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Hi. My name is Andre and I’m new to this site. I joined a couple of days ago and answered the questions for the profile page which you can obviously check out if you want to. Within hours of joining, I received the following message:

“Hi Andre... thanks for joining us here! I'm really interested in what you have to say about listening... after the weekend rally (see blogpost) I'm left wondering how to help the homophobes listen... and how can we listen better to whatever is going on for them?”

This is how I replied.

Ah I guess you ask the newbies the easy questions first. This really should be what I call a “port conversation” – sitting with a friend, glass of port in hand of course, and trying to explore a complex issue and find some meaningful way of working to a solution. I know I have no simple, silver-bullet type solution though I’m sure we all wish one could be found.

I guess before I share some of my thoughts it might be useful to just make one or two points about me. I’ve lived with the secret of my sexuality for too many years and it was only in the middle of last year that I finally came out. I have had wonderful support and acceptance from all my family and friends and have encountered limited homophobia from some people I’ve had to associate with. So I’m no expert in dealing with homophobia. And the other thing worth noting is that I have lived a very middle class existence in which I have rarely had to deal with overt anger or physical threats directed at me by strangers. My life has mostly been populated by people and situations in which it has been mostly possible to deal with differences through reason and discussion.

So had I been at the rally, and I now wish I had attended, I would probably have been angered by the fundamentalist protesters and joined in efforts to shout them down like most others did. But, unfortunately or fortunately depending on your point of view, I would have inevitably started to reflect on what had happened and why people did what they did and lots of other things. And that’s when I start to wonder about why some people think some of the things they do. What is it in their lives that brought them to where they are now?

So who were these people on the weekend? I know almost nothing about them other than the little I read on their website and saw of them on videos posted on Youtube. But I guess we all know their type. They are fundamentalists and as such they are the people I fear most. They are people who know they are right and therefore have a certainty in the message they preach. Looking at their website, you can see they attack many groups including other church denominations who they say have been led astray. They preach a literal acceptance of the Bible and are adamant in their belief that every word of it is the divine word of their god.

And, for me, the trouble with dealing with fundamentalists is that they have a belief and reasoning, logically with them won’t change that belief. But I still want to know them and understand them. I would love to sit with one quietly and let him talk and find out what it is that his god saved him from. I believe fundamentalists seek the certainty of their beliefs because they are scared about something in their lives – not being able to cope with whatever it may be. And that’s what I would be seeking to understand – what are they afraid of? So if I do this can I get them then to listen to me? I don’t know but I think I have more chance than if I don’t understand them at all.

But I wonder if they are really such a problem to the LGBTI community. I suspect whatever we do we have little chance of changing their minds. There is probably a much larger group of less rigidly minded people who we probably could get into dialogue with and open up to a wider acceptance of our right to love the people of our choice. And there are probably many who haven’t really thought about the issue because they don’t see it as being important to their lives. And these are people who we as individuals could more likely get to know and talk to and have them listen to us.

I guess some might read these words and criticize what seems to be an approach bordering on appeasement rather than confrontation. And to some extent that would be valid. Inevitably, I feel, for each of us there comes a time when we can no longer try reasoning and understanding but feel, legitimately, a need to take more direct action. And I’ve done that a few times myself. But afterwards I always start to ask questions again.

I’m sorry to have rambled on so much and probably without making a lot of sense. But this is what tumbled out of my head in response to your comment. And that’s without even having a glass of port!

Tonight I found this response.

“This is a wonderful, thoughtful response... one we could all benefit from pondering. The
talking/listening you describe so eloquently is part of the 'everyday activism' I've written about elsewhere... It'd be great if you'd like to cut and paste your response into a blog here. It's really easy you just click 'add' in top right hand corner and when you've finished you can also share on facebook and twitter if you like. I guess the thing is for me... I don't have the time or energy to share a glass of port and quiet conversation with all the many 'moderate' people that I meet (and you describe as potential 'converts' to our cause!) so I hope, to some extent, circulating our Digital Stories in social networks can 'stand in' for us... personal stories that help open a few eyes...

In the meantime glad to meet you,

And that is why I have posted this here. I’m here to learn so feel free to comment. I’d be interested in your views.

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Comment by Andre Stoffels on May 18, 2011 at 23:09

Thanks for your comments Melina and Sophie. I almost wish we could get together and have a great discussion about all of this. It is such a good way to learn. To continue this conversation, may I add a few more of my thoughts in reponse to those you have offered.

Like you Melina I am not a Christian. I identify as an athiest.  I'm happy for people to have their beliefs if that is of value to them and in many of the world's sacred texts there are expressions of ideas that I can see as being worthwhile. But religions, for me, also spawn a considerable amount of the bigotry and hatred we find in the world. So I have no creed to follow in life.  Rather I try to understand and get along with people as much as I can.  Take away all the trappings and I think we are all looking for pretty similar things - love, acceptance, security and some degree of happiness for ourselves and those we love.

But,of course, my attempts to understand and get on with people don't always work.  I do, however, prefer to keep trying as much as I can because I have been surprised sometimes when it has.

As to picking my battles - well I guess I'm really just trying to be pragmatic there.  When I posed the question about the significance of that group of fundamentalists, I guess in my mind it was in the context of whether  my approach at trying to understand them and influence them would have an effect or real value to the cause of Equal Love. And at that level I don't think talking to them will have much influence. Sophie's point about the fundamentalists' impact on politicians is the more relevant issue in terms of the political battle being waged.  We need to be giving the same politicians a similar but contradictory message that says we vote too and more people support our point of view than those of the fundamentalists.  Then of course we need to try to make sure that that is actually true.  That, as I am sure you understand, is simple political reality.

I have been lucky in the response I have had from family and friends when I came out in the middle of last year. And I haven't personally experienced much by way of direct homophobia.  But I kept the secret of my sexuality for close to 50 years because I was afraid of what I might experience if I told the world "I am gay".  And I don't want to live in a world where a young person today might be feeling he or she has to live with that secret like I did.  So I've begun my own small attempts to do what I can.  In support of IDAHO, I emailed the Prime Minister, our Premier and my two local politicians asking them to speak out in opposition to homophobia and to make every effort to help us in our journey to equality.  This is a first for me. And I feel good about it.  I don't hide my sexuality anymore though I confess to being a little more discreet in some company. So I guess homophobia still affects me but I'm trying to fight that feeling as much as I can.

I think I'm going to stop here because I feel I'm starting to ramble.  Perhaps that's because your comments have got me thinking in all sorts of directions. And that pleases me because, as I've said, I want to learn.  I'm new to the LGBTI community so I have so much to learn.


Comment by Melina MIchelle Magdalena on May 18, 2011 at 14:11

Hi Andre, and welcome, and hi Sonja and RTF as well...

I can relate to the sense of leave well enough alone, pick your battles and, to some extent, turn the other cheek... (although I do not identify as Christian myself).

For me there are two main issues that came up from the IDAHO event in Adelaide.

One was, my partner is Christian, and she told me that she feels terribly embarrassed by the actions of such fundamentalist Christians. We acknowledge that there are fundamentalists in other faiths as well, but she feels so personally impacted by this because she was raised with a homophobic fundamentalist attitude, and most of her family members (all the close ones and some of the extended members) have shifted over the last 2 decades towards a more accepting position.

I also read recently an article that posited the inaccuracy of placing Christians, and GLBTIQ people on opposite sides of the debate. There are so many people of faith who are also queer. I think that supporting queer people of faith is a valid reason to engage in these "debates".

However, it's dispiriting to realise how deaf the fundamentalists can be...

Secondly, I used to be quite dismissive of the whole "gay marriage debate" because I don't think I need to support of a government or religious institution to validate my relationship. However, the justice (or lack thereof) hit me, when I first attended an "Equal Love" rally. I thought - why is my love not equal?    

On a social justice level I feel that the homophobia that permeates our culture and society is as damaging as the other social evils, such as sexism and racism. That is why I think confronting homopobia is as important. I was shocked and horrified that such extremists prepared to confront us in such a vicious way, but as I think you Sonja pointed out to us later when we met in the Central Market - what a great opportunity for us to see what is usually so invisible as to be almost disregarded.

None of us can really disregard homopobia in our own lives; as well insulated as we are, as well supported as we might be, such insulation and support has almost always come at the cost of certain relationships, and constructing our comfort zones is done advisably - with caution and risk. We usually have some scary, dodgy, confusing, maddening and saddening experiences after which we learn to censor, to hold back, to pick and choose what we conceal or are open about, in order to protect ourselves. This is internalised, so that it feels OK and normal.

As I said to the staff at my school on Monday, when I closed the staff meeting with "Happy IDAHO", what happened in Adelaide last week was nothing like what goes on in Uganda.

Back to work for me, I guess...


Comment by Sophie Pointer on May 18, 2011 at 9:32

Hi Andre, great post! You wondered whether the Christian street preachers are really a problem for our community and I have to say I think they are. When my family and I spoke to Jamie Briggs MP as part of the call to 'chat about gay marriage with your local federal MP' one of the things he spoke about was the pressure he was recieving to oppose gay marriage from fundamentalist groups like the street preachers. It was obvious from that conversation that such groups are influencing politicians...not necessarily to oppose gay marriage but to maintain the status quo and as a result not further inflame those sorts of groups.

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