Labor senator Penny Wong has become Australia’s first openly gay politician to sit on federal parliament’s front bench following her promotion to the shadow cabinet.

Gay rights activist Rodney Croome said Wong’s inclusion is an important step forward for Australia’s LGBT community and sends out a strong message that being openly gay will not prevent someone holding high public office.

Not only will LGBT equality now have another passionate advocate in shadow cabinet, but Wong’s promotion vastly increases the chances of an openly LGBT member of cabinet when Labor wins government, Croome said.

As a member of shadow cabinet, Senator Wong will be a role model for all young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Australians who aspire to contribute positively to public life.

The South Australian senator said she felt honoured to have been given the portfolio of employment and workplace participation. She came out as a lesbian during Labor Caucus debate on the same-sex marriage ban in August this year.

Croome said Australia is one of the few western democracies not to have had an openly LGBT senior government member before.

The new shadow cabinet also includes two more vocal advocates of LGBT rights with the addition of Sydney MP Tanya Plibersek, who has been given the portfolio of work, family and community, and MP for Grayndler Anthony Albanese, who is the environment spokesperson.

Both Plibersek and Wong have expressed strong interest in creating some form of national partnership scheme for same-sex couples such as civil unions, Croome said, and both are now in much better positions to push for this reform.

But neither would move on the issue until the national LGBT community was united on it. Further LGBT community discussion is a high priority, Croome said.

Croome also welcomed the prime minister’s decision not to promote anti-gay senators Eric Abetz or Guy Barnett to more senior positions in government. By overlooking Eric Abetz and Guy Barnett for promotion, John Howard is signalling that his government will not necessarily be ruled by the hard right.

We are particularly pleased that Senator Barnett has not been rewarded for his role in initiating the government’s disastrous ban on overseas same-sex marriages, he said.

In another coup for the community, Tasmanian Green Christine Milne this week scored a seat in the Senate after defeating Family First’s Jacqueline Petrusma by almost 20,000 votes.

Milne was integral in getting the progressive Tasman-ian gay law reforms through state parliament in 1997.

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