Interview with JCCV’s John Searle on GLBT radio JOY 94.9 – Aug 5 2011

[Related posts on ‘Call for Submissions‘]



Transcript of interview between Doug Pollard, Rob Mitchell and John Searle
Recorded at the JOY 94.9 studios in Melbourne
August 5 2011


VOICEOVER: You’re listening to a JOYcast from GLBTIQ community radio station JOY 94.9.

DOUG POLLARD: Good afternoon and welcome to the Rainbow Report, this time on the subject of acceptance. Now recently the LGBT Reference Group of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the peak Jewish Community body in the state, put out a call for submissions regarding and I quote “vilification, discrimination and mental health concerns in that segment of the Jewish community” and joining us this morning to talk about it is the president of the JCCV John Searle. Good afternoon John.

JOHN SEARLE: Good afternoon Doug and thanks very much for having me on the show.

DOUG: You’re very welcome. Now first off for listeners who don’t know can you explain what this reference group is, that you have.

JOHN: The reference group was formed a couple of years ago because one of the platforms I initiated on assuming the presidency was to try and include as many Jewish people within the broad confines of the community tent and it struck me there were clearly groups of people, Jewish people, who were for one reason or another, not associating with the community, not inside the tent. So I wanted to try and broaden the tent as far as possible and there was clearly some empirical evidence that suggested just like everywhere else there was discrimination, there was vilification of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community within the Jewish community.

DOUG: Yep. Ah, now this is…  So who is on this generally speaking, in general terms, who is on the reference group? Are they people from the Jewish GLBTI community?

JOHN: Yes, together with representatives of a couple of other Jewish organisations, but there seemed little point having the reference group unless we had members of the GLBT communities.

DOUG: Indeed.  Indeed.  I just wanted to get that point clear…

JOHN: Absolutely.

DOUG: … for people who don’t know. Now you are calling for submissions from members of the Jewish GLBT community but not exclusively from members of the Jewish GLBT community.

JOHN: That’s right, although the emphasis has clearly got to be from members of the Jewish community. We’re trying to better inform ourselves as to the position in our community. I don’t know that our community is going to be particularly different from any other community, or the broader Victorian community. On most issues my message is that we are Victorians, the issues that we face are exactly the same as everybody else and I think that’s probably correct in this instance but I do want to get as much information as possible from Jewish members of the GLBT community, to assess the current situation.

DOUG: OK.  So where have you publicised this initiative?

JOHN: It’s been publicised in the Australian Jewish News, on a couple of websites which are Galus Australis and J-Wire, and we are getting it out to the student youth bodies as well so that hopefully it’s getting as wide a possible dissemination.  I’m happy to be speaking about it here, that’s one of the reasons I am delighted to be here, and I have also spoken to I think it was the Southern Star in relation to a call for submissions.

DOUG: So you are putting it out both within the Jewish community and within the GLBTI community…

JOHN: Yes.

DOUG: Because there may be some members of the Jewish community who don’t actually connect much with the Jewish community for precisely the reasons that this aah precisely the reasons that you’ve set up this inquiry.

JOHN: Absolutely and that’s why it’s got to have a wider distribution list.

DOUG: Ok. So what sort of thing are you wanting to hear about? You’ve said relevant experiences, positive or negative.

JOHN: Well generally speaking when you call for submissions you always hear the negative, I think that’s human nature.  That people like to complain more than they like to praise.  What I’m expecting of course is to hear far more of the negative responses than the positive responses but I think to get a really accurate picture as to what’s going on in the community we need to hear from people who have had the negative experiences and the positive experiences.

DOUG: Hmm.  Now this obviously, as Rob and I have discussed on many occasions, talking about GLBTI youth in particular, this obviously has an impact on the suicide rate so presumably that’s going to be one of the things you are going to be looking at, the suicidal thought and ideation that happens among GLBTI youth as a result of discrimination?

JOHN: Indeed and it’s something we’ve already tried to look at.  Of course it’s difficult sometimes to get figures and to get statistics as to not only how many youngsters have unfortunately committed suicide but what the cause was, but we’re speaking again to as many people as we can to try to find out as fully as we can what the position is.

DOUG: Yeah, because the problem is that if people do commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide because they’re unhappy about the fact that they’re gay, that’s going to be the last thing they want people to know, isn’t it [indistinct]?

JOHN: Exactly.  And I think that’s another reason why it’s so important to have members of the GLBT communities on our reference group because they’re more likely to hear of things than we are.

DOUG: So why then have you asked for no anonymous submissions, because if people are uptight about their sexuality and uptight about the discrimination they’ve received at the hands of members of the Jewish community, why would they then out themselves to you as leader of that community?

JOHN: I suppose the cover-all is that confidentially is assured.  We’re aware of that, but a couple of people on the reference group committee said “look it’s better to call for submissions from people who are prepared to identify themselves that may produce more honesty than simply allowing the people to have the veil of anonymity”.

DOUG: But you could have achieved that by having a more arms length process couldn’t you, by having say some academic or some medical professional as it were sort of act as the first stop on this route to you.

JOHN: It’s a pity you weren’t on our subcommittee and gave us that suggestion frankly but at the end of this process if we don’t believe we’ve been successful and if we don’t… if we believe that’s the reason why, then I think that’s a great idea to take at the next step.

DOUG: John, I wanted to ask you one or two more things before you go.  What will actually happen to the responses that you get to this.  I mean, what will they be used for, and so forth?

JOHN: The intention is to prepare and produce and then disseminate amongst our community a report on firstly our findings from these submissions and also the findings we’ve had from representations made to the subcommittee over a period of time from numerous people.  The whole point of the exercise is not only to educate ourselves but to then educate our community and to get the message out there in very clear terms that vilification is just not on, discrimination is not on and people need to appreciate there are serious mental health issues that flow from all of this and people within our community need to understand there is no place for vilification or discrimination.

ROB MITCHELL: Um, John, it’s good to hear you say that because just listening to you, and I’ve never met you before, but one thing really has just… has occurred to me over the last few minutes, is the JCCV, which is the peak body for Jewry in Victoria…

JOHN: Correct.

ROB: … and you’re the head of the JCCV.  Um, I think you’re a really powerful bloke and I suspect that because you’re very powerful that there are going to be people within your community who would like to say something about the way they’ve been treated on the basis of their sexual orientation, either with interacting with people in the community or via their schooling, but they’re going to be frightened to do it.  And the work that I’ve done in sport it’s…  I can see a parallel there because you’ve really got to have a third, you know like a third party.  There will be people that will want to talk to you and give you their experiences, there is no doubt about that, but I’m just thinking that would it not be a good idea to involved a third entity, now whether it’s the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission or whether it’s you know a university, to put that completely you know third party into the loop so you know my feeling would be that you would get a lot more responses and they won’t be worrying, you know, about what you’re thinking and I take what you say at face value about confidentiality and transparency but you know we’re sitting here and we’re not clearly 17 or 16 or 19 or whatever, we’re sitting here talking about this in a completely different context and I am just wondering, you know that’s something you can initiate when you walk out of this studio, that that’s something that could be then disseminated into the press.

JOHN: If I could interrupt you there it’s something I will initiate when I get out of this studio.  Part of the reason of having this reference group is to inform ourselves and to take advice from people who are far more experienced and knowledgeable in this area than we are.  The advice you’ve given me sounds very sensible, so we’ll act on it.

ROB: [Indistinct] I think you’ve got to talk about elephants in the living room and you know people like Michael Barnett and so on have been vociferous critics…

DOUG: And speaking of Michael who’s just messaged in, um, “In ’09 John Searle said he only wanted input from members of the Jewish community, but offered to get… and I offered to get the best people in the GLBT community involved and that was rejected”.

JOHN: Well I reject any suggestion that it’s been rejected. I had a meeting initially at which Michael Barnett and a number of other people were present.  A number of those other people… are part of the reference group.

DOUG: Ah.  Right.

ROB: Alright.  So I just wanted to just draw out that reference you made to mental health.  The other reason I’m suggesting that you get a third party in there like the Commission or… and preferably the Commission is that I think if we look at the horrendous rates of suicidal thought and depression particularly in the younger members of the Victorian community and obviously the Jewish community, you will get where you want to go a lot faster by working with organisations like Headspace for example, you know, to…  What we need is a, is a very collaborative approach.  The other thing that you can do is really take people on who are discriminatory.

DOUG: Well look we…  I am sure this is all…  You’re doing all your work on air now. We’re eavesdropping on your meeting.  Um, I, we’ve gotta wrap it up there, but thanks very much for coming in today John and we do urge anyone in the Jewish GLBTI community to get in contact with the reference group. They do that by?

JOHN: Well, ah, the address is here, send it confidentially by email to or it can go confidentially in an envelope posted to The President, JCCV, 306 Hawthorn Road, South Caulfield, Victoria.  But can I say the next ad that appears will have another address if I can organise it with the Equal Opportunity Commission at that location for people who can send confidential submissions to a third party.

DOUG: OK.  Thanks for that John.  That was John Searle there, the president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.

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