One of the most difficult areas to address in Australia’s revitalised debate on same-sex marriage (coming ahead of a plebiscite to be held later this year) is the thorny issue of what the facts actually are. As just one example Murray Campbell raises some very pertinent questions about the Safe Schools programme which seeks to
indoctrinate our children in the new sexual ethic protect children from bullying. Just so we’re all abundantly clear I wholeheartedly agree with Murray when he writes,
I have read some of the stories being recounted in the media of teenagers being bullied and abused because of their sexuality. I would not wish such experiences upon anyone. It is because bullying is so detrimental to children (and adults too) that it is vital for schools to have in place effective and fair programs.
Nevertheless, Murray observes that the stats being banded about aren’t really accurate:
8. Why does the Safe Schools Coalition website cite statistics that lack scientific credibility?
These statistics are offered as assumed facts, however according to recent studies, the numbers are significantly lower than those suggested on the website.
I understand that gauging accurate numbers for sexuality and gender is near impossible given difficulties over definitions and categories, as well as social and cultural stigmas, and other reasons that may prevent some people from aligning with LGBTIQ. On top of that, other people find that with age and experience their self-understanding and lifestyle may change. Keeping all those variables in mind, the statistics presented by Safe Schools differs significantly to the major studies conducted around the world.
Safe Schools want us to believe that 10% of the population have same-sex attraction, whereas most scientific studies put the figure under 4% (and that includes bisexual people), and other research suggests even lower.
While the Safe Schools material states with confidence that 1.7% of people are intersex.
The American Psychological Association suggests the figure to be about 1 in 1,500, not the 1 in 60 which Safe Schools would have us accept as scientific fact.
And this research directly contests the 1.7% figure:
“Anne Fausto‐Sterling’s suggestion that the prevalence of intersex might be as high as 1.7% has attracted wide attention in both the scholarly press and the popular media…If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female. Applying this more precise definition, the true prevalence of intersex is seen to be about 0.018%, almost 100 times lower than Fausto‐Sterling’s estimate of 1.7%.”
This kind of misrepresentation of facts and science straight away raises questions about the legitimacy of this program. It is analogous to a political party taking 10 polls, publishing the one that is favourable and deleting the 9 which are less supportive. Or it’s like coming home after a cricket match and telling everyone I scored 185 runs, when in fact it was 42.
Smaller numbers does not of course reduce the value of people who find themselves in these categories, nor does it excuse us from providing care and support for children struggling with identity questions.
Misleading statistics can be portrayed in any number of ways. So the following advert has been screening in Australia over the past few days:
We offer cover better suited to every kind of family.
Now that in itself is a sentiment that we can all applaud. There is no reason whatsoever why insurance providers can’t be flexible in their product offerings to adapt to the requirements of all sorts of households. Again, let’s just be abundantly clear on that in case someone thinks I’m arguing anything different.
But, having said that, now consider with me the message being communicated by the images you just saw. There were, on a rough count, 10 various households with children in them represented in that short advertisement. Of the ten families three were clearly same-sex (and there was another couple were I had to stop the video and look hard before I was sure whether one of the individuals was male (and I’m still not 100% sure) – whichever professional made this video thought long and hard about every image we saw and I don’t think it’s cynical to suggest that the vague androgyny was deliberate).
So we have Medibank communicating in a subtle way to us that 30% of households with children are same-sex households (and a gentle push upwards on that figure with the uncertain identification of another).
“So what?” you ask. Well they certainly have the right to make whatever video they want and if the intent is to communicate that every type of household is catered for then surely you do have to display a variety of types. But 30%?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in the 2011 census that 33,714 out of a total of 4,684,700 Australian household couples who reported their status were same-sex. That’s 0.7% of couples. Further the ABS notes that in 2011 there were just over 6,000 children (defined as under the age of 25) in households which reported as being same-sex couples. Of those, 4,750 were dependents under the age of 15 (i.e. like those represented in the Medibank video. That’s out of a total Australian population of children of about 10,800,000. Or 0.044% of children are in same-sex families or less than 1 in 2,000.
At this point it’s worth noting that these figures are probably under-reported but nevertheless the utter lack of congruity between the media representation of the prevalence of such households and the reality that the statistics report is staggering. If we are generous and assume that the proportion of kids in same-sex families is under-reported by a factor of 10 (which is sufficient to compensate for the valid caveats that the ABS brings up) then you still have a proportion of children in same-sex families of 0.44% as opposed to the 30% in the advert.
Which means that Medibank have over-represented the actual reality of children in same-sex households by a factor of (being conservative) almost 70 and probably much more than that.
Just chew on that for a moment: at least 70 times over-represented.
There comes a point, doesn’t there, where you realise that we’re being sold a lie. Yes, there are same-sex households with children in them. Yes, they have a right to health care and insurance just like the rest of us. But that’s not what the point of this advert is. There is a deliberate decision here to enter into the political debate on same-sex marriage by flagrantly distorting the reality of the variety of Australian families.
And at the same time single-parent families, who make up about a quarter of Australian families with children, only got one clear representative in the video. Under-represented by a factor of 2.5. Now there is an massive group that needs enormous resources and support. They tend to be more likely to be disadvantaged with lower incomes and reduced access to opportunities. But they’re not a trendy way of demonstrating that you’re progressive so Medibank chose a different means to show how modern they are.
Don’t get sucked in by this and so many other attempts to portray same-sex households as a large and important part of our community. Yes they exist, yes they have a right to all the same protections and benefits that every other member of society receives. But at the end of the day they are a small part of our community; it is entirely right that they receive protection where that’s necessary but entirely ridiculous that we should be changing our social structures to such an enormous extent. There are plenty of people in the media who understand this, hence the deliberate strategy of such blatant over-representation.
Our entire society deserves truth and clarity in this difficult debate, not manipulation of perception. We should do so much better.