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The truth on homosexual health

By Alan Austin - posted Friday, 14 September 2012

Oscar Wilde once observed that "the truth is rarely pure and never simple".

He wasn't talking about the debate over homosexuality, though Wilde certainly knew firsthand about homophobia.

This week has seen intense focus in Australia on the truth about the health of homosexuals. The contest seems not so much about simple facts. But rather how they are wielded in the current gay marriage battle.


The issue arose when Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) head Jim Wallace made this statement at the University of Tasmania last week:

"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 it has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide – it has the life of a male reduced by up to twenty years. The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to ten years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn't smoke."

Technically, when this is deconstructed, there is nothing factually wrong here. But the response was as ferocious as it was predictable.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group's Rodney Croome snapped back: "The quoting of irrelevant and biased studies to stigmatise gay Australians is a low and desperate tactic that diminishes Mr Wallace and his cause."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard cancelled an engagement with the ACL and stated: "I believe yesterday's comments by Jim Wallace were offensive. To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong."

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton described Wallace's comments as "appalling" and the comparison with smoking as "totally inappropriate".

Wallace released a clarifying statement last Thursday. Unfortunately, this was just as inflammatory as his outburst the day before.


"I was not comparing homosexuality with smoking at all," he said. "What I was saying is that on one hand we are vocal on our discouragement of people to smoke and on the other we are suppressing public dialogue about the health risks associated with homosexuality."

"If we warn against smoking because it carries health dangers, we should also warn young people in particular about activity which clearly carries health risks."

Just as Wallace may have begun feeling a little isolated, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney leapt to his defence: "I am generally supportive of ACL", Peter Jensen told ABC's Q&A program on Monday.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nīmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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