Over the last few years we’ve become accustomed to the Australian Christian Lobby’s, Jim Wallace, bumbling and stumbling his way from one PR disaster to another. This week, we saw Wallace completely humiliate himself and his organisation when he favourably compared the life expectancy of smokers to that of homosexuals.
Retribution was swift. Wallace’s comments resulted in an avalanche of negative media, a social media storm and the indignant repudiation of his views by fellow Christians. Indeed, the public outrage infiltrated parliament house and reached all the way to the Prime Minister’s office.
Significantly, Prime Minister Gillard condemned Wallace’s remarks as offensive and irresponsible and promptly reneged on her commitment to address the forthcoming Australian Christian Lobby’s National Conference.
”To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong,” said the Prime Minister. ”Although everyone is entitled to their own view, these statements reiterated again today on behalf of ACL are totally unacceptable. In light of this, I believe my attendance at the conference would be inappropriate.”
It was the ultimate rebuke made on a national stage and Wallace brought it all on himself.
Last August, in response to a particularly pitiful performance by Wallace on Seven’s Sunrise program, I wrote on this blog:
“If I was one of the shadowy figures pouring money into the Australian Christian Lobby, I’d be having a long hard think about the way the organisation’s been travelling over the last 12 months and asking myself if it’s time for new leadership: ‘Has Jimbo done what we hired him to do or has he made the organisation a national laughing-stock and damaged the ACL’s reputation beyond repair?'”
In that article, I suggested Wallace was overdue for a performance review, noting that, “… if Jim was brought in to give the ACL a veneer of mainstream respectability, he’s failing badly.” This week he proved me right in spectacular style!
Securing Prime Minister Gillard to speak at the ACL’s forthcoming National Conference was a real coup for the Australian Christian Lobby, but it was a decision for which the Prime Minister received a great deal of flak. Close observers have been warning for some time that the ACL has declined into an obsessive, homophobic hate group but the PM has not been listening. Now she is.
This may well be the beginning of the end for the ACL and it is entirely thanks to Wallace’s mismanagement that they have been brought so shamefully into public disrepute.
Wallace’s latest gaffe was made at the University of Tasmania during a debate about same-sex marriage with Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne. The Melbourne Age reports that during the debate, Wallace said:
“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years.”“The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”
“… But what I’m saying is we need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems and … normalising the lifestyle by the attribution of marriage, for instance, has to be considered in what it does encouraging people into it.”
Understandably, it was immediately suggested by those with an in-depth knowledge of Christian right propaganda, that Wallace’s comments were based on a 1994 ‘study’ by discredited American psychologist, Paul Cameron (et al) in association with Cameron’s anti-gay Family Research Institute – an organisation designated as a gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Cameron’s research on the life expectancy of homosexuals is woefully outdated but, more importantly, his bizarre method of research (counting obituaries in gay newspapers) has been exposed, not only as fundamentally flawed, but downright ridiculous. So compromised is Cameron’s reputation that, while right wing Christian propagandists still quote his data, they rarely cite his name.
So, it was no suprise when, in an interview with ABC News, Wallace refuted this connection, insisting instead that his statement was based on a relatively recent, 2009, human rights complaint to the Canadian government, made by a peak gay activist group in a ‘well-referenced’ submission.
“OK, Mr Wallace,” I thought, ” Let’s take your word for it and take a look at that document.”
Based on the information provided by Wallace in his ABC interview, I tracked down the relevant paper: a submission from Canada’s Rainbow Health Coalition.
It is certainly true that the Rainbow Health Coalition’s submission suggests that the life expectancy of gay men in Canada is significantly shorter than average, although they responsibly concede the difficulties in obtaining accurate data on life expectancy in the gay community. It is also true that the Rainbow Health Coalition mention that gay men may live up to 20 years less than their heterosexual peers.
But, why should I take them at their word? Why should I accept the Rainbow Health Coalition’s data simply because it comes from a group that that supports gay rights? Academic discipline requires that we contest, not only the information which challenges our preconceptions, but that which confirms them; that we interrogate not only information sourced from those we oppose, but also that from those we support. Confirmation bias is a dangerous thing as Jim Wallace discovered this week to his great detriment.
So, I decided to do what Wallace and his ACL researchers should have done; critically examine the life expectancy claim made by the Rainbow Health Coalition in their 2009 submission to the Canadian government.
[NB: I should note that Crikey writer, Andrew Crook, undertook similar research and that our independent investigations yielded similar results. I did not read Andrew’s article prior to writing this but am struck by the similarity of our two analyses.]
“Where does this lifespan ‘estimate’ come from?” I wondered. “And how recent is the statistical data on which this conclusion is based?”
Wallace’s suggestion that the figures date from 2009 is highly misleading. It takes no more than a glancing view of the Rainbow Health Coalition’s submission to determine that the estimate of a significantly shorter life expectancy for gay men is not based on their own research, but is referenced to a 2003 book by Doctors Peterkin and Risdon: Caring for Lesbian and Gay People – A Clinical Guide.
Note the date of publication. It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to realise that, if the estimated life expectancy is based on statistical information collected prior to 2003, the data is at least 10 years out of date.
It wasn’t hard to track down the the pertinent chapter from Peterkin and Risdon’s book online. It’s true, they do argue (2003, p. 45) that the life expectancy of gay/bisexual men in Canada is 55 years of age, but, again, this is not based on their own research; it is attributed to “(Jalbert, 1999)”. Their bibliography pointed me in the right direction.
As it turns out, “Gay health: Current knowledge and future actions” is a literature review by Québécois academic, Yves Jalbert. As its name suggests, a literature review is not a report on the original research of the author. Rather, it provides an overview of existing academic literature pertaining to a particular area of study. This means, the ‘life span’ estimate could not have originated with Jalbert in 1999, it must have come from an earlier source.
I’ve been unable to obtain a copy of Jalbert’s paper, but my research suggests that his discussion of homosexual life expectancy is almost certainly based on Hogg et al’s 1997 “Modelling the impact of HIV disease on mortality in gay and bisexual men”, a study undertaken in Canada and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 1997.
This study examined mortality rates among gay and bisexual males in Vancouver and is easily accessible online (you really should try googling, Jim). Importantly, the authors note that the statistics which form the basis of their conclusions are drawn from the period 1987 to 1992. This means that Wallace’s argument that the contemporary lifespan of gay men is 20 years less than average is based on statistical data collected 20 to 26 years ago – during the height of North America’s HIV/AIDs epidemic!
If Wallace or one of his minions had spent an hour or so checking the Rainbow Coalition’s references, they should have discovered, as both Andrew Crook and I did, that a life span estimate based on statistics collected almost a quarter of a century ago is completely irrelevant in assessing the projecte life expectancy of gay men in 2012. Just a small amount of responsible research may have stopped Jim Wallace from making a monumental ass of himself and Julia Gillard might still be addressing the ACL’s National Conference.
In fact, the contemporary irrelevance of the research has been confirmed by the authors, themselves. Revisiting their 1997 paper on homosexual mortality rates in 2001, Hogg et al wrote:
“Over the past few months we have learnt of a number of reports regarding a paper we published in the International Journal of Epidemiology on the gay and bisexual life expectancy in Vancouver in the late 1980s and early 1990s. From these reports it appears that our research is being used by select groups in US and Finland to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others. These homophobic groups appear more interested in restricting the human rights of gay and bisexuals rather than promoting their health and well-being …
… if we were to repeat [our 1997] analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996. As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.
… we do not condone the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group.”
Isn’t it strange that both Andrew Crook and I should be able to find that piece of readily available information on the internet, but it seems to have completely escaped Jim Wallace and the researchers at the Australian Christian Lobby.
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth from fundamentalist supporters of the ACL (no, Bill ‘my-book-has-700-references’ Muehlenberg, I won’t link to your grubby little blog) that Wallace is being vilified for simply ‘stating the truth’ about homosexuals. As I (and others) have shown, that is simply untrue. To the contrary, by publicly representing 25 year old data as ‘evidence’ of the contemporary life expectancy of gay men, Wallace has been, at best, professionally negligent and, at worst, intentonally dishonest.
As an peak lobby group*, the Australian Christian Lobby enjoys privileged access to our country’s political leaders. That privilege should surely be contingent on lobbyists adhering to certain ethical and professional responsibilities. It does not seem unreasonable to expect that every effort should be made to ensure that ‘evidence’ presented with a view to influencing public opinion and public policy is accurate, relevant and drawn from credible sources. Indeed, one might particularly expect a Christian organisation to be meticulous in ensuring it does not ‘bear false witness’.
In my view, the Australian Christian Lobby consistently fails to uphold this ethical responsibility. Instead, they peddle propaganda imported from America’s religious right and uncritically rehash it here in Australia. This is irresponsible, unethical, lazy and unprofessional. It is this corporate culture, not ‘teh’ homosexual lobby, which has brought the Australian Christian Lobby unstuck under Jim Wallace’s leadership. Whatever the truth is about the life spans of smokers and homosexuals, it seems certain that Wallace has succeeded in substantially reducing the life expectancy of the Australian Christian Lobby.
The Australian Christian Lobby now stands, publicly disgraced and exposed for the homophobic hate group it has become under Wallace’s leadership. If its financial underwriters will not do the decent thing and dissolve it, the Federal parliament must now take action to distance itself completely from this hateful, divisive and mendacious group of publicly disgraced homophobes.
This is not an argument against freedom of speech. Of course, the Australian Christian Lobby has every right to voice their objectionable opinions and pernicious propaganda in public – I am certainly not arguing that they should be silenced. But, they have abused the privilege of having the ‘ear’ of the Prime Minister, they have negligently misled the Australian public and any privileged access they may have to parliamentarians should be immediately withdrawn.
This kind of misleading propaganda is all too common among the religious right. For more information see the text of my 2012 speech to Dying with Dignity, NSW – The Debate on Assisted Dying: Distortion, Misinformation and the Influence of the Religious Lobby.
Neil Francis, CEO of peak voluntary euthanasia body, Your Last Right, has also begun holding the religious propagandists’ feet to the fire on his blog. I recommend you subscribe.
*NB: A former version of this article noted that the ACL is an ‘accredited’ lobby group. I have since realised (having written this in the very wee hours of the morning!) that my memory was faulty on this point. Representatives of the Exclusive Brethren are (were?) registered lobbyists at Parliament House Canberra (sponsored by Rev. Bill Moyes I believe) but I can find no record of the ACL being ‘registered’ and now understand that some organisations do not require registration, so I have to withdraw that comment. I apologise for the error but the principle stands – Wallace and the ACL have abused their close relationship with Canberra politicians and politicians should distance themselves from this group.
More info on registration here: http://lobbyists.pmc.gov.au/needs_register.cfm
I’m not sure whether the ACL would qualify as a ‘religious organisation’.
Wallace and Muehlenberg need to demonise gays to substantiate their fundamentalist religious views. If they accept us as normal, their house of cards (all Jokers) falls down and they are left with nothing.
I think there is a big difference between not accepting and public demonising – many churches don’t accept homosexuality at all or only as a last resort but they don’t see they need to continually demonise GLBT publically. I grew up in fundamentalist cult and I suffered but we did not go around demonising other people. And for a very good reason – they saw that there were only 2 types of sin; repented and unrepented sin. So pride, maliciousness, lying, gluttony, lust, etc, left unrepented would take one to hell just as adultery and homosexual actions would. Wallace is a fundamentalist but I don’t think he gets his own fundamentals. Why Jim and Bill feel the need, the uncontrollabe urge to selectively demonise is an interesting question.
Generally anything that is put down to “the homosexual lifestyle” (1) can be dismissed as easily as anything that describes “the straight white male lifestyle” or “the Christian lifestyle”. Apart from that if he is willing to “sadly” paint all gay men(2) into a corner why he is the first to deny them a chance to come into the mainstream with stable committed relationships.
(1) Which I feel perfectly entitled to equate with the output and influence of da Vinci, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Patrick White and Alan Turing, spiced with the wit of Oscar Wilde.
(2) I think that he never spares a thought of those notorious sodomites, lesbians.
The argument against same sex marriage and homosexual rights on the basis of a shorter life expectancy is flawed. Part of the reason for supporting marriage equality is that it would change the gay life-style. The recognition and support of same sex unions would decrease promiscuity and other non-healthy activities and increase the life expectancy of gay people. If marriage and a stable life-style were made more difficult for heterosexuals their life expectancy would decrease.
I’m unsure how Wallace and the ACL have not already been designated a hate group within Australia, or at least why the main stream media are so quick to forget their hateful actions and give credibility to them by giving them airtime. You’ve only got to look at some of what they’ve said publicly to see what their motivations are:
Wallace throwing his support behind Church school having the right to expel students for being nothing more than openly gay (http://bit.ly/gdSR4N),
Blaming child sexual abuse in the Church on Homosexuals and the fact they are not allowed to discriminate against them (http://bit.ly/dI7Ja4),
His ANZAC Day tweet (http://bit.ly/UwbFD9),
Wendy Franscis’s tweet likening same sex marriage to child abuse (http://bit.ly/bfTtaU),
Her campaign against Rip & Roll safer sex billboards (http://bit.ly/kj9V8b),
Wallace’s comparison of the marriage equality campaign to Nazi propaganda (http://bit.ly/KeelEv).
You have to wonder if they even have any minders or speech writers. I think they spend too much time talking within their own circles where they don’t need to provide proof of their statements and everything they said is taken as gospel.
Wallace in the past rarely mentions any sources, he’ll only say things like “Studies show…” or “Did you know…” and leave it at that. After him revealing his source this time, I see why he has been hesitant to do it in the past.
The term “hate group” is primarily a US designation tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. I don’t know of any comparable bodies in Australia.
Australians also quickly forget we don’t have the constitutional separations of church and state that are in the US. If we don’t fight for them we will never get them.
Thanks for the well-written fact checking, Chrys.
There are so many galling aspects to this whole situation. One of the most bile-inducing aspects is the way Wallace is apparently “saddened” by GLBTI health issues and yet the ACL campaigned to have same-sex safe sex ads removed in Queensland. How can you bemoan the alleged failure to address GLBTI health issues while campaigning to silence GLBTI health issues?!
Don’t fool yourself. His “sadness” is a device he uses to make him sound caring to the media. He needs to be anti-gay to appease his fundo followers.
Bravo. Excellent digging, as always.
All that said,and I still think we should find out just how far the tentacles of ACL policy influence and political party donations goes.
That’s what I want to know.That’s what I think we should all know.
Because seriously, that goes to the heart of why Gillard,an *alleged* atheist, even accepted the invitation in the first place.
This information needs to be in the public arena so voters can make an informed choice,and/or smash the allies of these tub-thumpers into shape pre-election,or at the ballot box.
Most intelligent people are aware of the zany ACL viewpoint,so lets find out why Labor feel the need to massage them so publicly.I think we already know why an Abbott led opposition are on board.
*NB: A former version of this article noted that the ACL is an ‘accredited’ lobby group. I have since realised (having written this in the very wee hours of the morning!) that my memory was faulty on this point. Representatives of the Exclusive Brethren are (were?) registered lobbyists at Parliament House Canberra (sponsored by Rev. Bill Moyes I believe) but I can find no record of the ACL being ‘registered’ and now understand that some organisation do not require registration, so I have to withdraw that comment. I apologise for the error but the principle stands – Wallace and the ACL have abused their close relationship with Canberra politicians and politicians should distance themselves from this group.
More info on registration here: http://lobbyists.pmc.gov.au/needs_register.cfm
I’m not sure whether the ACL would qualify as a ‘religious organisation’.
David, I think, hits the nail on the head with that particular argument about Gay Lifestyle. The ACL also entangle the fact of being gay with the choices and impositions that arise from that fact. Further more, even if Aids was not at the heart of those earlier statistics the oppression of homosexuals would have to be a larger contributor to early death than the mere fact of being gay, just from stress alone.
Let us hope that the government will now back right away from this toxic “lobby group” and return to discussing with the wider society about the imposition of religion in schools, religious oppression within the law, and religious privilege in government and especially taxation.
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Thanks once again for a well researched rebut to the declarations of a dangerous and problematic ‘Lobby’ group.
As usual you put under the spot light the facts and clarify the mistaken diatribes of the religious right and their bigotry.
We need you, Chrys to have a wider audience. (Your own column…but which publication can be trusted to seek out the facts?)
Your methodology should be taught in Journalism courses.
I admire you.
It’d be a shame to let this opportunity to collapse the ACL & remove them from public discourse, slip by. Someone suggested you need a wider audience & wondered which publication might give you a platform. I expect that Independent Australia would run any investigation on the ACL about the extent if their reach & where the money comes from, that you cared to undertake – a la Peter Wicks superb effort in this Jacksonville series about the HSU affair. Obviously it’d be a big endeavor on your part, & it mightn’t be feasible for you, but I reckon if anyone can do it, you can (with maybe some help thrown in by some of us also concerned by the issue of church/state separation & LGBTI rights, where you needed it.)
In any case. Well done on this. I’ve posted it to FB (as I’m sure others have too) & I’ll Tweet it too.
Yes Tradrmum! Chrys deserves a regular and widely read source. Would New Matilda also be a good publication?
I’m already published on New Matilda – and Online Opinion, The Drum, the Punch, Mamamia and ABC Religion and Ethics. The point is, for various reasons, it’s sometimes more efficient just to put some articles up on my own blog. One reason is the time factor. I might write an article today but, by the time I’ve ‘shopped’ it to the online journals, it might be a week before it gets up – by which time, the story is yesterday’s news. Also, writing for a journal means a lot more editing than I might put into my own blog. Typically, a journal article takes me one to two weeks to write. That’s not ideal for stories where I really want to get my opinion out FAST – even if the writing is a bit scatty!
So, thank you for your support and yes, it would be nice to have a regular ‘column’ or something similar, but really, I’m very satisfied with the status quo, where I CAN have articles published if I think the content is right and the lead-time is not an issue and, otherwise, I CAN just rush something out and put it up here.
And don’t underestimate the power of a blog. This one had over 40,000 unique views last month with a little help from some high profile friends (*Cough* Catherine Deveny *Cough*).
I’m no fan of the ACL, nor of these comments – my problem is more that I think if the health stuff they’ve quoted is real – and I think some of the links, particularly in mental health as a result of whatever shunning is associated with coming out are probably based in fact – and I think it’s wrong to use those stats for mileage in a debate. It’s like using sinking boats to slam someone else for their stance on asylum seekers…
Anyway. I’m wondering if you could respond to this Epidemiological study from Oxford (http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/6/1499.full).
Nathan,that response from Hogg et al to their original research is mentioned in my post.
You’re right, I apologise. It was there all along… I missed it as the red mist that clogs my eyes whenever the ACL says something dumb clouded my vision.
I do wonder though, if we’re being a little too quick to dismiss concerns about HIV/AIDS. These stats from Avert (http://www.avert.org/aids-hiv-australia.htm) suggest that 65% of HIV cases (up to 2010) are in the homosexual community, and that while there have been improvements:
“In Australia, further evidence of the benefits of improved therapy has come from the substantial improvement in length of life following the diagnosis of AIDS. Median survival time has increased from 19 months for cases diagnosed prior to 1998 to 69 months for cases diagnosed in 2002.”
69 months isn’t all that long in the scheme of things. I hope that’s improved. And the number of cases isn’t proportionately huge (like almost 10,000 ever).
I’m much more interested in the church’s adverse contribution to the mental health of young homosexuals, and the associated suicide stats – but it seems wrong to dismiss the health concerns simply because the ACL were the ones who used them in an awful way.
It does seem to be a conversation worth having, especially if it leads to a more careful, and caring, way of approaching sexuality and sexual identity within the church.
I’d also point out, as a minor correction, that the ACL explicitly claims not to be a peak body on its website. I think because such a claim would be unsustainable given the obvious lack of support for some of their positions.
This comment posted on The Punch article:
Hogg et al only estimated (rather crudely) the impact of HIV on the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men using data up to 1992 – without HIV, they assumed these men had the same life expectancy as other men. So the study did not take into account other health risks like increased smoking (roughly double), drug and alcohol use, suicide, poor mental health and alien environments in aged care.
So Nathan what is it of the “health stuff they’ve quoted” that you think might be real? Remembering they completely misrepresented this study when everyone knows HIV deaths have dropped dramatically from 1996. AIDS has been tamed and so has HIV.
The ACL carefully crafts half-truths and lies that snare those who are not paying attention. They even think they can get away with distorting the meaning of the word ‘compare’. Why would you believe them?
The “health stuff they’ve quoted” that I think might be real is, as I mentioned above, in my comment just now, and also in the comment you’ve posted, partly the HIV/AIDs stuff, but mostly the mental health stuff (so I say “some of the links, particularly in mental health as a result of whatever shunning is associated with coming out are probably based in fact” this no doubt leads to alcohol and drug use etc, which leads to other health issues). I would think, ACL aside, that figuring out how to better deal with the mental health stuff is actually something useful to talk about (which I hope Peter Jensen was trying to say on Q&A last night).
As a human rights activist, I often find myself lobbying opponents of marriage equality on the political front on the basis that, as a fundamental matter of social justice, we are called to respect other individuals’ rights over their personal lives whether or not we like the way they live them, and that the embodiment of this respect in law (in this case in relation to the legal definition of marriage) would be a proper entailment and instantiation of this principle.
What your excellent commentary can help to make clear, Chrys, is that the appeals to public health issues or alleged concerns for the psychological welfare of LGBTI individuals, and so forth, such as we see in this case, are a specious sidetrack from the fundamental question of mutual respect for rights in a just society. Steering the debate away from rights and social justice and towards any position from which moral disapproval can be attributed (the ‘chosen lifestyle’ fallacy) is analogous to such tired old political ploys as blaming the poor for their poverty.
I would hope that, in spite of her stated view on marriage equality, this issue of mutual respect is basically what cued Julia Gillard to withdraw from addressing the ACL National Conference.
Mortality among men and women in same-sex marriage: a national cohort study of 8333 Danes.
If Jim Wallace is concerned about the shortened life expectancy of homosexuals he might favour same-sex marriage if it increases the life expectancy of homosexuals. Since he apparently does not favour same-sex marriage regardless of the health benefits it might provide it is reasonable to assume that he is not really concerned about the shortened life expectancy of homosexuals.
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And this is what happens when I stop reading your blog Chrys! I was just banging on over at The Conversation that no-one was bothering to look at the evidence and here you have, and most thoroughly too!
Happy TAMoZ memories!
How rude of me – h/t to Michael Barnett to pointing out your work on this post.
I’m ubiquitous. 🙂
You STOPPED reading my blog???? Eez thees possible?????? (Nice to have you back Michael. Don’t let it happen again!) 😛
*mumble* studying masters *mumble* no *hurrumph* genuine excuse I know…
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