Being A Gay “Good Example” in Australia

For gay denizens of almost any country, there’s a laundry list of bizarre Catch-22s in terms of their rights and legal status — for instance, being able to legally adopt without being able to file joint taxes with your co-parent, or winning workplace anti-discrimination lawsuits in court while DADT is still on the books. Two stories out of Australia this week illustrate particularly well the peculiar contradictions that develop around being gay all over the world.

Australia is notable for having an openly gay woman in a pretty prestigious government office — Penny Wong, a former senator, is now federal Finance Minister and an out lesbian. She’s always been open about her partner, her (controversial) views on gay marriage, and now about the child she and her partner are having together. Pretty progressive, no? In the US, only one member of the House of Representatives is an out lesbian, and there are zero out members of the Senate. But while Wong’s success in politics may be a good sign for the LGBT community overall, she’s still bearing harsh and hateful criticism from other politicians who have no qualms and apparently expect no repercussions for openly lambasting her personally as well as her family. In the most spit-take-inducing headline of the day, “Wong Baby Not Right,” South Wales conservative Christian MP Fred Nile says that he not only virulently opposes Wong’s family because “the baby has human rights,” but that it was a grievous misstep on Wong’s part to not somehow keep her entire family a secret to protect the public.

“She needn’t have made it public – it just promotes their lesbian lifestyle and trying to make it natural where it’s unnatural… The only reason she’s made it public is to make a statement to the Australian people… It’s a very poor example for the rest of the Australian population.”

It will not surprise American readers that Nile was once the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Crusade in Sydney; he is now President of the Christian Democratic Party and was appointed in 2007 to an eight-year term as Assistant President of the New South Wales Legislative Council by Wong’s own party, the Labor Party. He’s known for his controversial and very conservative opinions, but is also a legitimate politician — but one who feels comfortable demanding that the federal Finance Minister somehow keep her family a secret, out of consideration for the country. “Mr Nile said he was surprised Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop had congratulated Senator Wong. “I’m surprised she’s done that. She’s treated this as if Penny Wong is in a traditional relationship,” he said.”

For queer and trans youth, things are extra confusing with the politics of high school making everything more complicated. In Perth, when a girls-only school forbade bringing same-sex partners to the school ball, past and present students banded together to convince school authorities to change their minds. But that doesn’t mean things are okay, or even improving necessarily — for trans students, daily physical safety can still be an ongoing issue, both in terms of lack of support from adults and violence from their peers.

“… 19-year-old Mikey came out as a lesbian as a 14-year-old and then began transitioning into a male soon after that. High school was horrific, absolutely horrific,” he said. “I would be pushed up against walls and people and girls at my school would threaten to show me that I was a girl too by threatening me with assault and sexual assault.” … Attending a school formal or ball was never an option for Mikey due to the myriad of issues he faced as a confused and ostracised Year 9 student who was considering the transition from female to male. “I never considered going to a school ball, I was too afraid.”

On the other hand, Mikey was able to find support at the Freedom Centre, where services and programs funded by the Mental Health Commission let Mikey get help under the Federal Government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy — something America can’t say for itself in terms of mental health support for LGBTQ people, or really anyone. Obviously Mikey’s experience contrasts with his queer peers’ one of community support, but also is at least slightly comforting in terms of the options for resources and support when none is forthcoming from any other corner.

Being gay, queer or trans almost anywhere in the world means a patchwork quilt of steps forward and backward, daily victories and defeats. Australia is no different. Hopefully, though, the thrust of progress is forward; the moral arc of the universe still bending towards justice.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Gillard is seriously annoying me with her “I can ignore my own party if I want to” bs when it comes to the changing of the Australian Labor Party’s official position of same-sex marriage. All states and territories bar Victoria and New South Wales have said yes. And if they get their way just because their states have a bigger population size and therefore more members of parliament imma be so mad. The majority of the ALP branches have said yes. It’s really not not a polarising issue despite her thinking that it is with her backing off from everything.

    • Yeah, I agree. I’m a NZer and there was an article in our newspaper about Penny Wong having her baby and I was surprised to learn Gillard was against same-sex marriage because I was hoping she was more progressive. Ugh.

    • Sometimes I get a little tired of the Gillard bashing that everyone does.

      Yes, she should stand up for gay rights, but the labor party is so caught up in its own internal issues that she is obviously afraid to say anything that’s not the party line, for fear of being ousted like k Rudd. If that were to happen, labor would defs be out at the next election and we will have to deal with Howard 2.0, ie Abbott.

      Also, if that weren’t enough, we also have a hung parliament, where it’s almost impossible to pass any slightly controversial bills.
      idk maybe I just have a thing for read heads?

      • yeah, i’m also happy to give julia a break at least from our side, our side being the small ‘l’ liberal side. because if you were to read my facebook feed circa carbon tax reveal, the gillard bashing was primarily coming from people who think she wants to tax them personally and who then proclaimed their vote would go to abbott as a result. i.e. ignoramuses. so she doesn’t really need it coming from the left as well when we can’t afford to have to deal with abbott.

      • I DO have a thing for red-heads, that’s probably why I was so disappointed! I think a little part of me was secretly hoping she’d be gay *blush*

  2. “Mr Nile said he was surprised Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop had congratulated Senator Wong. “I’m surprised she’s done that.””

    Really, papi? You’re surprised someone else is happy there’s a beautiful new human life coming into the world? Wth…

  3. This is very interesting! I like how even though Autostraddle is US-based, it helps keep us up to date on issues faced by lezzies internationally as well.

    Also, Fred Nile sounds like a total douchecanoe. My sympathies go out to all you Australian Straddlers.

  4. I don’t know Rachel, I don’t think Fred Nile is actually a legitimate politician, I don’t think anyone actually takes him seriously.

    The media always ask him for comment on gay issues because he usually says hilarious things, last time it was about how he didn’t like gays because he thinks that people assume he is gay if he is with another man.

    I’ve been following the coverage of Wong and her partner having a baby, and it has been almost universally positive.

    Despite being unfortunately handed the balance of power by the voters of NSW, Fred Nile does not have a respected political voice in this country. He’s the person on the far right who turns all their policies into a joke. I know I love it when Fred Nile gets involved in an issue – much laughter is sure to follow…

  5. the only good thing about fred nile being ultra-conservative is that he is alone over there in the corner when it comes to australian politics.

  6. Damn :c What a douchetastic thing of Fred Nile to say. Two loving parents is pretty much the epitome of “normal” yet all he can see is their gender. (However, “normal” is not always good when it comes to parenting. Stretching the boundaries and creating unique family situations is pretty awesome too).

  7. I’m Australian, and I seriously considered putting ‘Penny Wong’ under religious beliefs on the census. I think possibly because you guys are writing from an outsiders perspective you’re getting all up in Fred Nile, when in reality nobody in Australia actually listens to him. The vast, vast majority (including our really gross conservative catholic opposition leader) have congratulated Penny and Sophie, regardless of their views on gay marriage. It’s really not that big of an issue in our political landscape. Apart from us lefties cooing over what I’m sure will be the cutest little baby the cabinet room has ever seen. Oh, and Penny is still part of the senate, don’t push her out of office yet! ;)

  8. G’day y’all, Aussie straddler here. Don’t worry, nobody in Australia gives a shit about the dickhead that is Fred Nile. As Jojo said, even Tony Abbott (notoriously bigoted Catholic opposition leader) congratulated Penny and Sophie.
    However, if Fred Nile had a child, I wouldn’t be rejoicing about it because anything that contains his DNA is probably inherently fucked up.

  9. I’m Australian, and have only recentely come out to myself, my bestfriend and a girl from work. I sat in the room with my mum as this story was broadcast on the news – tried to slyly gauge her reaction (none I could discern) but overall, couldn’t help but smile. Thanks for the coverage Rachel, it’s these small victories that give us heart <3

  10. I’m an Aussie, and sadly enough a close friend (and my first girlfriend) is a big fan of Fred Nile. Personally I want him to GTFO out Australia now. Apart from being a mass homophobe, he is making it really hard for public schools to teach ethics instead of religion. There are very few people who thinks the way he does, so it pisses me off he is has so much influence and given so much attention. How I hate that man. Gillard should pull her finger out and catch up with the times, as an unmarried woman herself I did kinda hope she would see how marriage is essential social status and how wrong it is that that is denied to us. ALSO THANKS FOR MENTIONING MY COUNTRY I LOVE YOU GUYS

    • Fred Nile has FANS?!
      And yeah, I get so excited when AS mentions Australia. And bisexuals. And just AS in general. Also by Australians on AS.
      Rereading this comment. Grammar is fine but probably have had eight tequilas too many.

  11. “Penny Wong, a former senator, is now federal Finance Minister and an out lesbian.”

    Penny Wong is a current senator from South Australia.

  12. I liked this whole article until I got to this part:

    “something America can’t say for itself in terms of mental health support for LGBTQ people, or really anyone.”

    Um, what? 1-800-SUICIDE, 273-TALK, the myriad of local crisis centers, 211 information and referral? In my county alone we have a local 24 hour crisis line and free face to face counseling to anyone who asks. I would argue that mental health resources aren’t sufficiently publicized, but not that they aren’t out there.

  13. I know I’m a bit late in coming to this comment thread party, but I believe the confusion about Penny Wong’s being in the Senate comes from the fact that in the US, the Presidential cabinet is made up of non-office holders. That is not the case in Australia. Our executive branch is made up of members of the Parliament, basically. (Further reading:


  14. So this nile character is a leading homophobe?

    We have lots of those also. But if you go to the website

    (its actually top 15 now) you will see that the louder they scream against gay people, the more certain they are secretly looking for D!*k.

    It never fails.

    And someone on another australian blog said re the “majority of people support gay marriage” statement that “the majority of people supported hitler.”

    If you go to the website http://WWW.NOBELIEFS.COM/NAZIS.HTM you will see who those people were, and…………

    why the church that claims to support life has yet to explicitly EXcommunicate the worst murderer in history.

    Also btw the church of the endless and HIDDEN molestation of children.

    Simply google [westernized country name] – catholic church molestation

    Cheers, but really sickening

  15. Here I am casually reading this article and lo and behold, my best friend has been quoted in it!
    Mikey was my best friend in high school and still is :)

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