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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] GLB Why does Gay Inc hate Gary Burns?

Why does Gay Inc hate Gary Burns?

GaryBurns.jpgGary Burns has arguably become Australia’s best-known gay activist, yet he’s reviled by the gay establishment. Peter Hackney wonders why.

13 December 2010

Gay rights activist and advocate, community agitator, Mardi Gras ’78er, anti-discrimination campaigner, serial litigant, serial pest, media whore.

These are just some of the terms that have been bandied about to describe Gary Burns, the Sydney-based juggernaut whose strident defence of his community has brought him national and even international renown.

But what term does the man himself prefer?

“I’m all of them,” says Burns.

“Yes I’m a gay activist, yes I’m serial litigant, yes I’m a media whore – I’m all those things.

“I have to be. If I wasn’t a media whore I wouldn’t get my work done. By being a media whore I’ve built up a public profile – and that means people listen when I bring instances of homophobia to light. I can bring attention to things.

“Yes, I’m a serial litigant. I make no apologies for going after people in the public eye who promote homophobia. That’s what I do.

“Sometimes I hear people say, ‘Oh, he’s a serial litigant’, and they mean it as an insult but I’m proud of what I do.”

And why shouldn’t he be?

Burns has a strong record of fronting public interest cases against high-profile figures and media establishments who have engaged in homosexual vilification.

By way of his anti-discrimination cases, he has managed to get the likes of John Laws (the most powerful broadcaster in Australian history) and radio presenter Steve Price to publicly apologise for ridiculing gay men on Sydney radio station, 2UE.

In 2008, 2UE paid Burns $10,000 over the affair. Burns promptly donated every cent to HIV/AIDS charity, the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF).

This year, after Channel Nine presenter Eddie McGuire ridiculed flamboyant young ice skater Johnny Weir during Nine’s Winter Olympics broadcast, Burns met with McGuire and brokered an agreement which saw McGuire pen an article on gay youth suicide in Australia’s highest-circulating newspaper, The Herald-Sun.

McGuire, who lauded “maverick” Burns, affirmed that he was not homophobic, that ridiculing gay youth was wrong, and urged action on the “horrific” rate of gay youth suicide, bringing an issue mainstream Australia rarely thinks about to the fore.

So there’s no doubt that Burns is an influential figure in the gay rights debate and that he gets results.

Why is it, then, that the activist is so hated by Gay Inc.? Because make no mistake: while Gary Burns has many admirers at the grassroots level of the queer community, the gay establishment in his home city of Sydney hates him with a passion.

This was underscored in May when what can only be described as a Gary Burns hate group was set up on Facebook.

The ‘Gary Burns Does Not Speak For Me’ group was made up of many prominent Gay Inc. figures including members of gaystream organisations such as GLBT health body ACON; New Mardi Gras, the corporation that controls the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras; the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby; Sydney’s oldest gay newspaper, The Sydney Star Observer; Australia’s largest GLBT publishing company, Evolution Publishing; and Twenty10, which describes itself as a group that “supports and works with young people of diverse sexualities”.

The Facebook group, whose avatar was a picture of Burns’ face with a giant red cross through it, attracted many disparaging and outright hateful remarks, as Gay Inc. identities set upon Burns like a pack of dingos might react to Lady Gaga in her meat dress.

Burns, however, simply issued a matter-of-fact media release asking for assurances that the attacks (many of which were made during regular business hours) were not being made on work time – a valid query, especially since many concerned were employed by organisations propped up with government funds and generous donations from the public.

Within hours of the media release, the Facebook group mysteriously disappeared.

Another example of this curious case of gays shunning one of their own is the almost total lack of reporting on Burns’ high-profile work in Sydney’s gay media in recent times.

While a quick Google search will find Burns’ litigation and advocacy work drawing column inches across the Fairfax and Murdoch spectrums, Burns is now conspicuously absent from the pages of Sydney’s queer press.

So respected is Burns’ take on gay issues that he’s become a regular ‘talking head’ on queer topics on Channel Seven’s The Morning Show – while at the more serious end of the media landscape, journalists from Australia’s national broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), regularly contact him for comment on gay affairs.

Yet his work is apparently deemed un-newsworthy by Sydney’s gay media.

Why? The editors of the publications concerned – City Voice, The Sydney Star Observer and SX – did not respond to questions on the matter.

Sydney gaystream organisations were only slightly more forthcoming when approached about Burns. Asked about staff involvement in the anti-Burns Facebook group, a NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby spokesperson told The Scavenger: “It’s not the business of the Lobby what our members or employees do in their private time. The Lobby had no involvement with the Facebook group concerned and does not endorse its content in any way.”

Other groups failed to respond by deadline.

For his part, Burns has a theory about his pariah status in the upper echelons of Gay Inc.

GaryBurns_Ivory.jpg“I’m an outsider,” he says. “It’s that simple. These people have corporatised themselves to the point where they think they’re above the community. They are nothing more than a self-appointed Gay Government.

“So when they see someone like me doing my work they think: ‘How dare he? He’s not one of us. He doesn’t have the authority to speak. We didn’t give him permission!’

“And what they don’t realise is that I don’t need their permission to do what I do. None of us do. No gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or intersex person needs anyone’s permission to be an active member of our community.”

In fact, Burns doesn’t even believe he speaks for the GLBTI community.

“I don’t believe I do, no,” he says. “I’m an active member of my community but I don’t claim to speak on behalf of the community. I don’t have that right and neither do any of those groups. We might do work that benefits our community – but anyone who thinks they can speak for everyone is having a lend of themselves.

“My litigation is taken by me as a single complainant. I do seek public interest remedies so that gay people generally can benefit from my work, but I’m not a spokesperson for anyone but myself.”

Another reason for the gaystream’s distaste for Burns is pure jealousy, the activist surmises.

“I think there’s an element of ‘that should be me’ when the media contacts me for comment,” he says. “Yes, I think there’s a bit of the green-eyed monster there.”

Burns does acknowledge, however, that he might be partly to blame for his pariah status in some gay community circles.

“Look, I’m not Saint Gary and perhaps I haven’t helped myself in some ways,” he admits. “I don’t piss around the tree. Sometimes I’ve said things these groups wouldn’t like. I mean, I’ll tell you right now, I don’t have much respect for these boardroom sitters who call themselves gay rights activists but only ever speak out on safe issues like gay marriage.

“I actually do think gay marriage should be allowed for those who want it but I don’t want it myself. I want something that recognises that I share my queen-sized bed with another man, not something that pretends I’m just like Mummy and Daddy. So I guess when I say things like that, it raises their hackles.

“I’m also not backwards in coming forwards in defending myself, and people don’t like it when you throw shit back in their faces,” he continues.

“And I guess the gay newspapers don’t like the fact that I refer to them as the ‘dance bunny press’,” he chuckles. “But they are! It’s exactly what they’ve become. Pick up the gay rags these days and they’re full of stories about dance parties and even stories on their own advertisers! What happened to news? What about the community?”

But no matter what Australia’s gay establishment thinks of Gary Burns, one thing’s for sure: Burns will keep on keeping on.

“I have been hurt by things people have said and sometimes I get very discouraged and think: ‘What’s the point?’ But the feeling is only temporary because I’m not doing my work for recognition, I’m doing it because I believe it’s right.

“You can say what you want about Gary Burns but at the end of the day, I don’t get one cent for what I do. Most of those people in large gay organisations get paid to do what they do [and] some of them are on big, fat six-figure salaries. They wouldn’t even fart without getting paid.

“So say what you like but I’ll keep doing my work and I can hold my head high because my motives are true.”

To that end, Burns has lodged an appeal against the recent NSW Anti-Discrimination Tribunal (ADT) decision that dismissed his case against Channel Nine’s The Footy Show, for a skit which saw a fictitious gay brother of football stars Andrew and Matthew Johns ridiculed and taken to hospital for being “faulty”.

Burns is also proceeding with a case against One Nation candidate John Cunningham, who described gays and lesbians as “unfortunates” and said they should undergo “psychiatric counselling” during his failed bid to win a seat at the 2010 Australian Federal Election.

So while Burns might wish certain sections of the community would support him from time to time, he doesn’t need their approval.

“When it comes to homophobia, I’m going to keep banging like a dunny door in a windstorm,” he affirms.

Peter Hackney is associate editor at The Scavenger.

Images of Gary Burns second one with his beloved cat Ivory, courtesy of Gary Burns.

Comments   

+1 #38 Steve Moriarty 2013-02-11 08:00
WHat a great article on Mr Burns, how did I miss it the first time round? And how embarrassing the comments thread turned out for Paul Kidd! ;-)
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+1 #37 Another NON fan! 2011-01-15 21:49
I think some of the stuff Gary does is great. But the reality is the man says some of the most hateful things I have EVER read! He lobbies against such speak when used against him or the "community" he choses to speak for, yet freely spouts vial and hatred against those who dare speak out against him. Seems a bit dual personality to me . I think those here who have mentioned these emails would do well by publishing some of them here. After all if Gary stands by his word he should not fear there publication.
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+1 #36 Michael Brandon 2010-12-23 19:02
Burns observer, Stacey Farrar hasn't worked at the Star for over 3 years. It's not really relevant to this debate what she wrote years ago. If the current editor echoed her words again it's really not relevant - it's called lip service. It doesn't mean they actually practice what they preach. Yes the SX and Star websites would carry a lot of articles about Burns from the past but they're from the PAST, they don't cover him anymore - that is the whole point.
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-1 #35 Gary Burns. 2010-12-23 12:41
Everybody seems to be a professional observer of me and my public interest work.
Armchair wingers and commentators who have a yellow streak right down their backs.
Probably brown marks on their Calvin's too.
Too afraid to identify themselves.
Yet they feel their public vilification of me should be taken seriously by others.
The truth is I have lost faith in this community's 'GAY INC" because they are not about looking after our community.
ACON should be dissolved.
The Catholic priest called and the area blessed to rid the area of evil spirits.
When I was a 17 year old fresh faced gay teenager (in 1973) community meant looking after each other.
We had a real community,not this self serving & self appointed gay governance led by people who don't give a shit about the part of our community who struggles.
I am going to work extra hard in 2011 to help make it a better and safer place for us gay folk.
And if I should get any recompense I am going to give it away to a worthy charity.
My late mummy Mrs Burns always said to me," Son it is not the resented who suffer; they are usually unaware of the resentment.It is the resentor who does the suffering in the end".
Wise words mummy.
I want to conclude this missive with a message to all my detractors.
"I don't speak for you.I only speak for myself".
In 2011 instead of trying to discredit me why don't you all get up off your collective bums and support the work I do ?
Please consider !:D:
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0 #34 Burns observer 2010-12-23 07:20
Apologies, my comment about legal action was supposed to state "threat of legal action". And I dont know how that issue number transformed into a smiley face.
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-1 #33 Burns observer 2010-12-23 05:08
I guess there are probably elements of truth to Shane's assertions. But his accusation of "the complete stonewall on any news about Gary Burns' battles" doesnt stand up. A search on the SX and SSO websites finds numerous articles about Gary and in fact SX carried what was almost a full page article about Gary on July 2nd last year.

Also, in regards to bias in favour of sources of advertising, SSO's Stacy Farrar explicitly wrote back in 2007 (in issue 858) that "The Star is not silenced by its media partnerships. We write about whatever is newsworthy." This was echoed by the editor again in August this year (editorial of issue 1036) and appeared to come with practical confirmation in that same issue when despite claims of high pressure including legal action from New Mardi Gras to keep quiet, the Star put it's readers ahead of NMG by printing details of an apparently rather embarrassing board election controversy. That issue from August, along with others, remains available for viewing on SSO's website.

No I dont work for SSO or SX, but damn they owe me now.
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+1 #32 shayne chester 2010-12-21 18:15
Indeed, David Skidmore, this article seems to have even touched a raw nerve with the City Voice's op. ed, since she devotes an entire column to it this week.

I like that we have alternative publications where we can all have our voice, because queer politics is as diverse in its opinion as it is in its demography.

I do, however, find it problematic that Ms. Bryson of CV, who seems to have spent her entire life sheltered and nurtured as a Golden Child of Gay Inc., has not given more thought to many of her assertions, for they can so easily be shown incorrect.

There is a mountain of evidence that the right(er) wing of our community media, and their associates at Commonwealth Street, "shut out undesirables", contrary to Ms. Bryson's refutation. A couple of easy examples are the complete stonewall on any news about Gary Burns' battles, and the series of four articles run by the Star following investigations into BGF, which ignored the complainants and ran a biased study in publishing releases from the BGF CEO as 'news.' They made no attempt to contact either complainants against BGF for their side of the story. In fact all four articles were so unbalanced and incorrect, they are currently up before the Complaints Council of the Australian Press Council.

It is easy to show such bias - or 'GayInc covering each others' arses' - as it has become a tradition. I even recall the Star's lead hack commenting, "Gary Burns does not represent the gay community." I can assure that writer that not he, nor his publication, nor the diddling industry at Commonwealth Street that fosters complacency about HIV nor the odious online resource which presumes to represent us all with another "Most Influential gay and Lesbian" Logie night...represe nt me, my friends, or any community except themselves.

The proof of the pudding, Ms. Bryson, that GayInc are a self-serving elite lies in the financial statement, where a few crumbs are thrown at those for whom our organisations are funded to advocate, while spending the bulk of that funding on 'staff and executive benefits,' 'backslapping galas and chardy dinners, and yet another self congratulatory, invitation only for the boiz and gals of GayInc party night.'
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+1 #31 David Skidmore 2010-12-21 15:11
It's interesting that an article on a controversial Sydney gay activist has inspired more debate than some of the turgid, jargon-ridden articles I've seen here that would make Judith Butler fall into a deep sleep.

I admire the way Burns delivers - even though I really don't give a shit what John Laws call Carson Cressley. At the same time, the queer community would collapse if we only had individual activists and no "Gay Inc" organisations like the GLRL or AME. Collective struggle is essential because the enemies of queers have no compunction in fighting collectively.

What's needed are more effective organisations and people with fresh ideas ready to campaign on the important issues. An individual didn't repeal anti-gay legislation in Australia and elsewhere - it took a whole political movement.
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+1 #30 Michael Brandon 2010-12-17 18:16
So you're employed by NAPWA but they don't pay you. You either do it for free or the money comes from a related org. So the point still stands, you are all over Gay Inc and your attempt to pretend otherwise has failed. No more questions, you may go now.
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0 #29 shayne chester 2010-12-17 16:54
um, something about a blue cocktail frock?
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