Mark Latham is engaging in the cheapest kind of politics there is. Creating a false culture war between LGBTIQ people and his paternalistic understanding of the Western Sydney community.
In 2020 so far, One Nation’s Latham has introduced three Bills to the Upper House of the NSW Parliament:
A Bill aimed at making it harder for unrepresented litigants to make complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board.
A Bill aimed at allowing people who claim they are motivated by a religious ethos to challenge government programs, refuse to deliver government-funded services and use their religion to hurt people.
A Bill aimed at making it harder for teachers to do their job and support trans and gender diverse students in their classrooms in the name of parental rights.
This is a brief summary of complex bills. For a more in-depth understanding check out the fantastic explainers prepared by Equality Australia here and here.
The intent is clear. This suite of bills seeks to create a legal landscape which preferences freedom of religion over all other human rights. It creates a false and harmful dichotomy between respecting people of faith and respecting other minority groups, like LGBTIQ people.
Most heinously, the Parental Rights Bill tries to stop teachers from supporting trans and gender diverse students and to challenge their accreditation if they do. This cannot come to pass and would threaten the wellbeing of every young trans and gender diverse person in the state.
But does Mark Latham even believe these things? Does Latham actually believe that the teaching of “gender fluidity” is so prevalent in public schools across NSW that it requires a Bill to outlaw it? Does he really think that people of faith should be able to challenge government programs that offer services to LGBTIQ people without discrimination? Does he truly think LGBTIQ people are shaping the culture of Australia so detrimentally that he must rail against it?
Maybe he does. But more likely, he sees the benefit of holding those views for the future of One Nation in New South Wales. The marriage equality postal survey gave a pretty handy electoral map for people who seek to maximise votes off the back of an anti-LGBTIQ sentiment (to my mind, a wonderful reason not to put the human rights of one group of people to a national vote, but that’s by the by). And Latham knows his ability to grow an influential stronghold of One Nation MLCs rests on the back of gaining only a slight electoral swing, given the low numeric threshold for Legislative Council election.
Latham is importing a culture war from the United States, using the electoral map provided by the postal survey as his guide. Trump has given renewed mainstream voice to an anti-LGBTIQ sentiment across the Western World. Despite claims that Trump is the most “pro-gay president in the history of the United States” it is clear the inverse is true. Trump’s America gives validity to a conservative counter-culture, places where Q-Anon and anti-vaccination rhetoric and fears of the destruction of the suburban nuclear family reside. That is where Latham draws his political message.
Latham speaks to this once-closeted fringe in a language they understand. Speaking of a “post-modernist attack on the nuclear family” or of people who “resent the way in which activists are trying to undermine Western civilisation by undermining religion, by de-legitimising Christianity” or by panicking that “what they’ve now moved to on the Left of politics is cultural Marxism … to run through the institutions”.
But is that really where Australia is at? Is it true that Western Sydney, where Latham has crowned himself king, is awash with fear that trans and gender diverse people are reshaping Australia and that LGBTIQ people are seeking to destroy the family unit? I don’t think we have evidence those concerns are top of mind. My family are worried about expensive toll roads and keeping their jobs during a pandemic-induced recession and making sure their kids attend good schools. Never once I have heard them lament the rise of cultural Marxism.
While the postal survey result was disheartening for all of us with ties to Western Sydney, Latham’s model is not the answer. We know we can engage in conversations with people with divergent views. It may take longer than a ‘get out the vote’ postal survey allowed, but it is possible. There are leaders in our community proudly shaping new realities for LGBTIQ people in Western Sydney and beyond.
But, as the LGBTIQ community once again gather ourselves for a fight, we should reflect on what Latham really wants. It isn’t about us or some fundamental ill we are inflicting on society. Latham cares about getting more One Nation MLCs into Parliament. The most despicable part of his electoral project is the political football he has chosen to kick – young trans and gender diverse people.
This will be Latham’s legacy. An attempt to win a political fight by risking the lives of vulnerable young people. But what Latham underestimates is our community’s ability to fight. And to win.
Audrey Marsh is a rank and file Labor member and LGBTIQ advocate.