This conservative politician slammed 'Wear a Dress Day.' It backfired. Big time.

This is Australian senator Cory Bernardi.

He's a conservative. That's putting it lightly.

Photo by Mark Graham/AFP/Getty Images.


Down Under, Bernardi is known for, among other things, pushing climate change denial, vehemently opposing LGBTQ rights, and calling proponents of abortion access "pro-death."

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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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