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Play School exposes a nation's latent homophobic tendencies

By Greg Barns - posted Tuesday, 15 June 2004

The reactions of Minister for Children Larry Anthony, Communications Minister Daryl Williams and the Australian Family Association's Bill Muehlenberg to the Play School episode that portrayed a same-sex couple is hysterical and offensive.

First, let's take Anthony's reported comments on the segment that showed a girl called Brenna being taken to an amusement park by her mothers. According to Anthony, the ABC is guilty of "responding to minorities" and he doesn't want to see Play School "become too politically correct".

Anthony's critique utilises the tools of trade of social conservatives the world over. Whenever they see the media - particularly government-funded media - portraying the reality of a diverse and liberal society where people are throwing off the shackles of prejudice, the conservatives trot out rhetoric about political correctness and pandering to minorities.


Of course, what conservatives call "political correctness" is simply the recognition that in a genuine democracy, actions and words that inflame social tensions and undermine the inalienable right for all people to be treated equally should not be tolerated.

With this comes the idea that in every society there are individuals and groups who have, in the recent and not-so-recent past, not been accorded human dignity and respect. Indigenous Australians, migrants, refugees and women all fall into that category.

And to this list should be added gays. This minority has been appallingly treated in Australia through the use of language (for example, "poofters"), aggressive behaviour (gay bashings) and discriminatory laws.

The extent to which Australia is a genuine democracy must be measured by how it treats minority groups and the individuals within them.

There is nothing avant-garde about respect for, and recognition of the rights of, minorities. That neglected great 19th century thinker, John Stuart Mill, once fashionable among the liberal wing of the Liberal Party of Australia, warned against the "tyranny of the majority" and the need for a democracy to create laws and traditions that respect minorities.

In short, there is something noble about the ABC's Play School pandering to minorities. The national broadcaster has a responsibility to ensure its programming reflects the principles of diversity and tolerance, and showing children that familial circumstances differ is entirely appropriate.


Let's look a little closer at Larry Anthony's position. Presumably he wants the ABC to stick to showing the traditional family formula - mum, dad and the kids. This familial arrangement is, according to most conservatives, the ideal. The implication is that because it involves parents of different gender, it should therefore be accorded more respect and reverence than alternatives.

While Anthony's reaction to the Play School episode is both predictable and misguided, those of his colleague Daryl Williams and the Australian Family Association's Bill Muehlenberg are downright offensive.

Their remarks are laced with the sort of prejudice and hysteria that used to emanate from conservative whites in the US a few decades ago who warned of dire consequences if white kids were forced by the government to attend the same school as blacks.

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This article was first published in The Age 5 June 2004.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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