“If you’ve got a penis mate, you’re a bloke. If you’ve got a vagina, you’re a woman. Game over.” These were comments put to morning radio by shock-jock-turned-Perth’s Lord Mayor, Basil Zempilas.
These comments were made on Zempilas’ own breakfast show 6PR, around a discussion about the World Gay Boxing Championships coming to Sydney in 2023.
“Women with a penis” were asked to call in to win a $100 voucher. When asked about how he would handle meeting his transgender voters in Perth, he quipped, “handle the penis?”
When it was brought to his attention on-air that people would disagree with him, he said, “Well mate, if you want to go softy, lefty, namby-pamby.”
Gooooooood fun, @BasilZempilas. Degrading a minority of your Perth people enough to see their value as just a $100 gift voucher. No matter if you disagree, that’s inexcusable behaviour. Leave it to the professionals, mate. pic.twitter.com/E22sODGdqt
— Jermaine (@jermainetd93) October 28, 2020
Transphobia and miseducation were put out to roughly 195,000 people by an Australian elected official, and yet he got away with simply handing out an apology, all while regarding his comments as “jokes”.
“Part of my job is to be an entertainer – I was trying to be funny, it was not funny and I apologise,” he said this morning on his radio show.
“I had a very strong talking to from my wife last night. Her best friend is gay.”
basil zempilas 11 days after being elected pic.twitter.com/DbIGrlZV1x
— Amy Louise Doherty (@amyloudoherty) October 28, 2020
So while J.K. Rowling faced near-total career collapse worldwide for making transphobic comments around “women who menstruate,” Zempilas is able to boast about his stern talking to from the missus, and carry on with his political career.
Transphobia and homophobia should not be acceptable traits in the Australian political sphere. It’s 2020, there should be no more room for these comments to even be considered as “jokes” that are acceptable to be put onto the air, especially from someone who sits as an elected mayor.
Why do we not consider harmful commentary to be a ‘cancellable’ offence when it comes to our politicians? Why are we placing the burden on LGBTQ+ people to be responsible for educating the masses? Why are people being made to consider moving their pride festivals elsewhere because of one transphobic political figure?
As a former President of @pridewa I am calling on the not-for-profit organisation to move the annual #PrideFest from the @CityofPerth to the City of Vincent over @BasilZempilas’ transphobic comments made today on @6PR. His apology to @OUTinPerth was as flaccid as his poll numbers
— Paul van Lieshout Hunt (@Paul_VLH) October 28, 2020
Almost 1,000 people have signed a petition to move Perth pride fest to the neighbouring City of Vincent (objectively a better council area imo) following transphobic comments from Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas. https://t.co/Sw9RxpTtP4
— Calla Wahlquist (@callapilla) October 28, 2020
No longer should there be think pieces written around how transphobic comments in politics are harmful, asking for apologies from those in the public eye. This information has been readily available to them for far too long for these “slip-ups” to continue the way they do. There is a wealth of knowledge at the end of a simple google search, so what is the excuse?
Trans folk should not have to be interviewed every time something like this happens. Although education is the most powerful tool we have against ignorance, it is not their role to appear in articles and explain why comments like these are harmful every time something goes wrong.
Ignorance in local-level politics is failing the trans community. Topics of transness and queer culture are still being seen as radically new or “softy” and “lefty” as Zempilas puts it. There needs to be a greater level of education granted to these people before they are given the ability to govern over cities and get access to forms of media.
Jobs in politics should require a heavy degree of understanding that people are inherently wildly diverse. Legacy media has for too long proven that its training around LGBTQ+ culture and topics is in dire need of adjusting.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, trans and gender diverse people in Australia often report more distressed states of mental and physical health than other Aussies, which is not at all helped by how they are referred to in the public sphere.
These are peoples lives that are being subject to radio discussion. We are tolerating things like this and allowing them to continue because ultimately, we have become numb to this kind of talk in the past, with misogyny and racism appearing on our morning shows and radio stations via ‘jokes’ or ‘debates’ before.
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We have a lot of characters in our Australian political sphere, and a few of them are, unfortunately, racist, homophobic and bigoted. In the celebrity sphere, there is no room for such traits. If your favourite singer tweeted about how “wrong” it was to be trans, it would spell instant cancellation for them.
That the mayor of one of our capital cities can mumble “no, no, no” at the idea of transness and cite his wife’s gay best friend in his fix-all apology is wild, and should be seen as something unfit for politics. But it isn’t.
Our tolerance for uneducated opinions in Australia has become too embedded within the culture that it no longer surprises us when we hear about it. Like Rowling, there should be an immediate questioning as to whether Zempilas should have a platform where he can encourage ignorance.
The greatest fear is that in today’s political climate, this may never happen.