LESBIAN AND GAY SOLIDARITY


THE HISTORY OF THE GSG NEWSLETTER

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By Ken Lovett for a special presentation at the Camp Betty Weekend Conference

9 JUNE 2007

Camp Betty Lunchtime presentation
The History of the GSG Newsletter

The History of the GSG Newsletter

A lunchtime presentation by Mannie and Ken at the Queen’s Birthday Weekend in Melbourne at CAMP BETTY, a conference/festival of radical sex and politics, on SATURDAY, 9th JUNE 2007. The presentation is not definitive history but merely a potted history to fit a time slot in the weekend at Camp Betty.

 

 

GSG –the Gay Solidarity Group was loosely formed in Sydney to organise an action to coincide with the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day on Saturday, 24th June 1978. It was also meant to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Gay Riots of 1969 in New York. The GSG efforts produced a gay film festival, a gay forum, a Saturday morning street march of gay men and lesbians through the streets of Sydney and a gay mardi gras procession on that Saturday night –a night to remember!

 

 

Everyone knows that the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras ended in a brutal NSW Police attack on lesbian and gay mardi gras revellers in the heart of Kings Cross. 53 of them were arrested and dragged into paddywagons and then were taken to several police lock-ups in the the city. Joseph is planning in Monday’s lunchtime storytime to tell you about his memory of the first Gay Mardi Gras in which he was a reveller.

 

  

There followed more arrests two days later outside the Sydney Magistrates Court. As well, another street march on July 15th protesting against the police brutality at the mardi gras and outside the magistrates court, and calling for all charges to be dropped against those arrested at both, resulted in more arrests. But it wasn’t nearly over. On Sunday afternoon August 27th some 300 people attending the 4th National Homosexual Conference in the Paddington Town Hall decided, with police approval provided we walked on the footpath and had other people to act as marshalls so we didn’t stray on to the roadway, to walk down Oxford Street to Hyde Park in protest against an anti-abortion rally being held by Fred Nile’s Festival of Light and the Right-to-Life Movement. The request to the conference for a protest procession had come from the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign. Some of us realised before we reached Taylor Square that the police had brought bus-loads of reinforcements to deal with us. The buses were parked in the side streets along with paddywagons. At Taylor Square a line of police barred our way. We were told to disperse or be arrested. We weren’t really given a choice. The police just charged into us and grabbed those of us they could hold and threw us into the waiting paddywagons –overall 104 of us.

There’s a small file of papers here that provides those interested with some of the actions to do with these arrests.

 

 

As you can well imagine, the Gay Solidarity Group (GSG), its legal support and supportive civil liberties organisations were kept extremely busy over the following months finding ways to draw attention to the injustice of a system that denied its citizens their right to protest or celebrate on the street. It was during this period that GSG members decided it needed a newsletter to spread its aims and tell of its successes, its disappointments and what was happening elsewhere. The first Gay Solidarity Newsletter was produced in April 1979.

In the end, most of the police charges against us were withdrawn and laws were changed but over a long period of time.

Of interest to some of you are some miniature copies of the first issue of the Gay Solidarity Newsletter, Vol.1, No.1. Also some actual copies of issue No.2. Please take one of either if you wish or both.

 

 

There were lots of GSG actions and events in the calendar for the months ahead. The first anniversary of the 1978 Mardi Gras was heralded as Gay Solidarity Week from June 23 to June 30, 1979. It began with an Anniversary Dance at the Balmain Town then there was an event every day or night until Saturday June 30. In the morning hundreds marched from Town Hall Square through Sydney Streets to a Gay Alternative Fair. The brilliant climax of the week was the 2nd Gay Mardi Gras at night when nearly 3000 danced and sang down Oxford Street to the centre of the city and back.

 

 

After that we went to Melbourne for the 5th National Homosexual Conference in the Universal Warehouse, Fitzroy, from August 31 to September 2, 1979.

Back in Sydney, GSG began preparations for the National Gay Summer Offensive covering a period from December through to the end of March 1980, an initiative of the 5th conference in Melbourne. It began with a series of forums in December and ended on March 22 with a Day of Action Street March through Sydney streets, then by public transport to Bondi Pavilion for a concert and a dance in the huge open courtyard in the centre of the Pavilion. After that began preparations for the 6th National Conference for Lesbians and Homosexual Men which was held successfully at Sydney University’s Merewether Building on the August 30-31 Weekend 1980.

 

 

After the 1980 conference, Gay Left was formed in Sydney in response to a wave of new interest in gay activism. It lasted for 12 months during which time several new sexuality discussion groups came into being including Socialist Lesbians and Gay Rights Lobby. After prolonged argument it was agreed that Gay Left would merge with the Gay Solidarity Group to avoid any duplication of gay activist work.

 

 

Only one newsletter was produced in 1981and that was in November/December but during the year there had been numerous actions against police harassment and support for attempts by George Petersen, a NSW parliamentarian, to introduce amendments to the Crimes Act that would repeal those sections which dealt with male homosexuality. There were protests in front of parliament calling for homosexuality to be included in the Anti-Discrimination Laws. Originally in 1977 the bill had included that it was unlawful to discriminate on the ground of homosexuality but had been withdrawn from the bill before it was debated. The 7th National Conference for Lesbians and Gay Men was held in Adelaide.

 

 

There was also only one Newsletter produced in 1982 and that was an Autumn issue. It was the last issue until 1988. But the actions came big and fast during the year as well as in the following years. Jerry Falwell, the leader of the religious “Moral Majority arrived in Sydney in May from the U.S. Earlier in the year Debra from “Girls Own” Magazine, Gavin from the “Gay Information” journal and Leigh and Ken from GSG decided to register “Moral Majority” as a business name in NSW and wrote to groups in all the states Falwell may visit to do the same which they did. We wanted to use the name in everyway we could to harass his meetings. So, we lettered hundreds of small stickers which we stuck up in all kinds of very visible places. We made “demo pinnies” to don over our street clothes when we picketed his meetings. They carried the same sort of slogans that were on the stickers. The black on yellow stickers had messages like “Moral Majority reg. says: keep Abortion safe and legal, says gays should be blatant, Sodom today Gomorrah the world, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, they’re all queens where I come from” and so on.

There are sheets of these stickers here so by all means take a sheet.    

 

 

In July 1982 the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW released its 650page Report “Discrimination and Homosexuality.” The Board’s research uncovered numerous instances where rights and freedoms that people normally expect to enjoy in a democratic state were denied to lesbians or gay men. Arguments used by some to justify the curtailment of their civil liberties, such as that “homosexuals constitute a threat to society,” the Board found to be unjustifiable.

There’s a copy here of the recommendations of the ADB Report if you wish to look at it.

 

 

In September 1982, GSG made a submission to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal against the renewal of 2GB’s broadcasting licence citing its “Sunday Night Light Show” featuring Rev. Fred Nile of the Festival of Light as contravening accepted broadcasting standards because it insulted, maligned, and traumatised lesbians and homosexual men and caused offence to a section of the public and he used the programme as an election platform. The submission pointed out that the programme began on Sunday, 19 July 1981, exactly 2 months before he was elected to the Upper House of the NSW Parliament. GSG won the right to appear at the Tribunal hearing and argued their case over several days. 2GB were granted their licence renewal but found that the accusations against Rev Fred Nile were upheld and 2GB was required to strictly monitor his programme so that he did not break the accepted standards of broadcasting. It was nothing more than a slap on the wrist but at least Nile was pulled into line.   

If you want to read the full submission in Newsletter No.7 or any of the Newsletters for that matter, they can be accessed on Mannie and Ken’s Website.

 

 

The 8th National Conference for Lesbians and Gay Men was held in Canberra in 1982, the 9th in Melbourne in 1983, the 10th in Brisbane in 1984, and the 11th in Sydney in Autumn 1986 departing from the usual Spring period of the others. The first had been in Melbourne in 1975 and the one in Sydney in 1986 was the last in the series.

 

In 1983 the AIDS Action Committee was formed following a large meeting in the Heffron Hall in Darlinghurst of gay groups concerned about the health threat to gay men of this disease. The committee was a fore-runner to the government-sponsored AIDS COUNCIL of NSW (ACON).

 

1983 also saw the start of the Gay Radio Information News Service (GRINS) produced by and for lesbians and gay men and for ten years it provided local and global gay and lesbian news items on audio tape in weekly 7-minute bulletins to gay radio programmes around Australia and New Zealand. At peak there were 15 programmes receiving GRINS tapes.

 

The years when there were no newsletters produced were busy ones for all the Sydney groups and especially GSG. They were the very early years of HIV/AIDS activism. Come 1988 and 200th year anniversary of white settlement found GSG supporting Aboriginal Australia in a huge march through Sydney on January 26th and boycotting the official events.

1988 also saw Margaret Thatcher visiting Sydney but earlier in the year GSG had held a large protest rally against the Clause 28 Thatcher bill in the British parliament which outlawed any mention of homosexuality or lesbianism in schools. That demonstration introduced Mannie to GSG.

 

 

In the 1990s GSG had a name change. It was decided in an endeavour to attract more lesbians into the group, Lesbian and Gay Solidarity (LGS) was the way to go. The newsletter had been appearing much more regularly since 1988 but members were not and rather sadly the name change did not either. However, some of our members had become carers of those living with HIV/AIDS and one in particular learned that a new enormous park was being prepared by the South Sydney Council. He hit on the idea of reserving part of this new people’s park as an AIDS Memorial Grove of trees planted by partners and supportive families of gay men and women who had died from the effects of HIV/AIDS. It would be a living memorial. He approached Council and finally after 12 months or so the Council agreed because they had already begun scheduling community group plants. So, in May 1994 the first plantings for the Grove began. It was called the SPAIDS project standing for Sydney Park AIDS tree planting project. More than a decade on we are still planting trees but now only once a year. Earlier plantings were held three times each year. The Sisters of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence bless the trees at each planting and the Council have built a circular SPAIDS Reflection Area overlooking the Groves. A plaque was unveiled on Sunday, 27 May 2001, in this area.

 

In 1996 Lesbian and Gay Solidarity ceased holding meetings but because we did not want the name to die, we decided to continue to produce the newsletter, retain the name and use it when support is required in political actions where and whenever. We aren’t dead and nor is LGS.


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