Penny Sharpe MLC Reflects On Lesbian Visibility

Penny Sharpe MLC Reflects On Lesbian Visibility
Image: Supplied

The Hon. Penny Sharpe MLC is the NSW Leader of the Government in the Legislative CouncilMinister for Climate Change, Minister for EnergyMinister for the Environment, and Minister for Heritage. 

I used to think being a lesbian was one of the least interesting things about me (my obsession with roller derby and love of an argument being far more on brand).

But 18 years on, as the first woman elected to the NSW Parliament to admit to being a lesbian, I know it is far more complicated than that. Visibility really does matter.

When I first entered parliament, what I considered unremarkable held fascination for conservative media outlets. This reporting led to some pretty awful hate mail and some intrusive media requests.

At the same time, I had people saying to me, congratulations, but make sure you don’t become the ‘gay’ politician.

Over time I realised the privilege of being a proud lesbian living life openly and freely was not something that everyone could enjoy. In a parliament of very few openly queer politicians, I realised my privilege brought with it a responsibility to be prepared to stand up and speak out on LGBTIQ+ issues knowing there were many who could not.

Once I felt comfortable, I found myself connecting with many LGBTIQ+ folks and their families. People who found someone to whom they could connect their own experiences and wanted to see those experiences reflected in the progress of our laws.

Marriage equality, parental recognition, the banning of conversion practices, removal of the ban on same-sex couples adopting, deleting the ‘gay’ panic defence and the work either done or under consideration to better protect trans and gender-diverse folks found a way to amplify their voice with openly queer MPs like me and the many others I have worked with.

Being visible also means I am fortunate that people have reached out to trust me with their stories. The staff at parliament who have pulled me aside to talk about their child, the young people sliding into my DM’s to share they want to come out to their parents, the kids being bullied for having two mums, the trans women across the Pacific who are educating their communities about HIV, the teacher wanting to create a safe classroom for a gender-diverse young person, the young queer firebrand wanting to find a pathway into parliament.

I naively thought being a lesbian in a public role would not matter to anyone, but I have learned it does matter to many. And for that I say thanks to all those who have gone before, and I celebrate the lovely visible lesbians everywhere.

In 2024, Lesbian Visibility Week is celebrated from Mon, 22 Apr – Sun, 28 April.

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One response to “Penny Sharpe MLC Reflects On Lesbian Visibility”

  1. I am a visible lesbian and I am increasingly worried about myself and others like me, especially the young lesbians, who do not believe men can be lesbians, being silenced and being made invisible.

    We are not allowed to say that we are same-sex attracted because ‘sex’ in law now includes men in the female category. We are not allowed to hold events exclusively for lesbians, and instead have to include men who say they are lesbians.

    Young lesbians tell me that there is huge pressure on them to ‘transition’, and they are distressed to see so many of their peers doing so.

    I am not an LGBTIQA+ woman. I am a lesbian.
    And I will continue to speak up for lesbians who do not accept men into our cohort.
    Regards, Carole Ann