TWO things happened on my first day as the first member of parliament in NSW who openly identified as a lesbian: I received a bunch of flowers from South Australian Labor Senator Penny Wong and I received my first piece of homophobic hate mail.

The person is political and in my case being political has also had intensely personal consequences.

I was elected to the NSW Parliament in 2005. Several years after of our first openly-gay MP, the late Paul O’Grady had been elected.

Being a lesbian and an MP should not matter and in many ways it hasn’t, but I soon found out some issues did come into very sharp focus.

My partner Jo and I had, at that stage, two children (we now have three) — however, I was not recognised legally as their mum.

Previously, I had been a foster carer for three wonderful young women, but if my partner and I had sought to adopt them, the law in NSW forbade it.

To pretend that this discrimination was not infuriating, galling and personally hurtful would be a lie.

To know that it was even more damaging for my children and other kids like them was worse.

But I knew that being angry was not going to deliver the change that so many same-sex couples wanted, and that our children needed.

Instead, I sought to provide support to LGBTI, human rights, and legal organisations — and most importantly same-sex parents themselves — to build the case and to tell the stories of LGBTI families.

I worked within Labor to advance the reform. I also joined with supportive MPs from other parties to start the discussion and build the numbers we needed to make these reforms a reality.

In 2008 Labor introduced, and the NSW Parliament passed, same-sex parenting laws that meant kids with two mums, such as my own, have both their parents legally recognised on their birth certificate.

In 2010, Clover Moore introduced same-sex adoption laws that were also passed.  I sponsored this bill through the NSW upper house. We were successful by just two votes. However, those two votes were enough to change the lives of thousands of children across NSW, many of whom are disadvantaged.

Those of us who support equality learned a lot during that campaign.

We learned that reform requires strong community support.

We learned to leave political point scoring at the door and that our community liked and wanted this.

We won because of many years of campaigning and thousands of conversations, in the community and with members of parliament.

This Saturday, the stakes are high once again for the LGBTI community.

We must be ever vigilant to stop any roll back from what has been hard won.

We must work to address the issues of discrimination that remain outstanding.

We must also support the actions beyond legislation that will make the journey of our young LGBTI people a little bit easier than it was for many of us.

As I seek election for Newtown this Saturday and as you cast your vote across NSW, know that Labor will help defend what has been won and advance what is left to do.

I will continue to work across State Parliament with anyone who supports equality.

If elected I will remember the flowers while working to stop the hate mail.

Penny Sharpe is Labor’s candidate for the electorate of Newtown and the first openly-lesbian MP of the NSW upper house. Twitter: @PennySharpemlc


RELATED: How my days as a young gay man have influenced me as an MP — by Bruce Notley-Smith (Liberals)

RELATED: Why NSW’s LGBTI community needs an independent MP  by Alex Greenwich (independent)

RELATED: Looking back, looking forward — by Trvor Khan (NSW Nationals)

RELATED: The push for full LGBTI equality requires Green boldness and courage — by Mehreen Faruqi (NSW Greens)

RELATED: Community organisations release NSW election survey results

RELATED: Why the gays can’t even vote straight (analysis)


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