Revisiting our gay past
There is an upswing in interest in Australian LGBTI history. In the LGBTI press, social media and parts of the mainstream media, more attention than ever is paid to recapping and sometimes revising the gay past.
It could be because of recent anniversaries, like 30 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW.
Landmark books like Dino Hodge’s biography of Don Dunstan or public discussion of gay hate crimes that went unnoticed for years have also contributed.
So has the hard work of gay historians like Nick Henderson and Robert French, and the death of leading advocate Lex Watson.
But I wonder if there’s something more going on here.
In Britain and US there has been a similar upsurge that is clearly associated with the marriage equality debate.
The underlying questions seem to be, where did this reform come from and what does it show about society for it to be achieved?
I hear variations of those questions in Australia too, but they are tinged with bitterness.
Our questions are more, why are we waiting so long for this reform, and why can’t we achieve this now when we achieved so much in the past?
In other parts of the Anglosphere, marriage equality is seen as the culmination of the LGBTI past.
In Australia the failure thus far to achieve marriage equality poses uncomfortable challenges to the whole “it gets better” narrative of LGBTI history.
But history should never be allowed to lead us to cynicism.
Study it closely and it will yield clues about how prejudice and exclusion are overcome.
What I see in Australian LGBTI history is how a combination of different activities, sometimes seemingly incompatible and almost always unorchestrated, created positive change.
I’m talking about clever, targeted protests, not mayhem; intelligent, concise advocacy, not whinging; persistent but friendly lobbying, not harassment.
Most of all I’m talking about bravery not bluster; self-sacrifice not self-advantage.
I’m not saying the past was a golden age, just that there are many examples of successful activities and sustaining values from times gone by.
A focus on them will inspire us to find a path forward to a better Australia.
- TOPICS: Rodney Croome