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I had a social studies lesson from Bob McCoskrie

Earlier this year an otherwise liberal Auckland girls’ high school, where diversity is celebrated, invited Family First’s Bob McCoskrie in to talk about gay marriage. A gay student who was in the audience shares her experience.

Update May 23 2017: Bob McCoskrie has responded to this story, disputing some of the events as depicted below. You can read his response here.

Close to 100 people at my high school had turned up to see him talk. The classroom had to be expanded to accommodate the turnout, and even then you couldn’t move once you were inside. We were fighting to get in and see the figurehead of Family First explain to a group of teenage girls – some of them, like me, openly gay – why he thought the gay marriage law was wrong.

Bob McCoskrie had been invited into our school to speak to the Year 13 social studies students, who were focusing on providing opposing viewpoints as part of an internal assignment. The topic was the gay marriage law. I came out a few years back, and am an openly gay student at our school, so the word got around to me. A man was coming to our all-girls school to tell us why gay marriage is wrong. You don’t hear that every day.

It felt out of the norm for us, because our school has always been big on diversity. Aside from the petty schoolgirl drama, teachers and students generally are understanding and accepting of the fact that we have a wide range of students. We have non-binary toilets, our school openly promotes LGBTQIA+ awareness – which is why it seemed so odd that Bob was here. Still, we wanted to hear him give his opinion. I didn’t want to cause any problems.

Family First’s Bob McCoskrie. Screengrab: newshub.co.nz

In the overflowing classroom, Bob began his presentation with quotes from Barack Obama, John Key and some other political figures about how a marriage is between a man and a woman. They were all from 10 years ago. It seemed like a bad way to talk about his current campaign to protect marriage, using nothing but old and irrelevant quotes. A lot of us picked up on that, there were a few comments and smirks among the crowd.

One thing he asked us early on, and reiterated throughout the talk, was “please, don’t attack me”. It was quite odd. I mean, we’d been sitting there in silence, no-one had been saying anything. It bugged me, because the worst he’s ever been attacked in his life is probably just a few nasty words. He clearly hadn’t considered the members of the LGBTQIA+ community that are being threatened and attacked physically daily.

All we wanted to hear about was why he thought gay marriage was so bad. He actually compared it to bestiality at one point, claiming that if we allowed gay marriage then we’re in favour of things like bestiality and incest becoming legal and celebrated.

Ironically, even after saying that, Bob seemed like he really wanted to relate to us girls and get us on side. He told us about his daughter and the dangers of rape and how he views himself as a feminist. I didn’t actually know why that was added in, it was just plonked there in the middle.

Soon enough, he went back to talking about gay marriage, and then the floor was open for questions. I don’t think he answered a single one, even when the teacher asked him something. He deflected a lot and got quite sensitive. One student asked him his thoughts on the symbolic purpose of giving same sex couples the right to marry, and how it’s less about attacking the tradition and more about just combating discrimination.

He quickly turned around and said “Well what about polygamy? Do you think people in polygamist relationships should have the right to marry? Are you being polygaphobic right now?” The student got quite upset, obviously, and the teacher actually had to step in. We needed someone to stay level-headed and answer our questions, and he just couldn’t. One student asked, “Since the bill passed, has it affected your marriage?” He tried to deflect with something else, so they repeated the question. “No, it hasn’t,” he answered, “but that doesn’t change anything.’

The talk strayed into the topic of gender, which was very upsetting for a lot of us. A student asked what he thought about a transgender woman and a cis man getting married and he got quite upset at that question. We then got a rant about how gender is all nonsense these days and that he’d be happy to give a separate lecture on that if we wanted. No-one laughed, no-one even smiled at that. Our teachers did not seem happy at all – they realised pretty quickly that this had been a bad idea

You kind of hope that by the age he has reached, especially in 2017, he might understand that times have changed. The bill has passed and, as he said himself, it hasn’t affected him in any way. Yes, he has a right to state his opinion, just like everyone else does with the things they’re celebrating and asking for. But he’s fighting to take rights away and marriage equality is fighting for acceptance and equality. We’re not trying to take anything away from straight couples – yet he’s doing exactly that to gay couples.

I know that people like Bob McCoskrie are too far gone to change their minds and embrace support and love and acceptance. Hearing this grown man compare my sexuality to incest felt like a slap in the face. I can’t say I was very happy about it, and I’m sure there were students in the room who were questioning their sexuality. And now they have it in the back of their minds that this old and powerful guy doesn’t want them to be treated as equals. I’m lucky that I am confident in myself and have all this great support from friends and family – other people won’t.

I just wish he could stand in front of me and look me in the eye when he’s talking sincerely about taking away my rights.

– As told to Alex Casey


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