Councillor Burcham speaks out on sexuality

 City councillor: ‘I am gay. Why do I have to say that?’

CESSNOCK City Councillor Cordelia Burcham is 43, a mother of four, and a gay woman who’s putting her sexuality on the record today for many reasons.

The first is to silence people who threatened to ‘‘go to the media’’ about her orientation in the lead-up to the local government election.

The second is because of her fearful response to those threats.

‘‘I worried about what people would think. I reacted poorly and shut down any chance that I might be judged on that before the election. My fear gave power to those people and unfortunately I allowed that to happen to me,’’ Ms Burcham said this week.

The third is the detrimental impact on her relationship.

To avoid being judged for being gay, Ms Burcham required a ‘‘shadow life’’ from her partner, where the relationship was not acknowledged in public.

‘‘I was very careful about who saw us as a couple. You can’t live like that and be happy, that’s not fair to impose upon another.’’

The most significant reasons for acknowledging she is a gay woman involve her children, aged 14, 12, and twins 10, other young people in the Hunter, and her need to live an honest life.

‘‘How can I say to my kids: ‘You can be whatever you want to be?’ when I had this secret,’’ she asked.

‘‘How could I teach them that and not be honest beyond my front door?

‘‘This is the truth. I am gay. Why do I have to say that?

‘‘Because it seems to be an issue for some people. There are young people who are really struggling in my community because it’s an issue that impacts at such a personal level. Some of those young people self-harm. They’re isolated from their families. Some of them take their lives.

‘‘The significance of saying that I am gay will be meaningless to a lot of people, who really don’t care if you are gay or not, but I want to say it for people, young or old, who are still living in fear.’’

Ms Burcham was married for 16 years and divorced three years ago. Her former husband has remarried.

She discussed her same-sex relationship with family and close friends some time ago, then rumours circulated earlier this year.

Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said he was approached by several people about council matters involving Ms Burcham, and their comments ended with the words: ‘‘Do you know she’s gay? It was just ridiculous how they tacked it on at the end,’’ he said.

‘‘I was a school teacher at a high school. I know how kids who might be gay really struggle in the school yard, and how their peers also struggle with how to respond. If someone like Cordelia can take a stand, then that can only send a good message to our young people.’’

In the lead-up to the local government election Ms Burcham, a Liberal Party candidate, was advised by a church group they would not  support her re-election because she is gay.

‘‘I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back because I retreated into myself,’’ she said. 

‘‘But I’m thankful in hindsight, because I don’t think I’d be able to speak freely now if that hadn’t happened.

‘‘I work very hard for my community, this is part of life, not my entire life. The message that said to me was: ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter how good you are at speaking on behalf of people’, you’re judged on the very core of you and found to be not good enough.

‘‘And that’s not right.’’ 

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