The Australian Voice referendum was held two Saturdays ago, and in response, a gay refugee speaks from the heart of Africa – the objective voice of someone who lives daily with his own experiences of stigma and disempowerment and discrimination, a voice from the margins. This young man, from another continent and culture, speaks with genuine empathy, affection and solidarity towards indigenous and other Australians.
As his words demonstrate, the outcome of this referendum has impacted the human family around the world.
Received 12 October 2023. (Before the referendum)
Dear my wonderful Aussies,
Whatever the Vote comes to the next few days
THIS IS THE BEGINNING NOT THE END.
If there is need to create another way to make an Indigenous Voice that will be listened to, respected, valued, and contribute towards closing the gap, you will make this way happen.
Whatever happens you now know there are millions of Australians out there who care deeply.
If you end up being a minority, it will be a huge minority. It can become a unified voice with power.
Love and listening and unity bring greater power than violence and fear and hate.
Maybe you don’t need the ignorant, the gullible the fearful, the mistaken, the racists, the uncaring, those who have no imagination to walk in different shoes than their own. Maybe we can even show them the way eventually.
The respect and care you hold for our first nations peoples, the truth we know of the damage of our colonial history and the intergenerational damage that still haunts us, is strong and sure. We have seen that in our friends these past months.
The love you have for Australia will not let you see your nation sink to the depths in unkindness & fear.
Take heart. If you have to do it the hard way, we are up for it. Love will make a way.
Best of Luck
Received 15 October 2023. (After the referendum)
The list of causalities is a long one and all our names are on it, the outcome of the referendum was horrible and saddening.
With heavy heart and tears, I edit and rewrite what I wrote last week.
We are all losers today.
Every Australian is a loser.
Probably the biggest losers are those now celebrating who do not realise what they have revealed about themselves.
THIS IS THE BEGINNING NOT THE END.
We now need to create another way to call forth and empower an Indigenous Voice that will be listened to, respected, valued, and contribute towards closing the gap.
We now need to create a way to unite and empower Australia’s indigenous and non-indigenous caring minority so we can speak and work as one.
We need to rescue Australia’s humanity.
We can make this happen.
We now know there are millions of fellow Australians out there who care deeply.
Caring decent Australia is a minority but a significant and committed minority.
We can become a unified force with power.
Love and listening and unity bring greater power than violence and fear and hate.
(I commit myself to this even though I don’t feel it right now).
We don’t need the ignorant, the gullible, the fearful, the selfish, the mistaken, the racists, the uncaring, those who have no imagination to walk in different shoes than their own.
We can do this in spite of them.
The love we have for Australia will not let us see our nation stay sunk to these depths of unkindness, gullibility, hatred and fear.
I say this firstly to myself right now,
feeling gutted, unforgiving, angry, grieving, wanting to be anything but Australian.
Tasting what our indigenous have experienced for so long.
We will have to do it the hard way.
We need to be up for it.
We may need time to grieve and heal.
“You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand! They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away, I need my pain!” – Captain Kirk, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
In memory of Ricky Ransome, who never got to testify;
and with thanks to my friend Peter
who asked me for the more generic details of this story.
One common criticism of atheists by religious folk is that “You’re just angry at God” – opening up a litany of distractions, deferrals, and false equivalences. It seems that some religious people simply seek to recontextualise the discussion so that the presumed reality of their God remains central to the conversation, or maybe they want to imply that atheists are somehow being dishonest about their motives for declaring their non-belief. Generally speaking, however, the ‘being angry at God’ argument is silly, because people who don’t believe in a God cannot be angry at him.
And yet I was angry at God once – a few decades ago. That was how I became a born-again atheist – and how this life experience rebooted my passion for activism onto a higher level. And as I will explain towards the end of this story, maybe I am still angry at God – but not in the way people might think.
I had grown up in a church family, and my parents had been relatively progressive, humanitarian, and encouraging of reading and critical thinking. After leaving home for my first job, I ended up living out of town, and despite the concerns of my parents, this led to my becoming involved with what I would nowadays call a cult – a group created by a self-proclaimed prophet who declared that he had been anointed by God with a special mission for his followers to uphold. There, amidst the many excesses and abuses I witnessed and experienced, I was forced to undergo gay conversion therapy that naturally failed to ‘cure’ me.
I remember being called into a meeting with one of the group’s leaders, who demanded to know if God had cured me of my homosexuality, and the smirk on his face suggested that he expected a positive answer. I recall how quickly his confident smirk turned to a face of ashen anger when I told him that, after much earnest praying and begging for change, I had been forced to conclude that I was still gay because that was the way God had made me. The group subsequently denounced me (and a gay friend, who ironically, I had met in the same group, and who later became my first boyfriend), placing us on the same overnight bus to leave that country town forever. We arrived in Melbourne on 13th September 1987, and began a new life. It seems that while being ghosted, we lost the Holy Ghost. But freed from religiosity, we finally found reality.
The immediate after-effect was one of anger, bitterness, and a sense of betrayal – primarily by my friends and trusted leaders, but ultimately at the God who had allowed this to happen. I was advised by some people to forgive those involved, so I could move on – but I quickly decided that I would never forgive – because to do so would somehow give moral assent to the leaders of that group inflicting similar damage upon others. But we all understand the difference between climb-the-clocktower-with-a-rifle-and-take-out-the-town anger and what might be termed righteous anger – using your sense of moral outrage to motivate you to act in ethical and peaceful ways to confront injustice (the sort of anger that often inspired me to write letters for Amnesty International, and to join a Holocaust survivor friend in undertaking varied campaigns for human rights).
Ultimately, I learnt to walk away from the religious gaslighting and manipulation, and started to be true to myself, free from worrying about a hellish afterlife or needing to live up to the demands of religious others. Even a Christian friend observed after my deconversion that I was happier than I had been in years. Ironically, anger helped me to discover happiness.
In Praise of Anger
We all associate anger with a loss of impulse control, lashing out physically or verbally (possibly even violently), and the saying or doing of things that we could regret later. Such behaviours can never be endorsed or excused. But the Australian Psychology Association asserts that anger can also be expressed in healthy and positive ways:
“Although anger is often seen as a harmful emotion, it can be a healthy emotional response when expressed assertively and respectfully. Sometimes anger can be helpful; it can motivate a person to take positive action to change a situation for the better or to achieve his or her goals.”
History is full of heroes whose anger has inspired positive change in the world. Rosa Parks stated that her bus boycott was motivated by anger:
“She said her anger over the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the failure to bring his killers to justice inspired her to make her historic stand.”
Playwright and author Larry Kramer, whose definitive HIV/AIDS activism helped to change the world and save possibly millions of lives, is well known not only for his activism but for the rage that fuelled it – which serves as a role model for others still today, because choosing to angrily ACT-UP can change the world.
Nelson Mandela recounted how a child crying over the death of a sparrow mellowed his anger at apartheid and helped prepare him for a lifetime of non-lethal civil rights protest and political leadership.
In Australia, we see activists like Eddie Mabo and Kon Karapanagiotidis who turned their lives containing anger and struggle into beacons of hope for others.
Clinical psychologist Bertram Rothschild notes that it is our human (humanist) responsibility to ourselves and to the world around us to: “… accept responsibility for our emotions and behaviors and not accuse others – – whether human or supernatural – – for our reactions”. A more grounded summary of this idea was given to me by my heart surgeon, who commented to me before heart valve transplant surgery (a topic that somehow seems curiously metaphoric for a discussion about anger in my life) that we cannot change the hand that life has dealt us, but we can change how we respond to it. This wisdom challenges us all in at least 16 ways to use anger as a motivation for self-improvement and optimism when confronting injustice in what some would posit is an increasingly angry world. We can turn from being bitter into being better.
An extension of this approach is to also direct compassion towards others, particularly those who might be victims of the perceived danger that angers us in the first place. I know many people who express anger in healthy and socially constructive ways: they visit refugees or others in detention, they participate in street protests or form delegations to meet politicians and try to address injustice, they write submissions to government inquiries, they run fetes selling second-hand books and donate the proceeds to charity, they give out food or offer spare bedrooms to homeless people.
I invite everyone to consider a social issue that makes them angry and find a way to channel that anger constructively towards positive change.
The Personal is Political
On a personal level, my own rage regarding my 1987 injustice motivated me to read more widely in search of answers, and I began to see the world through a non-religious lens. My rage eventually gave way to enlightenment, and I woke up one day realising that I no longer felt emotionally turbulent because I no longer believed in God – hence no need to feel angry at a character I now consider to be as fictitious as Spock or Spiderman – and who is perhaps nothing more than a theoretical idea which explores human nature: balancing our ideals and principles against our frailties and faults.
Politically however, I still see the ongoing detrimental effects of religion upon the lives of LGBT+ people and others, from Uganda to the USA. This week, the world also pauses to reflect upon the anniversary of an act of religious terrorism that killed thousands of people and ultimately changed our world. It is here that this theoretical construct called God is effectively a Rorschach Test for saints and sinners alike, being used daily to not only motivate great acts of compassion, but also to justify all kinds of evil, bigotry and intolerance. So while I am happy to let the average religious person live and let live – they are, after all, well intentioned people simply trying to get through life like the rest of us – I remain committed to challenging injustice wherever I find it – including those who demand the ‘religious freedom’ to hurt others.
More recently, I have been involved in research about certain forms of religious abuse against LGBT+ people, often leading me to recall my 1987 experiences, which had impacted both my life and that of my first boyfriend. I remember Ricky Ransome, now long deceased, who was also left angry by those experiences, but whose righteous rage had helped to encourage me in my activism. He had indirectly contributed to my somewhat small but deeply personal involvement in helping to change the law, and I think this would have made him quite proud. From a non-religious perspective, contributing to a community groundswell to help ban a form of torture or to prevent religious-based discrimination is perhaps the best type of immortality that he (and I) might ever want.
As for anger? I have spent some decades living in contentment, but with a continuing passion to address injustice – especially any that might be rationalised by religion, race or rhetoric. We can all move from anger to atonement.
The author thanks Phil Ransome for his consent to use Ricky’s name and photo.
Amidst street riots and police violence in Kenya, I have received these thoughts from an LGBT+ refugee friend in Nairobi, who must stay anonymous in order to protect his safety. Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks away. #BlackLivesMatter?
I have struggled to sleep the whole night. My mind has been an absorbing marketplace through the dark cold hours. Insomnia is a rare visitor to my comfortable bed. As blurry thoughts ate at me, I finally achieved some clarity at the hour of 6am and I rose to write.
I am certain a good chunk of us haven’t slept peacefully for a long time. Our brains buzz with gargantuan anxieties that we don’t tell nobody about. We manage to chuckle them out in memes and mates intrusive gossip and bullying each other in cyberspace; but in the dead of the night, when our thoughts come back home, we can barely withstand the heaviness we carry in these wretched bodies.
Last Wednesday we witnessed nationwide protests. An occurrence I haven’t experienced as a refugee in Kenya for 5 years of this nation probably since 2002 when Moi and KANU were ousted out of government. I was 14 and lived in Uganda.
It was disturbing to see what transpired in Mlolongo; a place in our vicinities Kitengela, a Nairobi suburb and hometown to many refugees including those with LGBTQIA profile .To appreciate the context, these were places that barely had any commotion during Post Election Violence in 2007. When things were too bad.
Nanyuki, Nyeri, Sondu, Kisumu, Mombasa and countless other places; people came out to express their rage at the high cost of living. Matatu operators disengaged their gears. Taxi drivers joined in to voice frustrations of low pay from their parent employers. The police were teargassed in their own lorries by their own canisters thrown back at them by angry youth. I mean, how bad can it get?
But what did President Ruto say in reaction? This is what’s been riling up my head lately. The son of Sugoi in all his intelligence made Raila the scapegoat. He still thinks we’re in the era of nusu mkate politics. He retaliated in classic white imperialist fashion just like his predecessors going back to Jomo Kenyatta; with a hard heart and threats.
Ruto is like that father who is loved by everybody else in the neighbourhood but is a monster at home. You have to admire the man’s choice of words when he speaks at international fora. His sleekness. His precision. His supposed wisdom. You almost fall in love with him. You want to proudly claim him as your President. But when he staggers back home, he throws up on his children with his drunkenness. He’s basically telling us we’re worth nothing.
Don’t think he is unaware of the nation’s current pressing concerns. That’s what narcissistic people do. They know what you’re complaining about but they’ll buy time by deflecting from the central issues and pretend not to know what’s hurting you.
And he knows religion has us on a chokehold. He’ll go to church and donate some wicked amount in a kikapu, spew a few bible verses, victimise himself and go back to drink top tier Kenyan tea at State House with his equally religiously excited wife. They’ve been in this business longer than we think, not just selling chicken. This is a game to them and the rest of the ruling class. For you and me our lives are stake, but those pigs are simply playing cards.
Back in 2005 after the Memorandum of Understanding between Raila and Kibaki went south, the latter began spearheading for a new constitution that Kenyan voters overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum. This is what led to the formation of ODM as we know it. The “Orange” in ODM was the symbol of “Voting NO” for the proposed new constitution that Kibaki’s government had put forward. The “YES Vote” was symbolised by “Banana”.
Kibaki panicked. He quickly reshuffled his cabinet to protect his political power leading to a further fall out with Raila who was gathering a strong opposition to face the government of the day in the next General Election that eventually led to the clashes.
Kofi Annan had to jet in to speak to two adults to get their act together. Two adults who you’d imagine had the heart for their burning country. As we hacked each other mercilessly on the roads and in our homes, these two lunatics were having high tea in enclosed boring leather infested rooms discussing how they’ll divide power. None of them willed to relent for the sake of the people in pain outside.
And even after all that bedlam, reports by the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission set up to look into PEV fell on deaf ears. Why? Because the people implicated were still in power, and they knew they could block justice from happening. The same precedence Ruto and Uhuru followed vying for the top office while still on ICC trial.
They shit on our faces all the time. But we’re so deeply traumatised and on complex levels to realise that we can no longer continue living in this house with this dispensation of governance. This vehement abuse has been rubbing our buttocks since the British decided to hand over the country to some guy they had coached to be Prime Minister in 1963, while our people celebrated all night that we had finally achieved independence.
These are the same people who claim to protect family values by rejecting LGBTQ+ rights without addressing the callous violence and indignity children undergo in the hands of people who ought to protect them. The same people purporting Kenya is a country of peace but issue conniving threats to citizen’s expression of their oppression; who turn State House, a public entity, into a cathedral for their religious masturbation, because their God is so important than everybody else’s. Afterall, that Man God helped them win the election.
I hate to use this example especially in this time; but the French Revolution that went on for a decade from 1789 aimed to create a sense of collective identity amongst the French people. Its main causes being social inequality, tax burdens, the rise of Bourgeoisie, the rise in cost of bread, inadequate leadership of Louis XV and Louis XVI, parliaments’ opposition to reforms, the extravagant lifestyle of the French Monarchy, growing economic and political crisis, among others.
I don’t know how our revolution will look like. Dr. Wandia Njoya screams to us everyday about the killing of our imagination and innovation by our education system. And must I add, our religious systems too.
As Adrienne Maree Brown wrote in her book Pleasure Activism: “Our radical imagination is a tool for decolonization, for reclaiming our right to shape our lived reality.”
I want to add these profound words by activist Julius Kamau that: “The only way out of the current Kenyan crises of poverty and hunger, is a revolution. A revolution of the mind, a revolution of ideas, a revolution of values.”
This is what me and other LGBTQ advocates, allies and friends the many abused, forsaken Kenyan children have been trying to communicate.
A revolution of the mind, a revolution of ideas, a revolution of values. You and I must deeply confront ourselves; to ponder how that looks like personally and communally. What old ideas must we let go of? What harmful cultures must we do away with? What systems of governance must we abandon? What violent ways of relating must we separate from? We must go to the roots. And I also know we are accustomed to violence to astronomical levels from birth to the point of lacking the cognitive tools to acknowledge it when it’s happening.
But then again I understand how difficult this is to do on an empty stomach and a robbed mind.