The Baptist church that Joey attends recently began a process of discussing its response to and treatment of same sex-oriented people, looking at whether it should issue an apology. Members of the congregation were invited to send in individual submissions, which Joey did. In it he described his experience as a young teenager in the mid-1980s, being molested by his Sunday school teacher at a Wesley Mission church in Sydney.
It was the first time he’d put his experience into writing. As he told the Commissioner, until the trial and conviction of Rolf Harris, he hadn’t even really thought that what happened to him was worth reporting. ‘He never touched my genitals, he didn’t rape me or anything’, he explained.
Joey’s family emigrated to Australia from South-East Asia when Joey was seven. His parents were hardworking, successful and devout Christians. Joey knew by his early teens that he was gay, but he couldn’t talk about it with his family. ‘Mum thought it was wrong; Dad thought it was disgusting’, he said.
That meant he was an easy target for his Sunday school teacher, Rodney Stone. There were about 14 students in the group. ‘He’d buy us hot chips after Sunday school; he was a fun guy’, Joey said. ‘Not an attractive man, but he had a real charisma with the kids.’
Joey was about 13 at the time, and Stone was in his 40s. Stone gave Joey gifts and encouraged his interest in music. He made a place for himself in Joey’s life, attending sports and other events to cheer him on.
‘I remember my mum saying it’s just not normal for this man to be ringing our house to talk to you.’
Eventually Joey confided to Stone that he was gay. He couldn’t speak to his parents, or his friends, ‘so I spoke to him’, he said.
‘He got me to tell him how I felt – how I’d mucked around with other boys – mutual masturbation and stuff like that. It was very embarrassing for me, admitting that I’m gay.’ Even at the time, Joey could feel that Stone was getting vicarious pleasure from what he was recounting.
Joey recalled two later incidents in particular. One was when Stone took the Sunday school group on an outing to the movies. Stone sat in the back row of the cinema and invited whoever felt like it to sit there with him for a back massage. Joey hasn’t forgotten Stone slipping his hands inside Joey’s shirt to massage him, and doing the same to other kids who were there.
The other incident was at a Sunday school camp. Stone slept in the cabin with the boys in his group, and made them all go to bed very early. Anyone who couldn’t sleep was welcome to join him in his bunk, for a game of ‘up and down’ – where Stone put his hands inside the boy’s pyjamas and moved them up or down depending on the boy’s instruction.
‘It was inappropriate. I think for me especially, because he knew I was gay. I was torn between – well, I want to have that experience, but not with you.’
Joey eventually left the Wesley Mission, and started attending another church. Here again he was targeted, this time by the choirmaster, Wilfred Tucker. Now about 16 years old, Joey was still passionate about music, despite his parents’ disapproval. They wanted him to focus on academic subjects. For the next few years, Joey crept out his window late at night and met Tucker, who would drive him to the church for music lessons.
‘He used to give me long big hugs’, Joey said. At the time he didn’t feel unsafe. Later, though, Tucker was charged on 30 counts of abuse against other boys, and convicted.
Joey told the Commissioner that for a long time he didn’t recognise those experiences as abuse because he felt he allowed them to happen.
‘I think this is part of what the predator does. They help you to feel that you are partly to blame’, he said.
‘I wanted to be a singer, I accepted [Stone’s] gifts, I could have said no, I got into bed with him - I wanted a man to touch me.’ And Tucker, he said, gave him hope. ‘To be honest, if he’d wanted more, I may have been willing to experiment.’
That view of his own culpability is the result of the world he grew up in. ‘As hard as it is to believe, that attitude is still out there. The child, the gay person, the youth - we’re partly to blame. We’re the ones there’s something wrong with.’
Statistics show a very high rate of suicide among Christian youth who are gay, Joey said. He believes the problem lies with the attitudes of the Church, whether Catholic, Protestant or other.
‘Really, [it’s] the Church’s stance on sex full-stop. The hatred of sex and the hatred of gay people … If you’re going to quote me on anything, please – if something good can come out of what I’m saying – [it’s] to recommend that churches rethink their position’, Joey told the Commissioner.
‘I’m still a Christian and I still go to church – obviously I’ve accepted who I am and my sexuality … I guess one of the things is that I would like to speak out for children who are gay or lesbian; that if you grow up in a church environment where you’re told all the time it’s wrong, you’ve got to be able to speak to someone to get proper advice. [Otherwise] it leaves you vulnerable to people like Rodney Stone who will use this as a way in, and that is my concern. That I was more susceptible to him because of having to deal with my sexuality. I don’t want to use the word confusion because I wasn’t confused. I just needed someone not to take advantage of me.’