One of the most outspoken opponents to any and all LGBT causes in Australia is undoubtedly the Australian 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’ve 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’ve been there. I immediately sort of went into melt-down mode wondering what it was all about.
“I had nothing to do with that tweet, I hated it, I absolutely hated it.”
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’ve jumped on it if it hadn’t been for the previous one that was still a doubt in everybody’s mind.
But because the first one was such a disaster, when the next one came out I had Sunday Mail ringing me and saying “can we just have a comment on what you’ve just said about Penny Wong?” And I was like “okay, what did I say about Penny Wong?” I was 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 do 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.