Gay rights and women’s rights pioneer Dr Sue Wills has died

Dr Sue Wills, a trailblazer in Australian gay and lesbian rights, and the women’s movement has passed away. 

Wills is remembered for her many decades of fighting for LGBTIQA+ rights, including a groundbreaking television appearance in the 1970’s and her role as a co-founder of C.A.M.P – the Campaign Against Moral Persecution. 

News of her death was shared by the Australian Queer Archives who shared a detailed outline of her life’s work.  

She is remembered as one of the first to draw attention to, and to campaign against the abuse of gay people by the psychiatric profession, including its use of aversion therapy, in articles and interviews that still resonate today.

Wills wrote passionately about the issues in CAMP Inc, the groundbreaking magazine of the association, and was one of the few gay people speaking out in public in the early 1970s. 

Her appearance with her then-partner, Gaby Antolovich, on the ABC current affairs program, Chequerboard in 1972 is often overshadowed in discussions of that program by Peter de Waal and Peter Bonsall-Boone’s on-air kiss. But Sue and Gaby spoke eloquently to large audiences about their lesbianism and their lives, shaping early attitudes.

After the founders of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution withdrew from active participation Sue and Lex Watson stepped up to bring order to the group and its work, being Co-Presidents for a couple of years at a time when the movement’s interests went well beyond law reform and into areas of social transformation.

Eventually Sue, Lex and Gaby resigned their positions in CAMP citing sexism and a shift in the group towards welfarism rather than political engagement. Sue had been among those who struggled against sexism in the organisation and the movement, as described in her article The CWA – The other one, a history of the CAMP Women’s Association. She turned her attention to the women’s movement and remained active for the rest of her active life, working both as a lesbian and a woman.

She was also a historian – her PhD thesis, The Politics of Women’s Liberation was a deeply researched exploration of the links between he social movements of the early 1970s, including the gay movement (as it was then called) and the women’s movement. 

Like the best such work, she drew upon her own participation in the movements to draw out their inner depths. The documents that she collected, and went on collecting, are a remarkable archive of campaigns and ideas. She was happy to share her experiences with interviewees including with Graham Willett in the early 1990s, Kate Davison in the 2000s, and in the documentary The Hidden History of Homosexual Australia.

Her activism was acknowledged by her inclusion in the international publication, Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, her participation in the fortieth anniversary of CAMP conference and as an ACON Community Hero in 2010.

Dr Sue Wills was born in 1944. 

OIP Staff

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