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Matter of Interest: Concerns Regarding Media Reporting

14 June 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:45): I rise to express my dismay at the Adelaide Advertiser's report in Saturday's paper, 'Cash, sex and frock'n'roll', where a church leader was outed, to use The Advertiser's language, living a double life meeting gay men on the sex app Grindr. The article goes on to claim that the priest was 'active on the homosexual meeting site Grindr, providing graphic depictions of sexual encounters and desires with men and sending pornographic photos to potential dates'. The Advertiser also revealed that it had 'obtained surveillance video taken by a private investigator from a public street, which appears to show multiple males visiting his home at night, corresponding with chats on his Grindr account that invited them'.

The article contains a series of screenshots of private messages the priest had sent on Grindr, including one featuring his photo. In recent days, I have been contacted by many members of the LGBTI community, gay men in particular, who have been dismayed and quite frankly disgusted at the way in which this man has been named and shamed. I share their dismay. I was stunned to see this story in Saturday's paper.

Meeting people via dating apps is not a crime, nor should it be considered shameful. Why is Grindr described by The Advertiser as a 'gay sex app' or a 'homosexual meeting site'? Would the same emotive language have been used if the man involved was chatting to prospective dates on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Facebook or Instagram? The use of the term 'frock' in this context is also one to contemplate. Surely we have moved past the point in our state where gay men, or men who have sex with men, are outed and humiliated in this way.

Stories that outed gay men were commonplace in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in UK tabloid papers. Politicians and celebrities were all considered fair game. This reporting during the height of the AIDS crisis fuelled homophobia. While some may argue that this man's role in a church means that his personal life is inconsistent with his public life, surely in a civilised society we have moved beyond outing community leaders.

There are many people who work in public-facing roles who do not wish to have their sexuality known for a range of reasons. This is particularly true of those who work in religious organisations. Coming out is still a very difficult thing for many people, and those of us in the LGBTI community go on our own personal journeys with this. LGBTIQ+ Health Australia reports that one in 10 calls made to the QLife hotline are about coming out. Outing someone and exposing their intimate communications has the potential to cause serious psychological harm.

There are laws in place to prevent the sharing of revenge porn, that is, the sharing of images to third parties. Perhaps it is time to review the law to ensure that intimate messages are also protected to prevent public humiliation. There is the potential here for individuals to suffer serious reputational damage should their private, intimate communications find their way into the public realm.

I am deeply concerned that the salacious language used and the prominence given to this issue in our paper reinforces perceptions about gay sexuality, that is that it is shameful, immoral and sleazy. Sadly, these sorts of narratives can lead people to conceal their sexuality and push people further into the closet. There is nothing shameful about being gay. There is nothing shameful about being on dating apps or meeting people via these sites. Indeed, in 2017, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 39 per cent of heterosexual couples met their partners online, and an ABC study has shown that a third of those who met their partners during the year 2020 did so in the online environment.

The Advertiser has played an important role in pushing gay law reform in our state. It gave significant prominence to the murder of Dr Duncan more than 50 years ago, and it has regularly reported on issues of importance to the LGBTI community, exposing hate crimes and highlighting issues relevant to gay law reform. I do hope that The Advertiser considers the potential implications of Saturday's story and that we do not see this replicated again in our state's local newspaper.