Stonewall 50: Bouquets & Bricks

Today marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, a key moment in the history of LGBTI rights activism, both in the United States and around the world.

In a different world I had hoped to be in New York, attending the World Pride celebrations marking this significant anniversary – although unfortunately sometimes the more mundane parts of life, like mortgage payments, have other plans.

I wanted to be there to pay my respects to the activists who have come before us, and on whose shoulders we stand, who have paved the way towards the improved rights and increased acceptance many of us enjoy today.

Even though I may not be there in person I can still honour their achievements in my own small way, on this somewhat niche LGBTI rights blog, on the other side of the globe.

Thank you to the brave people at the Stonewall Inn who, in the early hours of June 28 1969, fought back against police oppression, and fought to end the injustice that was ubiquitous in the lives of queer people at that time.

Thank you to the trans and gender diverse people, the drag queens and the people of colour who have been at the forefront of this battle from the very beginning.

Of course, the Stonewall Riots was not the first instance of LGBTI people fighting back against abuse and mistreatment. Thank you too to the people at Compton’s Cafeteria, and Cooper Do-nuts, and likely other instances of queer rebellion that have been lost to history, because we were not the ones who were writing it.

Nor was Stonewall the starting point for LGBTI rights within the United States, with groups like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis undertaking the comparatively-boring legal reform work – but who, in doing so, took far greater risks than we could possibly appreciate today.

Obviously, the story of LGBTI activism did not begin and does not end with the US either (a mistake we make all-too-often, especially on anniversaries like this).

Thank you as well to the countless campaigners for our rights around the world, from the advocates for homosexual recognition in Germany in the second half of the 19th century, to the courageous people fighting for decriminalisation in the 68 UN Member States where homosexuality remains criminalised today.

Looking closer to home, Australia’s most-famous instance of queer people celebrating amidst the spectre of police brutality had its own 40th anniversary just last year. Thank you to the 78ers, whose courage at that first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras helped inspire the generations here that followed.

Just as in the US, however, Mardi Gras was not the starting point for LGBTI rights in Australia.

Thank you to the people who stood up in the preceding decade, from the formation of the Homosexual Law Reform Society of the ACT in July 1969 (just one month after Stonewall, and who will celebrate their own 50th anniversary in four weeks’ time), through the early 70s activism of groups like Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP for short), to the decriminalisation advocates in South Australia and elsewhere.

Thank you to the people who responded to the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, which decimated our community when it had only just begun to emerge from the darkness. You fought for your lives – and for all of us – and in doing so you kept the (candle)light alive.

Thank you to the HIV activists today, who understand that this struggle is not over.

Thank you to the law reformers, who over decades have secured the building blocks of legal equality, from anti-discrimination protections, to relationship recognition and most recently the right to marry the person we love.

Thank you to the trans and gender diverse activists, who have been fighting – against even greater resistance – for the right to live the lives you were always meant to. The battles for access to birth certificates and identity documentation, and health care, are not over.

Thank you to the intersex activists whose struggles seem bigger still. Many of whom are survivors of gross violations of the human right to bodily autonomy, but who speak out to stop those same coercive surgeries and treatments from being inflicted on others. And who must fight against the indifference of politicians, the arrogance of medical professionals and too-often the ignorance of other members of the LGBTI community.

Thank you to the queer people of colour, and especially to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI people, who fight not just against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia, but also against the racism that lies at the heart of our country (and, sadly, within our own community too).

As can be seen from the above, the incredible progress made so far on LGBTI rights has been achieved because of the work of more than any one particular individual or organisation. We have all played a role.

From the brave people who threw the first bricks at Stonewall. To others who have thrown bricks through the legal, social and cultural discrimination which LGBTI people all-too-commonly faced. And everyone who has thrown their own bricks through the closet of invisibility and shame that too many people have endured.

With those bricks we have built ourselves a community, and a home, where more people than at any point in history can feel accepted for who they are, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

But, as we all know, the house of LGBTI rights remains incomplete – there is still much unfinished business, in Australia, the United States and around the world, before all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can finally be considered ‘free & equal’.

Which means we need more (metaphorical) brick-throwers, to smash down the walls of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia that keep many LGBTI community members imprisoned.

So today, as we celebrate Stonewall 50, and give thanks to the LGBTI activists who have made our world a better place, we should take a moment to reflect on what each of us can do, what we should do, and what we must do, to carry on their work.


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30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW

Tonight, at midnight, it will be exactly 30 years since gay and bisexual adult men in New South Wales moved from being criminals to being able to engage in consensual sexual intercourse without fear of prosecution.

Then NSW Premier, the Hon Neville Wran MP’s, private member’s bill – the Crimes (Amendment) Act 1984 – had passed the NSW Parliament on 22 May, but did not take effect until the 8th of June, 1984.

This legislation, decriminalising male same-sex sexual intercourse (for people aged 18 or over – sadly, an equal age of consent had to wait another 19 years), was the product of 14 years of hard work and tireless campaigning of gay and lesbian (and of course some early trans*) rights activists.

From the founding of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in September 1970, through the proliferation of gay liberation groups during the 1970s, to the courageous ‘78ers’ who resisted NSW Police violence at the first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Parade, and the Gay Rights Lobby, formed in 1980 – as well as numerous other groups advocating for equality on the basis of sexual orientation – this achievement was truly a collective effort.

It is thanks to the courage of these activists, who stood up and fought for their (and our) rights, to be public and be proud at a time when they were threatened with criminal sanction for simply being who they were, that people like my fiancé Steve and I can enjoy, and even take for granted, such a wide range of freedoms today.

It is because of this that I simply wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for what they achieved, for themselves, for us and for future generations. To them, I say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

That’s one thanks for every year of freedom that we have enjoyed since the decriminalisation of homosexuality 30 years ago. To any of those activists who might one day read this post (highly unlikely, but then you never know), please know that we appreciate what was done, and that we owe you.

Of course, there is one way that we can try to repay at least a small part of that debt, and that is to continue pushing for legislation which allows all those who were convicted due to the homophobia of the criminal law – both before decriminalisation in 1984, and because of the unequal age of consent between 1984 and 2003 – to have those convictions expunged.

The Liberal Member for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith, is expected to introduce a private member’s bill to achieve just that later in June. We should lobby to ensure as many MPs as possible support this effort at redressing past injustices.

At the same time, the NSW Parliament should expressly apologise to all those harmed – both at the time and, for many, for a lifetime – by the homophobic laws which emanated from that place for far too long.

Legislation to expunge historical convictions, accompanied by a parliamentary apology for historic injustices, would be a fitting way to mark the 30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW. Let’s do what we can to make sure it happens.

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran's home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran’s home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).