The mayor of a Sydney metropolitan council has offended local LGBTI people by using the word ‘buggery’ as a motion to fly the rainbow flag during Mardi Gras was voted down.
The Mayor of Hawkesbury City Council has said that those requesting the council fly a LGBTI rainbow flag during Mardi Gras should suggest which flag the council takes down or “go to buggery”.
At a meeting last week, councillors voted down a motion that would see a rainbow flag fly at the Hawkesbury Council building as part of Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras season, as many local Sydney councils have decided to do, including Leichhardt, Botany Bay and Ashfield.
Listen: Will Mumford reports on controversial comments by the Mayor of Hawkesbury City Council.
In a recording obtained by SBS News, Mayor Kim Ford tells the council meeting that councillors or constituents who want to fly the flag should suggest which flag would be taken down to accommodate it.
He goes on to say that “if you want to fly the flag then you tell us which one you’re going to take down, otherwise go to buggery.”
Mayor Kim Ford, a member of the Liberal Party, told SBS his comments were a “poor choice of words”, and said he did not mean to offend those in the LGBTI community.
David Briggs is a local constituent who was at the council meeting, and is a member of the LGBTI community in Hawkesbury.
He says there was a collective sense of shock in the room after the mayor made his comment, and that himself and several others in the audience walked out in anger soon after.
Mr Briggs was particularly offended by the mayor's use of the term “buggery” due to the historical context the word carries, particularly when used with regards to LGBTI issues.
"It's particularly offensive because it's linked to the previous criminalisation of homosexuality in NSW, that was the term that was used in the law,” he said.
“I heard what he said and I just leapt out of my seat in shock, because I couldn't believe the words he used and I just had a bit of an outburst.
“These are our civic leaders and they should be taking a stand against bullying, not being a bully themselves.”
Mr Ford said his comment was not directed at the LGBTI community.
“If I was going to have a rant again them perhaps I'd use different words, but just as many people are frustrated the same as what I am about the situation of not being able to make a decision on what flag to take down,” he told SBS.
Independent councillor Christine Paine, who voted in favour of the motion, said there was a sense of disbelief in the room and that she was shocked by the mayor’s comment.
“I've been on council for 24 years, I've never heard that word used in a council chambers,” she said.
“He's been on council for three years, might be four years, I've never heard him use that term before. Why would he use that word on this particular item, it's not a word that people use every day, it makes me think that he knew what he was saying.”
David Shoebridge, New South Wales upper house member for the Greens, was informed of the mayor's comment by a local constituent. He said the mayor should be held to account and should apologise to local members of the LGBTI community.
“I think it's a deeply offensive reference to the kind of language used to describe homosexuality from the 1970s. It is utterly unacceptable, we're in 2015 now and the thought that a leader of a local community would act with such insensitivity is intolerable.”
Councillor Paine and Labor councillor Barry Calvert, who introduced the motion, said it was a straw man argument to frame the debate as one about which flag to take down.
Mr Calvert said purchasing a temporary flagpole was an insignificant cost and that the mayor’s views were more likely based on a personal opposition to flying the flag.
Michael Rolik, CEO of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, said he's pleased with the response from councils that are flying the rainbow flag, and hopes more will decide to do so in the future.
Human Right Commissioner Tim Wilson told SBS there are a record number of councils flying the rainbow flag this year and promoting diversity and inclusion.
“Visual symbols such as flags are a strong message of support,” he said. “Local communities can only reach their maximum potential when every individual feels welcome and capable of expressing their individuality. Flying a flag is the beginning of this process, not the end.”