Sydney Symphony goes all wishy-washy on LGBT

Sydney Symphony goes all wishy-washy on LGBT


norman lebrecht

September 28, 2017

The Australian government is conducting a Same-Sex Marriage postal survey.

Many individuals and organisations in the arts have joined a YES campaign.

Not the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which has publicly announced its neutrality.

Here’s a board statement from the SSO, issued after an angry response to its silence by former chairman Leo Schofield. It’s a heavily lawyered masterpiece of lily-livered equivocation and it will please absolutely no-one:

The SSO is a highly-respected organisation spanning more than 85 years with members, concert-goers, very generous sponsors and donors, not to mention loyal and committed staff and musicians, all of whom come from wide and diverse backgrounds and opinions.

It has always been the case that the SSO has engendered organisational initiatives and performances that reflect an abiding commitment to inclusiveness, fairness and acceptance and that the company has at its core a commitment to everyone in our community – regardless of gender, orientation, cultural background or religious beliefs – of performing music to the highest calibre for which the orchestra is celebrated around the world.

There is no question that the SSO strongly supports the rights of all citizens to place on the record their views, by way of the private and confidential postal plebiscite and as such, the company does not feel it has the right to take a position and commit our stakeholders to one side or the other and has decided it should remain neutral. We urge all Australians to respect the democratic process of the majority decision, one way or the other, in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation towards each other in a peaceful resolution.



  • Sue says:

    They’ve gone up 10 points in my estimation for not wanting to engage in identity politics.

    • John says:

      I agree. Bravo.

    • Dan P. says:

      How is full civil rights for everyone “identity politics?” Not stating your opinion continuing the status quo of SOME people being denied the legal rights and protections that others have is hardly being neutral, it’s being cowardly. Some people who are against equal rights, seem to be caught up with images of sex that they find distasteful or the now-discredited notion that sexual identity is a choice when the issue, in fact, is acknowledging the full humanity of all citizens and residents and giving the legal rights and responsibilities concerning spouses and children that marriage affords everyone else. Still, I can just imagine some people saying to themselves, “Oh, God, THOSE people, they just think they’re SPECIAL!”

      Being neutral on this is like being neutral on legalized racial discrimination in any of its historical manifestations. It’s nothing to be proud about. And it’s certainly not brave.

      • Steven says:

        Misplaced (dare I say phony) outrage. There’s no reason why an orchestra should attempt to influence marriage laws.

        • Dan P. says:

          Not outrage at all. I was simply commenting on Sue and John’s characterization that this is an identity politics issues (which I believe it is not) and describing what I think concerns many about this bill. I have friends in Melbourne who will be directly affected by how this turns out. So besides being a matter of justice, it also touches me personally.

          That being said, I can’t imagine that public proclamations by the Sydney Symphony influence anyone one way or the other no matter the subject. That’s not the point. It WOULD be a nice gesture, however, to stand up for the gay members of the orchestra and audience, which I imagine number at least a few. Don’t you think so?

          • Steven says:

            As long as the orchestra supports its musicians, that’s all that matters. There is no reason for it to adopt a political role to make some of its musicians feel better. An orchestra isn’t in the business of giving ‘nice gestures’. Stick to the music.

          • Olassus says:

            Sue does not apparently understand that rights have nothing to do with “identity politics,” and Dan P was pointing this out.

    • David Osborne says:

      Actually Sue, this is about a basic human right. If you want to try to shut a conversation down using this particular catchphrase of the far-right you are doing little more than expressing your own identity politics.

      So some background. This ridiculous postal ballot has it’s origins in the toxic politics of Australia’s conservative government. A weak, moderate PM struggling to control the extreme right of his party.

      Right now the numbers exist in the Australian parliament to change the law, but Turnbull won’t allow it because he made a deal with the far right to get his job. Hence this expensive and unnecessary vote.

      So far most major businesses, both leading football codes-the NRL and AFL, Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet and Melbourne Symphony to name just a few have come out openly in support of the yes vote. This is embarrassing from Sydney Symphony and a slap in the face for their LGBT players and audience members.

      This issue should be nobody’s business except the people who wish to marry. I voted yes, but as a straight man why do I even get a say?

  • Bruce says:

    In other words, one or more big donors/ board members threatened to pull their support if the symphony publicly took a favorable position. Gotta do what you gotta do.

  • Dan P. says:

    Steven – I’m not sure why you consider sticking up for human rights is simply a “nice gesture” but orchestras – like all arts organizations – are vehicles of cultural expression, and by extension, an instrument of the society that creates that culture. Simply making a statement about a central societal question of our time is hardly out of place.

    I’m not making assumptions about anyone here, but in my experience, at least, it seems that those who criticize the right of artists for their public political statements usually do so because they don’t agree with the statement itself and don’t enjoy having someone with an audience giving voice to it.

    The Sydney Symphony was certainly within their rights to express an opinion on a public matter but my question is this: why did they feel they needed to make a statement at all if it was simply to say they weren’t going to have an opinion? Doesn’t anyone find that a bit curious? And why did they think that anyone cared what the board of a symphony orchestra thought anyway? I think the only ones who really would have cared are the gay members of the orchestra and audience. And for them and their allies, this is not a trivial issue.

    • Steven says:

      ‘Nice gesture’ was your term originally.

      The letter was written, as you’ll recall, ‘after an angry response to its silence by former chairman Leo Schofield’. I suppose they felt they better make a statement lest their silence be interpreted as an implicit political opinion.

      I’m relatively indifferent about SSM; it’s not clear to me that most gay people care about marriage either, given how few gay people get married. It is a small issue, and one of no concern to an orchestra. I’d be annoyed if they came out for or against SSM.

      • Dan P. says:

        Well, just because someone writes an angry letter it doesn’t mean that one has to respond, especially if their responses is a non-response. Presumably, since they hadn’t made a previous statement, they didn’t feel like they didn’t want to get involved. So their statement was, in a sense, redundant.

        I’m not sure where you get your data regarding what “most gay people care about” but marriage rights involve inheritance rights, rights to make health and medical decisions about loved ones – especially minors – when they cannot make decisions themselves and it’s about custody rights over children should the couple split up or should one parent die. It’s not a small issue at all, and it doesn’t pertain to just the gay population because gay people have LOTS of straight family members who these matter affect.

        How can one be indifferent to that – unless one is simply indifferent to other people in general?

        • Steven says:

          One can support the extension of those rights and not support a redefinition of marriage. And as you can see from this government statistics, gay people are far less likely to get married than straight people:

          But this is all pretty irrelevant. Some people might say electoral reform, nationalising energy companies or reforming abortion laws are pressing moral and political issues; no one expects orchestras to weigh in.

          • Dan P. says:

            One COULD support marital rights to gay couples without calling it marriage, but why would one want to? What difference does it make except to tell gay people you they are second class.

            As for redefinition of marriage, words and concepts have been redefined and expended over and over again throughout recorded history – as has the definition of marriage. And what concept of marriage should be yoked to the past, exactly? Marriage for life? The absolute submission of the wife to the husband? The ability for the husband to beat his wife for disobedience? The marriage of an older man to a child? Arranged marriage? Plural marriage? Marriage to one’s sister (that was big in ancient Egypt if you were a pharaoh.) The absence of the right for a wife to inherit her husband’s wealth? The concept of marriage has changed many times in history.

          • Dan P. says:

            Just to add one thing – you know the phrase “rule of thumb” derives from the rules governing the right of a man to beat his wife. The stick that a husband used to beat his wife could be no thicker than the husband’s thumb. THEN it was ok. Very considerate.

  • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    LGBT, Jews and blacks. We should always support these people whenever we can coz they are the biggest victims in the human history.

  • Geoff says:

    As a father of a gay son who is legally married to his same sex spouse, all this political noise is so “last century”. We live in a country where same sex marriage has been legal for years and the Sky has not fallen and most people have just got on with their lives.
    It is pitiful that a nation such as Australia has to go through this ugly process.

  • Dan P. says:

    Just to add one last comment – at least from me – agree whole-heartedly with Geoff, that we have to get on with our lives and past the hate, ignorance, and superstition that still dogs gay people in some place But we also have to remember that it isn’t that long ago when even to publically suggest that someone was gay could ruin their lives. It was the worst thing you could do to someone and you lived your life in fear and hiding that you would be exposed. It marked someone not only as mentally ill, but worthy only of disgust. Unfortunately, even today, teen suicides are the highest among gay kids. Of course, in those parts of the world where society is still lives as if it were in the 13th century, being found out to be gay ends in the death penalty. So we have to put all of this in perspective as well. We are not out of the woods yet, but it’s a lot better – if not perfect – in some places.