Perth’s Lord Mayor Calls His Transphobic Comments “Radio Banter Gone Wrong” 😑🙄

CW: This article references transphobic language.

Can’t be Australia without some casual racism and transphobia, amirite fellas? 🥴 Less than a week before Perth’s Pride Festival and under two weeks since he was appointed the city’s Lord Mayor, Basil Zempilas has outed himself as an outright transphobe, live on his own radio program.

On Wednesday, Perth’s Lord Mayor, blokey sport journo and shock-jock radio host took to his breakfast show on 6PR to make some incredibly harmful comments about how he defined gender, namely that it was “wrong” for someone to identify as a different gender to what they were assigned at birth. The conversation came about after he and co-host Steve Mills discussed a local LGBTQIA+ boxing tournament in Perth, which quickly devolved to a “discussion” about parents who raise their children by the gender they identify with, and give them the freedom to explore their gender identity. 

“If you’ve got a penis mate, you’re a bloke,” he said, per the ABC. “If you’ve got a vagina, you’re a woman. Game over.” 😑😑😑

Zempilas then laughed at the suggestion he might have to interact with transgender people as the Lord Mayor of Perth, before calling for any “women with a penis” to call up the network for a chance to win a $100 store voucher. 🙄🙄🙄 Sometimes you forget that we live in a society where some people just suck.

Later, when Mils said that some people might disagree with Zempilas’s—extremely transphobic and invalid—view, Perth’s Lord Mayor scoffed and responded, “Well mate, if you want to go softly, lefty, namby-pamby.” 😠😠😠

Baron Zempilas’s comments aren’t just “radio banter gone wrong.” They’re harmful, derogatory remarks that invalid someone’s identity, and make people feel unsafe. 

“These comments are repugnant, bigoted, narrow-minded, parochial and fundamentally deny contemporary science,” TransFolk WA chair Hunter Gurevich said in a statement. “Further, it puts LGBTQIA+ people at increased risk of harm, when we are already a vulnerable group in society.”

Gurevich added that Zempilas should consider undertaking transgender awareness training, before penning a joint letter to the Perth Lord Mayor with Pride WA president Curtis Ward about how his recent behaviour defies the City of Perth’s Code Of Conduct. 

“I think people need to be educating themselves about what they’re speaking about and if they do have that stage, and they are commanding such a large audience, they should be making educated statements,” Ward said.

Since the backlash from his comments, Basil Zempilas has implied he’s partially aware of just how harmful the comments he made were to trans people, apologising in a statement where he also claimed that it was merely “radio banter gone wrong.” 

“The comments were inappropriate and I apologise,” he said in a text message, via the ABC. “It was early morning radio banter gone wrong. The comments do not reflect how I feel. I did not intend to cause any offence and I am sorry. It will not happen again.”

“All you can do in life is go, ‘I made a blue, I’m sorry,’ and you’ve got to try not to do it again, and that’s exactly what I’ll do,” he added. “I have to get better and I will get better.”

Personally, I don’t buy this apology—and neither does Paul van Lieshout Hunt, a Perth resident who has proposed a petition to move the upcoming Perth Pride Festival out of Perth and to the neighbouring City of Vincent. “I am seriously concerned that the Lord Mayor has made these repugnant and disgusting comments and I think that the festival should consider moving to the City of Vincent,” he said. You can sign the petition here

Whether this apology is sincere or an attempt to keep his job, it does little to diminish the impact comments like this have on trans people, their mental health and their struggles to have their identity validated in society. As City of Perth councillor Liam Gobbert reminded us all in a statement about the incident, “Trans 👏 Lives 👏 Matter 👏.” You can read more about how you can help your trans brothers and sisters here.

If you or someone you know is struggling, know there are people who are ready and willing to listen. Contact Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or QLife (1800 184 527). If you feel your life is in danger or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please talk to the folks at Lifeline (13 11 14), 1800Respect (1800 737 732) or 000.

Hero source: Matt Jelonek.

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.