LGBTI+ History Month- By Minus18 and Safe Schools Coalition
October 2016 is the first Australian LGBTI+ History Month. Victorian schools are invited to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australian history.
We’ve partnered with Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and ALGA to creat a toolkit of posters, case studies, interviews and resources for you to celebrate, educate and advocate in October.
AUSTRALIAN LGBTI+ HISTORY
On June 24, 1978 around 500 people marched from Sydney’s Town Hall to Martin Place in solidarity with American gay activists. That evening, several hundred lesbians, gay men and allies met at Taylor Square to take part in a street party that was named a ‘Mardi Gras’ by Margaret McMann. Participants remember the creative outfits, the winter coats to protect against the cold night, the excitement and also the fear at taking part in such a public and bold act. Police stopped the parade and as the participants surged up to Kings Cross, where they were surrounded by police and assaulted. Fifty three people were arrested. Ever since these events, Mardi Gras has continued as a day of celebration and commemoration for the LGBTI+ community. Mardi Gras today is an international event attended by thousands of people in Sydney every year.
Established in the mid-seventies, the Gay Teachers and Students Group worked together to try and make schools safer and less hostile places. In 1978 they published the book ‘Young, Gay and Proud’, which was about letting young gay people know that they were not alone and that they should feel good about themselves. The introduction read: “Most books say bad things about us… We wrote this one to try to even things up a bit. That’s going to be hard because a lot of things needs changing first. For instance, schools have to change before things are evened up. Most of them aren’t great places to spend all day in. We know because most of us work in them. We’re working to change them too”.
Today, programs like Safe Schools Coalition are continuing this work to make sure LGBTI+ students, teachers and families feel safe and happy at school.
In 1970, John Ware and Christabel Poll, inspired by the early gay rights movement in America, formed CAMP - Campaign Against Moral Persecution. Soon after, they published issue 1 of CAMP INK, Australia’s first ever gay and lesbian magazine. A 1972 issue featured an article by Ware titled ‘The homosexual family’, with the photograph on this poster as the front cover. The photo features John and his partner David Widdup posing with two dogs in the style of a Victorian portrait. The image parodies traditional heterosexual family roles and the article explored the lack of language available to describe same sex couples and family units. Ware’s article also points out that at that time “the idea of a homosexual pair adopting children is seen as a disgusting concept of utter depravity.” Today there are many diverse LGBTI+ families and a much wider range of representations.
Val Eastwood, born in 1928, is well known in Australian LGBTI+ history as the flamboyant and openly lesbian proprietor of Val’s Coffee Lounge. Also a talented performer with her own dance school, Val set up the coffee lounge at 123 Swanston Street in the early 1950’s. The café was popular with Melbourne’s theatre community and with the gay and lesbian community, then referred to as ‘camp’. Val’s café was well known for its bohemian atmosphere, live music, great coffee and food. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in Victoria until 1981 and many gay men and lesbians were convicted because of their sexuality. Val’s Coffee Lounge provided a safe and celebratory space, away from the public and police eye. As well as being lots of fun, Val described her time at the coffee lounge as ‘bloody hard work’. She eventually sold up, but opened several more cafés and restaurants around Melbourne over the years.
Andrew George Scott is better known in history as bushranger Captain Moonlite. Belonging to a respectable family and working as a lay preacher when he first arrived in Australia in 1868, Moonlite would be in court just over a year later accused of robbing a bank. In 1879, he famously led a group of young men to hold up a farm in New South Wales, which would result in his capture and punishment by hanging. One of these young men was James Nesbitt, a good friend and companion of Moonlite - or were they something more? When Nesbitt was shot and killed during the hold-up, Moonlite was reported to have “wept over him like a child, laid his head upon his breast, and kissed him passionately.” Awaiting his own execution, Moonlite wrote: “We were one in hopes, one in heart and soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms.”
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
Download the toolkit for information on how to celebrate LGBTI History Month in your school or group, or print off the posters to hang up.