In the lead up to Equality Australia’s LGBTIQ+ Federal Election Forum at the Victoria Pride Centre, the Star Observer caught up with the event’s moderator, out ABC Journalist Patricia Karvelas.

The ABC RN host is one of the country’s toughest gigs. Earlier this year in January, when Patricia Karvelas took over hosting duties from veteran broadcaster Fran Kelly, who had helmed it for over 17 years, it was hard not to gush over the momentousness of the occasion. 

A journalist, once named “one of most influential gay and lesbian Australians”, Kelly, passing the proverbial baton to the next generation – an equally illustrious out lesbian journalist Karvelas. 

“I have loved every minute of it,” Karvelas confessed in an email interview with Star Observer

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“It’s so great to start the day early and be able to set the national news agenda with my stellar team. I have been on air a while now doing my previous shows, but breakfast really is the pinnacle and getting to drive such a huge and significant show has exceeded my expectations,” said Karvelas, who is scheduled to host the LGBTIQ+ Federal Election Forum organised by Equality Australia at the Victorian Pride Centre on May 5.

‘Elections Are Always Exciting Times’

Karvelas took over hosting duties just before the start of one of Australia’s busiest news cycles. With federal elections scheduled to be held on May 21, 2022, Karvelas knew that apart from her strong journalistic instincts, listeners were also looking at her to hold politicians to account.

“Elections are always exciting times because the stakes are high and there’s a real contest of ideas and debates that matter, because politicians know they will be judged on Election Day rather than it being out of the public’s hands,” said Karvelas. “I find my listeners are so engaged and hungry for me to deliver accountability interviews, and I take that responsibility extremely seriously.”

Patricia Karvelas. Photo: Daniel Spellman

After nine years of Liberals at the helm, Labor is hoping Anthony Albanese will prevail over Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The elections, Karvelas said, will be determined by a number of factors, including the economy, national security, but most of all integrity. 

“The overwhelming one is the economy, but I will be fascinated to see whether the sense that we are recovering well and unemployment is at record lows leads to the government being rewarded with another term or whether the underlying issues of huge and rising cost of living pressures and looming interest rate rises are perhaps more definitive. The contest on the economy is interesting because while we are prosperous many people are feeling like they are struggling. The other big issue is national security and the security deal between the Solomon Islands and China. That has really injected these big issues right into the middle of the campaign.”

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“But I think many Australians are looking for a government where both those issues are handled well and integrity is at the centre of everything. There seems to be frustration with the parliament and the system itself – lots of voters are disillusioned, which is leading to the rise of the Independents in this election.”

Some Liberals Are Questioning Anti-LGBTQI Tone

Months after Morrison failed to get his Religion Discrimination Bill passed in Parliament, LGBTQI issues have catapulted to the top of the election campaign. Past social media posts by Liberal candidate Katherine Deves and the PM’s endorsement of Senator Claire Chandler’s bill to ban trans women from female sport have generated vicious debates. 

“The Prime Minister’s decision to stand by Deves and paint her as a victim of a campaign to silence her turned into a narrative about political correctness, which I think isn’t the real story here,” said Karvelas. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Liberal candidate Katherine Deves.

The broadcaster said that women’s sport organisations were “already dealing with the inclusion of trans women in sport – there is no great crisis, and the issue is an odd one to be having in the middle of an election campaign.”

“The impact on trans people has been enormous, and I think we should always think about the victims of the language and debates we have – I know queer counselling lines have seen a spike and I know trans people personally who have been having a hard time being bombarded by this debate. I worry about that and I think it is our obligation as a society to look after our most vulnerable,” said Karvelas. 

According to Karvelas, even within Morrison’s party, there are some who are questioning the anti-LGBTQI tone of the campaign. 

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“I know many members of the liberal party are very concerned about LGBTIQ people and are wanting to be positive voices. But I do worry that debates held by politicians about trans issues are very often inaccurate and not based on the latest science and what the medical community and the trans community is saying. I don’t think ordinary Australian voters are very interested in culture wars.

Being Out

As an out lesbian in the public eye, Karvelas realises all eyes are on her, including those of the LGBTQI community. 

I have been out since I was very young, so the idea of being “out” is a funny concept to me – I’ve always been out, but the more well-known I am in the community, the more questions I have faced about my sexuality,” said Karvelas. 

“I have decided that it’s important to be very out in my public life because seeing gay people in public life would have made an enormous difference to my life. It would have really reduced the angst that I wish I had never endured. So if I can play any small part in reducing that for others, then I want to do that.”. 

With the attention comes the trifecta of homophobia, sexism and misogyny. “Yes, I have faced homophobia in the past and have had to be more careful in some spaces around talking about my life and my relationships. I wish that hadn’t been the case,” said Karvelas. 

“I know my heterosexual colleagues didn’t have to do that, but that’s the experience of many queer people. I worked in Parliament house for a long time, and I didn’t find it an easy place to be a lesbian – I feel like that’s changing slowly but I wish it would change even faster.”

Patricia Karvelas. Photo: Daniel Spellman

Dealing With Online Trolls

Karvelas, like other women on social media, has also been the target of online trolls and has faced attacks from both sides of the political spectrum for her work. Last year she had to step back from social media for some time in the face of some nasty online hit jobs, but says she is learning to deal with them.

“I have experienced relentless trolling at times as it hasn’t always been very pleasant. My sexuality has certainly been used to denigrate me, but I generally am quite good at blocking out that kind of negativity,” said Karvelas. 

“I believe that I have the right to do my job without abuse and that my various identities shouldn’t be used to insult me. I don’t believe withdrawing from public space online should be the only way journos have to deal with this abuse. I know I am a fair and robust and ethical person, so I trust in my instincts and ignore the haters,” said Karvelas. 

Anonymous trolls have also tried to go after her family. “My partner and children and sisters are all enormously supportive to me, and they are not really part of these online communities. Some awful homophobic comments have been written to posts of me and my partner and our kids online, and that has really shocked me,” said Karvelas. 

“It also reminded me that there is still a lot of hostility in the world to those of us who are different. I’m grateful to my family, and I know my children are proud to have a mum who is out and proud. I want my kids to be their true selves just like I can be mine,” added Karvelas. 

Register now to attend Equality Australia’s LGBTIQ+ Election Forum hosted by Patricia Karvelas at the Victorian Pride Centre on May 5, 2022, either online or in person. 

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