Whilst on holiday in Australia I was sent an article which was published in the Sunday Herald. It was one of the most vicious personal attacks I have had in public and it’s reproduced as Article 1 below. I was tempted to sue but instead asked for a right of reply – which was granted. Article 2 below was my reply. Article 3 is the MSP Patrick Harvie’s response in his own words.
When you read them all you will note that Patick Harvie is unable to provide a single homophobic quote from me. Instead he just repeats the general assertions and associations with racism etc. He also makes the somewhat chilling statement that he hopes for a Scotland where such debate is banned and those who oppose his views are subject to disciplinary action!
In a week when I read of yet another Christian bowing the knee to Baal, it was encouraging to be allowed to explain the biblical position in a national newspaper and set it in a gospel context. I have no desire to be the martyr but it would be really helpful if other Christian leaders, whether politicians, clergy or media, also made a stand. Anyway as usual please let me know what you think. And any ideas for how I can improve on this type of interaction would be appreciated…
ARTICLE 1 – SUNDAY HERALD – 3rd July 2016
THE moderator of the Free Church of Scotland has been denounced as homophobic for claiming LGBT campaigners are trying to “indoctrinate children” by teaching them about gay relationships in schools in order to end discrimination.
Reverend David Robertson said children should not be introduced to ideas about gay or transgender relationships by their class teachers.
Campaign group Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) is calling for mandatory education of LGBT issues to be brought in to schools as young people are self-harming and taking their own lives as a result of homophobia and transphobia.
Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Robertson said: “Primary school children do not need to be taught what gay and transgender is.
“We are concerned that what is being proposed is not teaching children facts but indoctrinating them with a particular political/sexual philosophy.”
He claimed mandatory LGBT education would go against the human rights act, and added: “The bottom line is that we are opposed to our state education system being used for social engineering and for foisting propaganda upon children.
“We believe that no one should be subject to bullying but that the way to combat bullying is to teach people respect for all human beings, not to indoctrinate children.”
Garry Otton, founder of Secular Scotland, said: “David Robertson is obsessed with gay sex. Hardly a day goes by when he is not making some foamy-mouthed condemnation of a subject he has an extraordinary interest in. If he wants to talk about what is unnatural about any aspect of sexual orientation he need look no further than his own reflection – denial of what is an everyday reality for many people is certainly not natural.”
Fellow secularist Megan Crawford, Chairwoman of the Scottish Secular Society, said the debate could be described as Scotland’s new Section 28 – which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools until its repeal.
She said: “To cherry-pick where you can and cannot speak about normal human issues that are non-offensive, non-violent and normal is ridiculous.”
Scottish Green Party leader Patrick Harvie, who supports the TIE campaign, attacked Robertson’s views as hypocritical and coming from “the most extremist fringes of religion” .
The MSP and equalities spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: “David Robertson’s long history of opposing equality and promoting homophobic and transphobic ideas is no secret – though it’s scarcely credible to see a voice from the more extremist fringes of religion innocently claiming to be against the indoctrination of children. In truth, I suspect he’d just prefer to indoctrinate them with ideas at odds with equality and human rights.”
STORIES FROM THE FRONTLINE OF DISCRIMINATION
AS campaigners call for the teaching of LGBT issues in schools in order to tackle homophobia and transphobia, three young members of Scotland’s LGBT community spoke to the Sunday Herald of their experiences at school, and how their lives would have been different if their peers and teachers had been more aware of the issues affecting them.
Dean Coyle, 18, from Balloch
In Dean Coyle’s house, he has a small black box containing around 30 pencil sharpeners.
They act as a reminder of the transgender 18-year-old’s not-too-distant past – of his school days, and times that he is not quite ready to let go of.
For the last four years, he carried the box wherever he went, and every so often he would open it, find one he liked, carefully unscrew the blade and cut himself.
As it tore the skin on his arms or thighs, the tension, anxiety, and negative thoughts would wash from his mind, he says, and he could think, at last.
Coyle, who was designated female at birth but came out as transgender last year, still considers himself one of the “lucky ones”.
Despite experiencing periods of severe depression, suffering from anxiety and self-esteem issues, as well as self-harming almost daily for years, he has a supportive family and went to a school which placed an emphasis on equality.
Coyle said: “I was very lucky. I had no idea until I was about 14 that something really wasn’t right. I learned what trans was, and what it meant, and it made sense to me.
“I started to change the way I looked to the way I wanted to. It happened quite fast. I cut my hair and dress as a boy, I present as that. I’ve transitioned socially but medically, I’m on the waiting list and I can’t really do much about that.”
A lot of his abuse he suffers come from online.
“I wrote something on Twitter, and a group of people jumped on it, started retweeting it, writing nasty things about me.” he explained.
They would say things like ‘you’re pathetic, you’re a girl. You’re a chick.’ They were making fun of things I’d said when I was feeling good.”
A budding musician, Coyle has had to change the way he performs and thinks about music since he came out as trans, and still has difficulty with everyday things such as going to his local shop.
“I don’t regret coming out as trans.” he said, confidently. “I’m getting there eventually. I would like to be a singer/songwriter but I struggle with singing now as I don’t sound like a guy, I sound like a girl.
“Socially I don’t like going out and talking to people in shops I don’t like being misgendered, as most transpeople don’t.”
Coyle said education is an essential part of making members of the LGBT community completely equal, and can see the benefits, having been to a more tolerant school.
He said: “A lot of people, when they get to adulthood, they are set in their thoughts about LGBT people, and telling young people about it will hopefully help change things permanently for the future.
“Adults have said they are worried about people ‘turning their children gay’ by teaching them about LGBT education. That’s complete nonsense.
“My school had an LGBT committee, and it was great. It had the LGBT flag up, people came in and talked at assemblies about their experiences and I think it made people much more open. It changes people’s minds, makes them aware of the LGBT struggle within school and society.”
Gemma Clark, 22, from Gourock
This time last year, Gemma Clark weighed 5 stone and had just been admitted to a mental hospital in Glasgow, where she would remain for the next four months.
The 22-year-old, bisexual woman had suffered from major organ failure, and her heart had begun wasting away along with the rest of her muscles.
Clark, a trainee journalist, suffered with depression and an eating disorder for a large part of her adolescence, which she believes was brought on in part by the difficulties she faced with her sexuality and the torment she suffered trying to hide the fact she was attracted to both men and women.
Growing up in Gourock, Clark said she knew nobody else who was part of the LGBT community except one transgender person in her school.
She watched as they were bullied and shunned by teachers and pupils, and was too afraid to admit to her peers she was part of the same community.
She began to stop eating and would go for days without a single piece of food passing her lips.
Existing on up to 17 cups of coffee a day, she would starve herself until she was so weak she was unable to stand, and had to be sectioned and given medical help to stop her from dying.
Clark said: “I just felt like it wasn’t safe for me to come out. I was really confused. I liked boys, but I also liked girls. I didn’t feel that it was safe to say anything.”
In the last 12 months, Clark has started a new relationship and is the happiest she’s ever been. Having gained weight, and completed her degree at Glasgow Caledonian University, she is looking forward to starting a new chapter in her life.
She said having proper teaching of LGBT issues in schools would have helped her to be more at ease with her sexuality.
“Trying to suppress my sexuality was a definite part of my problem, and what contributed to my mental breakdown and eating disorder. When you’re seeing a transgender girl pilloried in school, it doesn’t inspire courage to come out.”
Niall Gillon, 23, a drag performer living in Glasgow
Niall Gillon, is a confident, intelligent man in his 20s, with a broad smile, great fashion sense and a sharp tongue.
Educated in a Catholic school, Gillon said being gay was not well received by the majority of his teachers and the impact of their treatment has been long-lasting in his life.
Five years since leaving school, Gillon said he still has difficulty trusting people, and doesn’t make friends easily.
He feels as though he missed out on education and as though many of his chances have been ruined due to the homophobia and bullying he experienced at school.
Gillon said: “I was a really camp kid, and was told by a teacher I had gone to talk to that I didn’t help myself because of the way I acted. I just thought I was being me, I couldn’t help it
“People would say horrendous things about me too – I felt really alone and insular.”
He added: “After I came out, it became the school scandal for that week and I didn’t get help from the school, it just got worse.”
An avid performer from a young age, Gillon said he was heavily involved in his school’s drama department but when he came out as being gay, his progress in the subject “was made very difficult.”
He explained: “The head teacher for example was an older, very Catholic man, who didn’t get me and I don’t think he wanted to.
“It wasn’t in their agenda to help LGBT kids. They would miss out my name from programmes of school shows we had done, not thank me when they were thanking everyone else, stuff like that.
“It made a lot of people frightened to come out and be themselves, as they didn’t want to be the next person who was treated that way…It f****d with my education.”
After leaving school, Gillon started university but faced more homophobic attitudes and decided to drop out.
He said: “I got thrown out of a nightclub for kissing a guy…I didn’t want to leave but I just felt isolated.
“I was in a pub once and a group of old men started hurling abuse at me. I was 18. There was no point in me trying to hide who I was.”
Gillon admitted he does want to return to studying but he doesn’t know if he will ever be able to due to the bad experiences he faced before.
He is determined that other young people should not have to go through the same ordeal he did, and has joined the TIE campaign to help tackle homophobia.
He said: “If teachers have to teach it, they have to embrace what they are teaching. That is so important. Nobody’s education should be ruined because of attitudes like that.”
Fact-file: Scotland and LGBT rights
SIXTEEN years ago, the Scottish Parliament made history as the first government in the UK to repeal section 28. The act banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality, publishing anything which could promote homosexuality, or teaching children that homosexuality was a “pretended family relationship.”
It was repealed by MSPs on June 21, 2000, and was one of the first pieces of legislation that passed through Holyrood after the Scottish Parliament’s formation.
Since then, equality has progressed for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) people in Scotland with the country now considered one of the best at offering legal protection for the LGBT community. Holyrood itself has been described as the “gayest” parliament in the world with four out of the six main party leaders openly gay.
However, campaigners say there is still more to be done to tackle homophobia and transphobic attitudes, and LGBT people are still suffering – particularly in schools.
Campaign group Time for inclusive Education (TIE) is calling for mandatory education of LGBT issues to be brought in to schools.
They argue that children and teenagers are self-harming, and at the most extreme level taking their own lives as a result of some of the abuse they have faced by school staff and their peers.
The campaign has attracted high profile support from Scottish politicians, legal professionals and teaching staff, including Patrick Harvie, Willie Rennie and prominent human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar.
ARTICLE 2 – SUNDAY HERALD – 10th July 2016 – DAVID ROBERTSON
‘I am not a foaming-at-the-mouth homophobic religious extremist. I am a Christian’
by Rev David Robertson, Former Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland
Anyone reading the Sunday Herald last week on the mandatory teaching of LGBTI issues in schools would get the impression that I am some kind of homophobic religious extremist with an unhealthy interest in gay sex. According to Garry Otton of Secular Scotland hardly a day goes by when I am not making some ‘foamy mouthed’ condemnation of homosexuality. According to Patrick Harvie, the Green Party leader, I have a long history of promoting homophobia and transphobia as someone from the ‘most extremist fringes of religion’, thus putting me on a par with ISIS and the Westboro Cult.
An accompanying article described the personal struggles of a transgender self-harming 18 year old, a 21 year old bisexual woman suffering from depression and a 23 year old drag performer. The equation is simple – the solution to these problems is for schools to teach more LGBTI issues and therefore any one opposed to this is in fact responsible for all this suffering. Little wonder then, that since the publication of the article I have received significant hate mail and abuse. Surely the best way to fight hate and intolerance is not with hate and intolerance? Can we not learn to listen to one another and not just engage in prejudice, intolerance and abuse of which there is far too much in Scotland today? I am grateful to the Sunday Herald for allowing me to present my side to this story.
Firstly, I do not have an obsession with homosexuality and I do not issue condemnatory statements almost every day. The Sunday Herald asked me for comments on the proposals by the campaign group Time for Inclusive Education being put to the Scottish parliament. I gave my considered opinion and whilst I do not expect every one to agree with me, I do expect that in a democracy my views are entitled to be heard without being subject to the kind of irrational and prejudiced abuse demonstrated in the article. Civic discourse in Scotland is not going to be helped if people who disagree with the establishment views are to be mocked, sidelined and abused in these ways.
Secondly, I do not accept that I am homophobic. Homophobia is wrong and abhorrent. To ‘fear’ people because of their sexuality is irrational and immoral. I think I was the first minister in Scotland to speak out publicly against Putin’s persecution of homosexuals. I challenge Patrick Harvie to show me one statement from me that is homophobic. If he cannot then he should apologise for his slander. He needs to remember that the definition of homophobia is not ‘someone who disagrees with Patrick Harvie’. I admit that I have committed the great blasphemy of being opposed to Same Sex Marriage (SSM), but that does not mean that I am anti-LGBT.
The Free Church’s position, which is the mainstream Christian position, is as follows:
- Human beings, without exception, are made in ‘the image of God’ – this means not that God has a physical body but rather that we are spiritual, personal, rational and relational beings. This means that we are de facto all equal.
- God has revealed himself to us through the book of nature and through his special revelation the Bible. Although the bible is primarily a book about what God has done for us through His son Jesus Christ, not a book of ‘morals’, it does nonetheless give us guidance. ‘Obey the Makers instructions is’ I think a reasonable perspective – at least for those of us who believe there is a Maker. For those who don’t they can choose to get their rules and principles from elsewhere but in reality that means that the rich and powerful will just make up their own morality and impose it on the rest of us. Morality just becomes the fashion of the rich and powerful.
- As regards marriage, the Bible teaches that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, for the purpose of mutual companionship, the good of society and the procreation and upbringing of children. This is the position that Western Society has held and on which our culture has been based on for almost 2000 years. I object to being called homophobic just because I continue to hold to that view. Despite what Patrick Harvie says about my position being on the ‘extremist fringes’ of religion, this is the position of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical and Reformed churches – in other words this is mainstream Christianity. Advocates of ‘Queer theory’ have long sought the destruction of marriage as an institution which they consider patriarchal and harmful. Ironically I think SSM provides that for them. It is my belief that such a destruction of marriage will be harmful for all people, whatever their sexuality.
- As regards the examples of the three young people mentioned in the article, I cannot comment on their specific cases because I do not know them. In over 30 years of working with people of many different backgrounds and sexualities I have found that people and situations are far more complex than is usually portrayed, and that to offer simplistic solutions often does more harm than good. Young people self-harm, take drugs and attempt suicide for a wide variety of reasons. To simplify these reasons and use personal tragedies in order to promote a particular political/social philosophy is itself manipulative and harmful.
My concern is not with the philosophy or ideology but with the people. How can we best help our young people, whatever their sexuality? And why just focus on sexuality? What about economic poverty, drug abuse, pornography, family breakup, unemployment, religious and anti-religious discrimination, and the shortage of good mental health care? I realise that the Equality Network and Stonewall are well funded lobby groups, and that giving them what they demand is an easy way for politicians to show they ‘care’ and how ‘progressive’ they are, but the reality is that only 1-2% of Scotland’s young people are LGBT. They are important, but they are not just defined by their sexuality and neither are the other 98%. I agree that we should deal with homophobic bullying, but then we must also deal with the many other issues that our young people face.
In conclusion I would like to suggest that the Free Church of Scotland is a radical church that seeks to turn the world upside down. We believe that our society is in desperate need of good news and that the best news of all (especially for the poor) is the Good News of Jesus Christ. My aim and mission in life is to proclaim that there is forgiveness, healing, love, wholeness and identity in Christ and his Church. And that is for all, whatever their sexuality. You do not have to agree our religious views, but don’t condemn us because we don’t agree with yours. Please let’s seek to understand and not demonise one another.
ARTICLE 3 – SUNDAY HERALD – 10th July 2016 – PATRICK HARVIE
‘Homophobia must be challenged the same as racism, misogyny and sectarianism’
by Patrick Harvie, Co-Convenor of the Scottish Green Party
A tiresomely familiar aspect of public debate on the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people is the way in which the argument of free speech is distorted. Free speech is an important principle, but it does not extend to the right to speak without criticism or challenge. Those who defend or promote discrimination should not only acknowledge that others have the right to challenge their prejudice – they must face up to the fact that we have a duty to do so. Prejudice and discrimination against LGBTI people can no more be allowed to go unchallenged than racism, misogyny, or sectarianism.
Yet every time equality takes a step forward, I lose count of the number of times when those campaigning against us loudly denounce equality in the national media while simultaneously complaining that their freedom of speech is being undermined.
Five minutes with the search engine of your choice will tell you all you need to know about the track record of David Robertson in opposing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. If there has been any legal step forward for equality which he supported, I’m damned if I can find evidence of it. Indeed, at every step of the way we have been up against those who innocently proclaim their complete lack of prejudice, but whose track record demonstrates the opposite. “Of course we accept civil partnership,” they said during the equal marriage debate, “but this is just a step too far”. Nine times out of ten these were the same people who campaigned or voted against the introduction of civil partnership in the first place.
David Robertson’s formal submission on the equal marriage legislation is good example. He described the proposed law as the act of an “ultra-liberal” establishment, and made the bizarre argument that if the state was to give religious groups the freedom to choose whether or not to welcome same-sex couples and conduct their marriages, this would represent an intolerable intrusion by the state. At times he denounced secularism, and at others demanded that the separation of church and state be respected. Terms like gay rights (is it still 1981?) are put in scare quotes, and the funding of equality organisations is condemned. Yet nowhere is the claim that our legal equality would be harmful and destructive ever justified with evidence of any kind. Of course not – there is none.
In fact, in twenty-five years of campaigning and working on these issues, I have never yet heard a coherent moral argument as to why a same-sex relationship should be treated as second class, inferior, or less morally good.
Now, as the debate about inclusive education gets under way, the same voices are being heard again with the same threadbare arguments against equality. Young LGBTI people have a right to be treated fairly, to have their equal rights and dignity respected, and to live free of prejudice and discrimination. It’s not enough for those who promote our inequality in law or in society to make simplistic statements against bullying, and agreeing that we should “deal with it”, whatever that means, while still promoting the basic prejudice which underpins it.
Let’s remember that in Scotland we still send a large proportion of our young people to be educated by an organisation which describes lesbian gay and bisexual sexualities as “intrinsic moral disorder”, and which cannot even bring itself to recognise trans people’s true gender. Fortunately, not all teachers in religious schools (nor all religious people, it must be said) subscribe to those ideas, and I know that there are those who do their best to create a culture of equality. But in truth young people’s experience of education in this country is patchy at best, and many LGBTI people’s lives are done lasting harm.
The campaign for an education system which is inclusive, which promotes equality and which truly educates all young people about the rich diversity of our lives will no doubt be denounced by David Robertson and others. But we should remember when that happens that every step toward equality, from decriminalisation onward, has been opposed. Indeed, even that basic legal freedom is still being opposed, often under the cloak of religion, in many countries around the world. The reason why it’s comparatively safe and easy for me and many others to be out in Scotland today is that people were willing to act when it wasn’t safe and easy. I owe my legal and cultural rights to those who took bigger risks than I’ve had to take, and I’m not about to let anyone tell me that we should not continue the progress they began.
I sincerely hope that we can get to the point when this debate isn’t even necessary. We don’t have special “votes of conscience” to make the political expression of racism more socially acceptable. We don’t see most political parties select candidates who openly support sectarianism. We expect these odious views to result in disciplinary action. Yet when it comes to LGBTI people’s equality, such special pleading is the norm.
Like most countries, Scotland has made much progress toward equality over recent decades. But while our education system still fails so many of our young people, and while LGBTI people’s equality and even legitimacy is still the subject of this kind of debate, it’s clear that we have a long way yet to go.