As anyone who follows media in this country knows, sports announcers sometimes say horribly offensive things — especially if they’re known for being “edgy” or “unafraid to speak what’s on their mind” or any other euphemism for “loud and uneducated.”
Thanks to the recent example of Australian Football League and Olympic broadcaster Basil Zempilas, we’ve discovered that they have this problem Down Under too. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Zempilas is currently under fire for making transphobic remarks on his morning radio show that have been termed “repugnant and bigoted.”
He’s not the first sports broadcaster to utter something ignorant on the air and sadly, he probably won’t be the last. But what makes Zempilas’s case different is his day job: Lord Mayor of Perth.
A few weeks ago, Zempilas was discussing an LGBTQ boxing tournament in Sydney with on-air partner Steve Mills on Perth’s 6PR radio. What followed was the kind of banter that was less what you’d associate with “Lord Mayor of a major city” and more “Kalamazoo’s number three Morning Zoo circa 1992.”
At some point in the discussion, Zempilas declared, “If you’ve got a penis, mate, you’re a bloke. If you’ve got a vagina, you’re a woman. Game over.”
Oof. The ABC News transcript doesn’t indicate if the Lord Mayor’s declaration was followed by a BOING or toilet flush but either one would be appropriate for this level of discourse.
Mills attempted to get the program back on the rails by reminding Zempila that there are transgender people in Perth, and that since he was elected Lord Mayor just two weeks’ prior, he would be hearing from some of them shortly.
Zempilas responded by offering a $100 voucher to any caller who “has a penis but is a woman.” He also shut down Mills’s protests with a dismissive, “Well, mate, if you want to go softy lefty namby pamby...”
I’ve never listened to Basil Zempilas but from this example, I can state with confidence that he sounds like exactly what would happen if Clay Travis tried to mate with a Jerky Boys cassette.
As you might expect, the backlash was almost immediate. The Guardian’s Narelle Towie reported that TransFolk of Western Australia chair Hunter Gurevich condemned Zempilas’s remarks as “repugnant, bigoted, narrow-minded, parochial, and fundamentally denying contemporary science.” Police in Perth reportedly investigated a graffiti incident at the Zempilas home. The Lord Mayor’s wife was also none too pleased.
“I had a very strong talking to from my wife last night,” he said. “The comments don’t reflect her values.”
The athletic community also stepped up with the Perth Scorpions Volleyball Club starting a petition calling on Zempilas to step down. Others responded with another petition to move next month’s Pride WA Festival out of Perth.
In an attempt at damage control, Zempilas spoke to Australian media and offered this excuse for his behavior:
“For a brief moment, at 25 minutes past five yesterday, I forgot I was the Lord Mayor of the city of Perth.”
I’m sure just about every trans person in Perth wishes they could say the same.
P.S. Last week, Zempilas posted on Instagram that he was “given the opportunity” to meet actual, live trans adults. “Listening and learning,” he captioned it: