Out Of The Closets and Into The Streets

OK.  I will confess that this “Come Out!” poster is not from Sydney where I was living at the time, but is a well-known image from NYC’s GLF (Gay Liberation Front) group.   I’m using it to show that this principle was very important to all of us in the early 70s.  We knew that we needed to Come Out as gay and lesbian in order to bring about changes in society and to eliminate homophobia.  We also needed to Come Together (that is, work together) to bring about change and liberate ourselves.  Sydney’s Gay Liberation applied those principles to the demos that we were planning.

Targeting the Media

After elbowing our way into Sydney’s May Day Parade (as I discussed in my previous post),  we wondered where our next “zap” or demo would be.  It wasn’t long until we had something to sink our teeth into.

In July 1972, we learned that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) had prepared a segment on Gay Liberation for screening on a news program.  We – Gay Liberation – were going to be on national television!  But, at the last minute, upper management refused to allow it to be broadcast.  How dare they.  We immediately organized a protest.  We were surprised that over 50 people turned up with flowers, confetti and balloons!  We were going to have fun and teach them a lesson at the same time.

But heckling from passersby and the arrest of David McDiarmid, the artist friend of ours, dampened our feelings of exhilaration and elation, leaving me feeling confused and devastated.

The original segment was never shown.  However, we did get some visibility in the media.  News organizations covered the protest, some seriously, others with a tone of disapproval and shock.  But we were out there!

Here’s my one photo from that demonstration, again taken by photographer and friend, John Storey.  We had dressed in warmer clothes as it was now “winter”.

Demo outside ABC offices, Elizabeth St., Sydney. July 72.

Interestingly, just before this censorship happened, a new Coronation Street-type soap opera called Number 96 had just started on another TV channel.  Much to our surprise, it featured a regular gay character, Don.  He had gay friends and partners.  What was unique was that the other characters on the show did not treat him particularly differently because he was gay.  What a lovely surprise for us.  Each new episode had my roommates and I glued to the TV.

Is this not a pattern we still see?  Drama and comedy shows on TV that introduce queer characters and/or issues before they are accepted in broader society?  The media can be both friend and foe.

Speaking of drama, the film Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli as Sally, opened in Sydney at this same time.  We went to see it as soon as it hit the screen.  Here’s the cover of my LP that I still have!


Of course, you’ll remember this dialogue from the film.  For those who don’t, let me say that this was the first time where a guy admitted he had had sex with another man and didn’t seem to feel guilty about it.

“Brian:  Screw Maximilian.

Sally:  I do.

Brian:  [with a smirkish smile] So do I!”

We were shocked and delighted at the same time to learn of Brian’s bisexuality.  Of course, in real life, Christopher Isherwood, on whose life this film was based, was completely gay but bisexuality was good enough for us.  We were ready to grab any positive image in film – something we hadn’t had before.

Targeting Psychiatry

At Sydney Gay Liberation, we learned that psychiatrists at the University of New South Wales were using Electric Shock Therapy (now called ECT and/or aversion therapy) to “cure” homosexuality.  At that time, homosexuality was still defined as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – number 302.0, to be exact – and we going to change that.

For men, ECT therapy meant having a wire attached to their body through which an electric shock would be sent while they were looking at photos of naked men.  The simplistic idea was that getting a horrible electric shock would put them off the idea of desiring men and, hopefully, turn them straight.  The sad part of this story is that it was often gay men themselves who would ask their psychiatrists for this treatment because they hated being gay.  Of course, it never worked.

Therefore we had to have a demonstration at the university to draw attention to their atrocities.  We even had street theatre with the Bad Professor and the Good Gay Lib Fairy while hundreds of stunned students looked on.  But I have no photos from it!  Nevertheless, the world of psychiatry did begin to change.  We knew that being gay was not the problem.  It was society’s — and psychiatrists’ — attitudes to homosexuality that needed curing, not us.

Gay Is Good


It was around this time that we first heard the term “homophobia” that meshed with our analysis.   George Weinberg, an American psychologist, had first coined that term in his book, Society and the Healthy Homosexual.   He suggested that those who harbour prejudice against homosexuals suffered from a psychological malady which needs fixing, not the homosexual.  Weinberg, though heterosexual himself, played a key role in changing attitudes which eventually led to homosexuality being removed as a diagnostic category from the DSM in 1973.  Yay!

My next post will look at us Coming Out and Coming Together to take on the Anglican Church!

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