If there is one good thing that the controversial comparison of the health of gay people and smokers by the head of the Australian Christian Lobby group has achieved, it is to seek more information on the health of homosexuals.
Both gay groups and some Christian churches are now pushing for more information and discussions on the matter to confirm or rebut the remark by ACL head Jim Wallace that the gay lifestyle is riskier to health than engaging in the nicotine habit.
Gay groups asked the federal government to ask more questions about sexual orientation and health in the next census to get more information about the health of homosexuals, while Mr Wallace and Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, who sided with the ACL, noted the lack information on the issue.
Warren Talbot of the National LGBTI Health Alliance admitted to the lack of information about the life expectancy of lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and intersex people but pointed to documented studies that showed smoking and suicide rates are higher in the group than heterosexuals.
"We have data which suggests that for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, suicidality could be three times that of the general population. And for transgender Australians, could be as high as 14 times the general population," ABC quoted Mr Talbot.
Liam Leonard of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria added that while the general health of LGBT people started to approach that of the Australian population over the last five to six years, many continue to experience increase risk of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and general psychological distress. He linked it to ongoing background homophobia which he said must be tackled to improve the mental health of the gay population.
While the gay groups are happy over the ongoing debate on health of the LGBT community, they lamented that the comments of the Christian leaders are politically motivated and divisive. Basil Donovan of the University of New South Wales's Sexual Health Programme pointed out that because religious groups view homosexuality as an abomination, with that as a starting point, everything they think and do will be twisted based on their stand on the issue.
Labor backbencher Trish Crossin, who co-sponsored a private bill to legalise same-sex marriage, also criticised Mr Jensen for his remarks which she said were offensive "Particularly for people who have smoked, who have developed cancer as a result of that, and (for) loved ones who have lost families."
Australian Marriage Equality national convener Alex Greenwich sought an apology from the Anglican archbishop.
"Although we have come to expect extreme anti-gay statement from the Australian Christian Lobby, for a religious leader like Archbishop Jensen to make such cruel claims is a betrayal of his duty of care to his parishioners, especially those who are gay or have gay friends and family members," The Herald Sun quoted Mr Greenwich.
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