How have things changed? What was gay life like in the past?

Gay and Lesbian Then and NowGay & Lesbian, Then & Now

by Robert Reynolds and Shirleene Robinson

Robert Reynolds and Shirleene Robinson are based at Sydney’s Macquarie University but have spent considerable time travelling around Australia to record interviews with people who spoke about their life experiences of being attracted to members of the same sex.

Apart from the geographical diversity, from far north Queensland to south west of WA and from Darwin to Tasmania, they interviewed people from varying cultural backgrounds. There’s Aussies stuck in small country towns, someone who felt it was his sexuality more than his Aboriginality that set him apart, a Chinese Malaysian Australian and even migrants from England and New Zealand

This is not a dry academic treatise, but a collection of interesting anecdotes about struggles and also delights experienced by the diverse range of lesbian and gay people over time. The interviews cover eight decades of changes, with the eldest person interviewed born in 1921 and the youngest born in 1992.

All these brave people share their fears, their light-bulb moments of sexual realisation and their discoveries about the world and themselves. They also map the social and political changes. Although these are stories ‘of everyday lesbian and gay lives’, each one contributes to the fascinating history that starts with being classified as criminals and finishes with feeling like equal citizens.

The Veterans speak of medical intervention, persecution and rejection but also of navigating around the bigotry and exploiting society’s blindness. Baby Boomers have memories of supportive communities that fought for rights and survived the HIV/AIDS crisis. Generation X-ers speak about the importance of popular culture and the Internet.

The Millennials had many battles already won for them but homophobic abuse, domestic violence and high suicide rates still needed to be addressed. Many still struggle with a secret that feels too shameful to share but some have children and wonder about what they are losing to be fully integrated into society.

The accounts are all fascinating and are important contributions to the social history of the gay and lesbian revolution, carried out by everyday people, that continues in Australia and around the world.

Lezly Herbert

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