when New York legalised same sex marriage. As civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson told CBS News, “Now that we’ve made it here, we’ll make it everywhere”.

For millions of American women, however, there is not much to celebrate as their right to bodily autonomy comes under greater threat than ever.

Anti-abortion activists have for some time realised their likelihood of overturning Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion in 1973, was slim.  In recent years, they have, instead, set about undermining the ruling in such a way as it make it all but meaningless in practical terms.

This tactic is working. In 2010, the New York Times reported that by June of that year, at least eleven states had passed laws regulating and restricting abortion. These include forcing women to undergo and view an ultrasound before an abortion can proceed, the intention being that once a woman ‘knows’ what she is aborting she will naturally change her mind. This leads one to wonder just what the law-makers believe these women think they are pregnant with.

Other measures include the current push to defund Planned Parenthood, the national women’s health clinic. Despite a Senate vote in April blocking its federal defunding, some states including, Indiana and Tennessee, are passing bills to strip the organisation of funds on a state level. According to Planned Parenthood’s own records abortion only makes up 3% of its total services. Others include routine pap smears, STI checks and birth control advice. This targeting of Planned Parenthood is less an attack on abortion, and more a full-scale assault on American women’s health and reproductive rights.

Last year, Mississippi passed a law barring insurance companies from covering abortions, whilst Oklahoma now requires doctors to answer 38 questions about each abortion they perform, including the reasons for the abortion, a seemingly clear violation of the right to bodily autonomy and privacy.

Some states, including Kansas, have just one abortion clinic servicing the entire state. With a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, it makes for a time consuming and expensive trip, which many simply cannot afford. This, presumably, is entirely the point. Roe v Wade is fast becoming an empty statute granting ‘rights’ that women have no means to exercise.

It doesn’t end there. A recent article in The Guardian revealed some American women who miscarry are being charged with murder. One of them was 15 years old at the time and faces life in prison if convicted.

All these factors combine to make America, in the words of feminist blogger Melissa McEwan, “a scary place to be a woman.”

What is ironic, however, is that the push of the anti-abortion movement to grant ‘personhood’ at the moment of conception (a battle they appear to be slowly winning), ignores the fact that, historically, abortion in the early stages of pregnancy was never seriously challenged. The absence of any serious taboo is evident given the late 19th century’s plethora of newspaper advertisements appealing to women to act before the ‘quickening’, it being generally accepted that the ‘soul’ entered the body at around eight weeks into the pregnancy.

Abortion’s status as a religious and moral issue, and the general distaste with which it is viewed, was not created until abortion was legalised. Far from progressing in a straight line, the rights of American women are in danger of regressing to pre-19th century standards.

All of which goes to show, that despite our tendency to believe that each generation lives better than the last, society rarely progress in a straight line on any issue. Whilst the hard-earned victories of the gay community deserve to be celebrated, it is ironic that they come even as the hard-earned victories of feminists are being obliterated.

Written by Ruby

July 15, 2011 at 8:33 am