Gay MP Stephen Bates moved to tears in powerful first speech about coming out and representation
Newly appointed Greens MP Stephen Bates delivered an emotional first speech on the importance of representation to Australia’s federal parliament.
The LGBTQ+ MP from Brisbane discussed his own upbringing and how it has influenced his political leanings.
“There have been two pivotal moments for me that have shaped who I am and my politics – my experiences of working poverty-wage jobs, and my coming out as gay,” he said on Wednesday (27 July).
“Both impacted me deeply and forever changed how I saw the world.
“It is not enough to wave a rainbow flag when it is politically convenient. Our community deserves tangible legislation that protects us from discrimination, and empowers us to be who we are.”
Bates won the seat for the Greens during the 2022 general election on 21 May with 53.4 per cent of the vote with an 8.4 per cent swing. While not being the first openly gay MP, his win did make history by being the first openly gay MP to replace another openly gay MP.
He talked to the House about the importance of his experiences as a gay adolescent living in Australia and how that has affected him, saying that he spent a large portion of his teenage years “knowing I was gay and doing everything I could to hide it”.
“I told myself I would force myself to get married to a woman, have kids and live in the suburbs because that is what you did. That is what you had to do. That is what was expected of me,” Bates emotionally continued, saying that the speech was “much harder than I thought it would be.”
“I made a promise to myself once I came out that if I ever found myself in a public role, that I would be open and proud of who I am – hence all the rainbow gear,” he continued. “That I would be that person that I never saw growing up because if I can help even one person out there then my life will have been worth it.”
The Brisbane MP had managed to gain attention for his campaign with a set of joke Grindr ads that he had funded. He told the radio station B105 on 29 May that he believed the campaign – which featured quotes like “put Stephen Bates on top this election” and “the best parliaments are hung” – was “110 per cent” a motivator in his success.
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But the lighthearted strategy was more than just an in-joke for LGBTQ+ voters for Bates, it was both a signal of representation and solidarity. He told the House that “if you cannot see it, you cannot be it”.
“I was lucky enough during the campaign to have received an email from a mother who told me that after receiving a letter from me in her mailbox that just happened to mention my partner’s name, Scott, her 14-year-old son wanted to donate some of his pocket money to our campaign. When she asked him why, he said he had read the letter and wanted me to win.”
Additionally, Bates also believes that working-class representation is incredibly important and that he vows to use his own experiences to address the “immense power imbalance” that workers face, continuing that: “This is not a society that puts people first. It values profit above all else.”
After explaining his own personal struggles with working minimum wage jobs, he detailed a moment between him and a colleague where things came to a head for him.
“I asked her what had happened, what was wrong? She was having to make the decision between whether she paid her rent or bought her insulin for the month.
“That was a choice. Life-saving medicine, or a roof over your head,” he continued.