Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is and isn't wrong with using the word fuck to build a campaign

Lisbeth Latham

Now That's Just Rude!
In mid September a controversy broke over the poster for Community Action Against Homophobia's (CAAH) rally for marriage equality in Sydney on October 12, with both former CAAH convenor Bryn Hutchinson and Australian Marriage Equality (CAAH) National Convenor Rodney Croome writing article in the Queer Press critical of the posters. While I think there are good reasons why the posters can be criticised both Hutchinson and Croome rely on conservative arguments as to what is wrong with the poster reflecting an approach to achieve change based on convincing Abbott and other senior Coalition members of why they are wrong on Marriage Equality which fundamentally misunderstands why the adopts homophobic policies.


Both Hutchinson and Croome raise concerns that the posters are rude and will make it difficult to convince Liberals and other Abbott supporters of the need to change their positions.

Fuck isn't really an offensive word - albeit it is problematic to use the same word for sex as you do for forcefully telling someone where to go. This position ignores and erases the anger that many people feel at the election result and the Coalition and more particularly Abbott represent.

Objections to the posters on the basis of how they treat of Abbott places saying the word “fuck” on the same level as the real threats of violence that Abbott and Coalition's supporters have been and are willing to mobilise against Labor, the Greens and other opponents of their policies. The clearest examples of this are the discourse mobilised by Abbott and his supporters against Gillard – and the large number of examples of homophobia by leading members of the Coalition. I’m sorry Rodney but Abbott acknowledging that supporters of marriage equality are genuine in their conviction is meaningless in the broad scheme of things and does nothing to cancel his record of homophobia.

 Abbott and a number of other senior members of the Coalition are hardened bigots who are opposed not only further extension of rights to the LGBTI community but to the rolling back of gains - this is based what they see as being in the interests of the "moral order" but also on a cynical desire to win and maintain the support of the Christian Right - outside of a small section of these forces it is unlikely that we will be able to convince these people of the "error of their ways based on rational argument" instead it will be necessary to mobilise on the street in ever greater numbers those people who support the rights of the LGBTI community and posing a threat to status quo if they refuse to change the laws.

Croome’s arguments that internationally marriage equality has been achieved by building bridges flies in the face of the reality that the fight against discrimination always generates efforts by those who believe they benefit from that discrimination seeking to oppose any movement forward. In the case of the move to legislate for marriage equality the experience in France, which AME has cited as a basis to oppose a referendum on the question, has been met with large scale mobilisation by the right and by an escalation in homophobic violence – this has nothing to do with the tone of the campaign but the hatred that right holds towards our communities.

Attempting to convince conservative forces of the lack of threat posed by and/or acceptability of marriage equality runs significant risks. The first is to limit the campaigns visions to what will be acceptable to more conservative forces and essentially dump other issues affecting LGBTI and Queer identifying community – this approach is reflected in the invisibility of the trans* community in the discourse of the campaign - and a hostility to demands that seek to push the campaign beyond a hetronormative framework. An important example of this is AME's hostility to the call by the Polyamory Action Lobby's call for recognition of poly relationships and the reactions to Bernardi's comments that posed the danger equal marriage of bestiality and polygamy that essentially accept that bestiality and polygamy as equal evils, Croome in a statement released on June 18 2013 said “Not one country that has allowed same-sex marriage has moved to legitimise polygamy or bestiality for the simply reason they’re not linked, legally, socially or culturally.”.

Different treatment between Abbott and Gillard?

Croome raises concerns that the language uses against Abbott is different from that used against Gillard and the ALP and that this risks the campaign being seen as being seen as partisan. While Gillard and sections of the ALP have an offensive position with regard to the definition of marriage - which reflects both the bigoted views of a section of the ALP and the desire of other section leave open the possibility of gaining votes and preferences of the religious right. There are very real differences between the orientation of the ALP and the Coalition not only on marriage equality but on the broader rights of LGBTIQ communities and on issues that affect our community such as women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders, people of colour and workers. An obvious example of this are the changes that the ALP moved regarding federal anti-discrimination legislation including removing the right religious organisations particularly in aged care to discriminate on the basis of sexuality - while there remains a distance to go in ending the legal right of religious groups to discriminate the Coalition does not support this and wants to enable bigots like Andrew Bolt to vilify people with impunity.

People won’t support future activities?

Hutchinson raises concerns that posters undermine the ability of the campaign to reach out and engage with the broader community to mobilise in support the campaign. This is a legitimate concern, however in arguing that “high school students and church members often take real risks in speaking out in their communities” however to argue “such groups will most likely be reluctant to support or promote this and future activities – rightly so” is just bizarre. First it poses that it is the allies of the LGBTIQ community who are the real heroes – which is a real problem of the campaign where being a decent human is suddenly something that should be made a big thing of, but the idea that a poster with the word “fuck” on it would put them risk – I’m not sure who the risk is being posed by – obviously school officials might have issues with them being distributed, but high school students themselves wouldn’t – if anything having “fuck” on it would make it more popular. If people decide to not support actions in the campaign for marriage equality as a consequence of the poster then you would have to question their actual commitment to the struggle, and irrespective of your attitude towards the organisations involved in the rally or poster – if you support marriage equality you shouldn’t be celebrating the withdrawal of support from the campaign.


Hutchinson’s arguments rely heavily on red baiting. Red baiting, particularly of Socialist Alternative is not new in either this campaign or other movements. While there is nothing wrong having differences and criticisms with how Socialist Alternative and other socialist organisations engage in politics these articles don’t really go into specifics about these concerns instead relying raising socialist bogeymen to mobilise support for making the equal marriage campaign safe for more conservative forces.

What’s really wrong with the poster?

While there is nothing wrong with the idea of saying fuck or even fuck Abbott – I believe that Clementine Ford’s series of t-shirts rejecting the election of the Abbott government and what it represents did a roaring trade – as a rally poster it is problematic on a number of levels. It only relates to people who are at this point of anger and are comfortable expressing it in this way. The point of social movements is not simply to mobilise a subset of the people who agree with it’s objectives, but instead to seek to maximise the extent to which it is able to engage both those who already agree with the campaign and to win others to supporting the campaign and it’s objects – this poster doesn’t seek to do this and that’s what’s really wrong with the poster.


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