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Anne Else: When Is A T-Shirt Not Just A T-Shirt?

Letter from Elsewhere with Anne Else

When Is A T-Shirt Not Just A T-Shirt?

I wonder what Sarah Freeman would have thought of the Destiny Church ''Enough is Enough'' campaign. Back in April her Melbourne employer, a jeans shop, made everyone working there wear a tight low-cut T-shirt with ''STOP PRETENDING YOU DON’T WANT ME'' printed across the chest. Sarah knew when enough was enough – she was sent home for refusing to wear it after a male customer ''made lewd comments and stared at her breasts''.*

The company backed down and withdrew the T-shirt uniform after a public outcry. Australia’s national sex discrimination commissioner summed up the situation superbly: “If you put slogans like that on a T-shirt, you can’t expect your staff not to be harassed.”

Destiny is right into T-shirts too. I don’t know who paid for the black ones with red and white slogans worn by its members when they marched to Parliament in August. I can only assume that no one in charge had a long enough memory to question whether parading ranks of black-clad, fist-waving, slogan-roaring men was really such a great idea.

In public, Destiny’s leaders claim that they don’t hate or want to hurt anyone, they just want to protect family values. But if you put slogans like “Enough is Enough” on a T-shirt, and repeatedly insist that same-sex relationships are an anti-God, anti-family perversion, you can’t expect the people in those relationships not to get harassed.

There have been some extraordinarily confused comments in the media about the Destiny march and the opposition to it. I object very strongly to claims that “liberals” who criticise Destiny’s campaign are “the real fascists”.

I’ve just been reading about fascism from an odd angle: its irresistible appeal to various members of the impeccably upper-crust Mitford family. When Diana Mitford fell for the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, he was working on his book The Greater Britain.

Mosley never mentioned Jews then. The real enemy, he said, was “decadence”. He had a vision of every citizen “working wholeheartedly towards the common goal of a nation made great again, shrinking from no effort and no sacrifice to secure that mighty end”.#

The sacrifices they would have to make included democracy, because Britain, like Germany, needed a strong leader who knew what was best for it. The mass campaigns and the uniforms came first. The verbal attacks on Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, socialists and the disabled came later. By then it was already far too late.

Our laws defend both freedom of speech and freedom of religion and belief. But Section 61 of the Human Rights Act prohibits expression that is threatening, abusive, or insulting, and considered likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt a person or group of persons on the ground of their colour, race or ethnic or national origins.

Currently, there are no equivalent provisions applying to grounds of discrimination that are not race-related. This doesn’t seem fair to me. I can see nothing fascist about current discussions on the possibility of extending this carefully limited prohibition to include gender and sexuality.

And there is certainly nothing fascist about promoting and defending the right of all citizens to equality before the law – which is what the Civil Unions Bill is about.

* Sydney Morning Herald, reported in The Dominion Post, April 5 2004.
# Mary S. Lovell, The Mitford Girls, Abacus, 2002, p.138.

- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

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