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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.

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Written by Ruby

September 14, 2012 at 7:02 am