HUMAN rights commissioner Tim Wilson said he feels a personal responsibility to be out as a gay man because when he was younger and struggling with his own sexuality there weren’t out role models for him to look up to.

Wilson said that while he came out relatively young, his “public” coming out was on national television.

“I had a strange coming out, because technically I came out on an episode of Q&A in 2008, debating Penny Wong about her position on marriage, and how she thought it should be defined as between a man and a woman,” he said.

“She’s changed her view on that, you might know.”

Wilson made the comments on Tuesday at the Melbourne launch of LGBTI professional mentoring organisation Out for Australia, in a discussion about how coming out can impact an LGBTI-friendly workplace culture.

Alongside Victorian upper house Labor MP Harriet Shing, Wilson was one of a number of panellists speaking on the subject of LGBTI-inclusion in the workplace.

“I’ve always had this very strong view, which is a very strong sense of personal responsibility [based on] what I would call torment that I went through throughout my teenage years over issues of sexual orientation, my place in the world and whether I’d be able to achieve my full potential,” Wilson said.

“Much of it came down to issues of visibility, and the absence of role models.”

The first out woman in Victorian parliament, Shing said that for her, coming out can be a day-to-day process, and one she has found challenging in some situations.

“I come out multiple times all the time… for me it’s been a very difficult weighing-up process that comes down to the individual circumstances at play on any given day, based on how I’m feeling about having the conversation,” she said.

“I’m going to be completely honest, I find it really hard sometimes to make that call.”

The event was completely packed, with many attendees standing to attend the panel discussion.

Out for Australia’s Charles Sunstrom said the organisation had been successful in attracting a large number of students and potential mentees — over half the attendees — as well as prospective mentors from professional sectors.

Sunstrom said as well as expanding to Victoria after a successful launch in Sydney, the organisation was beginning to look outside the finance and legal sectors, where most of the previous participants in the mentorship program had come from.

“I did a science degree, a lot of my friends are medics, so what we’re actually trying to do now is roll it out to different industries, not just finance and law, which was the initial push,” he told the Star Observer.

“What we’re doing now is getting away from the business and law angle, and we’re moving to ‘professionals’ broadly, however that wants to be defined. We like the ambiguity of that word because it’s anyone, and it’s for people to self-select.”

Visit the Out for Australia website for more information about becoming a professional mentor or student mentee.

[Photo: Matto Lucas (website)]

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