Former Justice Michael Kirby warmed the audience with a personal and heartfelt speech at IDAHOT Day in Katoomba yesterday (Wednesday).
The international jurist and former High Court judge was accompanied by his partner of 48 years, Johan Van Vloten.
“This is very unusual. He never comes to my speeches – over the years he’s heard them all before and they’re all boring!” Mr Kirby said.
But Mr Van Vloten has a connection with the Mountains. When his family first arrived in Australia from the Netherlands they lived in Badgerys Crescent Lawson, a place the couple were going to revisit on their trip home from Katoomba on Wednesday.
IDAHOT Day stands for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. It is observed globally on May 17 each year, marking the date in 1990 when the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases list.
Mr Kirby applauded the Mountains community and the Blue Mountains City Council for staging IDAHOT Day, the eighth year it has been celebrated in the area.
“A few years back, we would not have been doing this. So I thank the Blue Mountains City Council for taking the initiative. It is an initiative based on scientific knowledge, replacing prejudice, ignorance and hatred,” said Mr Kirby.
“Unfortunately, in many parts of the world - and even some parts of Australia - events such as this could not take place. So I thank the citizens of the Blue Mountains for taking a lead in this direction. The outlook in the Blue Mountains has always been farsighted and clear.”
He was delighted at the large turn-out.
“What a fantastic thing that so many people are here. You expect an audience like this in a big metropolitan city but it’s marvellous and very moving to me that there is such a large audience in Katoomba.”
Mr Kirby said it was only his second visit to the Mountains.
“My first and only holiday when I was 11 … was in Katoomba. It was down in the valley in a very humble home,” with his parents and three siblings.
The family was not well off “so we stayed down in the valley. We didn’t come up to the Carrington because that was ever-so-posh.”
So he was delighted that he would be finally getting to the historic hotel after the IDAHOT events.
“At last today my dreams have come true and we’re being taken to lunch in the Carrington. This all goes to show if you hang around long enough you ultimately make it!”
Justice Kirby said it was during his youthful trip to Katoomba that he began to be aware of the early stirrings of his sexuality.
“I was beginning to discover aspects of myself that were unwelcome to discover at the time. That was something that you have to keep very, very secret.”
In his time as a gay man, he said, “I was criminalised, I was disrespected, I was supposed to be ashamed of myself – well, that’s over”.
He urged the audience to love, regardless of someone’s background or ethnicity or sexuality.
“It is the most important thing – to love,” he said.