Minor bigot or major threat?

In the pushback against the gay rights movement, homophobia has a new and, dare I say, handsome face. I refer to Bernard Gaynor ­– conservative Catholic, brief Senate candidate and fabulously decorated veteran of our military contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. His most recent battles, however, have taken place at home, where he has contended with Bob Katter, Muslims, his own generals, and scantily clad Mardi Gras dancers – all, bizarrely, at the same time.


In the course of 2013, Gaynor made public denunciations of Islam and of Defence’s participation in the annual gay pride parade, and published repugnant Twitter comments about homosexual teachers. As a result, his political career ended with a premature whimper and he faces a still-pending dismissal from the military, as General David Hurley decided that Gaynor’s positions reflected a ‘failure to uphold the values of the Australian army’. All this, however, was mere foreplay leading up Gaynor’s subsequent public thrusting, which played out in the pages of Online Opinion and on his blog.

As his military career inexorably heads toward disgrace and discharge, Gaynor has a lot of time on his hands. He has become a prolific essayist and critic – and nothing gets Gaynor more hot and bothered than the issue of gay rights.

Gaynor arrived at his homophobic stance, he says, via strict adherence to Catholic doctrine. Permit me, though, to enter the realm of speculation: he does have a surname that lends itself particularly well to adolescent teasing, and the resentments that result are often harboured for a long time. (I know from experience. In Year 8, one of my class comrades continually referred to me as Tutti Frutti Cootie.)

Anyhow, Gaynor tells us that his Catholicism demands an anti-gay stance, and I take him at his word. He has quite a bit to say on this topic and the many other ills poisoning modern Australia. The About section on his blog presents him as a fearless contrarian ‘writing what normal men don’t dare speak out loud.’

He flirts with truth here, which I almost find brave. Most bigots shroud their arguments in theological casuistry or hide behind wounded religious expression. Not Bernie. When he writes of the sordid links between contraception, perpetually adolescent adults and rabid feminists, you know that he is deeply inhaling the sweet scent of his own bullshit.

His About section concludes: ‘he is critical of modern thinking and quick to defend Australia’s way of life,’ a life resembling early post Second World War Australia, free of the gays, Muslims, feminists, rogue Catholic clergy, and pesky women demanding control over their reproductive systems.

Bernie’s blog is furiously polemical and wonderfully comedic, but only accidentally. One often notices that those who rail most against gay rights and marriage also have an insatiable curiosity for the sexual proclivities of their enemies. In a post fulminating against the Defence Department’s diminishing masculinity, Bernie manages to spruik the products and services available at Sydney Leather Pride Association and Body Electric, the latter of which apparently offers a titillating massage.

The gays, however, aren’t the only object of Gaynor’s ire. A recent post takes aim at the critics of the government’s asylum seeker policy and features this nugget of laconic insight: ‘Tony Abbott was elected to stop the boats and he has. His policy is working swimmingly. Lefties hate it because they hate Australia.’

Perusing Bernie’s blog, however, soon begins to have diminishing comedic returns, and the heady mixture of hatred and rage can leave one a little dispirited. Is it even worth criticising?

I understand that Gaynor is an easy target, one whom many might argue is not worth addressing at all. Take his nostalgia for the Defence Department (and the broader social context) of the 1940s, a time when:

Women weren’t allowed to serve in the Army. That pretty much ensured that blokes with Neanderthal-like instincts didn’t play up but could use their strength on the Japanese and Germans. And it also meant that lesbian sailors weren’t ejected from their boat, leaving a capability gap in their team. Homosexuals weren’t allowed to serve either. As a result weird sexual tensions didn’t get the morale of the other blokes down.

An all-straight, male Army might not have ticked the equal opportunity box. But it did win a pretty bloody big war. Who’s going to complain about that? Answer: only people who are interested in pursuing weird sexual agendas at the expense of national security.

Gaynor yearns for a world and an army that don’t exist anymore and aren’t coming back.

But I’m not sure that we should dismiss him so readily. There has been a failure on the part of Australian writers and thinkers (with the exception of Mia Freedman) to engage with Gaynor. Herein lies the problem: he has been given a free pass. Despite his hard-on for a bygone era, Bernard Gaynor lives, writes, influences and represents others in 2014. For this reason he can’t be ignored.

Furthermore, engaging Bernard Gaynor ought to remind us of how much remains to be done.

Cory Bernardi, Bob Katter and the like don’t get elected accidentally. Glance again at Gaynor’s blog and and notice how many of his ideas and arguments creepily resemble much of government policy. It is to Australia’s shame that we are so far behind on the issue of gay marriage; our criminal and cruel treatment of asylum seekers ought to implicate us all.

Gaynor isn’t just a throwback to the past. He is a representative of a certain strain of modern Australia. For this reason, he ought to be engaged.

A defence of gay rights means defending them every time. Flick to the international headlines from any newspaper just this week and see what happens when that doesn’t happen. Australia is a long way from some of the homophobia abroad, but a lot still remains to be done. If we are intellectually and morally opposed to the cretins overseas, we must be keeping an eye, too, on the ones at home, or the victories we think are in sight will remain elusive.

In the case of Bernard Gaynor and his groupies and co-thinkers, I prescribe a mixture of criticism – unrelenting, and I hope, humorous – but also encouragement. His arguments, in the end, will probably help ours: one tool in the advancement of the gay rights agenda ought to be the hateful garbage that masquerades as the alternative and argument. Let the debate, then, continue; let there soon be no one left to persuade, and let Gaynor’s discharged arguments spill to the floor, to become stale and dried-up.

Timothy Cootes

Timothy Cootes is an Australian writer living in Berlin. His essays and book reviews have been published at Online Opinion, Onya Magazine, The Marshalltown and Independent Australia.

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