Push to move Perth Pride festival after Basil Zempilas’ ‘harmful’ comments on gender identity

Basil Zempilas lord mayor of Perth. Source: Getty Images

Perth’s newly elected lord mayor Basil Zempilas’ faced criticism from transgender groups and health experts for comments described as ‘transphobic’ made during a breakfast radio program he co-hosts.

Transgender groups and health experts have criticised newly elected Perth lord mayor Basil Zempilas over "uninformed" and transphobic comments made on his radio program on 6PR.

Zempilas is a TV and radio personality in Perth, he co-hosts the breakfast radio show on 6PR as well as presenting sport for Seven News, and only last month was elected as Perth's new lord mayor.

On Wednesday morning, Zempilas spoke about transgender identity on the breakfast radio program he co-hosts. He said it's "wrong" for people to identify with a gender identity that was different from their anatomy.

"If you've got a penis mate, you're a bloke," he said.

"If you've got a vagina, you're a woman. Game over."

Zempilas later apologised for the comments saying they didn't reflect his values or those in his network.

"Part of my job is to be an entertainer. I was trying to be funny, it was not funny and I apologise," he said on his radio program.

"I have learnt – that I have caused some people significant duress and again that was not my intention.

"I caused duress and discomfort to some people and I apologise for that, I am very sorry for that."

But since the comments were first made, there's been a push to move Perth's Pride festival to the neighbouring municipality, Vincent.

Currently, there’s a petition with over one thousand signatures supporting the move. 

'Gender identity is something that is innate'

Hunter Gurevich is the chairperson for TransFolkWA, he believes the comments made by Zempilas were ill-judged and offensive.

"Even if we are to believe that it was all done in jest, it's no longer acceptable to simply make these comments when you're the elected representative of the city of Perth," Gurevich told The Feed.

"It is really quite offensive and quite discouraging and disappointing to find that the elected representatives thought that it was a good idea to say this to his community."

Dr Fiona Bisshop is the president of The Australian Professional Association for Trans Health and has been a clinician with a long history of treating transgender and gender diverse patients.

"The comments could be perceived as very transphobic, or simply ignorant, but quite harmful to people in the community who are transgender, gender diverse," Dr Bisshop told The Feed.

Dr Bisshop rejects Zempilas' initial comments surrounding anatomy and gender.

"We know that's not the case," she said.

"Gender identity is something that is innate and is not necessarily related to one's anatomy. In fact, we can, we can see that gender identity sits on a spectrum.

"Some people feel very strongly they are one gender over another, and some people are actually in the middle, or not quite to one side especially."

Dr Bisshop says it's respectful and correct to acknowledge a person's gender identity as their true gender.

"That's the basis of Transgender health," she said, "not to be obsessed with what genitals they have."

Gurevich says it's important to recognise that trans and non-binary people, along with the wider LGBTQIA+ community are at increased risk for mental health issues.

"Not because they are inherently damaged, but because the community and the culture that they live in is often unfriendly, and that can be incredibly harmful," he said.

"And when the mayor of the city says things that are obviously transphobic and erases you from existence, it is really hard to come to terms with that."

What needs to change?

Gurevich believes the key to changing attitudes towards transgender and gender diverse people is simple: listen to experts.

"It's ill-informed, it's not current. And it is a perennial problem that politicians feel that they are entitled to express an opinion or personal opinion about something that experts know about," he said.

"So I think the cultural change that needs to happen, not just for LGBT people, not just the trans non-binary people, but for all people, that politicians actually need to listen to experts in the matter."

Dr Bisshop agrees. She also says a key part of improving awareness and knowledge surrounding transgender health is with funding.

"There are various organisations around the country that are trying to improve people's understanding about trans health and transgender identities," she said.

"So funding for those organisations need to improve, education needs to improve, education for medical professionals needs to improve essentially to the point where being transgender is just seen as part of a normal spectrum of human existence."

The Feed approached Perth Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas for comment.