Hate speech?

Yesterday, I gave a talk at Macquarie University’s Life Week.

The title of the talk was: Same-sex marriage won't affect you? Some consequences & considerations and I used it as an opportunity to suggest some ways in which a change in the definition of marriage might affect the community more broadly.

The full talk can be found here as a PDF and here as an audio, but my main argument went along these lines...

“No-fault” divorce became legal in Australia only 40 years ago, and in that time, we have seen a situation arise where one in three marriages end in divorce.  This demonstrates that a change in law precipitates a change in culture, even if not anticipated at the time.

In a similar way, a change in the law to allow couples of the same sex to marry would also cause a change in culture.  Ways in which this might occur is: undermining the link between marriage and children; an increase in artificial reproductive technologies; promoting the idea that gender is inconsequential when it comes to parenting; an expansion of marriage to other relationships; and challenges to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

I was alerted a few days before the talk that I should expect some opposition from attendees, and so I was not surprised when the Q&A session was largely overrun by people who disagreed with me.  A couple of them dominated the Q&A time, shouting over myself and others as we sought to discuss the issue.

But it wasn’t too disruptive and in any event, I think it is a valuable part of the educational experience for chaplaincy students.  It is not only the content of the talk that I hope the students might benefit from, but also seeing that people might not always challenge your ideas in a way which allows you to enter into meaningful dialogue with them, and that you could respond without matching their antagonism.

I left the event feeling quite content with how it went.

Late last night, though, I was alerted to a Facebook page set up to organise a protest at today’s Life Week talk on the topic of Planned Parenthood and the Commodification of Human Life.  The page announced that students were not given enough notice to be able to protest the homophobic talk which I had given, but that they would be out in force with signs, music and loudspeakers to protest the next one.

As I read through the comments, I saw that I had been accused of a homophobic rant, and quoted as saying things which I absolutely did not say.  A couple of examples:

 

They used these “quotes” to suggest that I had somehow threatened the mental health of LGBTI students on campus, which is a particularly harsh allegation during World Mental Health Week.

They also used it as a springboard to gain support for today’s protest, with the next speaker being a victim of the misrepresentations on the page.

It’s an awful feeling – partly because it is difficult to see blatant lies displayed about you, partly because it is difficult to see them used to try to silence another speaker who was bravely volunteering her time to speak up for the unborn, and partly because it shows a complete disinterest in truth. 

A university is supposed to be a place where education occurs, but what happened here was an attempt to silence people through intimidation and untruths.

By those who purported to be advocating for tolerance, human rights and equality, I had lies published about me.

By those who purported to be advocating for women’s rights, today’s speaker – a young woman – was subject to intimidation and abuse both online and in person.

The two of us were chastised for risking the mental health of others, while we were subject to cyber-bullying and called homophobes and bigots and hate-preachers and any other number of things.

I don’t really know what I think about it all just yet.  I hope that this week’s events don’t deter other speakers, and don’t deter university chaplaincies and others from continuing to hold these types of events.  I also hope that the university continues to permit these types of events to occur, and doesn’t punish those who are seeking to engage in dialogue for the actions of those seeking to shut it down.

Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk contributor

 

Wednesday, 07 October 2015 07:52 Written by 
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

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2 comments

  • Hi Megan!

    Thanks for the comment.

    Just a quick reply... you say: "if you felt uncomfortable with what was being said about you..." What I felt uncomfortable with was that people made up statements and attributed them to me (which is what I have shown in the screen dumps above.) I did not say the things of which I had been accused, and the audio file of the talk attests to that. I have no problem with people seeking to create a dialogue and I in fact welcome it, but I struggle to see how attributing false statements to me is evidence of "dialogue".

    As for the speaker on Wednesday, you say that "the protesters were never trying to shut the speaker down, but rather were attempting to create a dialogue..." I was not at the event but saw Facebook posts saying that there would be megaphones and music with loudspeakers. I do not consider these to be conducive to dialogue either. If dialogue was the aim, then couldn't the participants have simply attended the talk and used the Q&A time to engage in a conversation? Would that have not been more fruitful?

    As an aside, I think you taking the time to comment here is a great example of how good dialogue can occur, and I appreciate you stopping by!

    Catholic Talk, editor Thursday, 08 October 2015 23:08 Report
  • I have many, many issues with your article. For a start, when you say "a change in law precipitates a change in culture" such as when divorce became legal, you say it like it is obviously a bad thing. Is the fact that people who are unhappy are no longer staying in marriages with people they don't love really so awful? Is the fact that women can leave an abusive husband now, really bad for society in any way? And god forbid should children possibly think it's inconsequential for people have two parents of the same sex! What a horrible change in culture to occur! - People becoming more tolerant and accepting.

    I think the most important thing for you to take away from this is if you felt uncomfortable with what was being said about you, and your views, maybe as a Catholic, you should take a step back and have a think about how your words would have made others feel. I know a number of students who were present that day who were extremely upset about what you (and others within the audience) said.

    Also, if you were there on Wednesday, you would know that the protesters were never trying to shut the speaker down, but rather were attempting to create a dialogue and show that there are in fact two sides to the story. This being said, the speaker literally said "women murdering their own children" which seems like extremely offensive language that would very easily upset anyone walking past who may have had an abortion (and it's very likely that someone may have walked past and heard that since it was in the central courtyard).

    Moral of the story, I find it hard to feel sorry for you, when you've clearly made a lot of people feel just as bad as they've made you feel. "Thou shalt not judge lest thee be judged."

    Megan Thursday, 08 October 2015 11:51 Report