It took a night-time protest by anti-LGBTI bigots through the Sydney suburb of Newtown to bring the group “Christian Lives Matter” to public view.
On 3 March, in scenes that brought to mind the abusive phrase “pray away the gay”, they walked the streets of Newtown chanting the rosary, attempting to intimidate people in the closing days of Sydney World Pride.
But this was not their first public act of bigotry. In recent weeks, Sydney has witnessed the vandalisation of various World Pride murals and the rainbow steps of the Pitt Street Uniting Church, and a far-right mobilisation at George Pell’s funeral in early February.
Whatever its protestations of faith, Christian Lives Matter exists to amplify anti-LGBTI sentiment, calling for action against people whose very existence is perceived to have disrespected their Christian beliefs, while presenting themselves as defenders of a faith that is supposedly under attack.
Ever since we won marriage equality in 2017, these bigots have been trying to push back.
Christian Lives Matter, whose Facebook group has more than 26,000 followers, was started in 2017 in the lead-up to the marriage equality postal vote.
Over the last five years, they have organised or endorsed a range of protests against public figures, businesses and groups that they claim are not respecting Christianity.
Since the end of Sydney World Pride on 5 March, they have been busy, gathering a rally of hundreds at the Network Ten studios to demand that The Project be cancelled for hosting gay comedian Reuben Kaye, who made a rude joke about Jesus on the program. They organised a rally in Sydney on 18 March, which drew together a number of different churches and religious groups.
Christian Lives Matter are working with far-right politicians including One Nation’s Mark Latham, Craig Kelly of the United Australia Party, Silvana and Fred Nile (formerly of the Christian Democrats) and about a dozen priests across Sydney, with a bunch of even more marginal far-right forces, religious or not.
The WhatsApp chat organising the 18 March rally is filled with extreme anti-LGBTI hate: “I want to torture this scum”, “Don’t worry, monkey pox vax will do its job” and, on a video of the World Pride march, “Drop the bomb”.
They claim that their campaign is “a stand to protect our kids” from the “moral decay of society”.
Their focus is hostility to everything from drag queens and sex education, through to the very existence of LGBTI people, who are routinely derided as “paedophiles”, “groomers” and other slurs.
Hostility to LGBTI people in the guise of protecting children plays an important role in cohering far-right audiences. In line with broader trends in Australia and around the world, this worldview twists reality by casting Christians as a persecuted minority.
Nor is this topsy-turvy worldview confined to the fringe-dwellers of the far right. The mainstream right-wing media, from Miranda Devine to Gerard Henderson, presented the child abuse cases against George Pell and the Catholic hierarchy as a witch-hunt by the Victorian police, the Andrews government and a “baying pack of journalists” from the Fairfax press.
Christian Lives Matter has strong connections with the Catholic hierarchy.
In 2021 they organised a protest to try to drown out the music from a Heaps Gay concert opposite St Mary’s cathedral. Christian Live Matter organiser Charlie Bakhos claimed that the LGBTI-friendly event was a “mockery of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general”.
The protests were initiated after Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher publicly attacked the event, criticising organisers for the heinous crime of using flyers in which St Mary’s Cathedral could be seen in the background.
Presenting the church as somehow the victim, he wrote: “It is frustrating and upsetting that St Mary’s Cathedral, the mother church of Australia, has been used so provocatively to promote this event and such little sensitivity shown to people of faith.”
This is the same Archbishop Anthony Fisher who in 2017 condemned the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
No wonder. The actions of the Catholic Church had dominated the inquiry, as it had perpetrated abuse on a scale possible only with the complicity of the institution’s hierarchy. The commission’s final report found “catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades”. Around 7 percent of priests were found to be child abusers, and there has been systematic concealment of that abuse.
Yet while George Pell and other church leaders perpetrated, abetted and/or covered up real abuse, they still used “protecting children” to pursue their right-wing agenda.
All this gives the lie to Christian Lives Matters supposed concern about paedophiles. Confronted with the biggest paedophile organisation in the world, the Catholic Church, they embrace it.
It is therefore not at all surprising that George Pell’s funeral attracted both the Andrew Tate wannabes of Christian Lives Matter (outside abusing and itching to bash the protest against Pell and all he stood for) as well as the gathering of the establishment’s hard right wing (singing Pell’s praises as a bulwark of the establishment from the best seats inside the cathedral): federal opposition leader Peter Dutton, former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard, radio shock jock Alan Jones and anti-trans crusader Mark Latham.
It is important to expose and refute the bigotry of the far right, and to confront them when they mobilise. It is equally important to know who their friends are.