ECU to reassess Barry House honour after further concerns raised

ECU

Edith Cowan University have confirmed they will be renewing their assessment of a recent honour for former MP Barry House for his service to Western Australian Parliament.

Local LGBTQIA+ advocacy group Busselton Pride Alliance (BPA) had first raised concerns over the honorary doctorate with the university in May, highlighting House’s history of homophobic comments and casting votes against LGBTQIA+ law reform.

In June, ECU confirmed to Busselton Pride Alliance they would allow the honour to stand, citing that no policy had been broken by allowing House to keep the honour – a response BPA described as unacceptable.

This week, in an email to students and staff from Chancellor Kerry Sanderson and Vice-Chancellor Steve Chapman, the university has pledged to seek additional information.

“Our University actively supports and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion and strives to be a place of belonging for all staff and students, including those who are a part of the LGBTIQ+ community,” the email reads.

The email outlines that Student Guild President Faizan Akram raised concerns from the student body on the issue at Saturday’s ECU Council meeting, which have also been echoed by members of staff.

“In light of these direct concerns raised by our community members, the Council resolved to seek additional information and comprehensively assess all aspects of this matter. Following this work, a recommendation is expected to be provided to Council for its consideration in the coming weeks.”

“ECU prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive community, a place of learning, debate, and respectful free speech. In accordance with our value of rational inquiry, a considered and thoughtful investigation will be undertaken before any recommendations are made.”


BPA welcome inquiry but House apology inadequate

Barry House

Prof. Chapman had previously written on 11 June to Busselton Pride Alliance, telling the advocacy group that he was satisfied House had sufficiently “apologised” for “hurt caused by some of his words”, and that House had now given him “an assurance” that he would uphold ECU values of integrity, respect, rational inquiry and personal excellence.

Spokesperson for BPA, Clare Paine, said House’s apology was “woefully inadequate” and that the problem with his “assurance” was that he had already breached only two days after giving it.

“Prof. Chapman responded to BPA on 2nd June, stating that Mr House ‘was now in alignment with the values of the university and agrees to uphold them’,” Paine said.

“Yet, two days later on 4th June, Mr House publicly accused BPA as ‘the most nasty, intolerant and vindictive group in the community’, when all we had done was highlight his anti-LGBTIQ+ words and actions from the parliamentary record.

“Mr House also claimed he was being ‘targeted and vilified with wild accusations’, but when we wrote to him asking that he produce evidence of these ‘wild accusations’ or withdraw the claim, he did not respond.”

Paine said that under pressure from ECU, Mr House had emailed a very short apology to BPA, stating that he “regretted some of the words he had had used in previous debates” and was “sorry some people still felt hurt by them.”

“This ‘apology’ falls far short of what is required. Mr House has not acknowledged the harm caused by homophobia, apologised for his contribution to it, or made clear that he regrets voting against inclusion and equality and now holds a different view.”

During his career, House voted to criminalise homosexuality; claimed that decriminalising homosexuality would lead to legalising incest; voted against anti-discrimination laws for LGBTI people in employment and housing and described all such law reform as “a threat to the heterosexual family unit.”

“BPA does not believe that LGBTI students and teachers at ECU can feel safe and comfortable while it continues to justify this award, and defend the recipient, while he continues to show no remorse for his homophobic actions, and attacks the LGBTI community in the local paper for drawing attention to this,” Paine said.

BPA has welcomed news of a third inquiry, but says ECU “is still missing the point.”

“This issue isn’t just about Mr House breaking his assurance to uphold ECU values with recent media comments. It’s more about the fact that he contributed to LGBTIQ+ harm but pointedly declines to acknowledge this or apologise for it.”

Busselton Pride Alliance had previously announced planned protests across ECU’s three campuses in response to the honour, scheduled to coincide with orientation week this July.

Leigh Andrew Hill

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


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