This is Australian senator Cory Bernardi.
He's a conservative. That's putting it lightly.
Photo by Mark Graham/AFP/Getty Images.
So, at face value, a tweet he published on Sept. 20 probably wasn't all that surprising.
In the tweet, which has since been deleted, Bernardi wrote, " One school in SA now has a 'wear a dress day'. This gender morphing is really getting absurd," Bernardi said, linking to a story about a school in South Australia holding a "Wear a Dress Day."
The first problem with Bernardi's tweet is that it's wildly transphobic. The second problem is that it ... sort of totally missed the whole point of what "Wear a Dress Day" actually is.
"Wear a Dress Day" has nothing to do with any sort of LGBTQ awareness campaign like Bernardi's tweet suggests. It's about girls' education.
Student leaders at Craigburn Primary School near Adelaide had chosen to support One Girl's Do It in a Dress campaign on their last day of term — a day in which students are typically allowed to wear casual clothes to class.
Students who want to wear casual clothing can certainly still do so. But, in recognition of the campaign, students of all genders are also allowed to wear dresses — only if they wish to do so — to boost awareness of girls' lack of access to education globally, a blog post by the school points out.
In addition to wearing casual clothes or a dress, students were encouraged to donate to the campaign so the school could reach its $900 goal supporting One Girl, funding needs like scholarships and making schools safer for girls.
The senator's offensive, tone-deaf tweet didn't really add up. And people noticed — including Josh Thomas.
The prominent Australian comedian and LGBTQ rights advocate published a thread of tweets in response to Bernardi's remarks.
Thomas pointed out Bernardi's transphobic, "gender morphing" accusation was misleading, noting the actual intention of the students' campaign.
The comedian reiterated the fact Bernardi was exploiting a school's effort to raise funds — for charity — to reap the political benefits.
Thomas concluded the thread by letting fans know he was supporting Craigburn's Do It in a Dress campaign with a $1,000 donation.
As the backlash built, Bernardi went on ABC Radio on Sept. 20 to discuss his remarks.
Instead of apologizing or clarifying his intent, the senator doubled down, claiming the school was wrong for carrying out the campaign while marriage equality is a hot-button topic currently being decided at the ballot box.
"In the hypersensitive time where we’ve got same-sex marriage debate, we’ve got people concerned about gender ideological training in schools, I think this is entirely inappropriate," Bernardi said, continuing to draw lines between a campaign focused on girls' education and transgender rights.
The senator claims he's on board with the campaign's overall goal of helping girls in the developing world. But many Australians still weren't happy with his remarks.
People gleefully shared their support for the campaign online while mocking the senator's backward stance on LGBTQ rights.
Ironically, Bernardi helped boost the very same effort he initially criticized.
The school's initial fundraising goal was just $900. To date, Craigburn School has raised over $235,000.
In large part thanks to an "ultra-conservative rant" targeting LGBTQ rights.
"We are speechless," One Girl responded to the overwhelmingly popular campaign.
If the nonprofit's math checks out, that's over 780 girls in need who will now receive an education — all thanks to one school's fundraiser (with a little help from a bigoted politician, of course).
To support Craigburn's Do It in a Dress campaign, visit One Girl's website.