OPINION: Victorian Opposition Leader’s ‘apology’ for his homophobic letter is all talk no action

Source: SBS

Seb Starcevic challenges Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s claim that he is a changed man.

Last week, Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy was forced to explain a letter he co-signed in 1994 when he was a student representative at La Trobe University that described a campus LGBT group as “a sign of a very sick society suffering from severe moral decay.”

Guy has since distanced himself from the contents of the letter, telling reporters: “I apologised for my part in this in 1994 when I was 20 years old and my record in support of same-sex marriage and equality speaks for itself.”

But is his apology genuine or nothing more than a fig leaf ahead of the state election? For starters, note that rather than just outright apologising, Guy says he’s already apologised. (There’s no evidence of this.) As for his claim that his record on equality “speaks for itself”, this suggests that it’s a good record – and assumes no one will check.

He can’t boast that he’s a champion of equality. All he can boast is that he’s a very crafty politician. 

Yes, he voted in support of same-sex marriage, and he joined Premier Daniel Andrews in formally apologising to the victims of Victoria’s historical anti-gay laws back in 2016. But that’s where his support ends. So let’s review the tape.

In 2015, he refused to greenlight a bill legalising same-sex adoption in Victoria unless it included religious exemptions allowing agencies to discriminate against gay couples.

In 2016, he shot down birth certificate reform for transgender Victorians, and led the charge against a proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act which would have limited the ability of religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees.

In 2017, he declined to disinvite Margaret Court from a Victorian Liberals fundraiser after her inflammatory comments about homosexuality, claiming the backlash was a plot to “bully and intimidate” anyone with a dissenting opinion.  

And, if he’s elected this year, he plans to axe Safe Schools, a lifesaving anti-bullying program for at-risk LGBT youth, despite a chorus of objections from educators, counsellors and community members.

None of this is to say a change-of-heart is out of the question.

None of this is to say a change-of-heart is out of the question. Views once held with bulletproof conviction can and do soften over time, and self-improvement should surely be encouraged rather than met with scorn.

Take 67-year-old Liberal MP, former crocodile hunter and self-described “redneck”, Warren Entsch. Proving it’s possible to be conservative and pro-gay, Entsch campaigned for same-sex marriage as early as 2004 and supported changing the law in 2008 to give de facto same-sex couples the same social security and family assistance entitlements as straight couples. He credits his progressive pivot on LGBT issues with meeting a transgender woman in his 20s.

It’s counterproductive when progressives use the problematic past behaviour of public figures as a moral and political cudgel with which to beat them long after they’ve reformed. Yet it’s hard not to take Matthew Guy’s half-hearted mea culpa – at a time when any bad press could tank his campaign – as more an act of political expediency than one of genuine contrition, especially with the election mere months away.

Naturally, some on the Left are also no strangers to weasel words. Earlier this year, Adam Bandt was widely slammed for giving a “mealy-mouthed” apology to Senator Jim Molan after accusing him of being a war criminal. Under threat of a defamation lawsuit, Bandt was forced to issue a second, more sincere apology in writing.

Ultimately, despite his efforts to cast himself as an ally, Matthew Guy has yet to walk the talk. Until he can say outright that he’s sorry and back his words with policy announcements that actually support the LGBT community, he can’t boast that he’s a champion of equality. All he can boast is that he’s a very crafty politician. 

Seb Starcevic is a freelance writer, essayist and journalist with a focus on gender, sexuality and equality.