Do women's periods really sync when they spend time together? Photo: Stocksy
In the wake of the horrific Orlando shootings, I saw a lot of my queer friends on social media - hurting, confused and scared - declare that they hate religion. Now, there was a lot of Islamophobic sentiment flying around at the same time and probably a few of these people were driven by that motivation too, which I don't support, but what struck me was a general hostility towards the concept of religion in general, rather than a specific practice. And while I know that it's probably going to hurt a lot of religious people's feelings, this isn't an unjustified feeling.
Unfortunately, it makes sense. Religion - as interpreted by certain churches, by politicians, by specific groups of people, and by damaged individuals - has been a driving force of hate and intolerance towards LGBTQI people for a long time. In the United States, you have a fringe church picketing the funerals of the victims of the Orlando shootings, proclaiming that the recently murdered are abominations because of their sexuality. In Australia, we are forced to listen to the opinions of the Australian Christian Lobby in the media, in regards to our access to equal rights, the most publicised issue being the current battle for marriage equality. We have the deeply insulting plebiscite, where the public gets to vote on whether or not we can get married. Scott Morrison recently tried to equate the pushback he gets for airing homophobic statements with the actual reality of bigotry and abuse that LGBTQI people suffer, as if being Christian was under the same kind of stigma.
Now, I'm completely and utterly aware that "religion" is too large a beast to generalise about, and that the majority of truly torrid hate speech is coming from small, unrepresentative fringe groups - but the fact is that religious people and religious culture and religious politicians and political parties do have a say in how queer people live their life in this country, and their voices and views are contributing to our current unequal and homophobic culture. It's hard not to take that personally.
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For people like me, there is an added feeling of dislocation to this feeling of opposition from various religions and churches - the fact that religion means almost nothing to me. I was raised in a non-religious household, which adhered to a couple of mainstream events like Christmas and Easter, but had almost no anchoring in actual faith-based practice. I also spent a lot of my youth growing up in a Muslim country, but being almost completely shut out from that faith due to being a rather cloistered expat. While I was aware that religion was a thing, it always seemed extremely 'other'. When I moved back to Australia, a complicated set of circumstances meant that I finished off my high school learning at a Catholic High School, which is when religion became more than an academic curiosity for me. I sat up the back of the church with the other small percentage of government mandated non-Catholics and played Pokemon cards while people sang hymns and ate the body of Christ. Once again, religion was a thing that I was aware of, yet separated from.
While my circumstances might be slightly more unique, the fact is that the majority of my queer friends are not religious. A lot of them are post-religious, having been actively targeted by their old church or made to feel unwelcome by a religious family, but for a lot of us, religion is a moot point, an archaic and unrelatable notion. I'm extremely surprised when I meet religious people, because I honestly don't know many. I don't want to erase the existence of LGBTQI people who are also religious, but their life and struggle is very removed from my experience, and is therefore something I can't talk about with any authority.
Considering the very premise of religion is about faith, which is an unaccountable and illogical belief in something, it's incredibly strange to consider that an individual's decision to undertake this process can impact on my life, someone who is perfectly happy without Jesus in my heart. This isn't a debate about the validity or truth of religion either - as far as I know, it's all 100 per cent true and we're going to hell for wearing nylon - but this is about the impact it has on us from religious practitioners. In the recent Safe Schools debate, there were repeated calls from Christian parents to keep our 'lifestyle' out of schools. Yet, of the two, sexuality and gender are things we were born with, whereas faith is very much a choice, and pushing morality derived from that faith on other people is also a choice. When I was lured by a school parent along with a couple of other potentially gay kids from my school to a secret conversion party, it was very easy to see the juxtaposition. Nobody is luring Christian youth to gay conversion parties.
The truth of the matter is that in Australia, Christians hold the institutional power. They're in our parliament, there's mandatory chaplains in our schools - and while Christians like ScoMo like to play the martyr card, that hasn't been a relevant play since the Roman Empire disappeared. I don't think it's a good idea to attack an individual's right to religion - it's far too easy to delve into bigotry like the extremely popular Islamophobia that our country is rife with today. But it is important to question and criticise the institutionally powerful, such as Australian Christians, especially when their beliefs are negatively impacting on a minority, such as LGBTQI people. When it's a minority that's particularly at risk - such as the suicide epidemic amongst queer kids - it becomes imperative to criticise how much power religion has in our society.
In theory, I understand all the positive aspects of religions - community, charity, personal and spiritual peace - and I know that for every Scott Morrison, there is a Christian campaigning to improve the rights of LGBTQI people. It's not a binary, or a harsh black and white dichotomy of goodies and baddies, of right or wrong. I don't think less of religious people, despite not understanding their motivations. I'd be perfectly happy for religions to thrive, as long as I had nothing to do with them.
Yet religion doesn't exist in isolation. Religions seem unable to stop reaching out and meddling in other people's lives, crusading across the world, converting via missionaries, campaigning for expensive plebiscites that will cost the entire nation. It seems religion likes to turn queer people into a problem, whereas we'd be happy to just be left alone, and given equal rights at a stretch. For us, religion has made it personal. For a lot of these people, if religion disappeared from the earth, their life would only improve, often immeasurably.