By David Ayliffe
“We will decide”
When the savagery of ignorance
makes the savagery of innocence
The cruellest cut of all.
“Who will come.”
As the wise men drive past
Eyes-glazed staring at the crying eyes
of the children at the windows of their prison,
hotel of leisure.
“To this country.”
They are determined to do nothing to ease
that suffering of the rejected ones –
the comfort of their cars too great.
“And the manner in which.”
That savagery of ignorance
Makes the savagery of innocence
The cruellest cut of all.
“I stopped the boats.”
the child King proudly says.
Staring at the windows
Where the sinners,
mothers’ sons and daughters
outside the city of the damned.
Yet he prays wearing out the carpet next to his bed.
But the prophets of hate
still preach at the gate
till their words become blood
on the ground.
“They have a go and get a go.”
What then of the suffering children?
“We will decide who will come to this country and the manner in which they come.”
Freedom Is Mine – Victorian Pride Centre
I wrote the above poem about the work to which I am committed supporting LGBTQI+ refugees from Africa and other places. Yes, my poem is political but I do not apologise.
I have just attended the launch of the “FREEDOM IS MINE” exhibition at Melbourne’s beautiful Victorian Pride Centre, St Kilda. FREEDOM IS MINE is a raw and powerful portrait exhibition of LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum in Australia, members of not for profit Many Coloured Sky’s Queer Refugee and Asylum Seeker Peers (QRASP) community.
This was a powerful evening. I found the photographs and the brief text that accompanies each one very moving indeed.
Consider just one:
“For an LGBTQI+ person, life is like a boat on the ocean.
Waves will try to knock you down and push you back to where you started.
But if you fight through them, the entire ocean is yours.”
The person who wrote this is discovering a whole new world of promise, an entire ocean. On the way though there are far too many who have drowned. Not because of politicians’ descriptions of leaking boats, but because of words that people say that put holes in their hearts and in their minds and a violent world that will not accept them for who they are.
In Australia, But Seeking Welcome
A real welcome for the wonderful volunteers working with Many Coloured Sky would be for their efforts in our community to be recognised with permanent residency. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to hear the stories of refugees still suffering their lack of acceptance from the land they love, but committed to caring for each other along the way, and working tirelessly to that end.
Thank You, Malcolm Farr
In the poem, I use the expression “The Savagery of Ignorance.” It is a very powerful expression but not my own. Veteran journalist Malcolm Farr used it on ABC television’s The Drum recently when commenting in a segment about a new podcast “The Greatest Menace.” The podcast focuses on the world’s only known “gay prison,” which operated in Cooma, NSW, to house men convicted of homosexual offences. Can you believe it? Ah, Australia we have so much to be proud of in our history(!)
Farr’s comment related to a phrase used in 1958 by a then NSW Police Commissioner: “Homosexuality is the “greatest menace” facing Australia.” It was because of attitudes like that the gay prison in Cooma was established. So cruel that the horrendous practise of gay conversion therapy, normally attributed to ultra-conservative religious groups, was then practised in that prison by the State.
Talk about injustice.
Preachers Of Hate
In the poem, I speak of the preachers of hate. We haven’t moved far enough from that repulsive statement by a forgotten police commission in the late 1950s. During the dreaded 2017 plebiscite under the Prime Ministership of a man we had such hopes for, Malcolm Turnbull, every gay, lesbian and trans person in Australia was put on public display to be judged by the populace of Australia as to whether they were worthy of having their love relationships recognised or not. At the time perhaps it was the only way to get past the hard right in his party who were so against it and who still wield power and control. Thankfully back then Australia proved the hard right politicians just how wrong they were.
Yet it was only in 1997 that Tasmania became the last Australian state to change the repressive laws that criminalised homosexuality. Only twenty-four years ago! And it was just over a year ago that South Australia became the last state to abolish the “gay panic” laws that allowed that defence to be made to reduce a murder charge to manslaughter. Incredible.
Not surprising then that in the last weeks of sitting of the current government, that furphy of a Religious Discrimination Law was being discussed – a promise of another conservative Prime Minister. If passed it would, give conservatives their way and enable Government-funded religious schools the enshrined right to discriminate against people who didn’t comply with their beliefs. It would include gay and trans people. Ironically, just prior to this in the news we were horrified to read of Citipoint School, part of the Hillsong network, where parents were required to sign agreeing to a definition of sexuality that precluded anyone but heterosexuals and that would give the school the right to dismiss gay and trans students for the crime of being themselves.
All of this is bad enough in Australia but take the words of the preachers of hate to other continents, say, Africa and those words became the fuel for a fire that literally destroys people because of their sexuality. The preachers and politicians literally have blood on their hands and don’t care. Many countries in Africa still criminalise homosexuality both in public and private. In private? The organisation with which I am associated, “Humanity in Need – Rainbow Refugees” deals with LGBTQI+ refugees from Uganda who have fled persecution from families, churches, neighbours and the state. Oftentimes gay men or lesbians will tell of their partners being killed by their families or their neighbours and police turning a blind eye. Fearing retribution against themselves, they flee to Kenya where there are two refugee camps (that Kenya plans to close) but where also homosexuals and trans people are outlawed. So much for asylum. So much for refuge.
Homophobic Gangs Rape And Kill
In the camps homophobic refugee gangs will persecute, abuse, beat up and rape LGBTQI+ refugees. In the view of these gangs the LGBTQI+ people are not human after all. They have heard enough preaching against these “vessels of the devil” so their attacks for some become “God’s work.” The words of the preachers of hate from America whose message is clear through social media and YouTube inspires them. So too are the words of conservative people in Australia and other countries.
We have seen community blocks in Kakuma Refugee Camp burnt to the ground with people inside killed or injured so badly that they cannot survive. We know of lesbians raped by the mobs, and sometimes even by the police, to help cure them of the evil that makes them who they are.
Recently we supported:
- a man to have surgery after his nose was slashed off by a machete wielded by someone who saw the devil in him.
- a lesbian to have surgery to repair internal damage because of rape.
- a young boy to be reunited with his birth father – the boy faced violent attacks from his community because his birth father was gay and therefore the innocent boy was contaminated.
- a food program to supplement the meagre supplies the UNHCR is able to give refugees
- medical care when in some cases it has been denied, and
- we continue to help fund safe houses in Nairobi where LGBTQI+ folk desperate to find safety in welcoming countries find some security.
What then of the man whose rotting foot may soon be amputated because we can’t raise the money to pay the medical bills that will save him.? Or the ex-Kakuma refugee (who fled in fear after murders and violence there), and who is about to be deported back to Uganda from Somalia to face possible death because he lacks bail money? And so many more.
I wrote the poem and do this work because as a Christian I am angered by the hatred that conservative religious people and others vomit that leads to this violence. There is a direct link between their religiously inspired hatred and lives lost. Homophobia hidden behind ancient religious texts is the worst kind. It purports to be holy, but it is simply wholly wrong.
Humanity Needs Us
Why is it that few churches, who purport to preach a Gospel of a loving God, will out themselves to support these least of the least.
After all, you don’t have to be a person of colour to care about race.
You don’t have to be an Aborigine to care about the injustice against our First Nations People. You also don’t have to be an LGBTQI+ person to fight for equality and mercy for the LBGTQI+ community.
Please join us.
Don’t be like the child king in the poem who boasts of stopping boats.
Don’t be like the wise men comfortable in their Commonwealth cars and unable to empathise with the genuine plight of refugees held in detention either in this country or those seeking refuge from abuse in their own.
We are currently developing a partnership that will enable tax deductibility for donations supporting our development work in Africa. This will be announced soon.
Meanwhile, your regular donation, no matter how small will help us demonstrate Australia is no longer the place of the 1950s where we alone of all countries in the world had a recognised prison designated for homosexual men. It will demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of people who supported same-sex marriage are truly representative of a new Australia that values humanity and equality first and not on ancient beliefs that condemn some for being different whilst rewarding others for being the same. Please donate to support our work for refugees in Kenya here:
“The Greatest Menace” podcast
Freedom is Mine Exhibition:
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