“WHAT are you doing, you naughty boy?” says the woman’s voice from behind the fly screen as the humid afternoon heat settles in over Sydney’s inner west.
“You’re supposed to be a guard dog, not everybody’s friend.”
Jenny Leong is setting out her priorities to another voter but it’s hard to keep to message when an excitable canine seems intent on dragging you across the welcome mat.
The NSW State Election is imminent and politicians are doing their utmost to win the LGBTI vote in Sydney’s inner city electorates.
Five of the country’s top 10 most populous suburbs for gay male couples according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data — places such as Potts Point and Darlinghurst — are wholly or partially within the electorate of Sydney.
Meanwhile, seven of Australia’s top 10 lesbian suburbs have at least part of their borders within Newtown, an electorate ABC election analyst Antony Green tells the Star Observer is “the state’s newest, smartest and funkiest electorate”.
Created by the split of the former Labor-held seat of Marrickville into two, Newtown is the top Greens target in NSW.
“The Greens do well in traditional Labor electorates which have undergone gentrification,” the ABC pundit says.
However, it might not be plain sailing.
“The biggest advantage Labor candidates will have in Newtown and Balmain is they will be coming out of the dreadful result in 2011,” Green says.
“The Labor vote will go up, so the Greens vote has to go up.”
He adds that the LGBTI vote will have an effect, but whether it makes a difference is another question.
Luke Mansillo, a political science PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, has used electoral and census data to have a stab at just what the gay effect might be.
A key finding is that gay women vote differently to gay men and this could have an effect in Newtown.
While the Liberal’s Rachael Wheldall is contesting the seat, analysts put Newtown as a neck-and-neck battle between the Greens and Labor.
Looking at the past two federal elections, Mansillo found the voting habits of gay men were broadly in line with the electorate average, except they were slightly less inclined to vote Green.
Not so for gay women who were far less likely to vote for the Coalition and had a strong bias towards Labor followed by the Greens.
Meanwhile, marriage equality is more of a driver for gay women than men.
Mansillo, who is also a member of the Labor party, theorises that one of the major reasons behind this voting mismatch is the difference in the lives of gay men and lesbians.
“We know lesbians tend to find their partner — ‘the one’ — in their early 20s and gay men tend to find the one in their 40s,” he says.
“By that time [gay men] have developed other goals, so they tend to seek things like wealth protection.”
Mansillo adds that a typical gay man’s thought pattern goes along the lines of “I care about my rights but I want my tax to be lower”, so they balance those off.
“And if you don’t produce kids you have different politics that emerge,” he says, highlighting the “gayby” boom is occurring in the lesbian-centric suburb of Erskineville, not Potts Point.
Mansillo says gay women are more post-materialistic and have a deeper empathy with social issues that may not affect their day-to-day existence — issues such as environmental protection.
When Labor began to prevaricate on same-sex marriage, the lesbian Greens vote received a boost, according to Mansillo.
However, some of that vote returned when Kevin Rudd came out in favour of marriage equality.
“In lesbian and gay communities their vote for the Greens is probably a protest vote,” Mansillo says.
Leong bristles at the idea the party are a protest vote.
“When people vote for the Greens they are doing so because they want to show their support for full equality and an end to discrimination, because they want to see a clean economy and a fair society,” she says.
She adds that the whole electorate might be post-materialistic.
“You can knock on a homeowner’s door and they’re interested in the sell-off of public housing, you can knock on the door of someone who is in a heterosexual relationship but is more worried about discrimination,” says Leong, who used to work for Amnesty International.
“There is a sense of people caring about bigger picture issues.”
The candidate is also scathing of Labor when it comes to LGBTI issues.
“Labor cannot be trusted to deliver full equality — we’ve seen that, we know that,” she says.
“Gay men have come up to me and say they are voting for me because of [NSW Labor leader] Luke Foley who came to the party too late.”
The “party” in question is marriage equality and Foley had consistently been opposed to the reform.
His stance didn’t bode well for openly-gay upper house MP Penny Sharpe, who is Labor’s candidate for Newtown.
In February, Foley had a change of heart, a move which Mansillo says “got Penny back in the game”.
Sharpe, who was formerly shadow transport minister, told the Star Observer she has been encouraging Foley to shift his position for some time.
“I welcome [his announcement] as it brings us closer to the result and it sends a very powerful message that it’s okay to change your mind,” she says.
She dismisses the Greens promise that all of their MPs could be guaranteed to vote for equality.
“That’s great but we need 76 votes in the federal parliament to get it through and we currently have one Greens member,” she says.
Sharpe also highlighted that same-sex adoption passed in NSW in 2010 when there were no Greens MPs in the lower house.
“Labor will deliver the majority of the votes,” she says.
“I joined the Labor Party because I want to deliver the outcome, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines lobbying the government for a better outcome.”
The merits — or not — of new motorways, another high school and help for young LGBTI people are all issues discussed with residents, says Sharpe, who has been heavily involved with Labor’s internal LGBTI advocacy group.
Of the differing concerns of gay men and lesbians, she says: “In our community I think there is very much a perspective with women which is also the feminist perspective so that does ring true.”
Over the border in the electorate of Sydney, up to one-in-five residents in some of its suburbs are gay but voting habits are very different to Newtown.
“There’ll be huge sections of gay men that will vote Liberal,” Mansillo says.
He says that while not every gay voter had the same outlook, “if you’re a lawyer living in Potts Point… you care little about those LGBT issues above your own pay package and your fun on the weekend”.
However, there’s also another factor — big personalities — that Mansillo believes gay voters are particularly fond of, such as Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, and Wentworth federal Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull.
Openly-gay Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich also scores well in this category, according to Mansillo.
It’s a factor Greenwich’s main rival — the Liberals’ Patrice Pandeleos — hopes she can overcome. She says the Sydney MP is a “lone ranger with no way of ever being able to garner enough support” for legislative change.
“Unlike the independent member, I won’t be asking for petitions at street stalls to be signed — because I can knock on the doors of ministers and give the people of Sydney a voice in government,” Pandeleos says.
She adds that lockout laws, a new HIV testing clinic and the expungement of historical consensual gay sex convictions have all occurred under the Coalition.
However, Pandeleos dodges a question on whether Liberal Premier Mike Baird’s continuing opposition to same-sex marriage could harm her chances, saying only that she has been consistently in favour.
Labor’s Edwina Lloyd and the Greens’ Chris Brentin are both contesting Sydney but the seat is expected to be a clear fight between the Liberals and the incumbent independent.
Greenwich says being independent hasn’t been a hindrance and many of the most recent LGBTI law reforms — such as expungement and the recognition of overseas same-sex marriages — have come about due to him working with cross-party MPs.
He believes his advantage is that “no one’s going to shut me up or slap me on the wrist for going to my community or walking into the Premier’s Office”.
The gay men he has spoken to raise issues that directly affect them — such as marriage equality and strata laws — but also climate change.
“I think we will see the Liberal vote drop substantially and I think I’ve picked up a good amount of those from people who want the economy to do well but are disenfranchised with the way the federal Liberal party have handled issues such as marriage equality,” Greenwich says.
But he denies he is merely a Greens candidate in Greenwich clothing, saying Sydney residents — who have voted for an independent member for 27 years — have shown they don’t want to toe any party line.
Back in Newtown, Sharpe is at a park drumming up support among stay-at-home parents.
“The LGBTI community is as mixed as everyone else,” she remarks as mums and dads keep an eye on the swings.
“But we show solidarity through things like Mardi Gras and it’s about saying our equality is as important as anyone else’s, and it actually doesn’t matter how we vote because that is a non-negotiable.”
**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.