‘My identity was debated’: ABC’s Patricia Karvelas on covering same-sex marriage


patricia karvelas abc same-sex marriage
Photo: ABC News

ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas has described covering the 2017 same-sex marriage debate as a difficult period in her long career in journalism.

The Afternoon Briefing and RN Drive host reflected on her two decades covering federal politics in a wide-ranging profile for the ABC.

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Karvelas, who is in a long-term same-sex relationship, explained she found 2017’s same-sex marriage postal survey campaign “difficult to navigate”.

“Bringing your whole self to work during that time was hard,” she said.

“Because my entire identity was being debated, and so that was pretty difficult to navigate.

“I wanted to uphold the ABC editorial standards to the highest, and I did. There were no complaints from anyone.

“But that meant that I had to think carefully about bringing my full self.

“If I was interviewing somebody who was opposed to same sex marriage, I had to make sure that I gave them a fair hearing but, also, obviously, prickly questions. Not because of my own agenda but because that was my job to do.

“It’s really tricky during times, like that, when people talk about the ‘gay agenda’. All of a sudden you being gay is somehow a political statement when it’s actually just about who you love.

“And that’s been sometimes frustrating and deeply irritating, because my sexuality is not an indication of my politics or ideology.”

Patricia Karvelas on importance of bringing her ‘full self’ to work

Karvelas has two daughters, aged 11 and nine, with her longtime partner. She explained when she mentions her family on air, she receives messages from viewers thanking her for doing so.

“I think it’s really important for young people to have proud leaders. But I am very cautious about it being my only identity, because there are many parts of me,” she says.

“I have to bring my full self on air because I think if you’re hiding a part of yourself your work is not as good.

“I made a very conscious decision that if I was to bring my full self that means that occasionally people would hear the female pronoun when I refer to my family. They will hear ‘my partner, she’s cooking dinner’.

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“And I’d say that a couple times a week, I’ll get 10 text messages from gay people thanking me. I don’t do it to get a thank you, but they are thanking me for not being ambiguous about that.

“Because too often people have been ambiguous. Not because they’ve done the wrong thing, but because they’ve been worried that the audience won’t be okay with it.

“I reckon we have to respect that the audience in 2021 is smart enough that they can cope, they do cope and they are very respectful largely.”

‘Sexism and homophobia’ at Parliament House

Patricia Karvelas also described Parliament House as “the most sexist place” she’s ever worked.

“From the moment I walked in the door, the sexism, and homophobia in my case, was so pronounced and obvious that I thought ‘wow, this is going to take some managing,'” she explained.

Karvelas said she and other women had to navigate a “a culture of sexual harassment, male superiority and unchecked power.”

That “normalised” culture, she believes, is now being challenged. She hopes “the Parliament will finally catch up to the rest of modern Australia.”

“The #metoo movement originally has forced change. [It] means that journalists are now able to tell stories in a way that I don’t think we would have been able to in the past,” she said.

“I think that says more about how society is changing than anything else.

“What’s changed is that for the first time, instead of treating a story like [Brittany Higgin’s rape allegation] with suspicion, there was a sense that we go into this believing the survivor of the alleged crime.

“And pressure mounted on the Prime Minister and government to respond to it. The rest of the cultural reaction to that is part of that shift.

“So instead of individual complaints¬†being seen as an isolated ‘bad egg’ story, we are for the first time able to see that as a pattern of a cultural institution that allows something like that to happen.”

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1 Comment

  1. Peter Turner
    29 April 2021
    Reply

    Patricia Karvelas is my favourite journalist. She brings compassion, empathy and a keen mind to every story she covers. As a gay male of 63 I had no idea she was in a same sex relationship. I appreciate her candour and agree that we are far more than our sexuality. I love to see that most in the media are now able to casually “pronoun drop” without it causing any fuss. That is how it should be.

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