Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas: “If you have a penis, you’re a man”

Warning: This article contains statements that some readers may find confronting.

Perth’s new Lord Mayor has shared his thoughts on trans, gender diverse and intersex bodies and identities, telling listeners of his radio show “If you’ve got a penis, mate, you’re a bloke. If you’ve got a vagina, you’re a woman.”

On the 6PR Breakfast program this morning Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas and his long standing co-host Steve Mills discussed the morning’s news and highlighted several reports that related to sexuality and gender.

Discussing a recent essay by model Emily Ratajkowski, which was originally published in Vogue, Zempilas voiced his thoughts on gender identity. In her essay Ratajkowski noted that when she tells friends that she is pregnant, often their first response is asking if she has a preference for her unborn child’s gender.

“We like to respond that we won’t know the gender until our child is 18 and that they’ll let us know then,” Ratajkowski said. “Everyone laughs at this. There is a truth to our line, though, one that hints at possibilities that are much more complex than whatever genitalia our child might be born with.”

Zempilas shared his thought on her non-binary approach to gender by laughing about her child facing some difficulties, making reference to access to public bathrooms and change rooms being based on genitals.

“How do you get through until you’re 18 by doing that? If the child’s got an ‘old fella’, that’s gonna make it a little difficult if that person’s trying to get into the ladies cubicles and the like. I mean, at school, I don’t know that they’re gonna be happy,” Zempilas said.

When Steve Mills pointed out that people can identify as different genders, the Lord Mayor said that was wrong.

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

When Mills questioned the description being used by Zempilas his co-host hit back accusing him of being “softie, lefty” and “namby pamby”.

Mills said some people may not agree with Zempilas’ descriptions, to which Zempilas questioned if those people would be listening to 6PR.

Zempilas then launched a competition asking people to call in.

“Let’s try this. This’ll be good fun on 6PR.” Zempilas said. “If you’re listening to us this morning, you have a penis but you’re a woman, call us now… we’ve got a $100 Retravision voucher to give away.”

After applauding a listener named Penny who said, “I’m a woman and I’ve got a vagina. If you’re a man you’ve got a penis, and that’s the end of the matter,” Zempilas promised to keep replaying her comments on air until the end of his time on the station.

Mills asked Zempilas if he’d considered how he would treat people who disagreed with his views on gender in his new role as Lord Mayor.

“How will you handle that situation? How will you handle that?”

“Handle the penis?” Zempilas said, prompting laughter from others in the studio. “Well, I’ll tell them what Penny just said to me Steve. If you have a penis, you’re a man. If you have a vagina, you’re a woman.”

Also during the program Zempilas and Mills discussed the announcement that Sydney would be hosting the world’s first major LGBTIQ+ boxing tournament to which the Lord Mayor appeared to make disgruntled noises.

Audio of the exchange between the two presents appeared on social media later in the day with many people voicing their alarm at the Lord Mayor’s early morning comments.

So Loquacious · Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas 6PR Wednesday 28th October

Speaking to OUTinPerth, Zempilas offered an apology to those who found his comments and the competition offensive.

“If anyone was offended that was not our intention, and I would apologise.” Zempilas said.

“I absolutely understand that it’s an individuals right to identify the way that they wish to.  I understand that one hundred per cent.” Zempilas said acknowledging that he was not completely familiar with the current laws in Western Australia, or moves to make it easier for transgender people to change their identity.

The Lord Mayor said he was in favour of removing the red tape many people encounter.

“A person should be able to live their life the way they choose and we shouldn’t stand in their way, or make or things more difficult for them to do so.”

Zempilas told us he was looking forward to attending events at PrideFEST next month.

“The City of Perth are great supporters of Pride, over the years I have enjoyed going to Pride with my wife Amy in the past, and if the opportunity to attend events this year arises, I’ll be there by all means.”

While he may not have sounded enthused about the announcement of the World LGBTIQ+ Boxing event this morning, the Lord Mayor said the city should be looking to see how it could capitalise on events like World Pride which is coming to Sydney in 2024.

“Any time we can attract more people to Perth is a good time to attract more people to Perth. Perth is one of the best cities in the world, and if there’s a whole bunch of people making the trip to Australia from around the world, then as Lord Mayor of Perth I’m encouraging as many as possible to get across the city of Perth as well.”

TransFolk of WA, 6PR respond to comments

TransFolk of WA Chair Hunter Gurevich has responded to the audio, saying the 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 continued.

“Perhaps The Honourable Mr Zempilas would consider consulting experts in the field before providing comment, as would befit a public figure. This is true not only for his comments on LGBTQIA+ people, but for a range of bigoted, ill-informed and ill-judged comments he has made on vulnerable groups. Real harm is done to his constituents by making these comments. And that has a real cost to the wider community.”

“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.”

A spokesperson for 6PR told OUTinPerth the station do not support Zempilas’ comments.

“We regularly provide training for our employees to ensure our broadcasters meet community standards and expectations,” the 6PR spokesperson said.

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

Zempilas was sworn in as Perth’s new Lord Mayor just over a week ago. His contract with talkback radio station 6PR concludes before then end of the year, he is tipped to take on a new role with another radio station.

Alongside his position as Lord Mayor, Zempilas is also employed by SevenWest, publishers of The West Australian, where he has written a regular column. He is also a sports commentator on Channel 7.

Zempilas’ comments have elicited an outpouring of criticism on social media from LGBTQIA+ communities and allies, prompting the hashtag #notmymayor.

OUTinPerth contacted the City of Perth for comment. 

(28/10/20 6:38pm) This article was updated to include comments from TransFolk of WA and 6PR.

Graeme Watson

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