The Hon Michael Kirby, Former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sydney, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Michael, in his own words: “I would describe (the LGTBI community in Australia) as still in its infancy. It is emerging, and it is becoming more assertive of rights. But it isn’t all that long ago when in Australia people were expected to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for being LGBTIQ and when I was growing up that was what was expected. We lived in a world of don’t ask don’t tell. But increasingly in recent years through the action of some courageous people, young people are standing up and some old fogies are beginning to do that too. So it is a new idea whose time has come. It is developing and it will continue to develop in Australia, and it will go on doing so until we have complete equality because inequality is based upon irrational attitudes and non-scientific approach.

Marriage equality is one of those symbolic things that is significant and I certainly believe in that being made available, it is not available at the moment in Australia. Marriage in Australia unlike the United States is governed by the Federal Constitution and is a Federal power. The Federal Legislation not only does not provide for marriage equality, it forbids any recognition of marriage equality by any court or any state legislature in Australia. This was something that we copied from the United States, in the so called DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act in 2004. And until the Federal Parliament changes the law we won’t have equality in this country. However, though it is an important symbol, people can get by without being married. Many people nowadays, including younger straight people don’t get married, and in my own case with my partner Johann, we’ve been together for 46 years and it’s getting a little late in the day for our confetti and marriage celebrations. Indeed, we’re not absolutely certain that if marriage were available we would get married. In some ways that is mimicking an institution of straight society and we don’t feel the need for it, personally, but we certainly believe it should be there for those citizens who want it. In the mean time, there’s a lot of other things that need to be addressed in Australia, for example the exceptions from anti-discrimination law, in favor of religious groups, which allows schools with public funds to be established in Australia, or maintained in Australia, by religious organizations, Christian and non-Christian to discriminate against LGTIQ students.

I think the next generation should think of what it can give back to straight society. I do think that on a whole, LBTIQ people have a more realistic attitude towards human sexuality and human expression and experience. And instead of simply going along imitating straight relationships, I think it may be that in the future, young gay people will have lessons to teach straight people. The notion, for example, that you should break up a relationship of many years, simply because somebody has had a sexual experience with another person is something that would strike most gay people as irrational. And therefore, on the whole, young gay people have a more realist attitude. The idea of cheating on somebody, is an idea that has its foundation in ownership, and that isn’t a really stable basis on which to build a life experience.

Time Magazine found that long term living together is good for people’s health. And as you grow older, it’s even better for your health, to have somebody who cares whether you live or die. And the notion of destroying that opportunity on the basis of cheating, is a very old fashioned and rather patriarchal attitude towards sexual relationships. So I think instead of asking what straight society will do for us, I think it’s important for LGBTI, people to think of what they can do for straight society. By example, by research, by thinking, by expression. And that is really picking up President Kennedy’s statement in his inaugural address. “Ask not what America can do for me, but what I can do for America.” Well, LGBTI people should ask not what straight people in the world can do for them, but what they can do for straights.

I was more open about my sexual orientation as I got older. And then HIV AIDS came along and I became involved in both local activities and national activities concerned with the epidemic. I was invited by a very great international civil servant, Jonathan Mann, who was the head of the original global program on AIDS of the World Health Organization, to get involved in the global commission on AIDS, and so increasingly I was engaged in activities for the world wide response to HIV and AIDS. In Australia we did better in this respect than the United States and most other countries. We did that because we had a federal Minister for Health who later turned out to be bisexual, and we had an opposition spokesman on health who was a professor of public health, and therefore just by a chance confluence of these two men, we did better. I got involved in that, that was a kind of code language for my sexual orientation. And most people who were watching understood that. And that was in the 1980s, 1986 and thereafter, but my exact declaration of my sexual orientation came in the 1990s, and at that stage it seemed a natural and proper thing to do.

(To any young person reading the blog) I would say to do what can safely be done to uphold science, to uphold the principles of kindness to one another. And to be honest. It’s a terrible thing in a young person to require them to be dishonest, especially to their parents and to their siblings, and to their immediate family and neighbors and work colleagues. And basically we all know it originates not in some scientific basis, but in the fact that some people get upset if they hear the truth. The truth is that a small proportion of people have a sexual orientation towards a romantic sexual interrelationship with people of the same gender. Well, get over it. It’s important that young people, especially, should try as far as they safely can to be honest and to change the world. Because until now, LGBTIQ people have basically been conspiring in their own disadvantage and second class status by going along with the pretense. The pretense has to finish. When it finishes, we’ll get back to a scientific reality, that this small proportion exists. And we in the world own a great deal to Dr. Kinsey, Alfred Kinsey, of Indiana University in the United States who did the research on sexual orientation in the 1940s and 50s and his publications began the moves to change things and those moves will keep happening until it has been changed throughout the world. Medieval demons in the minds of some religious people, mainly men, will ultimately have to give way to scientific truth.

I’ve been very lucky in my life to have wonderful parents, wonderful siblings, a marvelous grandmother, and fantastic teachers, excellent education opportunities, considerable professional success, and that is the all of me, my sexual orientation is just a part of me, just as in a successful professional lawyer and judge you wouldn’t start a conversation by asking about their sexual orientation. It would be irrelevant and often regarded as impertinent. However, I hope in the area of LGBT issues I will be remembered as somebody who made it a little easier for younger people growing up to be truthful about their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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