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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Wanted, Your Teenage Son! Homosexuality, Paedophilia, And The Vilification Of The 'Other': A Socio-Analytic View Of Some Fundamentalist Organisational Dynamics

The Western Australian state government recently adopted a significant social legislative reform agenda. It reformed the laws affecting the status of homosexual men and lesbians to ensure equality in the eyes of the law. (The Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Bill 2001) This has resulted in some of the most progressive anti-discrimination legislation in the country, promoting equality for heterosexual and homosexual people. The range of areas included legal status of de facto relationships, recognition of next-of-kin in medical decisions and financial matters such as superannuation entitlements, equal age of consent for sexual activity (16 years), access to IVF and adoption, and others. It also provides anti-discrimination legislation in the provision of goods and services.Western Australia has been recognised as one of the - if not the - most politically conservative states in Australia. The gay community - a loosely organised set of interested individuals and groups has lobbied for legislative changes for over three decades. The proposed legislative changes triggered a significant backlash from conservative organisations and individuals. The most vocal and visible of these groups - the 'Australian Family Association' embarked on an intensive public campaign against what they referred to as the 'gay lobby'.The 'Australian Family Association' (AFA) represents itself as a guardian of the 'traditional family' of mother, father and natural children. In its campaign against the Western Australian law reforms, it used newspaper adverts, leaflet drops and billboard posters inter alia, to represent its position and to try to influence public opinion and to persuade the government not to proceed with these changes. These public representations consistently focused on the 'age of consent' issue and portrayed homosexual men as sexual predators against young boys - rapacious paedophiles.In contemporary Australia conscious vilification of the 'other' has been increasingly apparent as a significant tool in stirring group fears and mobilising paranoid-schizoid anxieties. For example this has been alleged to have occurred in the recent so-called 'children overboard incident' in which the pre-election public perception of asylum seekers was deliberately (i.e. consciously) manipulated by the government to represent them as cruel, inhumane, manipulative 'undesirables' and as a serious threat to the integrity of Australian borders and the Australian lifestyle.In this paper I will consider the possible dynamics of an organisation such as the AFA and its social role, as suggested by some public actions and representations of this organisation. I will extend my previously published hypotheses about the colonisation of identity (Shafer 1999) by exploring processes and purposes - some conscious and some unconscious - of the vilification of the 'other', drawing on the recent overt and covert public association of male homosexuality with paedophilia in Western Australia by the AFA - and indeed in the Federal Parliament in the Heffernan-Kirby affair (Morgan 2002); and I will consider too the possible social mobilisation of projective identification and other group dynamic phenomena.'