Playing the suicide card

By Dr David van Gend

Here are the rules for the gay marriage debate according to Greens leader Richard Di Natale: shut up and agree with the Greens or you are culpable for gay suicide. Shelve the plebiscite because, as he says, “we’ll see young people take their lives on the back of a hateful and divisive debate in the community”.

Has there ever been a more shameful example of political blackmail? Not only shameful but also insulting to Australians who should be free to speak their mind on marriage without being demonised as “haters” with blood on their hands. Not only insulting but also reckless: there is a dangerous power of suggestion when politicians tell LGBT youth they are victims of society’s homophobia and deserve to be suicidal.

Melinda Selmys warned of this danger, reflecting on her lesbian youth: “I am exceedingly wary of attempts to put the onus for gay suicide on “heterosexist” culture. It is not in the interest of any teenager – gay, straight, transsexual, or non-sexually identifying – to be told that suicide is a natural reaction to their reality.” She experienced depression from early life and writes in her book, Sexual Authenticity, that it was her sense of responsibility that stopped her harming herself: “To be able to say, ‘It’s not my fault, I had no choice, too much was expected of me, society made me do it’ has only ever helped make it easier to entertain thoughts of self-annihilation.”

Even the well-meaning spokeswoman for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Shelley Argent, plays with fire when she uses youth suicide as an argument not to have a marriage plebiscite, saying “It’s better to wait than to be walking over bodies as you walk down the aisle”.  Yes, that is a sound bite with morbid power, but parents and friends should beware of suggesting to an impulsive adolescent mind “that suicide is a natural reaction to their reality”, and beware the demoralising effect on an individual of being continually told they are weak.

It seems everyone is an expert on the dynamics of LGBT suicide, but in fact our ignorance is extensive. For instance, we don’t even know if LGBT people suicide more than other people; there is no shred of evidence from overseas that a national debate on marriage has contributed to LGBT suicide; we don’t know if changing the marriage law would have any significant impact on the emotional health of LGBT youth. If anyone was in the mood to listen to moderate voices, they could learn all that from Professor Rob Cover of the University of Western Australia, himself a gay man.

Cover acknowledges that “the actual rate of GLBTIQ youth suicide and self-harm is not fully known.” He finds “the relationship between the legalisation of marriage and GLBTIQ youth health and wellbeing is more complex and it is important not to assume that legislative amendment leads directly by itself to a reduction in youth suicidality.”

A pox upon your academic moderation, say the Greens and gay activists, as they crank up their hysterical campaign about a plebiscite pushing LGBT youth off the edge. Leading LGBT spokesman Rodney Croome has such a well-founded fear of losing the popular vote in a plebiscite that his ill-founded fear of losing a young gay man to suicide has reached embarrassing heights: “If there is a plebiscite, and when the first gay kid dies at his own hand because of the hate and fear-mongering, I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know I did everything I could to stop it.”

Not if the kid dies, ladies and gentlemen, but when. Even if such a thing has never happened in any other country; even if it is a clinically preposterous proposition that a sane young person would kill himself because he was exposed – shock, horror! – to an opposing argument on gay marriage. Croome’s continual message to gay kids that they are weak and that suicide would be entirely understandable is one of the most dangerous messages any leader could send. Shame on the Greens and gay activists for treating LGBT people as such intellectual and emotional basket cases.

None of the gay and lesbian people I know fit that caricature. Opponents of a public vote on marriage have chosen to infantilise same-sex attracted individuals by treating them as victims who cannot cope. I challenge gay people to reclaim their pride, tell these nannies where to go, and get stuck into the public plebiscite.


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