• Labor senator Joe Bullock will leave Parliament after just two years. (AAP)Source: AAP
Are the felicitations extended to Labor senator Joe Bullock on his retirement really deserved?
Drew Sheldrick

2 Mar 2016 - 2:21 PM  UPDATED 2 Mar 2016 - 2:45 PM

When West Australian senator Joe Bullock last night announced his retirement from the Upper House after just two years, there was plenty of praise from pollies and press for the former Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association vice president's "principled" departure. Bullock had decided he simply couldn't continue in the role due to his party's strong support for marriage equality and its decision at the ALP National Conference last year to bind MPs on the issue some time down the track.

Let's put aside for a moment the unusual timing of his decision given Labor's binding vote doesn't come into effect until 2019, and that the purpose of the proposed plebiscite was apparently to take this issue out of the hands of politicians.

At first glance it's a unique and, as some described it, honourable example of Bullock's public service. Rather than leave his party and continue on in the chamber as an independent - as many other senators have done this parliamentary term - he'd bow out gracefully with his morals intact. You could go so far as to say it was an unusually bold display of loyalty to a party whose rank-and-file membership Bullock once described as "mad".

Personally, I'd be more inclined to remember Joe Bullock as a man of principle and honour if he hadn't uttered the words "homosexual marriage" eight times during his valedictory.

If the foundation for your system of belief is that same sex-attracted people are so 'disordered', their calls for equality so absurd, that you'd rather refer to them by a clinical, pejorative term that hasn't been appropriate in public discourse for several decades, you do yourself great dishonour in my opinion.

Reasonable people, politicians particularly, don't use terms like "homosexual" because they mistakenly assume it's the correct terminology; they say it because they think it hurts.

It's the same reason NSW MLC Reverend Fred Nile insists on still using the words "Homosexual and Lesbian Mardi Gras". He's not a stickler for lexicons long past - as if gay men were a type of exotic flora he prefers to reference with their true botanical names - he wants to send a message with his language.

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George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, spoke to The New York Times in 2014 about how opponents of equality use of the word "homosexual" to try to portray gay people as deviant.

“[The word] contains ‘homo,’ which is an old derogatory,” Lakoff explained.

“They want to have that idea there. They want to say this is not normal sex, this is not normal family, it’s going against God.”

The world's leading media style books, including the Associated Press, heavily restrict usage of the term. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against defamation notes its connotations are routinely exploited by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay men and women are somehow diseased or psychologically and emotionally disordered.

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Use our map of Federal Parliament to reveal which Australian MPs oppose or support marriage equality.

Bullock's comments follow a pattern of derogatory behaviour towards the LGBTQI community, which included publicly questioning whether the woman he knocked off the top of Labor's WA senate ticket was actually same sex-attracted. “She’s a lesbian I think," Bullock said of former senator Louise Pratt in 2014. "... although after her partner’s sex change I can’t be sure."

Just last week he referred to the Safe Schools anti-bullying program as "narrowly focused on homosexual issues".

So with his "honourable" farewell speech, Bullock attempted to portray himself as tolerant of alternate points of view within his party and the Parliament, a man of principle, all the while staying true to form in his efforts to demonise a community he's been outspoken in wanted to deny the equal rights and opportunities he enjoys.

If two years in the Senate with little to show but a staunch opposition to the progressive social policy his party now trumpets is worthy of an honourable discharge, our standards are much too low.