LGBTIQ advocate Rodney Croome has called on new Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack to actively “heal the wounds” of historical LGBTIQ prejudice in rural and regional Australia.
On Monday morning, McCormack (pictured, right) replaced Barnaby Joyce as the new leader of the Nationals party.
In 1993, McCormack wrote a homophobic newspaper editorial calling gay people “sordid” and “unnatural” and blaming them for the AIDS crisis, comments for which he has repeatedly apologised in the years since.
“How can these people call for rights when they’re responsible for the greatest medical dilemma known to man?” he wrote in the editorial.
“Unfortunately gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay.”
Croome, a spokesperson for advocacy group just.equal, said many LGBTIQ Australians are “justifiably concerned” about Mr McCormack becoming Deputy Prime Minister given his past views.
“Many National Party voters will share our concern given the strong ‘yes’ vote in many parts of rural and regional Australia,” he said.
“The apologies Mr McCormack made in the past are welcome but given the hatefulness of what he said, and the high office he has stepped in to, he needs to walk the talk.
“He needs to get behind initiatives that will reduce the unacceptably high levels of LGBTI isolation, prejudice and suicide that still exist in some parts of rural Australia.
“He needs to heal the wounds caused by the kind of prejudices he publicly expressed in the past.”
When the 1993 editorial in Wagga Wagga’s Daily Advertiser was unearthed during the same-sex marriage debate last year, Mr McCormack again apologised.
“I have grown and learnt not only to tolerate but to accept all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, or any other trait or feature which makes each of us different and unique,” he said in August.
McCormack voted yes to the same-sex marriage legislation in parliament last year, in line with the majority of his electorate.
Sydney Liberal councillor Christine Forster called the 1993 opinion piece “abhorrent” and told AAP that scepticism is reasonable after the comments but said people can evolve in their views.
“If you’re in public life you have to expect to be subjected to that kind of scrutiny,” she said.
“He’s said he doesn’t hold those views anymore and you’ve got to take that at face value.
“Happily, homosexuality is not something that has to be closeted anymore and most Australians have family members, friends, colleagues or neighbours who are gay and of course that interaction with other human beings can change people’s views.”
A spokesperson for The Equality Campaign said regional Australians overwhelming voted “yes” to marriage equality in the postal survey because they believed everyone should be treated equally.