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Should Fred Nile have been on the queer Q&A last night? Yes.

It was a mini-Mardi Gras on ABC last night.

“I don’t want to ban homosexuals, I don’t have a problem with homosexuals… Just with homosexual ACTS.”

And with that, Fred Nile showed everyone why we need shows like last night’s ‘Queer’ edition of ABC’s QandA,  reminding us how far we still have to go.

In case you missed it, last night the ABC screened Between a Frock and a Hard Place, a documentary about  Stephan Elliot’s iconic film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. For all the charm of the film, the raw homophobia portrayed in Priscilla reflected some of the very real horrors of being openly gay in Australia in the 70s and 80s.

I remember watching Priscilla well with friends. As a young gay man in Canberra, growing up in the 90s I didn’t experience the intense, overt homophobia of the outback towns portrayed in Elliot’s vision. Nonetheless, as a queer who always wanted to have kids, the film’s most important sequence, when Hugo Weaving’s character comes out to his son, resonated intensely for me. Finding family, love, and acceptance. Forget the frocks, the ping-pong balls, and the desert sand, that’s what Priscilla was about to me.

Despite how far we’ve come and the impact the film had, those three things still elude plenty of queer people.

Red Nile on QandA.

And while today’s political hot potato is gay marriage, the QandA panel that followed Frock, thankfully, focussed on much more important issues to the queer community: homophobia in schools, transgendered rights, and gay parenting.

Here’s what we need to talk about after the show:

Should Fred Nile have been on the panel at all?

While Fred may have been outnumbered by queers on the panel, he certainly wasn’t afraid to personify historical attitudes to homos. Certainly, Twitter was offended at his inclusion:

Fred did feel a little like a poop at a pool party: unfortunate but inevitable. He may have seemed like a wrinkled pinata, there to be batted about by the more vibrant members of the panel, but he was an important reminder that there’s still plenty of people who feel icky seeing ladies holding hands and men kissing and give zero shits about democracy or human rights. Especially when he said, “I don’t want to ban homosexuals, I don’t have a problem with homosexuals… Just with homosexual ACTS.” Oh….   Watch the Q and A panel discuss marriage equality below (post continues after video)…

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It’s not ALL about gay marriage, people.

Firstly, are we bored of gay marriage yet? Because God, I am. Even long-time writer and gay rights advocate Professor Dennis Altman and founder of Keep It Purple, Katherine Hudson, seemed exhausted by the lack of action. It just needs to happen, and if we get swallowed by the sea as a result then… At least we won’t have to argue about gay marriage anymore.

QandA’s Queer Special panel: Julie McCrossin, Paul Capsis, Fred Nile, host Tom Ballard, Julia Doulman, Katherine Hudson and Dennis Altman.


Gay teens are still at risk. 

Entertainer Paul Capsis told heart-breaking stories of being beaten growing up for being “a poofter” that seemed to come from a less tolerant era.

“For me it was about, how am I going to get from one class to the next? I was bashed by a whole class once, and I copped it from teachers, too, who could barely hide their animosity to me.

“I was never in the closet,” he said. “People just pointed at me and said, ‘You’re a poofter’.”

But let’s not pretend that we now live in enlightened times.

The Catholic Bishops of Australia just recently arranged for leaflets to be sent to all their students advocating against gay marriage. That’s a despicable misuse of their privileged positions as educators. It’s particularly revolting given 61% of queer students experience verbal abuse and 18% have experienced physical abuse, according to Beyond Blue.

As Katherine Hudson, founder of support movement Wear It Purple said, gay teens are still 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts.

Things have gotten better since Paul’s time, but if we’re going to reduce the high rate of queer suicide, reducing homophobia in schools MUST happen. Start by telling your kids not to use the word ‘gay’. It’s hurtful and it matters to gay kids, just like if the word “woman” became an insult it’d be hurtful to, well, women.

Trans rights are 30 years behind gay rights.

The situation for trans people remains grim in Australia and globally. The recent triumphant transition of Caitlyn Jenner aside, in the words of Julia Doulman (identified by Q and A as “Transgendered Woman”), trans rights are 30 years behind the rest of the gay movement. Incidentally the best line of the night went to Julia who received a raucous round of applause when she declared: “Actually Fred, my first chance to cross-dress publicly was as an altar-boy.”

Won’t someone think of the children?

Gay parenting was the final hotbed issue. The data is pretty clear: the kids of gay parents do better in most contexts than the children of heterosexuals (partly because gay parents have to work hard just to have children).

Fred expressed clear objections to kids missing out on a mum and dad. And as Julie McCrossin – who perfectly described herself as the “friendly suburban face of homosexuality in Australia” – expressed, the idea of kids being raised in families without both can seem strange, at least to older generations.

If there was one consistent lesson from the panel, it’s that being queer and young is damn hard, still. Schools have long been a battleground used by bigots to peddle offensive ideas. That needs to change, not just for older gays like me, but for vulnerable kids still working out who they are.

If we’ve learned anything about sexuality in the last 30 years it’s that simply bullying people won’t change who they are. Since breaking ground internationally with Priscilla, Australia has fallen behind in gay rights. It’s time we caught up.

Toby Halligan is a comedy writer and stand-up comedian and runs a political comedy room in Melbourne every second Sunday of the month called Political Asylum.

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