In Defence of Pacific Sexual Minorities: Why Israel Folau is no Hero

Society

20.09.2017

In Defence of Pacific Sexual Minorities: Why Israel Folau is no Hero

Opinion or bigotry? Patrick Thomsen lets you know the difference.

We homosexuals have heard it all.

“Love the sinner not the sin”

“I love you, but I can’t support the lifestyle that you lead”

“I love my gay friends, but homosexuality is an abomination”

If you’re lucky enough to make it out of adolescence, somehow relatively unscathed, the best one can hope for is that the progression of one abusive and violent experience after another will enable you to wear a cloak of resilience that inoculates you against the ignorance of this world. I know we have all heard the statistics, they vary from country to country, but the overall trend stays the same no matter where in the world you are. LGBTQI+ teens are far more likely to self-harm than heterosexual teens.

Since the dawn of white man’s time, the gays have been persecuted in countless ways. So much so that sometimes it can be hard to figure out which way (or who) is top or bottom. Our exclusion and stigmatization often rooted in conservativism continually writes us off as abnormal, justified by the voracious appetite Christianity has in oppressing deviance from the heteronormative patriarchy. For the longest time, Christianity and its attitude toward othering and supressing homosexuality has relied on flimsy interpretation of passages from the bible whose logical application has been at best, ad hoc, and at worst, deliberately violent. 

For Pacific Islanders, the story of Christianity and how it came to dominate our islands is far more sinister than many of us realize, owing in part to a ruthlessly efficient pairing of Christian ideology and the forces of colonization. As a result, our Pacific communities have some of the most Christian conservative social norms on the planet, including our standards of dress, defloration ceremonies, no trading on Sundays and of course being anti-homosexual.

For Pacific Islanders, the story of Christianity and how it came to dominate our islands is far more sinister than many of us realize

So, when Tongan Rugby Player, Israel Folau ‘came out’ as against marriage equality, he stayed very much on-brand. But the problem is, this classic heteronormative erasure was not only dishonest, but it was unbeknownst to him (I hope) as violent. Bear with me as I count the ways in which Israel revealed the true colour of his (and a lot of people in my community’s) soul in less than 140 characters.

1. Let’s begin with the logical fallacy: His claim is that he loves and respects all people, but personally will not support gay marriage.

This is straight up ignorance. I’m sorry dude. If you truly did “love and respect” everyone’s opinions you would be at your absolute worst, merely indifferent toward marriage equality. Instead, you have made an active decision to try and block its passage. That is logically inconsistent.

One thing that’s been lost here is that you do not need to love and respect people to grant them the right to marry. What you need is a sense of analytical reasoning. The ability to step back, examine the situation and say, hang on, if two people of the same sex want to get married, how will that affect me and my life? When you realize that the answer is clearly in no way, then irrespective of your stance on love (and yes, there is such a thing for jaded souls), there shouldn’t be a reason why you would be against marriage equality.

Whether he is cognitive of his choices or not, his decision to use this term instead of marriage equality frames this as a matter of one identity against another, as opposed to one of equality under the law.

2. Let’s deal with the erasure part next. Notice how I’ve deliberately chosen to use the words marriage equality instead of what Folau tweeted here “gay marriage”. The reason being, that his tweet, despite all the warm fuzzy emoticons and soft emotive language engages in erasure. Whether he is cognitive of his choices or not, his decision to use this term instead of marriage equality frames this as a matter of one identity against another, as opposed to one of equality under the law.

When the term ‘gay’ is still being thrown around by sports people (a well-known Pacific Island All Black the latest perpetrator) as a slur to denigrate men they see as less masculine, and when the term equality is removed it’s an underhanded attack that tries to play into society’s still ingrained biases against sexual minorities.

3. What has disturbed me the most though are those in the Pacific Island community who have come to Izzy’s aid in claiming the classic dismissive line: he’s entitled to his opinion. Well, first of all, the fact that you’re entitled to one doesn’t mean that your opinion is a good one. Neither does it mean that your opinion cannot be critiqued. If the only defence of your position is that you’re entitled to one then your opinion really doesn’t merit any attention. 

4. And this is where we have strayed into very dangerous territory. Folau has been valorised by many who say that he is speaking up for his right to believe in God and his faith. Funny thing is, no one said he’s not allowed to believe in God, or attend his church every Sunday. If marriage equality is passed it doesn’t mean he can’t go on living his cisheteronormative life. No one cares what you do on Sundays Izzy, not even the gays.

If marriage equality is passed it doesn’t mean he can’t go on living his cisheteronormative life. No one cares what you do on Sundays Izzy, not even the gays.

5. What he has done is that he has made himself out to be the victim. Which is a classic reaction when someone has not checked their blindspots toward the experiences of minorities. And what this does is give people license to engage in hateful politics and the oppression of other groups by claiming that they are the one’s under siege, not the actual victims, who are being attacked violently and killed on the streets.

Let’s cut the crap right now, Christian norms are the norms that have been allowed to shape all Western societies above all other ways of understanding the world. Thanks in major part to their role in the justification for the establishment of settler-colonies. Therefore, Folau is not the victim here, he is part of the majority, he is part of the dominant culture (in terms of sexual and gender hierarchy anyway), not only that, he’s a celebrity, he has fame, fortune and even has the girl.

So how has he been allowed to become the victim? It’s because this is how hegemonic forces work. When you are in a position of domination, firstly, you often are unaware of it, and then you become accustomed to being part of the dominant normative framework, in the Pacific community this dominant framework is Christianity. So, when you’re asked to share that space, you wrongly presume that you’re being threatened. Like many critical race theorists have said across many platforms, when you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

you want us to suffer alone – without legal protection, rights of cohabitation, property and shared recognition under the law, for no reason other than spitefulness and vindictiveness because we don’t meet your expectations.

6. This is the kicker for me: The behaviour that Folau and the rest of the Pacific Island bible brigade have decided to engage in, is no different to the behaviour of white supremacists, who continually deny the existence of systemic racism, who have now taken it upon themselves in the United States in particular, to take this type of reasoning to the next level: neo-nazism.

Sexual minorities experience some of the most violent forms of exclusion in our settler colonies, and to deny them the right to marry is deceptively denigrating double speak. It’s bad enough our society continues to ‘other’ sexual minorities as deviant, but then you want to designate us to a life of second class citizenship? In other words, you want us to suffer alone – without legal protection, rights of cohabitation, property and shared recognition under the law, for no reason other than spitefulness and vindictiveness because we don’t meet your expectations.

If people like Folau wanted to have a frank and open discussion about why marriage equality is being touted then the religion aspect has to be left out of it. Simply because the bible is page after page of contradictions that we liberally pick and choose from to justify our positions as we moralize issues that are secular in nature.

I’m sorry, but Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, neither did he mention mahu, vakasalewalewa, palopa, fa’afafine, akavaine, fakaleiti, fakafifini, and other forms of gender identity that fall outside the western gender binary in the Pacific because guess what? Jesus was a Jew who lived in the modern day Middle East, while our ancestors were traversing the world’s greatest ocean.

The bible does not have the range to speak on such matters, and neither does Israel Folau.

There is no evidence to show that marriage equality will destabilize a society, there is no evidence to show that homosexuality is abnormal when in contrast, it has been found to be common practice in a multitude of animal species including our own. Marriage in itself is not a Christian invented institution, we had forms of marriage before we were colonized. In Western societies marriage has traditionally been an economic institution and transaction. Therefore, there is no reasonable reason to deny the right to marry for same-sex couples, unless you truly are a bigot.

That’s why you can’t say things like: “love the sinner not the sin”, “I love you but I can’t support your lifestyle” and expect to be given a free pass as an enlightened and tolerant Christian.

Pacific queer youth need to know that they have a right to live in their truth, one that isn’t shaped by ignorance and fake allyship.

There is no consistency in these arguments which is why you cannot claim that this is just an opinion. Just an opinion is: Coke is better than Pepsi, or Game of Thrones should have 9 seasons not 8. When you say someone does not deserve to be married because of their sexual orientation then you have made a political statement rooted in illogical bigotry and as such, be prepared to have people go after that opinion.

Freedom of speech doesn’t preclude you from critique, even if you claim to be protecting a religious community, one that is clearly not under threat in this case. And one, may I remind everyone, that has committed some heinous crimes of abuse, torture, waged wars in its name and helped decimate indigenous people across the globe. Sure, have an opinion, but make sure it’s an informed one.

Pacific queer youth need to know that they have a right to live in their truth, one that isn’t shaped by ignorance and fake allyship. Folau had the opportunity to show true bravery in standing up for a community that he has in the past said to have supported in their quest for human rights. Instead he chose to maintain his position as the bible poster child by selling out sexual minorities. There is nothing brave about what he has done. I know Drag Queens with far more moral conviction. 

Invisible and Indivisible: Going Beyond the Exhibition
Read Time: 31 mins
Chloe Geoghegan shines a spotlight on New Zealand'...
Art
Invisible and Indivisible: Going Beyond the Exhibition
By Chloe Geoghegan
Maranga Mai Ngāpuhi!
Read Time: 13 mins
Society
Maranga Mai Ngāpuhi!
By Sandy Wakefield
The One-Day Spin: A Chat With Sarah and Catherine Delahunty
Read Time: 19 mins
Adam Goodall catches up with two indomitable sisters...
Theatre
The One-Day Spin: A Chat With Sarah and Catherine Delahunty
By Adam Goodall
Writing on the Wall? Fascism and Antifa Presence on the Streets of Eastern Europe.
Read Time: 16 mins
Murdoch Stephens travelled through Eastern Europe...
Society
Writing on the Wall? Fascism and Antifa Presence on the Streets of Eastern Europe.
By Murdoch Stephens
The Silent Killing Ground: Abortion in Aotearoa
Read Time: 13 mins
In this essay, Justine Whitfield tells the story of...
Literature
The Silent Killing Ground: Abortion in Aotearoa
By Justine Whitfield
The Right To The City: Against And Beyond
Read Time: 19 mins
Melissa Harrison on the modern city as a contested...
Society
The Right To The City: Against And Beyond
By Melissa Harrison
Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Literature Edition
Read Time: 32 mins
Tusiata Avia, Vaughan Rapatahana, and Maria McMillan...
Literature
Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Literature Edition
By Pantograph Punch
Redefining ‘refugee’: The resettled community and the art of be-coming
Read Time: 15 mins
Georgina Langdon-Pole on an Auckland exhibition's...
Art
Redefining ‘refugee’: The resettled community and the art of be-coming
By Georgina Langdon-Pole
Beta!