(Podcast of interview here)
VOICEOVER: You’re listening to a JOYcast from GLBTIQ community radio station JOY 94.9
DOUG POLLARD: And this is Doug Pollard bringing it to you with the able assistance of Tim Newton.
Now, um, a little while back there was a move by the Victoria’s peak Jewish body, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, to reach out to the GLBTI Jewish community, um, and to find out, to try and get some handle on the level of discrimination, homophobia, whatever else, in the, ah, Jewish community – particularly the gay Jewish communities. And the man who headed that up is the surely to be departing head of the Council, John Searle. Welcome back yet again to …
JOHN: Doug thank you very much for having me.
DOUG: … the Rainbow Report. We’ll have to get you a permanent seat here I think.
JOHN: It’d be a pleasure.
DOUG: OK, umm, what’s happened? What’s happened to this review, this enquiry? Where are you at with it now?
JOHN: We’ve by and larged finished making all the enquiries within our community, having previously made enquiries outside of the community, and we’re in the process of finalising the report, er which I’m delighted to say should be released within the er next two to three weeks I would have thought.
DOUG: Hmm. How many submissions did you get?
JOHN: Not very many. Ah, if I said between four and six that would probably be an accurate number.
DOUG: Ooh, that’s a, that’s rather a small sample on which to base the report on isn’t it?
JOHN: Well look it’s a very small sample and I’m disappointed about that because ah … my, my initial reaction was that there would be plenty of people who’d wish to provide submissions but that appeared not to be the case. But thankfully we’ve also been able to speak to a lot of people within some of our relevant community organisations to try to get a feel for their perspective on the issues and what’s going on in schools and other places, to provide a useful report that I think more than anything else, will open members of the community’s eyes to these issues.
DOUG: OK. Um now there was an issue we spoke about with Rod Mitchell on this program about some length about the confidentiality issue. Um, there’s a two-fold problem with that one. One was that you were not allowing anonymous submissions at that stage, and the other one was that nobody knew, nobody knows who is on that reference group. Now, have you moved to address those issues?
JOHN: We did er take steps to have the submissions put to another organisation such as the er Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission, or perhaps the La Trobe. Er, neither of those organisations were able to assist at the time, which was a pity. Ah, so therefore we had to maintain it as it was because we couldn’t find a third party who we would er be comfortable with to receive the submissions. In relation to the identity of the people who were on the reference group, my expectation is most if not all of those people will sign the report with their names, but ah, they’ve been (pause) they’ve confided to me they’ve been reluctant at this stage to put their names out in the public domain for fear of, er frankly, some vilification and discrimination, strangely not from the non-gay communities but rather from the gay communities and other people who perhaps haven’t yet appreciated the extent of the work we’re doing.
DOUG: OK, well one of the people who raised these issues with me and was particularly concerned about um the anonymity of the board members, was, um, the veteran gay campaigner, Mannie de Saxe and he joins us on the line now. Good afternoon Mannie.
MANNIE DE SAXE: Good afternoon Doug. How are you?
DOUG: I’m very well. Now, ah, we have John Searle here with us, did you hear what he just said, about …
DOUG: How do you react to that?
MANNIE: Ah, well one of the main points that I wish to answer, to have answered is, are people like ALEPH on, represented in the group? And are people, groups like Jewish Lesbian Group of Victoria represented on that reference, ah, group? And if not, why not?
DOUG: Well there you are John, straight to the …
JOHN: Well the short answer to the question is ah yes, there are representatives from people who are affiliated with each of those organisations on the reference group.
MANNIE: Well then why are they not wanting to have their names in the public arena?
JOHN: The reluctance to put their name in the pubic arena has come about predominantly because there’s been some people within the GLBT communities who, perhaps through lack of understanding of what we’re doing, have been exceedingly critical and, ah, vilifying of the work of the reference group and whilst we’ve been undertaking that work, they’ve not, er, relished the prospect of being vilified or discriminated against.
DOUG: Can I come in here John and add another question in? You said earlier on that you only had very, very few submissions, and that you hadn’t been able to use any kind of anonymising service to receive those submissions, and as I said until now the members of the reference group have also been anonymous. Do you think those things taken together account for the reluctance of people to make submissions, one that they didn’t want to put their names to things in case they too got some come-back? And secondly, because they didn’t know who was going to be reading them?
JOHN: I don’t think, er (pause), the lack of knowledge as to who compromised the, or, sorry, who comprised the, er, reference group would have been a significant issue. I can understand there may have been some people who were a bit reluctant to put submissions in to the JCCV. Ah, there wasn’t very much we could do about that, as I said we tried to have them received by the Human Rights & Equal Opportu … or, Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission. They weren’t at the time able to assist. Neither was the La Trobe University unit so they had to stay with us. But I think also of importance is the fact that this report is the beginning of the Jewish community dealing with these issues. I would hope it’s not going to be the end of the Jewish community dealing with these issues, and there may well be further opportunities to advance these issues as we go through the years.
DOUG: Um, you were talking about um (chuckles) some trenchant criticism that you’d had from certain members of the Jewish community; that certain member of the Jewish community has just messaged, who says ah BS there is NO official representation from ALEPH on the reference group. That’s from Michael Barnett.
JOHN: All I can say is I have people sitting in that room who tell me they are involved with ALEPH. Er, I have no reason to disbelieve them.
MANNIE: What is their level of expertise, that they can sit in judgment on, ah, some of the submissions, I mean there are only four to six submissions so there’s not an awful lot of judgment to be made…
TIM NEWTON: They’re Jewish! That’s their expertise.
MANNIE: That is not a judgment. That is not someone who can sit in ah judgment on, on gay Jewish issues. The fact that they’re Jewish – I mean, we’re Jewish. So?
JOHN: Mannie, I think the critical issue here is it’s not a matter of sitting in judgment. My concern in establishing this reference group was that there was serious issues involving er the GLBT communities of vilification, of discrimination, mental health issues, and we as a community had never seriously looked at these issues …
MANNIE: That is true.
JOHN: … and said we have to do something about it. So the job that I took upon myself was to start doing something about these issues and to say we in the Jewish community are really in many respects no different to the rest of the community. There are issues here, they cannot be swept under the carpet, they cannot be ignored. If we have students in our schools who are struggling with their sexual identity, who are having trouble with these issues, we need as a community, if they are in our community schools, to develop strategies to assist these people, to make sure that they are provided with a safe and secure environment, regardless of their sexual identity.
MANNIE: Well shouldn’t there have been some link on the JCCV web pages to the reference group, and there is no link.
JOHN: Well there’s certainly an opportunity for people to contact the JCCV, as you did Mannie and, er, ask questions about it.
MANNIE: Right …
JOHN: I think all questions that have been submitted or all emails that have come in to me, I’ve very promptly responded to. You will know that from the quick response you received from me to your email. The critical point here I think – there are different ways of dealing with issues, and knowing that our community has never looked at this issue before, meant I think that we had to deal with it in a very sensible way rather than ruffling feathers, produce something that we can put to our community that will open people’s eyes, that will educate them and will be a starting point to make sure that these issues are dealt with on an on-going basis for the betterment of everybody.
DOUG: OK gentlemen, I’m going to have to call time now because, ah, we are running towards the end of the program. There’s a couple of SMS’s here. Mannie, thank you very much for joining us and putting your questions …
MANNIE: Thank you …
DOUG: … and ah …
JOHN: Thank you Mannie.
DOG: … whilst you’re on line, thank you for still being out there carrying the rainbow flag.
MANNIE: (laughs) Thank you.
DOUG: (laughs) OK that was Mannie de Saxe there, I think probably the oldest gay activist in Australia, he’s in his eighties, which is wonderful. Ah message …
TIM: You’re number two.
DOUG: … ah message … Yeah thank you … message here from Richard ah who says could it be that the reason you got so few submissions is that many in the Jewish community generally are accepting on this issue? As a secular Jewish man my friends and family are loving and accepting, ignoring the strongly religious of course, who have too much say in the community anyway.
JOHN: Look it’s possible. I think the feedback we’re getting is that the younger generations are far more accepting than previous generations. Interestingly, not all of the submissions were received from members of the GLBT communities. Two were from, er, heterosexual people.
DOUG: OK. We’re going to have to cut it off here. Thank you John for joining us today yet again.
JOHN: Thank you for having me.
DOUG: Good luck with your report. We look forward to ah seeing the results.
VOICEOVER: This JOYcast is a free service brought to you by JOY 94.9
[ Thanks to Fiona Jones for providing this transcript. ]