I recently sat down with Wendy Francis from the Australian Christian Lobby and had a chat with her over coffee. While the two of us come from opposite sides of the debate, it was interesting to just sit down and get her take on things. While I may not see eye to eye on everything with her, I think it’s important to hear where the other side is coming from. It’s all very well to go into battle guns blazing, but it equally important to know what you should be aiming at.
My experience with Wendy might shock some people, but I found her very pleasant to talk to, and contrary to what many may believe, she is extremely approachable. She is a woman with feelings and emotions, and beliefs that are ultimately coming from a faith based background with a perspective of protecting children, and I admire her for her boldness in that. My intention was never to get into a debate with her, but to simply hear where she was coming from and I feel my little coffee date achieved that. Yes, we will both continue to fight for what we believe in. I still have my beliefs and she still has hers, but there is something to be said about two people of opposing beliefs to be able to sit and share dialogue with each other. You have to know the other side if you expect to successfully be able to defend against it.
Will I have coffee with Wendy again? Most likely. Will we be happy little besties? Probably not, but I honestly believe there a lot that we can still learn from each other.
You can read the article in full below.
Coffee with Wendy Francis.
Originally published on SameSame.com.au
One of the most outspoken opponents to any and all LGBT causes in Australia is undoubtedly theAustralian Christian Lobby.
And with her controversial tweets amid her constant campaigning against same-sex marriage and gay parenting, the ACL’s director in Queensland Wendy Francis has earned herself no shortage of enemies within the LGBT community.
Same Same’s Brisbane editor Chad St. James sat down with Wendy to have a few burning questions answered.
First, I have a confession. A few months ago when I was caught up in the emotion of the LNP watering down civil unions and announcing that they would be changing surrogacy rights, I was among those who put Wendy Francis’ number on my social networks, resulting in her getting abusive phone calls and emails. While I take the rights of myself and of my fellow brothers and sisters in the LGBTIQ community very seriously, looking back now perhaps I could have dealt with it a little differently.
It was later through a reply from an email that I sent to the Australian Christian Lobby, that a polite dialogue was exchanged between Wendy and I, and we both decided to sit down and have coffee, and clear the air so to speak.
I had a lot of questions that both myself and many members of the LGBTIQ community wanted answered, and contrary to what I might have imagined, Wendy was more than willing to answer them.
Over a couple of hours sitting in a cafe, the two of us chatted and for the very first time I saw very human side to a woman who has been one of our most stringent opponents to marriage equality. I also gained a better understanding of her motivations, and I won’t deny that it was one of the most surprising coffee dates I have had a long time.
Let’s set the record straight. In the past there have been tweets and quotes attributed to you that may have not actually come from you. One example is the famous tweet:
“Children in homosexual relationships are subject to emotional abuse. Legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse.”
Can you share what happened there?
At the time I was running for the senate and Family First. We had a contract PR person, that contract PR person was also working for others at the same time. I was in Townsville from the office when that tweet was made. I immediately pulled it back but not in time for it not to have gone out and cause damage.
I was very young in the media and had no idea what to do. So I kept on getting rung up about it and the media would keep asking me different questions in a different way. I have to say I didn’t do well because I became confused with some of the questions.
The main offending bit was that legalising same-sex was like legalising child abuse. I do not believe there is a grain of truth in the idea that legalising same-sex marriage is like legalising child abuse. But I think the best place for children is in a situation where they are with their biological parents, that’s what I think.
They were saying to me, well do you think it is all right for children to be brought up in a homosexual marriage? Well no, I actually I don’t… then they would say do you think that is child abuse? Well, no I don’t.
But I think the very concept of child abuse is always linked to sexual abuse, well in my mind it is anyway. That was the real tragedy of that whole tweet. If the staff at the office had tweeted legalising same-sex marriage is taking a way a child’s right away to have a mother, then I probably wouldn’t have been so upset about it. But I was livid and really, really upset about it. My children were upset about it. Because it certainly inferred sexual abuse I think. So that just unforgivable. But I don’t think I handled the media well afterwards. But looking back I don’t think I know how I could have avoided it.
I can 100 percent promise you I had nothing to do with that tweet, I hated it, I absolutely hated it. I wished I hadn’t been out of the office so I could have been there. I immediately sort of went into melt-down mode wondering what it was all about.
I was fuzzy with the responses afterwards, not really knowing what to. I had all these people advising me what to say. I had people ringing me saying “you should really go with that, that’s a great comment” and I was saying I can’t possibly go with that, it’s an awful comment. Then when further tweets came out from Wendy Francis ACL – I think that’s the one – tweeting things about Penny Wong and all these people, because there was this previous bad one, it made this one more believable. But if anybody had done any research they would have straight away seen that it was fake account. It was pulled within 24 hours of it being up. There were bloggers absolutely crucifying Wendy Francis again, and I don’t think they would have jumped on it if it hadn’t been for the previous one that was still a doubt in everybody’s mind.
But because of the first one was such a disaster, then when the next one came out I had Sunday Mail ringing me and saying can we just have a comment on what you’ve come out about Penny Wong? And I was like okay, what did I say about Penny Wong? I’m trying to think back in my mind had I said anything about Penny Wong. Poor Penny. I hadn’t said anything. But as I say, that one was pulled pretty quickly, but not before the whole hatemail and everything started again. It was just a nightmare.
I have to say I hate Twitter. Facebook to me is more personal, even with you, Chad. I first met you on Facebook and I knew you were a real person, there were other friends on your page, I felt like I could relate to you. But with Twitter it’s awful, you don’t even know who anyone is and they can say the worst things about you. So I very rarely tweet anything but it’s really funny when I do, because most of my followers on Twitter hate me. I can just tweet “I scrambled eggs” and I’ll get something back, bad. I wouldn’t tweet that anyway. I don’t think anyone is interested on what I had for breakfast!
I quite like Facebook. I feel as if I can control that. I like dialogue, I like people to disagree with me. I don’t have any problem with that. But when it becomes vitriolic, I think then we’ve stepped over a line that should not be stepped over. On Facebook if people are arguing a point and 100 percent disagreeing with me, I think that’s great. It’s fine. But if they start calling me names or defaming anybody else, I just un-friend them. It’s easy. But you can’t do that with Twitter.
I don’t react well to abuse, and I think you’ve been part of it. I’ve had phone calls from outside Parliament House and I answered every call that I could. Some went to voicemail. I kept on answering because I wanted to talk to you, I wanted to talk to whoever was shouting at me to say “you don’t know me, please talk to me.” My husband was in the room saying “why do you keep answering the phone?” And I was saying “because they are ringing me.” Whether they want to talk to me or not I wanted to talk to them.
I was going to come into Parliament the night of the civil partnerships legislation. And Peter didn’t want me to go in because he didn’t think it was safe. In the end, well I’m glad I didn’t. I shouldn’t feel that way. I shouldn’t be at home thinking I’m glad I didn’t go in, that it obviously wasn’t safe. I don’t think that’s right. But I did answer every call that I possibly could and the ones that went to voicemail were pretty awful. I recorded them and kept them because I need to start making a bit of a file because this could get out of hand.
You’re open to people getting in contact with you as long as they’re mature, diplomatic and approachable?
Yes. Absolutely. I don’t believe I am right 100 percent of the time. I have strongly held views, some of them are defined by my faith and some of them are defined by research, scientific evidence and biology. I don’t believe I’m right all the time and there’s been a lot of times in my life that I’ve changed my views on things, and I am still happy to do that.
What does the Australian Christian Lobby stand for?
It stands for being a voice for values. We see that there is a value set, that Australia has traditionally been built on, and that is the Judeo – Christian heritage. And that’s like a lot of the west has been built on that as well. And the some of the policies that we have, if you look at what is at the heart of them its things from the Christian faith such as “do unto others as you would have them to do unto you” and the good Samaritan.
Those sort of things are built into the Australian psyche, the whole good Samaritan, going a further mile, all of those things are from a Christian heritage. As we moved as a society away from being just Christian, and I don’t begrudge that, I think as we have had new immigration from other countries. In Brisbane for instance we celebrate Ramadan, we celebrate Buddha’s birthday, we celebrate Christmas. So we have this really good multicultural link, but as we have moved away from any one faith-base then we’ve got a bit of a void of where our values are based, so for me that is what I believe the Australian Christian Lobby is doing, seeking to keep us on track with the value system that has stood us in really good stead.
What does Wendy Francis stand for?
Wendy Francis is a mum and a grandma, a wife. I have always felt strongly about justice issues, I also feel very strongly about children. I think as our society has changed, one of the things that have changed for me the most is that we used to be based on whatever we do was on the best interests of the child. I think that’s changed, I think it’s now very me.
Mind you, I have to say I think your generation is turning that around a little. I think your generation is sick of that. I think it’s the baby boomers who are a much more me generation. We’ve had it very good. We’ve all got houses, and now houses are out of reach for a lot of the younger ones. I think that “me, me” has impacted how we look outwardly. So for Wendy Francis, I think a lot of my motivation is coming from getting back to what is best for children. If we look at what is best for children, then I think that’s going to be what’s best for society.
Since Wendy Francis and the Australian Christian Lobby are about protecting the children, how do you as an organisation and a mother protect young LGBTIQ people?
For me, the sorts of things I’ve have been involved in. I can’t think how many years ago now, but I started the outdoor advertising should be G-rated. That doesn’t distinguish between any children. I think all children should be protected from sexuality until they’re old enough to process it.
I think outdoor advertising is getting better. Even if you look at the Sexpo ads. The Sexpo ads used to be horrendous. So over-sexualised and a woman used as an object, just disgusting. Whereas this year I don’t want them there at all. I actually don’t want Sexpo ads in there. Because I don’t think kids should have to see it. But I have to say they are so much better. So much more discrete.
I want to make society a better place for all children. All children need to be protected and that’s my big focus.
Are you against surrogacy rights as a whole or just those rights to specific people?
I’m actually against surrogacy rights as whole. I think that’s what the government should do. I think the government should repeal all the surrogacy. I don’t know why it would just attack one section of surrogacy. For me, there’s holes all over surrogacy. Let’s put my husband and I into a situation of not being able to have children. So I get my sister to carry a child. I cannot imagine that not being in a threesome. I cannot imagine my husband not being attached to the woman that is carrying his child. For me, that would be an invasion of my relationship with my spouse. But I also can’t imagine the then child not being confused by having two mums and a dad. I don’t think that is in the best interest of the child.
For me, surrogacy is again all about us. I think surrogacy is changing the concentration of what is in the best interest in the child. And that has been my mantra, trying to look at it from the eyes of the child. I think surrogacy is in the best interests of the adult but whereas if you’re looking at adoption you’re actually looking at the best interest of the child because the child is already there. If you looking at fostering, again we foster child but we don’t allow them to be adopted. It’s a tragedy. We need to look at tightening up those laws. When we’re looking at fostering and adoption it is because there is a child there and they have a need. When we’re looking at surrogates we’re looking at what I want and what I can’t have and so I’ll get in whatever way I can get it. And you’re creating a child and to me I think your commodifying children and I don’t think we should ever be able to do that.
Do you believe same-sex couples should be able to adopt?
Again I think the best situation for a child is with their mother and father. I think a child needs a woman and a man. So for me that scientific biological and natural proof of hows it’s made, we need a man and a woman to create a child I think that is the ideal place for a child. In the same way I think life sucks and so a child is not always able to be with a mother and a father and so there are lots of different situations and lots of different families that are developing. But for me when the government actually legislates, I think they should legislate what is the ideal target for a child and I think that the best place for a child is to be with their mother and father.
The ACL has a long history of campaigning against marriage equality. Why is the idea that two consenting human beings making the public choice under governmental law to spend the rest of their lives together so confronting and threatening?
I don’t find it confronting or threatening at all. But for me, I think that the government doesn’t have any place legislating love. I don’t think love is something to be legislated. The only reason the government has any interest in marriage is because there is the potential for a future generation. So they have to legislate it to make that children are well cared for. It’s not that every marriage is going to result in children, but a marriage is between a man and a woman, and that’s what it is defined as. So when you define something as a man and a woman coming together and having sex, then what can come from that is children. So to me, that’s why the government has a say in it and why the government shouldn’t have a say in what happens in the bedroom.
Parliament passed legislation in 2011 that saw the Civil Unions Bill come into place, yet the ACL campaigned against that, why?
My reason was twofold. I was pretty annoyed about the political stunt that it was. There were so many important things happening at the time. We lost our Triple A credit rating. To me, it was just a political stunt from the member from the Mount Cootha Andrew Fraser. Why I campaigned against the civil partnerships was because he made it really clear at the time that he was developing legislation to mimic marriage as closely as he possibly could. I think it was an insult to the gay community as well. I actually don’t really know if that is what the gay community actually wanted. The mimicking of marriage really got me upset… I think when you mimic something you can actually devalue it. To me, marriage is marriage and it’s worth keeping.
Do you have faith in modern democracy?
I think democracy has holes all over it actually, but I don’t know somebody has come up with a better system. So I’d have to say I’m a bit of a fence sitter. If someone could come up with a better system I would love to see it.
Under the principles of the Australian democracy there’s a separation of church and state, under that separation religious belief should not be used to change laws because it is undemocratic and discriminatory. Do you think that your good Christian values justify your discrimination?
I don’t see it as discrimination to support legislation that is already there. That’s one point. The separation between church and state actually came about to stop the state interfering in matters of the church. It’s sort of a misnomer to say that our beliefs are not going effect how we’re governed.
You operate on a set of beliefs, and I do, and both of us are vitally important in what we call democracy, because if we’re going to have a true democracy every voice has to be heard. So I think it’s vital that the Christian voice is heard because we represent a large part of the constituents. In the latest census I think there were 62 percent of people that identify as Christians. It doesn’t mean that they’re all practising Christians, it’s probably more like 20 percent that are practising Christians, but still there is 62 percent identify in that way. So it would be ridiculous to think that there wasn’t some sort of input from what people believe into our parliaments.
The church and the government are completely different, but it cannot mean that I don’t have a say as a Christian into that parliament, and that you don’t have a say from your beliefs, and that the Buddhist person down the corner can’t have a say with their beliefs as well.
Would you agree under the definition of discrimination, that the Australian Christian Lobby is discriminating against same-sex couples?
I personally don’t believe so. We come from a set of beliefs. I think if the glove as on the other person’s hand, probably I’ve been discriminated against as well from people who disagree with me. I think if I turned up that night at Parliament House I wouldn’t have been treated fairly. The emotions were high. It was very emotive, the whole thing.
So if I am perceived as having not treating you fairly and I mean you as in a lobby group, I apologise for that, as I think we need to treat each other fairly and with respect. It doesn’t mean that you and I are going to go away from here and agree. With some of my closest friends and family, we don’t see things in the same way, and imagine how boring life would be if we all saw things in the same way. And so you and I will go on probably being on the opposite sides of the fence on different things but we have got to be able to talk about it.
Do you know many gay or lesbian people in your life?
No, I don’t. Because of the way I’ve been brought up and my family situation, I don’t really. Everyone laughs at me when I say it, but my hairdresser is gay and he’s a really good friend, and people say did you rush out and try and find a gay hairdresser? He’s been my hairdresser for 8 or 9 years. He’s a good friend. In my work situations I’ve always been working with people, but you have different lifestyle to me. I don’t go to parties, you know, I’m not a party animal at all. I operate in a different circle.
I don’t have a lot of gay friends but the ones I do have I get along very well with. I don’t hide what I believe. I talk to my hairdresser, we talk about kids we talk about marriage and everything. He actually agrees with me on a lot of stuff, so he comes from a different perspective as well.
A lot of people say being gay being a choice, what do you think?
I think for some people it definitely is. I don’t think there is a doubt about that person, I wouldn’t say it’s everybody. I don’t know. I do think there are some people who experiment or that have been hurt. A girl has been hurt by guys so many times or a guy has been hurt by girls. I think there is an element of it, and that’s what I would personally believe, but I wouldn’t say that it is everybody.
Do you believe a gay person can change their sexuality?
I just don’t know what the answer is. Because I know people who have identified as gay and who now don’t. I think they would say they are choosing to live a celibate life. That’s what I think they would say. I haven’t actually talked to them and asked them. So I think the answer is no they have not changed their sexuality but have chosen to leave the homosexual lifestyle.
What if you had a son or daughter that came out as gay? How would you react?
I would love them. That’s probably the simple answer. I would love them and I would do everything I could to support them.
What would you do if they then came up to you one day with their partner and said they were in love and wanted to get married? As a mother who loves their child who also has Christian beliefs, how would you deal with this?
I wouldn’t think I was much of a mum if I changed my mind on what was right and wrong according to where my kids were at. They have always known where I am coming from on every issue that they were interested in, and why I believe what I do. That would not change for me and I would lovingly remind them again of why I believe as I do.
Across the world, the gay marriage issue gaining popularity. Do you think you may be on the wrong side of history on this issue?
I’ve gone over this a lot in my mind, worked it out, I’ve researched it, and it is what I believe is best for the children. You don’t have to be progressive if it’s not going to be the best for the kids.
Do you feel love has no gender?
My basic understanding is that God is love. God is no gender. So I don’t believe love has a gender.
While the two of us did not agree eye to eye on everything, my coffee chat with Wendy did show me another side of the marriage equality debate and why it is so important to exchange polite dialogue with the other side of it, because at the end of the day it’s all very well to go in guns blazing, but it’s important to at least know what you’re up against and where they’re coming from.
At the end of our coffee, I gave Wendy a DVD copy of the film Prayers for Bobby and an invite to join a Rainbow Families gathering in the future. The film is a powerful look at a mother of a gay son and how his suicide changes her life. See its trailer below, and the entire film is available to view here.