Stuck in the past

Wednesday, December 11, 1996

By Trevor Stace

PERTH — On November 11 the West Australian published an article by David Marr concerning the secret life of former Supreme Court judge David Yeldham, who committed suicide after receiving a subpoena to appear before the Wood royal commission in NSW.

In a compassionate style, rarely observed in the print media today, Marr unfolded a tale of duplicity many would find incomprehensible in today's society. I am sure most of us would think that, after years of Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras' and Pride marches, being homosexual is no longer the social stigma it once was. But, for men like David Yeldham who grew up in an era of intolerance, the stigma is still great enough to force them to attempt to conform with society's norms despite their inability to maintain the pretence throughout the course of their lives.

Men like David Yeldham live the duplicitous lives they do simply because of discrimination. It is only fairly recently that "coming out of the closet" has become a practicality. And, despite a more accepting society, violence against homosexuals is still very common.

For men of Yeldham's generation, it was incomprehensible that any person of standing within the community could be associated with such an evil practice. That such social pressure caused men like David Yeldham to attempt to suppress their sexuality is sad. What is worse is that Western Australia is one of only two states in Australia where discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is still legal.

Recently our state parliament rejected a private member's bill designed to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. One of the bill's outspoken critics was the attorney general, Peter Foss. As one who believes in fair play for all citizens, I wrote to Foss expressing criticism of the government's stance on the issue. In a detailed response, Foss indicated that his concern was also for all citizens and that he felt that many groups believed that such legislation was an attempt to force the views of one group, i.e. homosexuals, on the remainder of the community.

Like many of the government's views, this one completely misses the point. The homosexual community does not wish to force its views on the wider community. As far as I can see, they simply want the same rights as every one else.

Like much of the Court government's activity, its approach to the discrimination bill exudes thinking which is rooted in the past. Other examples are its refusal to let go of past misdemeanours of its political opponents, its preoccupation with New Right economic theory which had its base in the 19th century, its return to privatised public transport which was abandoned in the 1950s because it did not work and its unwillingness to embrace the reforms needed to improve our political processes as recommended by the WA Inc royal commission and the subsequent Commission on Government.

In the televised "Leaders' Debate", Premier Richard Court claimed that the Coalition was ready to take the state into the next century. One can only wonder how that can be while their thinking is still rooted in the past.