Why Karl Stefanovic’s apology matters

Late last week, The Today Show presenter Karl Stefanovic burst into a fit of laughter. This is not unusual for the jibe of breakfast TV, but what followed was. Using the phrase ‘tr*nny’ numerous times, Stefanovic spoke about the mugging of a news crew in Rio, allegedly by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community. In doing so, he aided the stigma and discriminated of people against this group.

Understandably, Stefanovic and The Today Show were met with a liberal serving of backlash. Twitter users called him ‘insensitive,’ accusing him of using a transphobic slur and denigrating transgender people. 

Following these events, the presenter spent a few minutes the next morning apologising for his words and behaviour. 

‘By using the word tr*nny, I offended an awful lot of beautiful, sensitive people,” said Stefanovic. “I honestly didn’t know the negative and deeply hurtful impact that word has, not only on members of the LGBTQI community, but on their family and their friends.’

Stefanovic recognised his ignorance about the term, which the public and friends had called him out on using. Labelling himself a ‘complete tool’ he went on to say he got it ‘very wrong’ and was uneducated about the term and the LGTQI community as whole.

Stefanovic undoubtly crossed the line with his comments, for which the Australian public rightly held him accountable. However, his apology is something we can all learn from. As he said, ‘For those who didn’t see the segment yesterday, you can also learn from my mistake if you choose to.’

Rather than holding up his right of ‘freedom of speech’ or the alleged overuse of ‘political correctness’, Stefanovic was able to see the deep, personal implications his words had on the world around him. While he may have spoken in ignorance and without malice, his words carried centuries of weight, promoting the exclusion, abuse and stereotyping of a minority group. 

In Australia, members of this diverse community experience some of the poorest mental health in Australia. Same-sex attracted people are 14 times as likely to attempt suicide as those who are heterosexual, and evidence shows that 50 per cent of the transsexual community have attempted suicide at least once. 

In light of this, is it imperative that society, and The Salvation Army, respond to this community with compassion and understanding, showing value for their lives, goals and over all wellbeing. 

By saying he was ignorant and needed to be educated, Karl Stefanovic reflected the condition of many Australians. We, irrespective of our own background, values, beliefs or sexual orientation, often fail to understand what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes. 

In Isaiah chapter 42, Christ is described as one who, ‘won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt, and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right’.

Stefanovic’s actions show that these words are as pertinent as ever for the members of society who experience discrimination, and it is essential we implement them in our everyday life and language.