It’s Time To Strengthen Our Anti-Discrimination Laws

This week we marked International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. It’s an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come on the road to equality for LGBTI people, but also to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead.

Here in Australia we have much to be proud of. Community attitudes have changed considerably and LGBTI people are more visible than ever before. Yet despite this, the parliament continues to lag behind when it comes to eliminating discrimination under the law. Discrimination in the Marriage Act has been a hot-button political issue for many years in Australia. It is now no longer a matter of ‘if’ we will see marriage equality but ‘when.’ And hopefully we will get there without Turnbull’s $160 million plebiscite!

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More Action Needed To Combat Homophobia In Schools And In Parliament

I was about 10 when I was first called a “fag” and a “poof”. At that time I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t a compliment. The names had a new sting when I realised that I was gay and even though I was in the closet for my teenage years, it seemed there was no fooling the kids in the school yard. The idea of coming out and being open about my sexuality filled me with dread.

There’s no doubt that Australia has changed a lot since I was at school. There are far more gay people in public life and popular culture and differences in sexuality are discussed much more openly. That’s a wonderful thing. But unfortunately homophobia is still alive and well in the school yard and, as demonstrated last week, in parliament.

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You already knew Thorpe was gay? No, you didn’t

 

Ian Thorpe’s declaration that he’s gay has been met with a combination of celebration and mockery. While many have praised the Olympian for speaking out, others have joked that he has simply revealed what everybody already knew.

Finally! What took him so long?

But did we really already know and who determines when it’s time to come out?

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Personal attacks don’t advance the cause

Australian politics is certainly not for the faint-hearted and vitriol is levelled at politicians of all stripes. John Howard was famously described as a “lying rodent”, Julia Gillard a “bitch” and a “witch”, while Tony Abbott has been derided as an “economic illiterate” and an imbecile. But how much is too much and where do we draw the line?

It seems in answering these questions it’s difficult to stray far from partisanship and here both sides are guilty of hypocrisy.

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Coming-out myths and why we fear fluid sexuality

Olympic diver Tom Daley created a media splash on Tuesday when he announced that he was having a relationship with a man. The response provides an interesting insight into community attitudes towards sexuality and suggests that while there is growing acceptance of difference, most people still have a pretty narrow view of what it means to be “not straight”.

Some media outlets greeted the news with rapture, enthusiastically proclaiming that Tom Daley had “come out as gay” while others on Facebook and Twitter burst into spontaneous applause as Daley finally confirmed what “everybody already knew”.

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Playing The Man?

Julia Gillard came under fire for playing the so called ‘gender card’, but a closer examination of the Rudd v Abbott contest reveals that it is her male adversaries who have been using gender as a political weapon.

The relationship between masculinity and ‘strong leadership’ is a persistent theme in Australian politics. Hawke positioned himself as an Aussie larrikin, while Keating used his aggressive style to establish his authority. Howard channelled masculine concepts of power when the War on Terror saw him emerge as a ‘Man of Steel.’ Both Rudd and Abbott have sought to draw on these themes, projecting their own versions of masculinity and using this to define their opponents.

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War On Gillard Proves We Still Have A Long Way To Go

Julia Gillard may not be the best Prime Minister Australia has had, but she’s certainly the most resilient. During a gruelling 3 years she has endured a campaign of vitriol and vilification unrivalled in our politics.

While Keating, Howard and Rudd were all subject to scathing criticism, a special contempt has been reserved for Gillard. The reason for this is worthy of further examination and reveals much about attitudes towards gender in Australia.

I offer this analysis with an important caveat. Like many Australians I disagree with a number of the Prime Minister’s policies. Gillard has perused an immoral and ineffective immigration policy, negotiated a weak mining tax, stripped funding from universities and single mothers and shown a frustrating recalcitrance on the issue of gay marriage. All of these things are worthy of public criticism and debate. All too often however, criticism of Gillard has been more personal than political.

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007: License to Stereotype?

The latest instalment of the Bond franchise not only marks the 50th birthday of the world’s most famous spy, it’s also the first time 007 has faced-off against a gay villain.

It might be a first for Bond, but cinema is no stranger to the ‘gay psycho’ theme.

While community attitudes have changed considerably since Sean Connery first ordered a martini in 1962, shaken not stirred, Hollywood still has a long way to go in terms of providing more diverse representations of homosexuality on screen. In fact, negative stereotyping of same-sex attracted people through film is older than James Bond himself.

Hitchcock’s 1951 film Strangers On A Train typifies Hollywood’s traditional take on gay characters. Two men meet randomly. One develops an unhealthy obsession with the other and both their lives are turned upside down.

It’s a theme revisited in 90s’ hits Single White Female and The Talented Mr Ripley. Even Judi Dench gave it a go in the noughties with Notes on a Scandal – cast as an ageing lesbian obsessed with her much younger, straight female colleague.

Thrillers and horror films are best understood as modern allegories and the message is always the same; play with fire and you’re going to get burnt. Badly.

In this context, gay relationships are presented as being fraught with danger – synonymous with obsession, unrequited love and misery. Such representations reflect the traditional belief that homosexuality (especially among men) is somehow threatening to heterosexuality.

In recent years these representations have changed. The dangerous psycho has evolved into the insipid handmaiden to a usually female protagonist. In fact, the perennially single gay character with acerbic wit has been a mainstay of virtually every romantic comedy since My Best Friend’s Wedding.

While the harmless gay friend may be a step up from the ‘gay psycho’, there is hardly cause for celebration here. Such characters add a dash of colour (and gratuitous fashion advice!), but they never pose any serious threat to the dominance of their heterosexual peers. Their own life-stories and romantic desires are usually airbrushed over as they live vicariously through their female friends.

The gay character of the rom-com may win social acceptance, but he only achieves this by being captive to the agendas of heterosexuals.

There have however been some notable exceptions in recent years. For instance, Milk and Brokeback Mountain were both commercially successful films that offered different depictions of gay characters.

There are also some notable examples on television. Since Ellen came out (both on screen and off) in 1997, gay characters have been central to a range of sitcoms, including Will & Grace,Modern Family and Glee.

A step-up from their two-dimensional peers on the big screen, these characters generally enjoy positive relationships that are respected by their families and communities. In so doing, they potentially build acceptance for same-sex attracted people and their relationships.

Despite these advances in television, film continues to lag behind. The silver screen generally presents just two, equally unflattering representations of homosexuality: ‘predatory sociopath’ or ‘harmless half-wit.’ Gay men are either to be feared or ridiculed. They can’t be strong and intelligent without being crazy, while lesbians are practically invisible.

So why are these depictions important? Indeed, gay and lesbian people are not the only population group to face unflattering characterisations on screen. The difference is that in the instance of same-sex attracted people, these characterisations are rarely balanced by more positive and realistic representations.

When a group is largely absent from popular culture, negative characterisations are all the more powerful. Here film has the potential to not only reflect existing social anxieties and attitudes but magnify and even legitimise them. Cinema is a remarkable medium, one that can both mirror society and project a version of society. In doing so, it shapes social values and attitudes.

This social and cultural power is evidenced in the depiction of women on screen. While the 70s may have been a period of women’s liberation, the 80s and 90s saw a backlash through cinema as ‘career women’ were all too often presented as emotionally unstable and dangerous. Fatal Attraction is perhaps the most famous film of the genre. While cinema has certainly diversified its female characters in recent years, many of these stereotypes still endure in contemporary culture and have the potential to influence social attitudes today.

While gay and lesbian people have achieved some positive human rights advances in recent years, if cinema is anything to go by, the battle is far from over.

It’s time for Hollywood to move beyond the straight and narrow and better reflect the diversity of the community. Finally creating gay characters with the popular appeal of James Bond (rather than his nemesis) would be a good place to start!

* This piece was first published on the the Drum Online on the 7th of December 2012. 

 

 

007: Licence to Stereotype?

The latest instalment of the Bond franchise not only marks the 50th birthday of the world’s most famous spy, it’s also the first time 007 has faced-off against a gay villain.

It might be a first for Bond, but cinema is no stranger to the ‘gay psycho’ theme.

While community attitudes have changed considerably since Sean Connery first ordered a martini in 1962, shaken not stirred, Hollywood still has a long way to go in terms of providing more diverse representations of homosexuality on screen. In fact, negative stereotyping of same-sex attracted people through film is older than James Bond himself.

Continue reading “007: Licence to Stereotype?”

Time To Abolish ‘The Gay Panic’ Defence

There can be no doubt that support for gay rights is continuing to build in Australia, yet criminal law in a number of state jurisdictions lags behind.

It is hard to believe that in the second decade of the 21st century, in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, the ‘gay panic defence’ (or ‘homosexual advancement test’) can still mitigate murder to manslaughter in instances of unwanted, non-violent ‘homosexual advance’.

This partial common law defence to murder was established in 1997 in the controversial case of Green, where a man stabbed his friend to death with a pair of scissors after an unwanted (non-violent) sexual approach. Green was initially sentenced to murder, but later appealed on the basis that his friend, Gillies, had provoked the violence.

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Extreme Makeover?

To say “watching Being Lara Bingle is about as much fun as colonic irrigation” might sound like a sarcastic throw-away line, but I mean it quite literally.

Last week I was shocked to see Bingle actually undergoing the procedure on national television. My horror was compounded when I tuned into The Shire and learnt that finding a grey hair was the most traumatic experience of Vernesa’s life. High drama, indeed!

Whether it’s The Biggest Loser, The Voice, Australia’s Got Talent, Amazing Race, Survivor, The Apprentice, The Block, Big Brother or MasterChef, Australian television is dominated by programs about ordinary people, doing ordinary things.

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