Tag Archives: LGBT equality

Christianity vs. LGBTI, an unnecessary war

“This is not a suffering competition for martyrs, it’s a legislative process taking place in a secular nation.”

THE Turnbull government has no firm plans for a public vote on marriage equality. We only know it’ll be ‘after the election’, an Abbott three-word slogan for ‘on the never-never’; and that it will be a non-binding, $160-million-dollar opinion poll that won’t be compulsory for any Australian voter or politician to participate in.

But that doesn’t really matter. While Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t watching, a war cabinet has been plotting against LGBTI dignity from the Coalition backbench, spilling from the party room into the media this week when the Safe Schools program came under attack.

Now is not the time to be under any illusions: Australians in every community are coming under pressure to take a position on whether Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI) have the right to equal marriage and if the parliament should attempt to ensure LGBTI children are no longer alienated and bullied at school.

From many right-wing MPs and senators, and at least one on the left, this program generated hate speech that was about as unparliamentary and dishonourable as it gets, from representatives who bear the word ‘honourable’ in their formal titles.

The Safe Schools program was always going to come under unjustifiable attack. Every LGBTI project I have ever been involved with has become a target if it even hinted at the possibility of going anywhere near a school.

God forbid adults who have lived through the profound lack of in-school protection for LGBTIs seek to ensure young people receive a shred of information, before they start learning myths about diversity from those who would seek to indoctrinate their children against us and the LGBTI students and teachers among them.

Yet the multi-party state- and federally-funded program has revealed deep phobias, from the parliament to my neighbourhood and on social media. The reaction has been so strong it’s become hard to pick the real victims.

Quite rightly, LGBTI groups cited the National School Chaplaincy Program as meeting every one of the accusations levelled at Safe Schools.

12496322_10153958480562813_111425310789912770_oMemes showing the huge disparity between Safe Schools and School Chaplain funding left many people of faith feeling under fire.

I get why – it smarts when you’re made to feel you have to justify your existence.

But this is not a suffering competition for martyrs, it’s a legislative process taking place in a secular nation. While your repression might feel like my oppression, they are certainly far from the same phenomenon, and only one of us is being legislated against.

Whichever citizens can be bothered voting in the never-never plebiscite do not need the distraction of false victims when it comes to exactly who is being oppressed by inequality.

Coming so soon after the Australian Christian Lobby’s call to hit the pause button on anti-discrimination laws so they can hate their way through the marriage equality debate, we’ve woken up in the middle of a war: Christians versus LGBTI.

Bill Shorten called-out Cory Bernardi on his homophobia this week, while Malcolm Turnbull called for measured language, preferring to avoid labelling the hate that dare not speak its name.

I wish it wasn’t happening, I wish our parliament would simply vote on the matter, because in absolving itself of guiding a parliamentary free vote, the Coalition is leading this country to tear itself asunder.

“Bringing homophobia and transphobia into the light will be an ugly process for an ugly energy.”

The marriage equality plebiscite is already causing damage. The debate has become a base numbers game between LGBTI and Christians, so vociferous so early that many voters will simply stay away.

Once we see yes/no campaigns in communities, such as the small island where I live with my husband among a population of around 600, I predict the Coalition’s plan will cause great division.

Homophobia, in my experience, always polarises between two extremes. There are the unacceptable and illegal gay bashings and overt violence, while at the other end of the spectrum are the silent, insidious processes of exclusion that occur right under the nose and invariably go unchallenged.

Gradually, our friends have started to witness attempts to make us invisible in certain conversations, because it’s noticeable when a homophobe addresses someone we’re standing with, but not us.

When we were new to this place, few were aware of this subtle discrimination, but about a year ago, making new friends brought with it the realisation that some of the so-called ‘great people’ living here, who are also incredibly homophobic, would gradually make themselves apparent to anyone paying attention.

As the plebiscite approaches, all this covert behaviour is being forced into the open. Election campaigns in my part of the world take place on the road, where there’ll be no hiding for anyone.

Bringing homophobia and transphobia into the light will be an ugly process for an ugly energy, and where my husband and I might have flown under the radar in certain quarters of our community, we’ll be outed far more than we realise. It’s already started to happen, and we’ve been on the receiving end of verbal homophobia only a few steps from our front door since the Coalition’s plebiscite plan was announced, after not being the target of anything remotely homophobic for more than a decade.

I have never felt the wish to avoid witnessing my own times, but if I could safely opt out of this era, I probably would. I can’t afford a world cruise until marriage equality is delivered, so it’s time to stand visibly, primarily on the home front.

For a generation of LGBTI on the brink of coming out, this period in Australia’s history has the potential to create a similar level of confusion and despair as the AIDS crisis did for my generation, putting nails in closet doors, not removing them.

For that reason I will participate in a long and relentless yes campaign in my community, unapologetic and vocal. They’ll need to face plenty of questions and cut through some uncomfortable moments, but there is room on the yes team for moderate and progressive Christians and people of other faiths.

The reality of picketing the island’s only polling booth, handing out yes material with a bunch of naysayers across the driveway doesn’t fill me with pride, not yet, but at least the homophobes will be as out as the homosexuals in this community, and when we finally have marriage equality, years from today, we’ll know who to hold hands in front of as a reminder of exactly who the oppressed ones were.

Michael’s book Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love is out now. This article was first published on NoFibs.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Australia’s marriage equality in chains

After many years trying to interest the Australian media in my story, particularly the LGBTI media, it was only in the wake of another tragedy that a European mainstream media source published this op-ed on Australia Day. 

AUSTRALIA has long traded on its relaxed ‘fair go’ approach when spinning friendly, down-to-earth slogans to sell our easy-going holiday locations to the world.

But for one pair of British newlyweds who recently honeymooned in South Australia, a crucial danger lay completely hidden.

Why would the same-sex legislation of South Australia be of any concern to David and Marco Bulmer-Rizzi when they planned their romantic getaway?

“Between all the wine tasting and surfing, it’s easy to miss the inequality of this sun-soaked nation.”

We’re an enlightened, first-world society, aren’t we? Neighbours and Home and Away have their share of same-sex attracted characters; South Australia even has a proud record of LGBTI equality, being the first state in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality in 1975. It’s all good, right?

Wrong. Between all the wine tasting and surfing, it’s easy to miss the inequality of this sun-soaked nation.

Hearing about the South Australian legal system’s treatment of Marco Bulmer-Rizzi, who was subjected to the indignity of seeing his husband’s relationship status recorded as ‘never married’ in the wake of David’s accidental death in that state last week, I felt a familiar and frustrating pang of grief.

The international outrage was loud and justified. South Australia’s Premier Jay Weatherill quickly apologised, offering a guarantee that South Australian law would be changed to amend David’s death certificate. In an acute state of grief, Marco gave an interview, expressing his ardent hope that this kind of thing never happens again in Australia.

At that point I got very angry, because I have wanted exactly that ever since my partner Jono died in New South Wales more than a decade ago.

LIFE PARTNERS Michael Burge and Jonathan Rosten in 2002.

In 2004, despite NSW’s same-sex de-facto laws having been in place for five years, my deceased partner’s death certificate was issued to his blood relatives without my name on it or any reference to our relationship.

You read that right: Sydney’s Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages broke the state law to disenfranchise me.

The complicity of the funeral company I’d contracted meant the illegally issued document took me two years to fix. Despite lobbying the NSW Attorney-General, no apology was issued by the state government, and no assurances were given that training would be put in place to prevent anything similar happening to others.

For 12 years, I’ve been communicating the dangers for LGBTI couples and death certification to anyone who would listen. In 2015, I wrote a book about my experience – Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love. My motivation was to increase our awareness about how vulnerable LGBTIs are in Australia, with inconsistent state and federal laws that allow surviving same-sex spouses to fall between the cracks.

But death is a hard sell. Same-sex death is even harder. Too many Australians are unwilling to believe such unfairness and homophobia in our organisations and government departments.

Even more difficult to communicate is the homophobia that leads some families to deny the existence of same-sex spouses. At least Marco Bulmer-Rizzi was spared discrimination at the hands of homophobic in-laws, who were the driving force behind my disenfranchisement.

Whatever the reason behind the silence about my story, right now, there are generations of LGBTI in Australia who remain completely invisible on their deceased partner’s death certificates and were thereby blocked from their spouses’ estates.

Who is to blame for this legal lottery that has been erasing LGBTI stories in Australia for decades?

Politicians, sure, but it has long been painful and depressing to me how slow Australia’s media and publishing industries have been to recognize and disseminate the message about this disconnect. It’s impossible to argue they’re reflecting audience sentiment, when all polling on marriage equality places community support at over 70 per cent.

The solution is staring Australians in the face: a free vote of federal ministers on the floor of the nation’s parliament could enact marriage equality here in less than a week.

Yet national legislation that would sweep aside state anomalies is considered so controversial it put us in a holding pattern on marriage equality years ago.

“There has just never been enough outrage about marriage equality in this country.”

We have a sitting prime minister – Malcolm Turnbull – who supports marriage equality, but the political deal-making when he ousted Tony Abbott saw him sign away the parliamentary vote he once publicly backed. Instead, he has a plan for a divisive referendum at a time and in a manner he’s reluctant to reveal.

In the fallout of the Bulmer-Rizzi case, South Australia’s highest-profile conservative politician, Christopher Pyne, was quick to call for overseas same-sex marriages to be recognized in Australian states and territories.

But his approach illustrates the problem in a nutshell. Although he is a supporter of marriage equality, Pyne would rather advocate for a piecemeal solution that would protect visiting international LGBTI couples long before Australians.

When our leaders start to campaign for the human rights of guests instead of residents, they have lost touch with exactly who they represent in parliament.

Pyne’s words also imply he thinks marriage equality in Australia is so far away we’d best jet off to countries that support our relationships and benefit from a legal loophole.

DISENFRANCHISED SPOUSE British citizen Marco Bulmer-Rizzi.

This behavior is far from isolated in Australia. Our tendency to overlook our creatives in favour of international artists – our ‘cultural cringe’ – is cast into the shade by this even stronger legislative blind spot for all domestic human rights. It’s only ‘bad’ if it makes world news. It only warrants a state premier’s apology when it happens to a foreign national. Fix it by sorting out the laws that the world is watching.

We were caught out treating Marco Bulmer-Rizzi with the heartlessness of our penal-colony roots, and, putting his confidence aside, Jay Weatherill will come up against plenty of homophobic politicians and public servants in his journey to amend David Bulmer-Rizzi’s death certificate. I’m anticipating the British media will track this Australian story closest.


Despite all our ‘fair go’ slogans – or perhaps because of them – there has just never been enough outrage about marriage equality in this country to drive the issue from a statistic into a legal reality. That we got a kick along only as the result of the untimely death of a young gay tourist is shameful.

This op-ed was first published by Gay Star News.  

It also appears in Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.

Carol out in the cold

WITH nothing more complex than a series of firmly closed doors, the film Carol takes a powerful dramatic turn that subtly gives two women the space to explore their attraction.

“The wait for enlightenment will be long, and the darkest, pre-dawn hour lies ahead.”

When Therese (Rooney Mara) slips into the passenger seat beside Carol (Cate Blanchett) and shuts out her fiancé, they leave him blinking on the kerbside. Soon after, Carol’s old flame Abby (Sarah Paulson) firmly shuts her front door on Carol’s estranged husband (Kyle Chandler), leaving him awkwardly framed through a small window.

But it is the shutting of the door between the two protagonists – closed by Carol against Therese at the height of an argument – which makes forbidden fruit all the more potent for both women.

Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay (based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt) uses these pivotal separations to mark out the territory of a love story that breaks several taboos.

The shutting-out of men has been a powerful literary force ever since Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) in which Helen Graham dramatically slams her bedroom door in her husband’s face and created what many credit as the first feminist novel.

CHRISTMAS CAROL Cate Blanchett as Carol and Rooney Mara as Therese.

Published a century later, and phenomenally successful in its day, The Price of Salt disappeared from mainstream lists until Highsmith came out as its author in the 1980s and changed the book’s title. Plans were made in the 1990s to adapt it for the screen, and almost twenty years on – surely one of the film industry’s greatest examples of persistence – the story has been thrust into mainstream consciousness.

And its arrival pulls few punches. The unstable yearnings of unfolding passion will be familiar and understandable to anyone who has ever fallen in love, but emotional and sexual lust between two women is rarely seen on the big screen across suburban cinemas.

Carol contains several quite inadvertent similarities to other stories. When Carol and Therese take to the road, the story has strong echoes of Thelma and Louise. The escapist quality of that journey also speaks to the kind of concealed passion explored in Brokeback Mountain.

Highsmith’s novel traverses similar tragic precipices, yet its originality lies in the choices Carol and Therese make when their love is swiftly and coldly thwarted. Far from home, in a frozen place ironically called Waterloo, they have the door to their world cruelly wrenched open for the very worst of reasons – a blow that lands right in Carol’s weak spot.

It is from this point in the story, the final act of Carol, that Phyllis Nagy has done greatest service to Highsmith, but don’t be fooled by the alleged ‘happy ending’ tag this story has garnered. While it doesn’t have the shock ending of Thelma and Louise or the tragedy of Brokeback Mountain, the denoument of Carol comes with a level of compromise and risk that could never be defined as a positive outcome.

COLD COMFORT The original novel takes its characters on a road trip into America’s heartland.

Cate Blanchett portrays Carol as glamorous and anaesthetised, at times a sheer minx and at others world-weary, as though every stroke of make-up and hair product in the high-fashion front is only just managing to hold her upright. She inhabits Highsmith’s title role with a languid style that is never more poignant than when Carol is required to behave.

The slow burn of Therese’s story is given a sparse amount of dialogue, since her passion must remain internal until it is safe to express. Rooney Mara gives Therese the perfect hyper self-awareness in the role that is closest to Highsmith herself, who revealed in the book’s 1989 re-release that she’d encountered a woman like Carol while working in a department store as a youth. Despite finding out where she lived, Highsmith never made contact.

Knowing the fully fledged rage with which Highsmith went on to live and write by, it’s impossible to watch Rooney Mara’s performance without the sense that Therese would eventually give Carol a run for her money as a self-determined woman.

Haynes has been praised for the visual style of Carol, yet it has nothing like the luminous, throbbing-with-colour quality of his other 1950s-era film Far From Heaven (2002).

Carol and Therese inhabit a darkened, soft-focus, wintry world. Glimpses of sun show themselves at the edges, but remain out of reach, as though the wait for enlightenment will be long, and the darkest, pre-dawn hour lies ahead.

CLAIRE’S CAROL Highsmith’s book was originally published with a different title, under a pseudonym.

Nagy’s screenplay achieves far more with the story’s dramatic turns than Highsmith’s novel, which was her second and suffers a little from not knowing what to do with these characters before she sets them on the road.

Nagy knew Highsmith and drew on her friend’s experience of what it was like to be a lesbian in the 1940s and 1950s by adding detail on the legal and psychological challenges faced by same sex-attracted women in the United States.

But Highsmith’s novel sends Carol and Therese on a journey through America’s road culture, beyond the restrictions of their lives and dangerously oblivious to the ramifications of their journey, that is not fully realised on the screen.

“A mesmerising, disturbing film about unearthing passion and controlling rage.”

The scale of the route rivals that of Thelma and Louise, yet the cinematic potential of vast landscapes is not captured in the film. When the city-dwelling protagonists emerge in an expansive, elemental space they are unlocked from the world that confined them, and their enemies are required to do far more work to rein them in. In this, Carol is a precursor to Highsmith’s best-known works, the Tom Ripley series of thrillers, and leaves the novel worth reading for its own sake.

A mesmerising, disturbing film about unearthing passion and controlling rage for the sake of relationships, Carol explores the limits of what people will accept and the territory they will not negotiate.


The right to evade capture, to avoid being shut out emotionally, are portrayed as loudly as the sexual criminality of the era, and make a universal story out of what might otherwise have remained a period piece. 

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

This article appears in Michael’s eBook Creating Waves: Critical takes on culture and politics.