When I first heard of Penny Wong, I couldn’t believe she was real. It was during the marriage equality plebiscite and I would have sooner believed that unicorns existed than an openly gay Asian-Australian politician who has been working, nay, thriving for years. A damn good one too. No surprise considering the adage about women of colour having to be at least twice as good to get half the recognition of their white, often male counterparts.
Prior to the plebiscite campaign, she had not typically sought after media attention outside of her job. I think it’s quite telling how her profile had been relatively low before then - and by low profile, this millennial writer means there had been no great memes or viral Twitter debates slinging her into the spotlight. That is not to say that she hadn’t already been on the receiving end of homophobic or racist comments for years prior to the plebiscite, far from it. But Penny Wong had many jobs to do as Senator and becoming a viral sensation was not one of them.
As a queer Asian-Australian attention-seeker who low-key craves world domination myself, do you even understand how staggering it is to have someone like Wong to look up to? Someone who is deadset on doing her job, reassured in her desire to stay in a role she loves instead of chasing after the vanities of higher-titled leadership. (I think I may have just called out my own mindset here. Whoops.)
How deeply symbolic and powerful it would have been for the voice of Australia to have an Asian face, especially on the global political stage
She certainly inspires me to work more diligently and I often think of her when pursuing ideas or working on projects that might result in more good than glory.
Of course, it’s disappointing for me that with Labor’s defeat Penny Wong will not become Minister for Foreign Affairs. How deeply symbolic and powerful it would have been for the voice of Australia to have an Asian face, especially on the global political stage.
I think of all those times I have travelled overseas and been met with doubt every time I told people I’m from Australia. It was usually a snicker of amusement as if I were the halfwit dim enough to think I could fool them into thinking I were Australian. I hated it every time. Wong as a Minister would have been one of the most potent signs for reasserting Australia as a thoroughly multicultural country.
Despite stating many times that she is not interested in tilting towards Labor leadership, many continue to voice their desire for Wong to pursue the role and there is no wondering why. Interestingly, the role of Minister for Foreign Affairs is a prominent one previously held by several Prime Minsters and I have no doubt that Wong would have excelled in either role.
Every time I see images of Penny Wong surrounded by white faces in the airless rooms of the Senate, I see myself
Still, I don’t wish to mourn lost opportunities any more than I should and instead want set my sights on encouraging and supporting the aspirations of more queer folk and people of colour, political or otherwise. They say “you can’t be, what you can’t see” but luckily for us, Wong has already paved the way for queer and minority representation in positions of power. Her presence is crucial in creating a future in which our race or sexuality will not define or hinder our successes.
Every time I see images of Penny Wong surrounded by white faces in the airless rooms of the Senate, I see myself. Working so hard for so long in environments in which you are the minority is something that queer people of colour live through everyday - and it is never easy.
The age of the Iconic Woman Politician is upon us and I am happy to know that we’ve got one our own, though she might decline the title. Wong is a figure of hope in our country and it is through her that I finally understood why people might look to politicians for direction. Instead of using the hashtag #PennyForPM, let us simply ask ourselves #WhatWouldPennyDo?
Margot Tanjutco is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @margotxmargot