Hundreds of Christian Lives Matter members descended upon a group of Community Action for Rainbow Rights (CARR) activists holding a nonviolent protest a block away from a church hall in southwest Sydney, where One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham was delivering a transphobic diatribe.
And by all accounts, Christian Lives Matter was out for blood at around 7 pm on Tuesday night, as its members swept out of Belfield’s St Michael’s Catholic Church and “attacked a small peaceful speak out of LGBTI+ activists with glass, rocks and their fists”.
Indeed, if it wasn’t for NSW police surrounding them, it seems likely the fifteen protesters would have been met with some ultraviolence.
Christian Lives Matter first raised its head of late, when it staged an unauthorised Friday night march through the Newtown streets, apparently sparked by WorldPride, while last weekend saw thousands of its members demonstrate in Sydney’s Hyde Park, which was a rally steeped in aggression.
The Hyde Park demonstration was to “save the children”, which taps into the paranoid agenda of Latham, One Nation NSW candidate for the upper house, who asserts that public schools have morphed into “gender fluidity factories”, where children are indoctrinated into queerness.
The expression of Christian fascism on the Sydney streets, which coincided with neo-Nazis protesting trans people in Melbourne, marks an escalation in the years-long pushback against LGBTIQ gains made via the legalisation of marriage equality, with trans people targeted as the weakest point.
Several CARR activists were punched in the face on Tuesday night, when the handful of demonstrators were surrounded by hundreds of Christian Lives Matter followers. Indeed, independent journalist Chris De Bruyne was violently shoved to the ground and assaulted.
“This is a disgusting and violent escalation by the anti-LGBTI+ far-right protesters who recently marched through Newtown in protest against WorldPride,” said a Community Action for Rainbow Rights statement released following the incident.
The CARR protesters were confronted by hundreds of CLM members prior to commencing the speak out against Latham. They’d said nothing to their assaulters. And the group of activists were escorted out of the area in trucks, which were then pelted with rocks and bottles and followed by CLM members in cars.
NSW police reports that officers arrived on the scene to find hundreds of people on the street, and they called in the riot squad for backup. Three men were arrested and charged with offences that include common assault, assaulting a police officer, and encouraging the commission of crime.
“This brutal attack on peaceful protesters… should make it clear that Christian Lives Matter is a violent fascistic hate group supported by One Nation and Mark Latham who did nothing to stop the wave of violent attacks carried out in his name,” CARR underscored.
Fear for political gain
“We don’t surrender. We don’t wave the white flag to people who want to close down free speech. And last night, they didn’t close down mine,” Mark Latham told 7News, as he responded to questions as to why he’d chosen to attend the event after NSW police warned him not to.
Latham was electioneering on Tuesday. The One Nation leader was elected to the NSW upper house in 2019. But he’s used a loophole this election which involves quitting his seat halfway through its tenure, handing it over to another One Nation member, as he attempts to secure another seat.
The former federal Labor leader further told reporters that he’s been to six other recent meetings where he’s been spouting anti-trans rhetoric, and he suggested that the pro-trans rights activists were to blame for the violence because they stood on the road and not on the footpath.
Over his four years in state parliament, Latham’s agenda has been to move a parental rights bill that attempts to erase trans student’s identities, another which sought to raise religious freedoms above all other rights, as well as seeking to reinstate uranium mining and nuclear power plants.
And on being sent for committee review, each of Latham’s private members bills were supported by the Liberal Nationals.
“Every letter of the alphabet seemingly has a flag, a network, a special ceremony to affirm and celebrate its identity, except the letters C and H: Christians and heterosexuals,” remarked Latham, an atheist, during his second reading speech on his religious freedoms bill.
“It is a perverse policy of so-called inclusion to exclude other groups, but this is the new state-sponsored practice in NSW. It is a sad, illconceived soulmate to other forms of religious discrimination.”
And if elected back into parliament this weekend, Latham has announced he’ll be prioritising the same campaigns.
Transphobia spilling out onto the streets
“The gay-bashing mob attack last night is the culmination of years of mobilising within ethnic minority Christian communities – mainly Catholic and Orthodox – by dedicated queerphobes,” outlined anarchist group Black Flag Sydney in a statement of solidarity with CARR.
Black Flag asserts that Christian Lives Matter is largely made up of Maronite Christians. It called out the group’s use of the “lives matter” phrase taken from Black Lives Matter, a movement responding to the police killing of Black people, as the Christian group presents itself as a minority under attack.
The heightened presence of CLM over recent days has been accompanied by a demonstration in Melbourne against trans people staged by the National Socialist Network, the nation’s most prominent neo-Nazi group, in support of an event staged by a well-known transphobe.
UK anti-transgender figure Kellie-Jay Keen has been touring the country with her Let Women Speak event, which, as has been observed by Sydney Criminal Lawyers, sees participants linking high rates of violence against women to transgender people: an idea that’s has no basis in reality.
Transgender people account for a small portion of the wider community. And the last decade has seen the trans community out on the streets, asserting its rights and making significant gains in this regard, similar to that of other minority rights movements in the past.
The far right movement against trans people is in response to marriage equality, and, as Australian Christian Lobby’s Martyn Iles revealed at the 2021 Church and State Summit, the Christian Right considers targeting trans people the best way to pushback against LGBTIQ rights gains.
Stoking the flames
“If you are going down tomorrow to see the protesters, there is only one way and that way is to grab them by their fucking hair and you pull them out of there,” said one Christian Lives Matter member in a Facebook video post the night before the attack upon the trans protest in Belfield.
This statement is representative of the attitude of the far right anti-trans campaign, which is an attempt to erase trans identities, with a willingness to apply violence if necessary.
However, trans people are demanding that their rights are upheld. They’re not rallying to annihilate the identity of others.
The CLM frames its members, followers of the dominant religion in this country, as victims. And this is similar to the way Latham presents his parental rights campaign, whereby the acceptance of trans kids in schools is considered an attack on heterosexuals and the parents of schoolkids.
Indeed, going back as far as the 2015 Reclaim Australia mobilisations, One Nation has been stoking the flames of the prejudicial campaigns of the grassroots far right, with the Liberal Nationals having done the same in a more subtle manner.
And the danger here is that regardless of whether Latham is re-elected this weekend and long after Keen is gone, Sydney is now left with a group of organised Christian fascists, fuelled on disinformation, that doesn’t consider nonviolence and protesting to be synonymous.