Lexie Matheson, AUT, looks at the latest harmful words of Israel Folau and
what it means for the LGBTIQ community and all of us.
So Israel Folau is it again.
Barely a year after his last homophobic outburst Folau has again hit
Instagram with an appalling post anchored in his need to share his
religious beliefs. ‘Christianity’ he calls it, but it’s as far from ‘love
thy neighbour’ as I am from being an All Black.
Why does he do it? Well, it’s one of those religious requirements, this
evangelising, and, in my view, it’s brought unbelievable grief wherever
it’s been practiced.
My first response was that his meme looked rather like an audition notice,
a list of those qualities required if you sought selection to the Qantas
Wallabies rugby team. ‘WARNING’ he shouts. ‘Drunks, homosexuals,
adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters. Hell awaits
It’s hard to misunderstand his intention, I’ll give him that. He is a godly
man, a man of Jesus, a man of staunch convictions.
But the Qantas Wallabies made it clear, mid 2018, that his last homophobic
outburst was totally unacceptable. Until yesterday, I have to admit, his
ongoing silence made it seem as though he had at least learned to keep his
This latest mind numbingly stupid outburst has hit our news media like a
Trump Tweet. Momentarily gone are the irrational criticisms of Jacinda
Ardern, learned observations about celestial black holes are retired to the
back burner, the seemingly endless Kiwi commitment to ‘whataboutism’ is
silenced. Because without warning we’re back again to the seasonal topic du
jour, Israel Folau’s rampant homophobia.
Suddenly, advocates of free speech have become passionate in support of his
right to speak his mind regardless of topic and/or consequences. And the
ongoing, often vile, debate about curbing hate speech in Aotearoa continues
to divide the country like a 1981 apartheid rugby tour.
Fundamentalist Christian’s, likewise, cite Folau’s right to have an opinion
and to exercise his freedom of speech, no matter how heinous and
discriminatory, and to spout it in public forums as much as he likes
without any risk of censure.
They’re right of course, Human Rights law in this country does protect his
right to speak with impunity as long as the theme is religious. Perhaps
when Jacinda’s finished toughening up our gun laws, she might want to take
a serious look at this one, too.
However this whole thing has very little to do with freedom of speech and
even less to do with Folau’s colonialist religious views though these often
provide an angry smoke screen to the truth.
I seriously believe that his motivation is more to do with a stubborn
refusal to acknowledge that the words he uses from the platforms of power
he has access to – 316,000 Instagram followers, 130,000 on Facebook and
121,000 on Twitter – do actual damage to the souls he says he’s trying to
Tuiloma Lina Samu, Pasifika Human Rights Advisor to the NZ Human Rights
Commission, writes in a wonderful letter to Folau published in The Spinoff
that ‘an unquestioning belief in and holding fast to the Bible is very much
a feature of our lives as Pasifika peoples. Our cultures are entrenched in
our Christian faiths and this has been central to our modern-day cultures
since we were colonised. But our peoples also need to remember that
fa’afafine, fa’afatama, fakafefine/ fakaleiti, fakafifine, ‘akavaine and
sexually diverse cultures are more ancient and authentically ancestral than
our Christian religion is.’
This is critical to a contemporary understanding of Folau’s hateful
ramblings and why they are potentially dangerous to exactly the young
people he is trying to convert and save. Folau’s not ranting to them, he’s
evangelising to save himself.
There’s no question Folau’s a hero among Pacific peoples and much of what
he is preaching can be heard from the pulpits of his community. I get that
and, while I have serious disagreement with both the context and the
content of much of the sermonising, I am neither Christian nor of Pacific
heritage so I hold my tongue out of respect.
I do believe, however, that an unselfish Christian person might look more
closely at the consequences of their words and ask ‘just how much damage am
I doing to the most vulnerable young people from my own communities who
identify as LGBTQI and am I able to say mea culpa when tragedies happen
that I have doubtless contributed to?’
I have no issue with Folau following whatever religion he chooses but when
it comes to knowingly promulgating messages designed to harm vulnerable
people then I draw the line.
It’s people like me who get to pick up the pieces and I’m happy to do that
because our system has cracks in it that people fall through. I fell
through them when I came out and there was always someone there to help me
heal and to help me learn.
What is despicable is knowing that I’m picking up the pieces of kids who
have been consciously pushed down by someone they looked up to, someone
they admired who should have known better. With power comes responsibility,
and Folau has yet to learn what this means.
If you’re upset by the bigotry you’re reading from Folau then maybe contact
one of the support groups I’ve attached to this ramble. They’re all great –
or if you just want to chat, flick me a message. I’m happy to help.