Michael Kirby talks about the public’s changing attitudes to queer Australians

Friday 18 May 2018

Michael Kirby and Peter Robinson

Justice Michael Kirby was interviewed by Swinburne senior lecturer in sociology and history, Dr Peter Robinson.

In summary

  • On International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, Michael Kirby discussed the public’s changing attitudes to queer Australians
  • Justice Kirby also spoke to students and academics at Swinburne Law School

In a public interview at Swinburne, The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG said that homophobia continues to decline in Australia, despite challenges the LGBTQI+ community continues to face.

“I think homophobia is disappearing and things are improving,” said Justice Kirby in the interview held on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) and conducted by Swinburne senior lecturer in sociology and history, Dr Peter Robinson.

“After the passing of the gay marriage legislation, a survey asked what Australians were proud of and many straight people answered that they were proud that gay marriage had been passed.”

Tackling the issue of evolving language in the LGBTQI+ community Justice Kirby said that the word queer had been ‘defanged’ and is now essentially a generic term used by younger people who identify as sexually or gender diverse.

“When I was 30, I thought ‘queer’ was a horrible word and for older people, it was such an insult, but for young people these days it’s a generic term.”

Saying no to voting no

While praising Australia’s changing attitudes towards gay people, Justice Kirby also mentioned homophobia that was evident during the same-sex marriage survey.

“On my way to Wollongong during the survey, I saw posters down the highway saying ‘it’s okay to vote no’ but I asked, ‘is it really okay to vote no?’”

“To refuse the rights of citizens in a secular country… Why does forty percent of the population not want to permit another section of the population to have that benefit?”

The openly gay former High Court Judge has been with his partner for “49 years and four weeks” and jokingly mentioned that “gay or straight, marriage is very good for your mental and your physical health.”  

Supporting Safe Schools

Justice Kirby continued to show his support for the embattled Safe Schools program, questioning the motives of those against it.

“Why would anyone not be in favour of letting young queer kids and their classmates know that they’re just part of society and that people should show respect to sexual minorities?”

“My entire education was at public schools. I never received any education that was hostile to gay people but I can tell you that there are many religious and private schools that refuse to allow discussion of these issues.”

Advice for aspiring law students

Prior to the public interview, Justice Kirby visited the Swinburne Law School.

Michael Kirby at law school group shot

Speaking to the crowd of law students and academics, he encouraged students to make themselves stand-out and pursue issues that involved helping others.

“If you are likely to do things for others, volunteer and join with organisations that help people, then people are more likely to notice you,” said Justice Kirby of his successful career.

“I found that my grades went up the more I got involved with student politics and in issues that were about justice and that I cared about.

“Not that you should do these things for recognition, you should do them because you care about the issues you fight for.”

The Hon Philip Cummins AM, who was present at the public interview, presented a vote of thanks to Justice Kirby, reaffirming his passion for helping others.

“I think shining through the constellation of achievements in his career, importantly, are Michael’s personal qualities of profound integrity, generosity of mind and of spirit, a wonderful sense of humour and especially of goodness,” Justice Cummins said. 

“Your goodness Michael, leads and illuminates us and it will always be so.”