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Homophobia is not a question of attitude, it’s a question of power

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

When I was younger, I went to church.

The experience of going, for me, wasn't overly positive, so, as soon as I was able to I stopped going and haven’t been back since. I believe in a higher power, but personally, I never found that higher power inside of a church.

Having said that, I also know that religion, in its many forms, can be an amazing spiritual connection for people, and I absolutely respect and support other’s rights to have that.

The thing is, while I personally don't believe in church, I wholeheartedly support the right of others to go, and live their lives with their God in the way that they choose. I know also that religion is one part of a person's whole being, and that being deserves respect as a basic human right.

Having said that, when religion devolves into bigotry disguised as acceptance, love, or freedom of speech, that’s where I have an issue.

Believe that gays go to hell, if you want. Believe that unicorns are real. Believe that the world is flat, I don’t care.

But when you start hurting others because of what you believe, when bigotry has a clear correlation to suicide statistics, to discrimination, to hate crimes, to bullying and harassment, to violence, then to me this is where the casual observer has a choice. (If you don't know what this is about by now, google Israel Folau. It will become clear.)

The casual observer might say, “Hey, freedom of speech! You don’t have to listen.”

“Freedom of speech” is a simplistic argument most often employed by the person in the room holding the most privilege.

When one has never, or rarely, been in a position where their existence or identity is challenged, then the gift of true free speech is easily obtained and never stolen, and the gift of remaining blissfully ignorant to the plight of those not so lucky remains ever present.

When one’s freedom of speech is wholly contingent on the person with privilege deeming what one says to be acceptable or not, then it becomes a whole lot more complicated.

When freedom of speech has a large public platform, then there is a responsibility to take care with that platform. With power, comes responsibility - something the simplistic arguer often fails to take into account - because accountabilty and power don't always mix well.

The casual observer might also say, “hey, not my problem.” Again, it’s a privilege to choose not to step in. It’s a privilege to be able to remove oneself from an uncomfortable situation. After all, it’s not affecting you.

Netball New Zealand’s large group of sponsors appear to be excelling at this one.

They have largely remained silent, which is concerning as their diversity and inclusion values are now very obviously called into question, given they are essentially paying to support the public platform of Maria Folau.

The sole exception of MYOB, who had this to say:

“We’re strongly committed to the values of diversity, tolerance & inclusion. We welcome Netball New Zealand’s statement affirming its support for those values. We shared our concerns to Netball New Zealand about these comments & have been reassured the matter is being handled appropriately.”

Netball New Zealand’s statement included the words “this is not a matter for Netball New Zealand.”

The casual observer might say, “well, who is it a matter for?”

Certainly, for anyone disappointed in Maria Folau. Certainly the LGBTQI+ Silver Ferns fans and netball players out there.

Certainly LGBTQI+ fans who idolise Israel Folau.

Certainly the family and friends of LGBTQI+ people, who are back in the news this week yet again being reduced to their sexuality in an often dehumanising way.

Certainly, for those wincing at the bigoted comments from some sections of a public that, five years after Marriage Equality was passed, turns out to be not so accepting, after all.

The mark of an accepting, tolerant, and kind society in my book, is a not a society that speaks up for its privileged members only. It’s one that stands up for and protects its vulnerable, its minorities. It’s once that embraces its diversity and makes space at the table for all voices.

It’s one that speaks up not when it’s convenient, when it sees which way the wind is blowing and moves to position itself appropriately. It speaks up when it’s hard. When it’s uncomfortable. It sees where there are conversations that are overdue, and it has them.

It amplifies that voices that aren’t always heard, and it listens to the voices of its future far in advance of said future arriving.

Stokely Carmichael once said, “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude, it’s a question of power.”

I would argue that homophobia gains power not only from the voices that amplify it, but also from the silent voices that ignore it.

Thanks to those who have raised their voices, during what has been a really frustrating week in this country of ours.

Thanks to those who have used their platforms to call out bigotry, to challenge homophobic comments, to stand tall and strong and proud to say "this is not who we are and this is not what we value."

Thanks, and love, to those who are explaining, again, that their sexuality is one part of a whole that one hundred percent belongs, and deserves to be treated with the same respect as any other human being.

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