Last week, I withdrew my complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner against the Cornerstone Church, their Pastor Campbell Markham and evangelist David Gee.
I lodged my complaint based on what I believe was hateful material presented by Mr Gee in the Speakers’ Corner in Hobart’s Elizabeth Mall, in his capacity as a paid representative of the Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.
I am happy to say that I was able to reach an agreement with the Hobart City Council, and I believe this will be a positive first step towards Speakers’ Corner being a place where everyone will be treated equally and better understand the rules that apply to the area.
Unfortunately, I was not able to reach any agreement with David Gee or Cornerstone’s pastor, Campbell Markham, so I withdrew my complaint against them.
By lodging my complaint, it was not my intention to shut down free speech or public debate.
What I hoped for was that we would find some common ground that allowed David Gee and Cornerstone Church to express their views without causing harm to the LGBTI community.
I was concerned about material presented by Mr Gee, which compared same-sex marriage to sexual assault, paedophilia and bestiality, in particular this example taken from his so-called “Hobart Battle Log”:
“I also discussed with Mr S my regular heckler regarding homosexual marriage. I had challenged him the week before to show me the ways that he would argue against paedophilia being legalised when they use almost the same arguments as the same sex marriage lobby (arguments he accepts).
“Thus far he has spoken only of the disparity in power between individuals as the basis of his argument, I will wait and see what else he thinks of in coming weeks. For those who may be unaware, since homosexual marriage was brought into law polygamy, paedophilia, incest, and even beastiality are being put forward as perfectly normal alternative forms of “marriage” in the USA, Europe, and Canada.
“The arguments put forward by these groups are the same as homosexual marriage advocates used; they merely challenge a further article of marriage (age, number, blood relation or species). This should be a clear warning to us in Australia that acquiescing to homosexual marriage will open wide the door to all manner of relational evils. As is the case of any compromise made with sin, national or personal.”
The claims that marriage equality would somehow lead to these crimes being legalized will sound all too familiar to those who heard the same slippery-slope argument used against the de-criminalization of homosexuality in Tasmania.
Likewise, I was concerned by material presented by Mr Markham, such as the claim that sexual and physical assault were “contributing factors to the start of homosexual behaviour”, and the shameless comparison between children raised by same-sex parents and the Aboriginal Stolen Generation.
It should come as no surprise as to why the Commissioner chose to accept my complaint.
Throughout the marriage equality debate these types of what I see as degrading arguments were presented to the public as being part of a supposedly “respectful” conversation.
But I have received a tremendous amount of support from community members who don’t see it this way at all, and who are offended by these kinds of insulting and condescending comparisons.
This kind of language has an obvious impact on LGBTQI people, in particular the staff working at shops near Speakers Corner who are quite literally forced to endure this kind of language, and many younger people on their way home from school, often caught off guard by the degrading way their sexuality is described at such volume.
Shoppers are also subjected to this kind of language, as the volume carries directly into local stores disrupting their business.
There are also members of the Christian community who tell me they feel the need to apologize for how this behaviour misrepresents their faith.
Members of the general public are expected to behave more respectfully than those expressing these insulting views.
This is understandably difficult for those of us who are not part of the LGBTQI community but have friends and family who are.
In the current religious freedom debate we are hearing how a business should not be “forced to participate in a lifestyle” that goes against their beliefs.
Apparently this does not extend to street preaching, which quite literally forces staff and customers to hear hateful religious rhetoric against their will.
I fully understand why the Council has had a limited capacity to effect the change in the area that many were hoping for.
Previous disputes between street evangelists and city councils across the country have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
David Gee himself has already utilized anti-discrimination laws to force the Council to allow him to preach in the CBD, even though his Church has spoken out against anti-discrimination for years in the name of “free speech”.
I was not able to find a cooperative and mutually respectful way to tone down what I see as the degrading views that everyday Tasmanians are forced to hear from certain street preachers.
I encourage others to work to find a solution because neither the hate nor the damage it causes are going away any time soon.
*Sam Mazur is an Atheist, and was involved in an Anti-Discrimination complaint against a local street preacher for what he saw as degrading comments made against the LGBTQI community, although he is not himself a member of that community.