Opinion: Folau rhetoric and our rainbow community

Former rugby player Israel Folau
Former rugby player Israel Folau

I am writing in response to Israel Folau's homophobic hate speech, and recent sacking from Rugby Australia. Out of respect for my LGBTQIAP+ friends and loved ones I will not repeat the words he has used. As an ally I wish to instead send the strong message to our LGBT+ community that you are valued and that this hateful rhetoric is not shared by the popular majority. Diversity and inclusion makes our communities happier, vibrant and more resilient places to live. We value you and we need you.

It's important at this time to bring attention to the fact that LGBT+ people are twice as likely as heterosexual Australians to have no contact with family or no family to rely on during a crisis. What you cannot know if you, like me, have the privilege of being heterosexual is the sense of fear of discrimination in accessing basic services, or having your sexual identity or gender choices pathologised, or the ongoing minority stress of experiencing casual homophobia or transphobia in your day to day life.

In fact, a massive 80 per cent of same sex attracted, trans and gender diverse young people have experienced public insults, many of which occur at school. And yet exclusion can take on even more subtle forms. What you would never notice if you're heterosexual, is how language in education, health settings and workplaces is heteronormative (based on heterosexual woman + man relationships) which excludes the experience of LGBT+ people. These are some of the small ways exclusion can leave out these members of our society.

Public health research strongly links discrimination and exclusion of this group with poor mental health outcomes including suicide, trauma, self injury and mental illness. What is even more alarming is that LGBT+ communities have the highest rates of suicide of any group in Australia. Up to 50 per cent of trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their lives. That is one in every two transgender people. We also know that for those who have survived an attempt, is that suicide attempts often occur before an individual tries to "come out". So it can be assumed those estimates could be even higher.

When someone dies by suicide we will often say they have "committed" suicide. This implies that the person who has passed is solely responsible for their passing. Or that perhaps they have committed some sort of crime. When an LGBT+ or trans young person dies by suicide, it is not just caused by depression or trauma. It is a political death, it is a death caused by a culture where casual and also overtly aggressive homophobic and transphobic discrimination is defended by religious groups. It is a death caused by hate speech, and those who misuse power and privilege. Most importantly, it is a death that can be prevented through social change and social action.

Israel Folau is claiming that his right to practice religious freedom has been discriminated against. This is simply false, he broke his contract through hateful and public homophobic comments. I have a strong belief in human rights, and a right to religious freedoms, but not at the cost of people's well-being and lives. He is not the victim here, the victims are the people whose lives are directly impacted by hate speech. He even has the audacity to make Australia pay for his hateful bigoted and homophobic opinions. He is in a position to call for a more equitable, inclusive and just society and he is choosing hate. Now that he has backing from the Australian Christian Lobby I wish to call on our local faith based leaders to call out this hate speech and send a positive public message of inclusion to our Rainbow community.

Eliza Zanuso