A Sydney local councillor’s conduct has been found to amount to homosexual vilification after she verbally abused a neighbour for displaying a rainbow flag on the day of the marriage equality vote result.
Julie Passas was ordered to pay Daniel Comensoli $2,500 compensation and publish an apology in the local paper, after she told him the flag was “offensive to her culture and religion”.
‘As offensive as the flag of ISIS’
On the day the marriage equality postal vote was announced, Mr Comensoli hung a rainbow flag over his balcony in celebration.
Julie Passas, who was the deputy mayor of Inner West council at the time, demanded he take it down, yelling that it was “offensive to my culture and religion”, and that he shouldn’t be allowed to marry “until you could breastfeed and have children”.
A few days later when police were called to the apartment block, Ms Passas told them that she thought the rainbow flag “was as offensive as the flag of ISIS”, in a voice loud enough for neighbours to be allowed to hear it.
She also told neighbours that she thought Mr Comensoli and his flatmate were “disgusting people”, and suggested the owner of their apartment should evict them.
Passas’s evidence lacked credibility
Mr Comensoli lodged a complaint of homosexual vilification in the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Under the Anti-Discrimination Act, homosexual vilification is defined as a public act that could incite or encourage hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule towards people because of their sexual orientation.
Ms Passas admitted she had asked her neighbour to remove the flag, but “denied that she had done so in an aggressive, loud, or offensive manner”.
She also denied telling police the rainbow flag was “similar” to the flag of ISIS, but admitted that she had referred to it “as an analogy”.
The tribunal found her evidence lacked credibility compared to Mr Comensoli’s version of events.
“In contrast, [Passas] had a very poor recollection of the events she was questioned about … and was defensive and deflective in her responses to [Comensoli’s] questioning,” the tribunal member stated.
“She was easily inflamed when questioned about her conduct and stated in cross-examination that the concept of gay marriage was offensive to her, was offensive to her upbringing and religion, and that [Comensoli] ‘made the whole thing up because of a gay issue’, ‘turned it into a gay issue’ when ‘it was about strata’ and was ‘only continuing because of support for him from her political opponents’”.
NCAT finds behaviour amounted to vilification
NCAT found that Ms Passas’ comments that Mr Comensoli and his flat mate were “disgusting people” did not amount to vilification.
However, it did find that her demand for him to take the flag down on the day of the announcement of the marriage equality vote did.
“The manner in which the respondent made her demand was inappropriate and objectively likely to incite hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule of homosexual persons, and other LGBTQIA+ persons for whom the rainbow flag is an accepted symbol of identity, in an ordinary member of the general public,” the tribunal member said.
The tribunal found that an objective understanding of Ms Passas’s statements inferred “that a person who can’t breastfeed or have children should not be afforded an equal right to marry the person of their choosing”.
It also found the statement “is objectively likely to rouse, stimulate, urge, stir up or animate hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule of homosexual men.”
The tribunal found her comments created the impression that “homosexual men are ‘worthless’ or of ‘little account’”.
Ms Passas was ordered to pay Mr Comensoli damages of $2,500 and publish an apology for her conduct in the local Inner West Courier newspaper.
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Harassment Claims, described Ms Passas as a horrible person.
“How nasty and horrible do you have to be to be offended by a flag that symbolises inclusion and acceptance and tolerance and diversity, and how on earth do you compare it to the flag of ISIS which represents the complete opposite – things like intolerance, and hatred?” he asked.
“The ironic thing is, Ms Passas’ views on gay people are exactly the same as those of ISIS, but her hateful religious views probably blind her from seeing that.
“Good on Mr Comensoli for standing up and fighting back against this sort of unlawful, offensive and completely unacceptable behaviour.”
If you have been subjected to homosexual vilification, you may be entitled to compensation.
For help and advice, please contact our specialist team at Harassment Claims today on
1300 359 514
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