A rural Victorian MP has denied LGBTI people are “fleeing the bush” out of fear of homophobia, in a discussion on last night’s Q&A on the ABC.

Audience member Gregory Storer challenged Dan Tehan, Liberal Member for Wannon—a large rural electorate in south-western Victoria—to explain what he was doing to fight homophobia in the country and in his party.

“I grew up in the electorate of Wannon and moved away in my mid-thirties to live in Melbourne,” said Storer.

“I’m a country lad at heart and still feel a close connection but among the reasons for leaving was the homophobia.”

He said that he knew many people in communities within the electorate who were not out about their sexuality.

“We know that farmers generally are under tremendous pressure leading to mental health issues, and for some of my friends, sexuality issues on top can push them over the edge,” Storer said.

“Plenty of more conservative forces are still working to thwart equality in the bush.

“What are you doing as a rural leader to challenge homophobia in Wannon and in your own party?”

Tehan answered that he works with diverse members of his community to address their issues.

“What I’m doing is making sure I’m representing every member of my community to the best of my ability,” he said.

“I meet with groups of young people who raise these issues with me, and encourage them to make sure they want to be who they are and that they’re not afraid to be who they are.

“I continually engage with them. If they come to see me I want to take the time to hear what they’ve got to say, deal with their issues, and make sure that they won’t confront those issues going forward.

“It is an important issue, and one of the important issues that I’ll continue to work on as the Member for Wannon.”

Host Tony Jones asked Tehan if he was aware of LGBTI people in his electorate living “secret lives” or leaving the bush out of fear of homophobia.

“I wouldn’t say I’m aware of people fleeing the bush because of it,” replied Tehan.

“I’ve had groups come and see me to talk about this issue, to talk about the problems that they’ve had, and to ask whether the government can make sure that the policies that are in place mean that they can live life to the best of their ability.”

Storer suggested Tehan “walk the walk” by attending the upcoming AFL Pride Match.

“One of the big challenges of being in the country is going to a country footy match and being there with the locals,” Storer said.

“I was there last year, and I didn’t see you there. It would be great to have your support this year.”

Tehan said that he had been out of town for last year’s match, and vowed to attend this year should his schedule permit it.

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