It was back in 1995 that one of the major parties tried to play the sexuality card. It was that year's state election, and Clover Moore had held the seat of Bligh for seven years, having taken it from the Liberal's Michael Yabsley back in 1988. Despite a state-wide swing to the Conservatives parties that saw the Labor Party lose government, the trend in Bligh was in the opposite direction, and a strong campaign in the gay press had urged voters to support Moore, irrespective of previous party allegiances. As the Bulletin ruefully noted after the 1988 election, 'Gay Power' had hung Yabsley.
So in 1995 the ALP decided to try to capture the gay vote when it recruited Susan Harben, an open lesbian and former President of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, to run against Moore. After a bitter campaign that was somewhat divisive of the LGBTIQ communities, Harben lost. In this case, the sexuality of the candidate was seen as being of lesser importance than the candidate's – or their party's – history of support for LGBTIQ causes.
Late in 2012, the O'Farrell Coalition government passed what became known as the 'Get Clover' Bill, a bill to force any member of state parliament also a member of a local council to quit one of those offices. Clover Moore – who was both Lord Mayor of Sydney, a position she had held since 2004, and the Independent member for the seat of Sydney [formerly Bligh], a seat she had held for the previous 24 years – chose to stay as Lord Mayor.
After Moore was forced to vacate the seat of Sydney, she endorsed Alex Greenwich, previously National Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, as a candidate in the ensuing by-election. Against Greenwich, and hoping to capture some of the gay vote, the Liberal Party put up Shayne Mallard, an openly gay former City Councillor. Greenwich successfully won the seat with a 47.3 per cent primary and 63.7 per cent two candidate preferred vote.
Greenwich's far higher profile in the gay community and Moore's endorsement undoubtedly helped his election.
The Liberals have had varying successes in the seat of Bligh/Sydney with the gay vote, and their percentages of first preferences tell an interesting story. In 2003 their candidate Shayne Mallard got 21.3% of the first preferences, and in the 2007 election, straight businessman Edward Mandla recorded much the same, getting 21.6% of first preferences; in both cases behind the ALP's candidates. This similar figure of just over 21% probably indicates a 'hard core' of Liberal voters. But then in the 2011 election, their openly gay candidate and popular Adrian Bartels received 36.2% of first preferences. So could this jump of around 15% - from somewhere - perhaps represent a bloc of gay votes?
The ALP tried again, in the 2015 state election, in the newly created and closely contested inner-west seat of Newtown, with its active LGBTIQ communities. While the election turned out to be almost totally about WestConnex, was it an accident that the ALP chose as its candidate an open lesbian, Penny Sharpe, who had to resign her Legislative Council seat to contest this new Lower House seat? Sharpe had personally long been a strong advocate of LGBTIQ issues. Against her was Jenny Leong of the Greens Party, able to capitalise on the Greens Party's far longer advocacy of LGBTIQ issues, and here, once again, the sexuality of the candidate was seen as being of lesser importance than the candidate's – or their party's – history of support for LGBTIQ causes. Leong won, and Sharpe went back to her Upper House seat.
And now Forster. Is it a case of the Liberals trying once again to capture a possible influential gay vote by putting up Christine Forster, a recently-out lesbian, as its party's candidate for Sydney's Lord Mayoralty?
Forster might actually not be such a good choice with the LGBTIQ communities, as one recent incident indicates.
When Council was debating a motion of apology to the 78ers, those who were in that original 1978 parade - it ended with violent confrontations with police and numerous arrests - were invited by the Daily Telegraph, a Murdoch newspaper, to Taylor Square for an interview and photoshoot.
When it turned out that, apart from Cr Forster, there were no other Councillors there – particularly Cr Robyn Kemmis who had moved the motion and Cr Linda Scott who had seconded it - the 78-ers to a person declined to be in any photo with Forster. Was this because there were no other Councillors there - had they even been invited? - or was it because of her brother's, then PM Tony Abbott, blatant sabotaging of the Same-Sex marriage push, by referring it to a plebiscite 'some time in the future'?
This time, the ALP has selected Councillor Linda Scott to stand against Moore, and she might do well to distance herself from some of the Party's more spin-prone members' claims: sexuality has been returned to the fray, but in a slightly different manner: