LGBTQIA+ rights advocates disappointed with ECU response


LGBTQIA+ rights advocates have expressed their disappointment with Edith Cowan University (ECU) after the educational organisation said it would allow an honorary degree presented to former politician Barry House to remain in place.

Busselton Pride Alliance (BPA) have expressed their dismay at ECU after the university announced on Tuesday that despite community opposition, it would let the award stand.

BPA spokesperson, Clare Paine, said the reasoning behind the decision was “public relations spin” and the university had not addressed the issues raised.

Paine said her group had formally complained to the university, saying the award was a clear breach of ECU’s values and policies.

“We wrote to ECU pointing out that former MP, Mr House, had a long history of homophobic rhetoric and had voted against all LGBTI equality laws during his time in parliament.

“This anti-LGBTI record is contrary to ECU’s stated policies on non-discrimination and inclusion.

“ECU policy 4.2 (a), also states that only people who reflect the university’s values can be considered for an honorary award.

“ECU’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Chapman, took a month to respond to BPA and only after being prompted by a deadline from Busselton’s local newspaper.”

Paine said the response from the university’s Vice-Chancellor was unacceptable.

“His response is totally unacceptable. The VC did not consult with ECU’s Pride Network or Busselton Pride Alliance in coming to his decision.

“ECU alleges that Mr House has expressed “regret” to them for language he used in the past, but he has not apologised to the LGBTI community for the harm his language caused us.

“A public apology for this harm must be a pre-condition of Mr House being eligible for an Honorary Doctorate.

“We invited Mr House to meet with members of the southwest LGBTI community to offer an apology, but he has not taken up this offer.

“Until now, Mr House’s comments were the problem, but now ECU is part of the problem too because its response ignores the concerns of the LGBTI community.

“By continuing to support Mr House, despite the harm his words and actions inflicted, ECU has exposed its Equality and Inclusion Policies as hollow and meaningless.”

BPA had asked House if he stood by his previous anti-LGBTQIA+ comments, and if not, would he now acknowledge the harm caused and apologise.

“Mr House has not done that. While ECU say’s he ‘regrets’ some of his language, he has given no indication that his words and voting record caused harm, and has made no clear statement on whether or not he stands by his previous votes against LGBTI equality ” Paine said.

In his letter to BPA, ECU Vice-Chancellor Prof. Chapman said that House had now agreed to adhere to the university’s policies on diversity and inclusion.

“This retrospective gate-keeping makes a mockery of ECU’s eligibility criteria for awardees,” Paine said.

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 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 said Barry House had a long history of making disparaging remarks about LGBTQIA+ people including conflating homosexual law reform with legalising incest, scare-mongered about school programs for LGBTI youth, opposing Equal Opportunity laws for LGBTI people, opposing the equitable treatment of same-gender couples for IVF and adoption, and has previously claimed that gay law reform was “a threat to heterosexual families”, and that children are damaged if raised in same-gender relationships.

In his letter to the BPA ECU Vice-Chancellor Steve Chapman said he was confident the university had not broken any of its policies on giving out honourary doctorates, but acknowledged the concern raised by members of the community.

“Mr House has confirmed to the University that he regrets the comments made during parliamentary debates many years ago and apologises for any hurt they may still cause some. Further he has acknowledge that legislation, attitudes, his views and those of the community which he proudly served, and continues to serve, have evolved significantly in the three decades since those comments were made,” Professor Steve Chapman said.

Professor Chapman said in view of Barry House assuring the university that he was apologetic and his views had changed the University was satisfied that they were not overlooking or excusing anti-LGBTI prejudice, nor were they celebrating views which were harmful or discriminatory, and inconsistent with the University’s values. Professor Chapman said from the university’s point of view the matter had now been resolved.

Leigh Andrew Hill 

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

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