For the next two and a half weeks, Sydney will be celebrating WorldPride 2023, an international LGBTQIA+ festival which will draw an estimated 500,000 people.

Timothy Cootes posted a caustic review on MercatorNet earlier this week. I found it deeply disturbing. Let me explain.

First, I know exactly how he feels because I have the same reaction. I am so tired of having gay ideology shoved down my throat, from pedestrian street crossings painted in rainbow colours to the ABC TV’s weather reporter, Nate, gushing how overwhelmingly exciting the WorldPride celebration is and the weather for it will be perfect!.

I believe that if you say to some Pride enthusiasts that the sky is blue, they will reply that blue is a colour in the gay flag. Everything – and I mean everything – is looked at through a gay lens.

Second, I feel it’s not right for me to feel like this. I have a lot of sympathy for gay people and their struggles to correct wrongful discrimination and I am appalled by what they have suffered in the past and still do suffer in some countries. I also believe we must accept people as they are and recognise their rights of self-determination – excluding, of course, evil doing or harming others.

I have learnt and still learn much from gay friends, especially two wonderful physicians with whom I have been close friends and a colleague for over 30 years – we’ve co-authored many bioethics articles. They are not partners; both are openly gay, but non-hysterical gay. Consequently, I was very surprised when I was living in Montreal and asked one if he would like to come to the Pride Parade with me, he refused. He said that did not reflect what he or his long-term partner felt about themselves as gay men. They both have a rich sense of personal identity, with diverse elements, of which being gay is an important one.

I was anathema in the gay community in the same-sex marriage debate for opposing same-sex marriage. I did so on the basis that I believed children had a right to both a mother and a father, if possible, their own biological parents, and same sex marriage abolished that right. I supported civil unions because they would not have affected children’s rights and would have given same-sex couples privileges and protections enjoyed by opposite-sex couples and to which same-sex couples had a right.

During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when we didn’t know what the cause was and gay men were being targeted as pariahs, I tried to defend them from breaches of their human rights and they recognised and lauded that. When I spoke against same-sex marriage one of the most heart-breaking emails I received was: “Why have you turned on us?”

Third, without meaning any disrespect to Timothy Cootes, negativity, scorn, and condemnation are the wrong approach.  

This approach is why people with more traditional or conservative values have been so unsuccessful in having those values prevail. We need to give people positive reasons to consider and, one hopes, accept them not just rail against the people who have so-called “progressive” values.

We need to act with moral humility, that is, realise we are all morally fallible; listen carefully to those who disagree with us and certainly not sneer at them.

Opponents need the openness to step out of their own skins sometimes and try to imagine how other people feel. That helps them not only to be more understanding of those who disagree with them, but also to see the strengths and weaknesses of their own standpoint. For instance, they should attempt the mental experiment of comparing the exuberance of thousands of young Catholics for World Youth Day, which like WorldPride, was held in Sydney (and attended by Pope Benedict XVI) with the upcoming extravaganza. Some of the similarities and analogies might surprise them — and analysing the relevant differences is a more fruitful way of discussing WorldPride than mocking it.

In fact, I do sense some similarities. For example, is “Pride” a “secular religion”? Is the Pride Festival a quasi-religious celebration?

I think that it is important to point out that the LGBTQIA+ grouping is not a cohesive community. A former brilliant law student of mine at McGill University in Montreal was a leader in the Canadian gay community and is now a professor of human rights law at King’s College in London, Robert Wintemute.

He emailed me a few weeks ago. He had accepted invitations to give a series of lectures across the country, arguing that LGB (Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual) issues were different from T (transgender) issues and that the two groups and their issues should be dealt with separately.

He was met with a storm of protest that became headline news in Canada. Transgender people and their advocates blocked his presentation to staff and students at McGill, his alma mater.

In conclusion, I believe Timothy Cootes’ recent article in MercatorNet was harmful rather than helpful to the cause of those who are worried about the promotion of LGBTQIA+ ideology, especially on impressionable children and young adults. Each side of a debate must respect the other side, because respect can only exist if it is mutual.

Having written this article, I fear that a comment by one of my students will again be applicable: “Professor Somerville, you have everyone angry with you.” He added, however, “That might mean that you are on to something very important.” I hope so!

Margaret Somerville AM, DSG, FRSC, FRSN, DCL is Professor of Bioethics at the University of Notre Dame Australia School of Medicine (Sydney campus). She is also Samuel Gale Professor of Law Emerita, Professor...