LGBTI Sydney mourns death of trailblazer Lex Watson
Sydney’s LGBTI community is mourning the passing of gay rights campaigner, activist, advocate and historian Lex Watson.
Watson died at Sacred Hospice on Tuesday, after a long battle with cancer. He was 71.
Hailed as a pioneer, Watson has been campaigning for LGBTI issues since 1968. He was involved with Camp Against Moral Persecution (CAMP), helping lay a solid foundation for the organisation in its efforts to campaign for federal law reform and the anti-psychiatry movement.
In 1980, Watson founded the Gay Rights Lobby – which would later become the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) – and became an instrumental figure in homosexual law reform in NSW.
Watson was also central in the formation of Sydney’s AIDS Action Committee and became the first president of ACON, leading the organisation at the height of the AIDS crisis.
More recently, Watson served as the president of the Pride History Group.
Justin Koonin, co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, praised Watson’s trailblazing efforts.
“Lex was a pioneer for gay and lesbian people in Australia,” Koonin told SX.
“We enjoy the freedom we have today only because Lex, and others, put their freedom on the line all those years ago.
“He will be greatly missed.”
Robert French of the Pride History Group highlighted Watson’s years of advocacy and campaigning for the LGBTI community: “It truly was a life of service to our community”.
"Sometimes acerbic, sometimes stroppy, but always focused on the task at hand, Lex Watson was a giant among gay activists in Australia and a very brave man," French added.
"For almost 45 years have was an advocate for the equality of homosexuals before the law and prepared to put himself on the frontline for that cause.
"He will be greatly missed."
ACON President Mark Orr said Watson's contributions and achievement have made a positive impact on the lives of LGBTI people and people living with HIV.
“His work in relation to LGBT rights was ground-breaking, and throughout his life the outcomes he helped achieve in relation to law reform and community health have been significant and enduring,” Orr said.
“In particular, his stewardship of NSW’s initial response to the impact of HIV/AIDS helped to fundamentally change the face of public health in this country, and indeed around the world, by creating a peer and community based model for disease control as opposed to previous quarantine based models.
“His work helped provide inspiration and comfort to tens thousands of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS, especially during the early years of the epidemic, and the extent to which Australia has been successful in containing the virus is testament to his vision, skill and dedication.”
Above: Lex Watson at a protest by Sydney Gay Liberation and CAMP outside the ABC TV offices against the cancelling of a This Day Tonight report on gay liberation on July 11, 1972. Photo by John Storey/Courtesy Pride History Group. Top image: Lex Watson in 2013. Photo: SX/Deepfield Photography
Others have taken to social media to pay their respects.
HIV activist Paul Kidd wrote on Facebook: “I met Lex in 1984, when I was involved in the Debating Society at UNSW, and we had arranged a debate between him and Fred Nile on the topic 'That AIDS is the plague of the millennium'. I had the task of chairing that debate which, despite Nile arriving with a dozen or so supporters to bolster his cause, I'm happy to say Lex won comfortably. He was a hero of our struggle and he will be missed.”
Researcher Garrett Prestage wrote on Facebook: “Lex was a champion for the cause and a hero long before most of us could have been. And he took huge risks to advance gay rights and gay visibility. He was my first year government tutor at Sydney Uni, and his simple refusal to conceal any part of himself or what he believed was a true inspiration. It helped me gain the courage I needed not just to come out, but to take up the challenge of being both visible and an activist.”
Community member Chris Williams wrote on Facebook: “Where would we be if it wasn't for the fierce ones like Lex Watson? Lex achieved so much for our community, in some of the most trying circumstances over such a long period of time. A freedom fighter and a truly great gay Australian. RIP Lex Watson.”
For Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, it is Watson’s efforts that have allowed him to be where he is today.
“It is because of the courage and bravery of Lex, that someone like me can serve as a proud and openly gay man in NSW Parliament,” Greenwich told SX.
Greenwich said he will pay tribute to Watson in parliament today.
“Because of the hard work, courage and bravery of Lex, Sydney is a safer and fairer place for the LGBTI community,” Greenwich’s condolence statement reads.
“It will be fitting tribute to Lex that this year our parliament will soon debate legislation to expunge the criminal records of gay men unfairly charged with sodomy and buggery prior to decriminalisation.
“On behalf of the Sydney electorate I express condolences to his family, friends, and Sydney’s LGBTI community.”