A guest contributor has posed this very interesting question: if John Howard is such a conservative family man, why does he employ so many gay staffers?

Environmental vandals – tick yes; racist – tick yes; anti-feminist – tick yes; opposed to same sex marriage and super rights – tick yes; homophobic – tick yes, 05. Well actually no. That’s one box you simply can’t tick.

It’s probably one of the most interesting paradoxes in Australian politics – why the most socially conservative Government since Joe Lyons has so many gay staffers.

Now crikey is not homophobic and is not in any way suggesting that the employment of gays in many Ministerial offices is a bad thing. What crikey is interested in is the paradox; what it says about G & L politics; and, why this issue is somehow different from other social issues.

As homosexuality is an established part of human society then naturally there have always been gay MPs and staffers. Tom Driberg the British Labour MP was notorious. His colleagues tolerated his promiscuity with the only objection being when he started having it off with Commons attendants in the members lavatories. The objection was less about the sex and more about unauthorised people in the MPs loos. Two prominent post-war Australian Liberals (one a Cabinet Minister) were gay. One was banished from his electorate during elections and the other came out after leaving office. This sequence also applied to a prominent ALP Cabinet Minister.

With staffers the most famous was the inimitable Peter Blazey who made both sides of the street the wild side sexually and politically – working with Andrew Peacock and Moss Cass as a staffer.

Arguably the real end of discrimination is when the whole subject is simply not worth mentioning. But then – it becomes worth mentioning when the government prides itself on being rock solid on family values. Just as the UK tabloids love finding “family values” and “back to basics” MPs with a taste for slim things in gym slips – so the Howard Government has got some interesting policies.

Communications Minister, Richard Alston, and many backbenchers objected to the ABC telecasting the G & L Mardi Gras; superannuation reform doesn’t extend to rights for same sex couples; fundamentalist Christians are prominent on the backbench and organise prayer groups in Parliament; funding for G & L art events has been cut; IVF treatment for same sex couples is regarded as heinous – the list is quite long.

Yet this same Government has a significant number of gay advisers in a significant number of Ministerial offices – and the PM himself has in recent years employed a number of gay men.

So why is the PM, allegedly uncomfortable with Asian faces in the street according to the recent Costello biography, not uncomfortable with gay men in his and Minister’s offices?

It could just be statistics. Given the number of gay men in the community you would expect – particularly for Sydney-sourced staff – the same proportion to be reflected in Ministerial offices.

Gays could just tend to be conservative. High income people with no kids were never the candidates for the sort of rainbow coalition that Jesse Jackson sought to build.

One explanation is Canberra is that Janette Howard is just a magnificent gay icon. On the other hand nobody says John Howard is.

It’s all a paradox. As for crikey we think it might be one of the most enlightened things about the Government. It’s just a pity it wasn’t also reflected in some libertarian social policies.

Peter Fray

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