Penny Wong has been sworn in as Australia’s new foreign minister this year, after two decades since she entered Parliament. Representing lesbians and Asian-Australians in the government, Wong’s CV includes being a state senator (SA) and holding a number of cabinet portfolios, including the Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation.
The 53-year-old came out as a lesbian in 2002, just a month after she took her seat in the Senate. However, she didn’t do so with the intention of becoming a role model. In an interview with Star Observer, Wong said, “I’ve never sought to be a role model but I have come to understand that you can’t be what you can’t see.”
Wong isn’t perceived as a run-of-the-mill politician by Australians and it’s due to more than the fact she’s smashing ceilings for women, people of color and lesbians. Even though most Australians believe politicians are dishonest, Wong was voted Australia’s most trusted politician in a Roy Morgan poll in March 2022. Can a politician receive a better compliment? Has Wong’s transparency with her sexual orientation throughout her political career–when she hasn’t had to be–led to an honest reputation?
Being trustworthy will come in handy in Wong’s new role as Foreign Minister. While she said she never set out to be a role model, she believes it will “send a pretty powerful message to the world about where Australia is as a nation, to have me as Foreign Minister.”
Predictably, Wong’s ride as an out Asian-Australian female politician has not been easy. In fact, her ability to help lead the nation and the purpose of her position in government has been called into question. “Of course, I have not been immune to that during my career. I’ve been cat-called, I’ve been called a quota girl,” Wong said.
“There’s no doubt that homophobia is still a problem across our community, and the remnants of that are reflected in our parliament also,” she continued. “I think most politicians – particularly women – will be able to tell you we get some pretty nasty comments on social media. Unfortunately for me, those comments will sometimes have an ugly homophobic undertone.”
Even though Wong has not hidden her sexual orientation while in the Senate, she tries to keep family life with her partner Sophie and their two daughters fairly private for their safety and happiness.
Offering a rare insight into her private sphere, Wong said, “Public office comes with many sacrifices – but the greatest is of course the impact it has on those closest to us. My partner and kids bear the brunt of that, with so much time away, or on the phone…We work hard at finding ways to stay connected, like reading the same books, even if we can’t be in the same city.”
What are Wong’s plans while in the role of Foreign Minister? “The approach we take is to see the world as it is and seek to change it for the better. This requires an active foreign policy to deliver for our interests and our values – including human rights for all people,” Wong had said.
“That will mean strong and proactive advocacy for human rights around the world and in global forums, and drawing on the resources we have and working with others to raise the costs of human rights abuses.”
Hopefully we’ll see Penny Wong in the prime minister role one day!
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