Image description: Basil Zempilas, wearing a blue suit, smiles at the camera.


By Elanor Leman


CW: Transphobia, Basil Zempilas


This morning, Perth’s new Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas aired his opinions on gender diversity – those familiar with his views on homelessness may be unsurprised by the tone.


“If you’ve got a penis, mate, you’re a bloke. If you’ve got a vagina, you’re a woman. Game over.”


The Mayor also congratulated a caller who echoed his sentiments – “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” – and when asked by co-presenter Steve Mills how he might handle those who disagreed with him in his Mayoral role, he joked, “handle the penis?” before doubling down on his original response.


OUTinPerth received an apology from Basil later in the day:


“If anyone was offended that was not our intention, and I would apologise… 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 also acknowledged to OUTinPerth that he was not completely familiar with current laws around gender identity in Western Australia, or proposed changes to them. This author is all too familiar.


At the close of 2018, the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia presented to the State Parliament a lengthy report, outlining a series of recommended alterations to the law that were the result of intensive research and consultation. Whilst legislating on the matter is a state concern, and so falls outside of the Mayor’s jurisdiction, it is troubling (although perhaps to be expected) that the man who so brazenly disrespects trans and gender diverse people on the morning radio is unaware of these issues.


This author recently submitted an application to the Gender Reassignment Board of WA; to do so requires a hefty quantity of paperwork, fourteen pages for myself, including letters from numerous medical professionals which “should contain details of what changes have occurred” as well as friends and family which should “…address that you present as either a female or male and are accepted by them and others as female or male.”


This is not to mention the following hearing at the State Administrative Tribunal, in which a board of five bureaucrats, very probably entirely uninvolved in the transition of the applicant in any respect – medical, counselling, or otherwise – decides whether or not the applicant will be permitted to have a certificate granting them legal recognition and protection regarding their gender. There is no consideration for any gender or transition outside of a strictly binary model.


According to the Law Reform Commission, “the current Board process causes confusion, stress, anxiety and unnecessary delays, and is viewed by trans and gender diverse people as ‘gate-keeping’ or ‘policing’ gender identity by the state. The Commission is confident the recommended model [abolition of the Board, certificates granted by statutory declaration] will reduce the anxiety and stress experienced by people who need to change their gender.”


It is worth noting that the McGowan government has not acted on these recommendations, despite their now being tabled in parliament for approaching two years, nor has it indicated any urgency to do so. This author, awaiting a hearing with the Gender Reassignment Board, researched the possibility that jurisdiction would imminently change, and remains disappointed that the process, seemingly designed to be both obstructively complex and humiliatingly dehumanising, stands as it is.


A progressive Lord Mayor, though lacking the direct power to change state law, would wield considerable influence in the field. Certainly, at least, they might display compassion for the trans and gender diverse people of WA. Instead, we have Basil Zempilas. A stilted apology delivered after the fact rings hollow when listening to bigotry going live to air with all the boisterousness and supreme confidence of a man who has won an election and feels utterly at ease in his clear disregard for an already persecuted minority.


Elanor would like to go just one week without hearing about transphobia from someone in a position of power. She is not hopeful.


Image courtesy of Basil Zempilas – Lord Mayor of Perth Facebook page.

By Pelican Magazine

Pelican is one of the oldest student publications in Australia and the only independent paper at UWA. If you like having opinions, writing, drawing, and/or free tickets to local events, then Pelican is the place for you! We print six themed issues a year, and run a stream of online content.

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