Advocates call on ECU to scrap honour for former MP with anti-LGBTQ+ past

Busselton Pride Alliance are urging Edith Cowan University to scrap an Honorary Doctorate it recently gave to a former Liberal MP unless he apologises for his record of homophobic comments.

In April, Edith Cowan University bestowed an Honorary Doctorate unto former South West MLC Barry House (pictured) for ‘passionate advocacy for the people and region of the southwest’, during his near 30 year tenure in the Legislative Council from 1989 to 2017.

Secretary of BPA and ECU student Clare Paine said Mr House had a long history of anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and had voted against every LGBTQIA+ equality law during his parliamentary career.

“By giving this Honorary Doctorate, ECU is sending the message that it rewards prejudice, or at least will overlook it,” Paine said.

“It is unacceptable for ECU to ignore Mr House’s homophobic actions or excuse them. This flies in the face of ECU’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.

“We understand that people can change their opinions over time and have written to Mr House asking if he would now retract his homophobic comments and apologise for the harm they caused.

“However, if Mr House is unwilling to do this we must insist that ECU revokes his Honorary Doctorate in order to adhere to its own values and commitment to equality.

“Mr House has not been ‘a passionate advocate’ for everyone in the southwest. There are many he threatened with the prospect of jail, denigrated with homophobic comments and sought to deny the protections of anti-discrimination laws,” Paine continued.

In 1989, House voted against the decriminalisation of homosexuality and supported jail terms for gay men of up to 14 years in prison. In 2002, when opposing parental rights for same-sex couples, House told parliament;

“Just because a woman in a lesbian relationship straps on a dildo, it will never make her a father of a child raised in a lesbian relationship… The legislation and debate surrounding it are an attempt to normalise homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a normal activity and it never will be.

“Homosexuality will never, in a natural way, produce children. Homosexuality is not a normal means of sexual activity between males or females and it never can be.”

Paine highlights House’s vehement opposition to LGBTQIA+ rights in Western Australia, opposing equitable law reform for LGBTQIA+ people, claiming LGBTQIA+ rights were “a threat to heterosexual families” and questioning the wellbeing of children raised by same-gender parents.

“For many LGBTI people living in the southwest, having their local MP’s say hurtful and wrong things about them as well as supporting discriminatory laws was damaging,” Paine said.

“One of the historical reasons many young people left the regions for the city was because of homophobia.

“The research into anti-LGBTI discrimination and its contribution to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, homelessness and suicidal ideation in LGBTI people is well established.

“We have invited Mr House to meet with members of the southwest LGBTI community to hear first-hand how discrimination and prejudice impacts on our lives and families.

“It is our hope that Mr House will now recognise the harm that his prejudice caused and apologise. However, if he is unwilling to do this ECU must scrap his honorary doctorate.”

Speaking to OUTinPerth, a spokesperson for Edith Cowan University responded to Busselton Pride Alliance’s request.

“ECU is committed to creating an environment where equality and diversity is celebrated, and everyone has equal access and opportunities to achieve their potential,” the spokesperson said.

“We acknowledge the concerns raised by members of the community and the University is currently making further enquiries.”

As reported in The West Australian, House also shared his thoughts on the issue, stating he “wouldn’t vilify anybody.”

“I’d argue that I’m a very tolerant person who represented people of all backgrounds in public life for a long time,” House told The West.

“We live in arguably the best democracy in the world, where everybody is entitled to their view on a whole variety of matters, and respected for it.”

Leigh Andrew Hill

Declaration: OUTinPerth co-owner/editor Graeme Watson is an employee of Edith Cowan University.

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