LGBTI advocates are concerned about some of the homophobic sentiments once expressed by Australia’s new deputy prime minister.

Michael McCormack has replaced Barnaby Joyce as leader of the Nationals, News.com.au has reported.

McCormack wrote a newspaper editorial in 1993 calling gay people “sordid” and “unnatural” and blaming them for AIDS—comments he has been forced to apologise for throughout his career since.

“How can these people call for rights when they’re responsible for the greatest medical dilemma known to man,” he wrote.

Sydney councillor Christine Forster called McCormack’s opinion piece “abhorrent”, saying that scepticism is reasonable after his comments but that they were in the past.

“If you’re in public life you have to expect to be subjected to that kind of scrutiny,” said Forster.

“He’s said he doesn’t hold those views anymore and you’ve got to take that at face value.

“Happily, homosexuality is not something that has to be closeted anymore and most Australians have family members, friends, colleagues or neighbours who are gay—and of course that interaction with other human beings can change people’s views.”

LGBTI rights activist Rodney Croome from just.equal said many are “justifiably concerned” about the prospect of McCormack becoming deputy prime minister.

“The apologies Mr McCormack made in the past are welcome but given the hatefulness of what he said, and the high office he may step in to, he needs to walk the talk,” said Croome.

“He needs to get behind initiatives that will reduce the unacceptably high levels of LGBTI isolation, prejudice and suicide that still exist in some parts of rural Australia.

“He needs to heal the wounds caused by the kind of prejudices he publicly expressed in the past.”

During last year’s marriage equality debate, McCormack again apologised for his past remarks.

“I have grown and learnt not only to tolerate but to accept all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, or any other trait or feature which makes each of us different and unique,” he said.

Speaking after the leadership vote this morning, McCormack vowed to do his best for Australia.

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