Hundreds of Christian Lives Matter members descended on Community for Rainbow Rights (CARR) activists holding a non-violent protest a block away from St Michael’s Catholic Church in Belfield in south-west Sydney, where One Nation New South Wales leader Mark Latham was delivering his transphobic diatribe.
By all accounts, Christian Lives Matter (CLM) was out for blood at around 7pm on March 21 as its members swept out of the Catholic Church and “attacked a small peaceful speak out of LGBTI+ activists with glass, rocks and their fists”.
If it was not for the NSW Police, it seems likely the 15 protesters would have been violently attacked.
CLM staged a march on March 4, through King Street, Newtown, apparently a response sparked by World Pride.
On March 18 thousands protested at a rally steeped in aggression at Hyde Park. The protest was called to “Save the children” — part of Latham’s paranoid agenda. He asserts that public schools have morphed into “gender fluidity factories”, where children are indoctrinated into queerness.
This expression of Christian fascism in Sydney coincided with neo-Nazis protesting trans people in Melbourne. It marks an escalation in the pushback against LGBTIQ gains made via the legalisation of marriage equality, with trans people targeted as the weakest point.
Several CARR activists were punched in the face on March 21, when they were surrounded by CLM followers. Independent journalist Chris De Bruyne was violently shoved to the ground and assaulted.
“This is a disgusting and violent escalation by the anti-LGBTI+ far-right protesters, who recently marched through Newtown in protest against World Pride,” said CARR.
CARR was confronted by hundreds of CLM members before they had begun their speak-out. The group was escorted out in trucks, which were pelted with rocks and bottles, and followed by CLM members in cars.
NSW Police reported that after officers found hundreds of people on the street, it called in the riot squad. Three men were arrested and charged with offences, including common assault, assaulting a police officer and encouraging the commission of crime.
“This brutal attack on peaceful protesters … should make it clear that Christian Lives Matter is a violent, fascistic hate group supported by One Nation and Mark Latham, who did nothing to stop the wave of violent attacks carried out in his name,” CARR said.
Fear for political gain
“We don’t surrender. We don’t wave the white flag to people who want to close down free speech. And last night, they didn’t close down mine,” Latham told 7News. He was responding to questions about why he had chosen to attend the event after police warned him not to.
Latham was electioneering. While he was elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 2019 for an eight-year term, he has used a loophole in the law which allows him to quit his seat halfway through the term and hand it to another One Nation member, as he attempts to secure another upper house seat.
Latham, a former federal Labor leader, told reporters that he had been to six recent meetings putting the same anti-trans views. He suggested the pro-trans rights activists were to blame for the violence because they stood on the road, not on the footpath.
Over his four years as a Member of the Legislative Council, Latham has moved a parental rights bill that attempts to erase trans student’s identities and another bill which sought to raise religious freedoms above all other rights. He is also keen to introduce uranium mining and nuclear power plants.
Each of his private members bills have been supported by the Liberal-National Coalition in the committee review stage.
“Every letter of the alphabet seemingly has a flag, a network, a special ceremony to affirm and celebrate its identity, except the letters C and H: Christians and heterosexuals,” Latham, an atheist, said during his second reading speech on his religious freedoms bill.
“It is a perverse policy of so-called inclusion to exclude other groups, but this is the new state-sponsored practice in NSW. It is a sad, ill-conceived soul mate to other forms of religious discrimination.”
If elected, Latham has announced he will be prioritising the same campaigns.
Transphobia in the streets
“The gay-bashing mob attack last night is the culmination of years of mobilising within ethnic minority Christian communities — mainly Catholic and Orthodox — by dedicated queerphobes,” anarchist group Black Flag Sydney said in its statement of solidarity with CARR.
Black Flag said CLM largely comprises Maronite Christians. It called out the group’s use of the “lives matter” phrase, taken from Black Lives Matter, arguing that it is not true that Christians are a minority under attack.
The recent heightened focus on CLM coincided with a demonstration against trans people in Melbourne by the National Socialist Network — the most prominent neo-Nazi group in the country — in support of British transphobic campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen Minshull at her “Let Women Speak” event.
As Sydney Criminal Lawyers has said, the idea that transgender people are inflicting violence on women has no basis in reality.
Transgender people account for a small portion of the wider community. Over the last decade, the trans community has increasingly been on the streets, asserting and gaining rights.
The far right movement against trans rights is a response to winning marriage equality. As Australian Christian Lobby’s Martyn Iles revealed at the 2021 Church and State Summit, the Christian Right believes that targeting trans people is the best way to pushback against LGBTIQ rights.
Stoking the flames
“If you are going down tomorrow to see the protesters, there is only one way, and that way is to grab them by their fucking hair and you pull them out of there,” one CLM member said in a Facebook video post the night before the attack on the trans rights’ protest in Belfield.
This is the attitude of the far right anti-trans campaign, which aims to erase trans identities including with violence.
Trans people are simply calling for acceptance and rights; they do not want to annihilate the identity of others.
The CLM frames its members, followers of the dominant religion in this country, as victims. This is similar to the way Latham presents his parental rights campaign, whereby the acceptance of trans kids in schools is considered an attack on heterosexuals and the parents of school kids.
Since the 2015 Reclaim Australia protests, One Nation has been stoking prejudices, alongside the Liberal Nationals doing the same but in a more subtle way.
Regardless of whether Latham is re-elected and long after Keen has gone, the danger is that we have an organised group of neo-fascists, fuelled on disinformation, who do not consider non-violence and protesting to be synonymous.
[Paul Gregoire writes for Sydney Criminal Lawyers, where this article was first published.]