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Politics

Newly-elected lord mayor issues grovelling apology after saying you have to have a penis to be a man

Patrick Kelleher October 29, 2020
Basil Zempilas transgender

Basil Zempilas (Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty)

The Lord Mayor of Perth, Basil Zempilas, has faced a barrage of criticism after he made “repugnant, bigoted, narrow minded and parochial” comments about transgender people on a radio show.

Zempilas, who was elected to the office in October, made shocking remarks about trans people on his radio show on 6PR on Wednesday morning (28 October).

Zempilas made his comments during a discussion with co-host Steve Mills about the decision to bring the World Gay Boxing Championships to Sydney in 2023.

“That’s the new era Basil, get into it,” Mills said on the show. “If I subscribe to being a girl, I am a girl.”

Zempilas replied: “No, you don’t. No. Wrong. If you’ve got a penis, mate, you are a bloke. If you’ve got a vagina you are a woman. Game over.”

He went on to offer a $100 voucher to any trans person who would call in to the show to speak about their gender identity, announcing: “If you’re listening to us this morning, if you have a penis but you are a woman, call us now. We’ve got a $100 Retravision voucher to give away.”

When Mills asked how he would deal with trans people he will meet through his job as Lord Mayor of Perth, Zempilas said there are “more redheads listening to 6PR than there is hermaphrodites”.

LGBT+ groups have slammed Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas over his regressive anti-trans comments.

Basil Zempilas has been strongly condemned by several LGBT+ groups in Australia over his comments.

Hunter Gurevich, chair of TransFolk of WA, said in a statement: “Obviously these comments are repugnant, bigoted, narrow-minded, parochial and fundamentally deny contemporary science.

“Further, it puts LGBTQIA+ people at increased risk of harm, when we are already a vulnerable group in society.

“It is especially disappointing when the city of Perth has long supported the LGBTQIA+ community of Perth. For Mr Zempilas to now betray not only the community, but our relationship with the city, is beyond inexcusable.”

Gurevich urged Zempilas to “consult experts in the field” before making any further comments about the trans community.

“Real harm is done to his constituents by making these comments. And that has a real cost to the wider community.

They added: “No apology will be accepted until Mr Zempilas confronts the damage his comments can and have done. We strongly recommend trans awareness training for the city of Perth before Mr Zempilas even considers attending Pride.”

Perth’s all-inclusive rugby team Perth Rams also condemned his comments, branding them “mean spirited and chosen deliberately to cause harm to members of the transgender community”.

“They display an ignorance I would not expect of someone in his position, someone who has been elected to bring the people of Perth together,” said Mitch Wylie, president of the Perth Rams Rugby Union Football Club.

“I was disgusted by the language that was used and the attitude that they all showed towards transgender and non-binary people,” Wylie said.

“Your role is to understand your community, and stand with them in their fights for equality and justice. That is what good leaders do. I encourage you to properly seek out diverse members of the Perth community, educate yourself on the issues they face, and recognise the harm that these comments cause.

“Your lack of intention to cause offence is not enough. The intent should always be to show respect and protect those most vulnerable.”

That sentiment was echoed by Pride WA, who said Zempilas’ comments were “discriminatory, dismissive and demeaning” to trans and intersex people.

“It is always disappointing when individuals experts views and form firm opinions without first fully educating themselves on the issues,” the Pride organisation said.

“In this day and age, we should be aware that life is not black and white. We should be embracing diversity and supporting each other. And Perth, seeking its place in the world as a modern, progressive cosmopolitan city, should be leading the way in doing so.”

Zempilas backtracked on his comments on his radio show on Thursday morning (29 October), telling listeners that he would strive to do better.

“[My comments] were wrong, and they don’t reflect how I feel,” he said.

“I’m disappointed in myself for making those comments and I realise I’ve let people down. I realise also that I have caused pain to people who have experienced some of the issues that I talked about.

“I made a mistake, and it’s my mistake to accept. I have to do better, and I will do better.”

A spokesperson said Zempilas’ comments were “not supported” by the radio station.

“We regularly provide training for our employees to ensure our broadcasters meet community standards and expectations,” the spokesperson said.

“Basil’s comments did not meet those expectations and it is appropriate he has apologised.”

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