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Pioneering Politician Kerryn Phelps Inspired Magda Szubanski To Come Out

In our count down to International Women’s Day (and Mardi Gras!), the duo dish on their longstanding friendship

In the late ’90s, Magda Szubanski (left) and Kerryn Phelps both lived in the gaze of the public eye, the former as a much-loved comedian and the latter as a TV doctor, who made headlines (and history) when she and her partner Jackie Stricker married in New York in 1998. By the time Phelps and Szubanski met on the red carpet at a film premiere in 2003, they felt as if they already knew each other.

“There was an instant familiarity,” says Phelps. Adds Szubanski, “Kerryn doesn’t know this but I’d had her and Jackie in my sights for a while, because I knew I was going to come out, and I thought they’d be fantastic people to talk to. I really admired them.”

Szubanski had long been openly gay among friends and family, but was yet to share her sexuality with the public. “To me it almost feels anachronistic to ‘come out’ now, because you hope that people don’t have to do this big song and dance,” says Phelps. Nevertheless, she was by Szubanski’s side as she prepared to make her announcement live on The Project on February 14, 2012. “That night was preceded by two years of phone conversations and discussions considering the implications. We used to have war-room meetings,” says Phelps. “I felt incredibly protective and proud watching her go to air.”

Photographer Peter Brew-Bevan
(Credit: Photographer Peter Brew-Bevan)

Together the pair went on to spearhead the national campaign for marriage equality, with Phelps’ fight proving so strong that last year she ran for – and won – former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s blue-ribbon Sydney seat of Wentworth.

“I see Kerryn as a role model. She’s very classy, brave, intelligent and warm,” says Szubanski, turning to her friend as they sit surrounded by glittering Mardi Gras props. “But I don’t want you to get up yourself.”

Read the full story in the April issue of marie claire, out now. 

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