Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The family closet: Bob Katter and his brother

Bob Katter is the new Sir Joh. A right wing nutter, most famous for his ludicrous conservative commentary. He is like Pauline Hanson or Wilson Tuckey on a good day, giving voice to the extreme conservatism which makes irresistible fodder for send up.

In some ways a person like Katter is less politically dangerous than savvier politicians -- those who publicly present as more moderate but are actually quite difficult to pin-down and challenge. At least Katter is often dismissed as just plain loopy.

But loopy or not, Katter has some pretty hurtful things to say about gay men and lesbians. Last week he made headlines for vitriolically encouraging people to "laugh at” and "ridicule" the concept of gay marriage. He also announced his campaign to reclaim the word ‘gay’; a perfectly “healthy adjective” that has become captive to the gay lobby. (Ok, that last bit was a bit ridiculous and funny as well as offensive.)

So it is interesting that this morning nearly every newspaper in the country seems to be carrying pictures of Carl Katter. Carl Katter is Bob Katter’s brother. And Carl is gay. On national TV last night, Carl commented on Katter’s expressed views about homosexuality, saying, ''It's hurtful, it's dangerous, it's damaging and it's really inappropriate”. He also said that should he meet the right man, he would like to get married, although Katter would be an expected no-show at the wedding.

So what is it about Bob Katter having a gay brother that excites the media? Part of me thinks it is just a fine opportunity to lampoon him. In one of Katter’s infamous quotes he stated that he would ''walk to Bourke backwards if the poof population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001 per cent''. Haha! Got you there Bob! That 0.001 percent was eating his cornflakes at your breakfast table.

But there is also something powerful about a family member of a public homophobe outing themselves. It reminds the world that no matter how much distance someone tries to create between themself and the scourge of gay humanity, every family has its closet.

In 2003, Monica Hingston, an open lesbian and a nun who had been in a lesbian relationship for close to 20 years, wrote an open letter to her cousin, Sydney Archbishop George Pell. In this letter she responded to Pell's comments that homosexuality was "corrupt, debased, vicious, vile, wicked, degenerate". She spoke of her life with her partner and how, together, they dedicated themselves to the care of others and the service of god, just as Pell himself claims to be doing. Her words were not unlike those of many other critics of Pell. But they were made more moving, and commanded more attention, because she was part of his family. Indeed she began her letter by writing, “I want to put my concerns to you, George, as one who is family (albeit somewhat removed) and as one who, given your vocation, has chosen to commit yourself to the wellbeing of others”.

Because she was family, Hingston could challenge the idea that there is an ocean of difference between an upstanding Archbishop like George Pell and a “debased, corrupt” lesbian such as herself. Afterall, they are linked by blood. The family closet is a powerful thing.