Victorian Labor MP Joe Helper has denied he made a homophobic slur towards a Middle Park man when discussing Labor preferences in the upcoming Melbourne by-election

Following an email conversation this morning, Mark Whearem contacted the Star Observer to say he was left angered when Helper responded, “Whatever blows up your skirt” after Whearem said he would no longer vote for Labor because the party would preference Family First ahead of the Greens in the July 21 by-election.

Whearem’s email was sent to a large group of Labor MPs, however, Helper was the only one to respond.

“I have never spoke[n] with my family members … about politics, but the gate was open by two of my aunts who were shocked that our PM is against gay marriage,” Whearem wrote in the email.

Whearem – who claims to be a longtime Labor supporter – said he felt both federal and state Labor had ‘turned their back’ on the gay and lesbian community and that given Victorian Labor’s decision to preference Family First over the Greens, he would switch his support to the Greens.

“Labor used to be about social justice and in favour of equal rights for the gay and lesbian community, but to preference a Family First candidate over other candidates … I am disappointed they’ve done that,” Whearem said.

To this Helper replied, “Whatever blows up your skirt Mark, I for one will continue to represent the 85+ percent of my electorate who passionately voted against the Greens.”

In a later email, Helper accused Whearem of a “Greens faked outrage message.”

When contacted by the Star Observer, Helper said the ‘skirt’ reference was simply a throwaway line.

“I put that in the same category as whatever rocks your boat, whatever blows up your skirt, or whatever blows up your trousers for that matter, maybe I should have used that,” he said.

“I didn’t realise the gentleman was so sensitive, but it certainly had no intended reflection about anybody’s [sexuality] whatsoever.”

Helper said he would not withdraw his comments.

Note: Mark Whearem is a former Star Observer employee.

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