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Kirby's personal story a plea for tolerance

Kirby's personal story a plea for tolerance

In his new book Michael Kirby talks openly about being gay in a bid to correct stereotypes.Kirby's memoir, A Private Life: Fragments, Memories, Friends, was released yesterday (28 September).In…

In his new book Michael Kirby talks openly about being gay in a bid to correct stereotypes.

Kirby's memoir, A Private Life: Fragments, Memories, Friends, was released yesterday (28 September).

In the book, the former High Court judge talks about his legal career and the difficulties he faced trying to ensure his relationship with his partner of over 40 years, Johan van Vloten, was not a barrier to his legal career.

In an interview on ABC's Lateline last night, Kirby said if he didn't keep his sexuality "under the radar", his legal career would have stalled.

"I could have [been more open], but not many people did, and if I had, there's no doubt I wouldn't have been appointed to the courts that I was appointed to in those days," he said. "I mean, this was the compact in society; that you kept it below the radar and that was just what was expected of you."

Kirby said part of his motivation for writing the book was to end the perception that gay people would be "tolerated" within the community if they were not open about their sexuality.

"You didn't reveal it, you didn't force it on people and as long as you kept quiet, then that was something that was tolerated. But toleration is a very condescending emotion and toleration's over as far as I'm concerned."

Earlier this year, Kirby told Lawyers Weekly that gay people still face significant levels of discrimination in Australia. On Lateline last night, he said discrimination against gay people should be treated with the same level of abhorrence as examples of racial or gender discrimination.

"People of all minorities should have full dignity and full rights, not just in money things, but in the dignity of their relationships and in respect for them as citizens, of fellow citizens," he said. "Young people really don't have a problem here, but there are a few older types that really need to read my book and then I think they might see it from another point of view. They might learn what it's like to wear other shoes."

Kirby's own book comes hot on the heels of AJ Brown's biography of Kirby, entitled Michael Kirby Paradoxes and Principles, released in April.

Brown's book revealed that the false allegations made by Senator Bill Heffernan, that Kirby had used Commonwealth cars for sexual purposes, had divided the High Court, with the judges the first to know the accusations were false.

Justice Mary Gaudron became the High Court's "first whistleblower" after her urgings to chief justice Murray Gleeson to put out a joint-statement declaring their united support for Kirby fell on deaf ears.

A Private Life: Fragments, Memories, Friends is published through Allen & Unwin.

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