The simple suggestion that gays and lesbians be protected from acts of genocide has provoked a hate-filled diatribe from the rightwing mob who run the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL). In its submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee inquiry into the 1999 Anti-Genocide Bill, the RSL portrayed homosexuals as a threat to children, carriers of disease and a privileged and wealthy minority. This prompted a flurry of media coverage because of the inclusion of bizarre assertions lifted from rightwing sources in the U.S. The attention on the RSL’s so-called “facts” about queers missed the point. The RSL’s underpinning claim is that the inclusion of genocide on the basis of sexuality would give gays a “privileged legal status.” This “special treatment” contention is a favourite tactic of the Right in its opposition to measures aimed at redressing discrimination and oppression.
The argument that the inclusion of sexuality is “unnecessary” is also holocaust denial. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi government in Germany systematically tried to destroy homosexual people alongside Jews, Romani, Slavs, people with disabilities, socialists and trade unionists. Over 100,000 lesbians and gay men were sent to concentration camps where they were designated by black or pink triangles. Then again, perhaps the RSL leadership agrees with fascists on that score! The murders did not stop in 1945. Homosexuality is a capital offence in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. In Columbia, Brazil and Mexico, queers are routinely murdered or “disappeared.”
Radical Women applauds the loud response from the Australian Council for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Answering homophobia publicly is vital. Scapegoating minorities distracts ordinary people from understanding the real source of their problems: the brutal economic system whose defenders will use any tactic, from mass sackings to mass murder, in order to maintain their régime.
The provision of free quality healthcare and nursing homes to serve people not profits, opposition to the regressive GST and reversal of the steady erosion of pensions and benefits are issues the RSL should fight around for all returned service men and women, both heterosexual and homosexual. But the reactionary leadership of the organisation refuses to break with the narrow xenophobia that characterised Australia before the 1970s. They cling to power only because the younger ex-soldiers — from the Vietnam conflict — are steering clear of the RSL. It’s not surpising. More than any other war veterans, the Vietnam Vets know a lost cause when they see one.