Homophobic ‘hate truck' not welcome

KEEP CALM: Police talk to protesters at Sunday’s gathering against the anti same-sex truck.
KEEP CALM: Police talk to protesters at Sunday’s gathering against the anti same-sex truck.

I'M not a violent person. And I'm usually good at being impartial. But when faced with a man who tells me homosexuals shouldn't be allowed around young children, it takes all my willpower not to reach out and slap him.

It's Sunday morning and instead of having a little lie in and a slow start over a coffee and the crossword, I've headed down to the protest against Christian activist Peter Madden's anti same-sex truck after a series of frantic phone calls from protesters. He's parked the truck in a residential street before a Sunday prayer meeting and is staying at a hotel close by.

The truck has been graffitied with love hearts, glitter, and slogans like 'equal rights now' and protesters are milling about. There are kids in the street, and pop music coming from a van that's parked next to the truck in Cathcart St.

Peter Madden, who is driving the truck from Sydney to Queensland for the State Election to preach the perils of same-sex marriage, comes out to face the protesters and respond to their concerns that the message on the side of his truck is linking homosexuality and paedophilia. They are angry. They feel deeply offended. They tell him he's spreading hatred and they want the banners taken down.

I'm trying to be impartial. I listen stony-faced to his responses. It's hard, because the people around me are people I know and some I love - friends and fellow community members. I know many of them from work - some are care workers, some are youth workers, there's council staff, parents, a local choir master. There are human beings ... some of whom happen to be gay or lesbian.

"You're peddling hate, you're hurting our children," someone yells. "Jesus wouldn't have preached this!" another calls.

One woman tells him to get his 'hate truck' out of our town and gets the Mayor on the phone to talk with him. She has publicly made it known she doesn't want the truck here either and believes his message has no place in Lismore.

A fairy princess has locked onto the truck, a bike chain around her neck. At one point, as Police Rescue officer gets equipment to cut the chain, she sheds a tear. At first I think she's hurt, but then I hear her say to her friends, "I just want the banners taken down. I don't want people to have to see that".

In the interests of being fair, I interview Peter Madden. He tells me these are "broken and hurt" people - most homosexuals are, he says. Many would have been sexually abused, he explains, that's often why people 'turn' homosexual. I stand there gaping.

"I'm not a hater, I'm not a homophobe," he clarifies. Oh good, I was worried there for a minute.

He tells me legalising same-sex marriage would be subjecting children to a dangerous social experiment, as children who live with homosexuals are more likely to choose that as their sexual preference.

I nod and shake his hand, thank him for his time. That's what journalists do. Inside, I'm seething.

Just down the road, my friend's four-year-old is being babysat by two gay men. Last night they all watched kids' movies together, made meatballs and apparently the little chap told one of them they had stinky feet. He's a funny little fella - and his mum trusts his babysitters implicitly.

As I walk away from the protest, I'm angry on their behalf. I'm angry their good character is under fire because of their sexuality. I'm angry I live in a world where hatred is clothed as love, and fear of difference is shrouded in freedom of speech.

I tell myself I should be impartial. I'm not. And today I am proud of my community. I am proud they stood up and fought against prejudice, against hate. They fought for love. And acceptance. They fought the good fight for us all.

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