It is the best of Australia, it is the worst of Australia.
By donating cash to Israel Folau at an even greater rate after his GoFundMe campaign was cancelled, Aussies again proved that when someone tries to tell them what they can or can’t do, the standard response is: stuff you.
But this particular act of defiance comes with a sick irony; even before we get to the fact that most of Folau’s intended $3 million warchest won’t actually be used on his legal battle against Rugby Australia.
Folau supporters are up in arms that he is supposedly being denied his right to freedom of religious expression and speech. They insist that, like them, Folau cannot be told what to do or say.
Yet this entire sorry episode came about because Folau publicly stated, again, that gay and transgender people should be denied their humanity. That they would burn in hell if they did not “repent” their very essence.
To uplift a multi-millionaire footballer, Folau’s supporters enable his efforts to oppress and demonise one of society’s most marginalised groups.
The debate around Folau is whether he is being denied the right to choose his religious expressions.
The reality around Folau’s views on gay and transgender people is that he discriminates against them for their very being. They did not choose the make-up of their DNA, yet he condemns them.
If Folau is so deeply religious that he considers his Christianity an irrevocable part of himself, perhaps he should have more empathy with LGBTIQ people. They were simply born that way and cannot change their true sexual identity any more than they can change the colour of their eyes.
Folau and his supporters are complaining that he is being discriminated against … for discriminating against other people. And not because of how they choose to live their lives; because of what they are. Because, if you will, of how Folau’s God made them.
Folau and his supporters complain about freedom of expression, with a straight face, while they decry the existence of fellow human beings.
It is a mindless, ugly irony that every person who donated to Folau’s fundraiser has perpetuated. In doing so, they have escalated discrimination against LGBTIQ people that puts lives in danger.
Wide World of Sports ran the devastating numbers when Folau delivered his latest anti-gay rant on social media in April. They need repeating, because although Folau’s right to religious expression and speech should be preserved, spouting hateful messages under the guise of hardline Christianity has consequences.
According to the LGBTI National Health Alliance, LGBTIQ young people aged 16-27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide; 16 per cent have reported a suicide attempt. Transgender people aged 18 or over are 11 times more likely to attempt suicide; 35 per cent have reported an attempt.
It is a matter of life or death.
Roberts speaks out on Folau comments
Folau has contributed to the discrimination against LGBTIQ people, on a mass scale. Such discrimination endangers lives within one of the most vulnerable sections of society. Folau was told as much by a fellow footballer, gay pioneer Ian Roberts.
“I do feel sorry for Israel, but there are consequences to your actions; and reactions,” Roberts said on Sports Sunday last month.
“I don’t say this lightly, what I’m about to say. The language is hard and it’s for a point, to get that message across: there are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves.
“I say that with the greatest sense of respect and I’m not implying that Israel’s responsible solely for that; please don’t take it that way. But it’s these types of these comments and these off-the-cuff remarks … when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs who are dealing with their sexuality, confused, not knowing how to deal with it … these types of remarks can and do push people over the edge.”
GoFundMe, like Rugby Australia, decided that it did not want any part of Folau’s bigoted views. He wasn’t denied his freedom of expression, but he was deemed to have breached the conditions set by GoFundMe and Rugby Australia when it came to his fundraising purpose and social media use, respectively.
Folau has the freedom to speak his mind. GoFundMe and Rugby Australia have the right to distance themselves from his views, in support of a wider inclusivity.
Again: if Folau is being discriminated against, it is only because he discriminated against many other people; people who can do little about the part of their identity that Folau finds so offensive.
Rugby Australia’s right to sack him from a $5 million contract is about to be tested through the legal system, starting with the Fair Work Commission. It could be a landmark case; hence why Folau sought $3 million via fundraising for his legal challenge.
Folau launches crowdfunding campaign
Yet there are doubts being cast about the legitimacy of that vast sum. Upon launching his fundraising drive, Folau claimed that his legal fees – including his appeal against Rugby Australia – had cost he and wife Maria more than $100,000. One lawyer, Kamal Farouque of Morris Blackburn, said in a radio interview that Folau’s legal action would likely cost a maximum of $300,000.
Folau’s new major backer, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), set up the new fundraiser on its website. In little more than 24 hours, it had reached $1.5 million; double the amount that was refunded to donors in his cancelled GoFundMe venture.
Folau was slammed for launching his initial fundraiser on GoFundMe, where his campaign appeared alongside pleas for help for gravely-ill children. While the resolve of hardcore backers may have hardened, it was a massive PR blunder in the eyes of many Australians.
And there’s a potential hitch with the new campaign. The ACL’s fundraiser is now under threat of investigation by the charities commission, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, for acting outside appropriate bounds by seeking money for Folau’s legal bid. And not all of the money will end up directly helping Folau anyway.
ACL managing director Martyn Isles claimed that legal costs may well soar past $1 million should the matter be taken as far as the High Court of Australia; still only one third of Folau’s fundraising target. Isles would not comment specifically on what would happen to any surplus funds but admitted that they would likely be channelled outside of Folau’s legal challenge to similar initiatives.
Fundraising backer speaks out on Folau
“They’ve put together an estimate of $3 million, so we’ll be talking to them now that we’ve passed the $1.5 million mark, just to see that every dollar is going to be spent really well and that people’s intentions are going to be honoured,” Isles said on the TODAY Show on Wednesday.
“It is going into trust and so it can only be spent on defraying the expenses of the legal case.
“The excess money will be distributed in a way that’s consistent with the intentions of the donors. It will go to a couple of different causes that are completely consistent with the intentions of the original donors.
“I’m not able to go into the detail at this stage, but it’s going into trust. It can’t actually be used for any reason other than something that is consistent [with Folau’s plight]. Absolutely not for personal use. Absolutely not go to the ACL. Nothing like that.
“I think people have bought into Israel because they see him as somebody who they want to champion. They see him as somebody who they identify with and there’s a great deal of trust that’s been built up there.
“I think that that’s not misplaced at all and this money will be used well. It will actually end up making a difference regardless of where it goes.”
Folau has made millions across three professional sports – NRL, AFL and rugby – and owns a $7 million property portfolio. He also recently sold a $500,000 Lamborghini. Isles dismissed criticism that Folau should have funded his own legal costs.
“It’s a very Australian thing to say, ‘Well, somebody’s been on a good wicket, therefore we’ll just leave them alone’,” Isles said.
“I actually think that the cost to Israel Folau’s been serious in the sense that he’s lost his career, he’s been banned for life from the two sporting codes that he can play (rugby league and rugby). He has some accumulated assets that he needs to live on for a very long time, and he is a human.
“This has taken its toll on him, he has found this a great challenge. I think people want to say to him, ‘There’s more with you than against you’.
“There’s the other side; look at what he’s been able to achieve. He’s given a voice to so many people in the media who want to buy into his campaign and these people actually feel like they’re part of a movement, they’re being heard and they’re making a difference.
“I want to know at what stage do the Prime Minister and the opposition leader and the politicians actually respond to this and say, ‘Yes, yes, we’ve heard you. The ‘quiet Australians’ gave us victory at the May 18th election and now we’re hearing them again and we’re going to react’. I think that’s what people want to see.”
Again, the irony is thick: shouting all the way to Australian parliament house that well-heeled Christians are being horribly discriminated against … for discriminating against the vulnerable LGBTIQ minority whom they have actively imperilled.
It is a very Aussie thing to do, to rail against authority and support the underdog. But the underdog here is not Folau; not the man who used the extraordinary soapbox afforded famous athletes to tell LGBTIQ people that they are “evil”.
Any ‘quiet Australian’ who donated their hard-earned money to Folau thinking that they were supporting a persecuted man needs realise that they just enabled him to continue his attack on the true victims.