New Labor leader Mark Latham has had his first small test of mettle on gay and lesbian issues, and come up trumps.

Hours after defeating Kim Beazley for the Labor leadership on Tuesday, Latham’s office received a phone call from New Mardi Gras, asking whether the new leader would be happy to have a message of support in the 2004 festival guide, to be released next week.

New Mardi Gras co-chair Steph Sands told Sydney Star Observer that Latham’s office responded with a very prompt yes.

It’s a small thing, perhaps, but in some ways reassuring, given that Latham has rarely spoken about gay and lesbian issues in public before.

Rarely, but not never. A year before Senator Bill Heffernan made his infamous accusations against Justice Michael Kirby in March 2002, Latham warned the House of Representatives about Senator Heffernan’s homophobia.

It is a standing joke around this building that the senator is personally obsessed with all things homosexual and that he uses his office resources to keep files and run vendettas against homosexual citizens, Latham said. He has turned his office into a star chamber to satisfy his own homophobic and bigoted views. Unfortunately, this is more than a joke: it is a damning commentary on a government that is willing to tolerate such a person as a cabinet secretary -¦ The senator regards homosexuality as a sickness; in fact, he is the one who is quite sick and who needs help.

Since Latham won the Labor party leadership on Tuesday, many commentators have written about his connection with the values of aspirational battlers living on the suburban outskirts of big cities -“ leaving some wondering what the new leader really thinks about the traditionally gay-friendly values of inner-city dwellers.

Labor’s MP for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, told the Star she’d not heard Latham talk about gay and lesbian issues either way, but she assumed he would approach such issues on the basis of the principle of the fair go.

My hope and my assumption is that Mark Latham will be perfectly good on these issues, and if he isn’t he’ll have me looking over his shoulder, Plibersek said.

Labor’s MP for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese, told the Star that Latham would be outspoken on supporting equal rights.

Albanese said Latham had been very supportive of his (Albanese’s) same-sex-couple superannuation bill, and that he had also opposed the party’s right wing moralists on a number of social issues, such as stem-cell research and voluntary euthanasia.

Rainbow Labor co-convenor Paula O’Sullivan stressed it was not just the leader who decides policy, but caucus as a whole, but added that Latham had so far proven to be quite receptive to the aims and objectives of Rainbow Labor.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Rob McGrory said that the federal ALP had recently indicated more positive stances in relation to gay and lesbian issues, and that the Lobby would expect that to continue under Latham’s leadership.

One of these more positive stances, McGrory said, was Labor’s support in the Senate of superannuation bill amendments which sought to give equality to same-sex couples.

Other superannuation bills with similar amendments would come before the Senate early in the new year, and that would be the real test for the Federal ALP under Latham, McGrory said.

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