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                                       Of Rainbows and Dinosaurs 

by Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli

(This speech was given to an enthusiastic crowd at the Sash action
on the morning of 31 August 2003)

 From where I stand here today, looking at all of you,
I see rainbows, a diversity of colours, cultures, sexualities, relationships,
ways of doing gender, ways of being families.
I see the reality of a multicultural, multi-sexual world, a world of life and love.  

This is so different to what’s behind me, and to where we’re heading to soon to protest.
Behind me is the grey cold stone of the Cathedral, a relic of the patriarchal past.

But its pews are emptying rapidly.  

At the risk of sounding ageist and sexist, and being offensive to animals,
the Vatican has once again shown that it is made up of old dinosaur-men
who seem intent on making the Church extinct, who seem intent on their own extinction. 
 Their statements are made in desperation by a desperate empire that realises
that issues around sexual diversity, families and relationships
are moving on and less and less significance is being paid to
what the Vatican has to say about them.

 But this doesn’t mean we can become complacent and hope “they go away”.
We need to be resistant and speak out. We need to ensure that all the good work
in shifting social attitudes and reforming legislation, leading to an exponential increase
 in positive attitudes toward GLBT people over the last ten years, isn’t undone
by such documents, and that politicians like Howard are restrained from putting them into effect.

I’d like to put this document into a wider historical context.
So I hope you don’t mind a little history lesson in a cold and rainy park
on a Sunday morning. Vatican patriarchal leadership is a long list of injustices
and oppressions of various groups: inquisitions, crusades, genocidal colonial
 missionaries, slavery condoned, wars promoted or ignored, women oppressed,
 human life and the joys of living healthily, happily and spiritually sacrificed
for man-made dogma. Yes, much hurt and pain but also much resistance and resilience,
and history has proven how unjust those actions were. History will prove this one is as well.
We only have to look back at how Catholic women responded to Humane Vitae
in relation to contraception. That’s how our society will increasingly come
to respond to, or ignore, this latest attack on another group in society.

 If you don’t mind, I’d like to also share a little family history.
My parents were over from Adelaide the week that this document was released.
This latest attempt at collusion between Church and State made them feel appalled
and yet they found it hilarious as well as horrific. They said it took them back to
 when the Pope and Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty in the 1920s.
This Treaty between the Church and the Fascist State meant that the State
would protect the Vatican in return for Vatican support of its Fascist dictatorship
 and militarism. My parents and grandparents experienced their village being
economically devastated and decimated. Subsistence harvests were taken away
from families, animals were taken away, all to feed the State, the Vatican,
Italy’s feeble attempt at being a colonial power, and the war effort. Starvation
 and sickness were everywhere, peasant farmers were drafted into an army
and made to fight a war they didn’t believe in. No wonder they cheered when
they lost, and were quite happy to sit out the rest of the war in prisoner-of-war camps,
 like my Uncle did at Cowra, until they could go home again, and set about rebuilding
 their lives or starting new lives elsewhere.

 My parents recalled how it was well-known that the wealthiest person in the village
 was the priest and it was well-known that you had to keep your priest well-fed and
 regularly reporting your obedience and dedication to both the Vatican and Fascism
if you didn’t want your village decimated further. But throughout all this, there was
resistance. Families hid their food, tried to avoid the draft, sabotaged government
and church efforts at enforcing obedience and passivity, and of course the Fascists
lost the war. During those awful years both before and after World War One,
girls weren’t allowed to attend the one village school, a Church-run school,
as only boys were to be educated according to the priest. Yet, like many of the
girls and women, my grandmother taught herself to read and write from her brothers’
books in the evening.  Another example of resistance was when the priest declared
from the pulpit that girls and women were not allowed to ride bicycles as it meant
women had to sit with their legs apart and that was immoral. It was also a concern
that girls and women would become more mobile, independent and not so easily
controlled in their homes. But what did many of the girls like my mother do?
They bribed their brothers for their bikes, went out to the bushes, and learned to ride.
Sure, they got sprung now and again and were made to stand at the alter and be
publicly shamed as “immoral sluts”. But that didn’t stop them going out there again
 and riding around the countryside.

 Later, most of those ‘naughty girls’ from that village travelled the world as migrants,
setting off on ships for two-month journeys across the world as single young women
with very little money, no idea if they’d ever get back to family, but lots of drive and
determination. They raised their own daughters to get good educations and become
independent, and encouraged them to speak out, so that some of them like me never shut up. 
Despite the bans, oppression and public shamings from the Church for being women,
they made lives for themselves and passed on knowledge and strategies of resistance
and hope. But they rarely stepped into a Church after that, keeping their spirituality
as something sacred away from the cold stone and dinosaur roars of the Church.
I recall my Mum saying, “ I never actually heard God. God couldn’t get a word in
 what with all the nonsense being said on his behalf’. 

We’re there again today. I’m sick of old dinosaur men telling me what to do or think,
or telling me what God thinks. God can’t get a word in while all this nonsense is
said on God’s behalf. But we can still hear and we know what God’s life-giving
rainbow message would be. And we can see it in the positive developments happening
in our society. At a national level, there’s been a new Ministerial group organised to
look into GLBT health. In Victoria, the Department of Human Services is setting
up a research unit for GLBT health. I’m increasingly asked to go into Catholic schools
to work with staff and students on homophobia. I’m increasingly working with parents
with GLBT children, such as the wonderful parents from PFLAG, who choose their
 children over the Church. I’m also finding that the younger generations are increasingly
affirming of sexual and family diversity. I won’t even bother defending same-sex families
today by spouting stats and research data, as it’s so nonsensical to think that being a
good parent is dependent on being heterosexual! There’s actually quite a lot of data that refutes that connection!

 The rainbow-world will keep moving forward in understanding and affirming
sexual diversity and family diversity, and the fact that this document has been released
is the best evidence of that. If Howard, Bush, the Vatican and the rest of the dinosaurs
 think this is about the ‘survival of the species”,
history will show that these pronouncements were suicidal and secured their extinction.       

    

Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli
Senior Lecturer in Social Diversity and Health,
School of Health Sciences,
Deakin University
http://members.ozemail.com.au/~chiar/mariaind.htm