This close to the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, you’d be hard-pressed to find something that elicits more glee than the prospect of seeing Cher in real-time. That’s unless you count the brilliant schadenfraude accompanying the epic tale of Australia’s most famous baby daddy: the boot-avoiding, bonk ban-inspiring former Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce.
On Wednesday night, Joyce and his partner, Vikki Campion gave their first interview since their political infidelities went global; from the comfort of Joyce’s “bachelor pad”, to Fairfax Media.
Barnaby Joyce at home in Armidale.
It was everything you’d expect from the sentient potato: He resented how questions of his personal life had shifted from “inquiry to malice”. He loathed any inference that his love child would be “less worthy than other children”, and abhorred the idea that said youth would grow up as a “public display”. Talk of his secondary relationship while Campion worked with Senator Matt Canavan, was a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, he said.
It’s one thing to see a politician with a track record of opposing LGBTI rights for traditionalist reasons cop it after violating binding matrimony. But when said pollie makes a call for kindness – after subjecting countless Australian citizens to pain and suffering in the name of the same-sex marriage postal survey, and then refusing to vote on the subsequently laid-out bill at all – you wonder if the universe has a sense of irony.
Joyce, who stepped down as deputy prime minister on Friday, wasn’t too worried about discussions moving from “inquiry to malice”, when the postal vote debate shifted from casual questioning – to full-blown hate speech, as the laws against malicious campaigning were struck out. Where was his misery-laden concern, when homophobic posters were hurled about Australian city streets, and religious-based lobbying groups pushed patently false rhetoric about the nature of same-sex marriage law?
Of course, Joyce won’t have to worry about his child being seen as “less worthy” than other children, because he’ll be able to grant the fifth a luxe lifestyle courtesy of his parliamentary pension dollars – plus benefits.
But the same couldn’t be said for the countless LGBTI youths he was wilfully complicit in subjecting to vitriol, when schoolyard bigots were given license to rain down pain on innocent teens; those far too young to marry, but still old enough to know which way their heart points. And don’t bullies know it. This is to say nothing of the children of same sex couples, who were doubtless made to feel less-worthy while one of the key arguments of the No Campaign – that children do better with heterosexual parents – was raised continuously despite all evidence to the contrary.
Unfortunately, the Joycian proverb of, “Thou shalt not subject thine spawn to public scrutiny”, had already been violated – by Joyce himself. At the thoughtless expense of queer children, who already deal with mental health issues at higher rates than their cisgender, heterosexual peers.
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We saw LGBTI teens call for help at unprecedentedly high levels, all because our elected officials chose to ignore the opinion of the majority: that same-sex marriage is a long-withheld right, deserving of being enshrined in law. Because the children of politicians are apparently more valuable, their livelihoods more deserving of being defended, than young gay teens already suffering through a crisis of identity.
And perhaps Joyce’s most stunning faux pas, was when he uttered the phrase “don’t ask, don’t tell”, in explaining the justification for his relationship not being discussed.
From another, this could be seen as a thoughtless invocation. But from the now-former leader of the Nationals, bringing to mind the United States’ since-repealed discriminatory policy that disallowed gays, bisexuals and lesbians from military service, is too significant a coincidence. Where Joyce desires his relationships be met with indifference so that he can continue to serve his constituents, others have for decades wished the same – so that they can continue to serve their country.
If I sound hateful, it’s not due to a lack of compassion. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m sure that Joyce cares for all his children, and I firmly believe Campion doesn’t deserve the flak that I’ve seen her cop from more unscrupulous commentators in the media.
But Joyce is a politician who, along with other members of his party and the government in power, neglected the wellbeing of their own citizens in the interest of flexing their legislative and ideological muscle. The LGBTI community have dealt with this for decades, in differing strokes, from less savoury humans, who respond to criticism not with press conferences – but with fists.
And when you’re a homosexual, one who all too familiar with darker days of wishing specific people – senators, even – would relent from using powers beyond yours to invalidate your relationships – you can’t help but laugh.
So it’s only fitting that before next weekend, when we celebrate the achievements of the LGBTI community, we also toast to those traditional anti-gay lawmakers who fell from grace into a pit of their own hypocrisy.
This 40th Annual Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, when you’re mincing to Believe on Sydney’s Oxford Street between one circuit party and the next: Pour one out for poor Barnaby.
Brandon Cook is Melbourne-based writer with an interest in sexuality, sex, substance use issues and mental health. Follow him on Twitter @brandycooklyn.