Openly gay Liberal MP Don Harwin hopes to inspire the next generation of gay politicians. Matthew Wade caught up with him to chat about the Liberal party, Mardi Gras, and young gay leaders.
While NSW Liberal MP Don Harwin has been out to his family, friends, and political colleagues for well over twenty years, a few years ago he decided to ‘come out’ on record in parliament to help inspire younger generations of LGBTI people.
“I see a lot of LGBTI people working in politics, people like me, across all political parties these days,” he says.
“Perhaps ironically, it’s the Liberal party that has preselected more openly identifying LGBTI politicians than any other party.”
Despite the fact that homosexuality – including consenting homosexual sex – was illegal when Harwin was younger, he says he’s faced few hardships or barriers in politics as a result of his sexuality.
On the contrary, he says his workplace has been one of complete acceptance.
“In the [Liberal] party I’ve never felt there was a position or view I couldn’t hold because of my sexuality, and I’ve never felt I couldn’t contribute something” he says.
“Last year I became the first NSW Cabinet Minister who publicly identified as LGBTI, but it wasn’t really publicised, because it’s so common nowadays for LGBTI people to take on senior roles.
“There are conservative people in both major parties, which is one of the major reasons it took as long as it did to get marriage equality – but Liberal party members and voters haven’t had an issue with my sexuality.”
In light of Mardi Gras’ impending 40th anniversary, Harwin says he looks forward to heading along to the many events littered throughout the city, encompassing theatre, art, and sport.
However, there are two things he’s looking forward to above all else: his favourite Mardi Gras event, Fair Day, and Goddess of Pop Cher’s arrival in Australia.
He will also be marching in the parade with both his state and federal colleagues who supported marriage equality throughout the campaign.
“I’m not a great one for dance parties but one thing I love about Mardi Gras is how the city comes alive,” he says.
“We’ll always need Mardi Gras – it started as a protest, and has since transformed into a celebration, but there will always be issues that we can address through Mardi Gras.
“And studies have shown that it brings $40 million into Sydney’s economy, so it’s very important for the NSW Government – because it’s both important for the economy, and important for the LGBTI community.
“And Cher will be here to help make it a fabulous season.”
Now that marriage equality is a reality in Australia, Harwin believes it’s important to focus on fostering the next generation of LGBTI leaders.
“I think there are some really great organisations working in that area, like the Pinnacle Foundation and Out for Australia,” he says.
“They’re covering a range of youth development starting from school age through to university and the workforce.
“As my career has moved on and developed I feel a strong responsibility to not pull the ladder up behind me, but extend it down for others.”