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Movement, Knowledge, Emotion: Gay activism and HIV-AIDS in Australia


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) entered the public arena as a ‘mystery disease’ for which there was no known cause and no cure. Concerns that this unknown killer would sweep rapidly across whole populations provided it with media and political attention few medical conditions receive. But more significantly, AIDS achieved rapid infamy through its association with a set of social and sexual practices considered by many to be deviant and highly immoral: homosexuality, illicit drug use and prostitution.

In May 1983, doctors from St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney announced that the first known case of AIDS in Australia had been diagnosed the previous October in a gay man who had been visiting Sydney from New York.1 Hindsight would prove that there were almost certainly many more undiagnosed cases of both Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS in the community at this time, but the official identification of that first case was enough to prompt acknowledgment that this mystery disease from the United States had found its way to Australia.

From this first diagnosis in 1982 until the end of 2009, there had been 29 395 reported diagnoses of HIV2 in Australia. Of these, 10 446 people had been diagnosed with AIDS and 6776 AIDS-related deaths had been recorded. It is estimated that 20 171 Australians were living with diagnosed HIV at the end of 2009.3 The virus spread most rapidly through the Australian community in the early years of the 1980s, with the incidence of new HIV diagnoses peaking in 1984. But despite predictions that there would be a significant resurgence of the virus (the so-called ‘second wave’), the rate of new HIV infections in Australia remained relatively steady until the early 2000s, when there were indications that rates of new HIV infections were increasing in Australia for the first time in more than a decade.4

Gay men have been affected by HIV/AIDS more than any other population group in Australia. While the rate of HIV transmission among heterosexuals—particularly those in marginalised groups such as Indigenous Australians—has increased slightly in recent years, the majority of HIV infections (more than 80 per cent of all infections between 1982 and 2009) have occurred through male-to-male sexual transmission.5 This pattern differs from that seen in other Western countries, including France, the United States and Germany, where HIV has moved much more widely into the heterosexual population. In the United States, for example, heterosexual sex accounted for 33 per cent of all newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2004, with 47 per cent attributed to men who have sex with men.6 In comparison, in Australia, 85.4 per cent of new diagnoses of HIV in 2005 were attributed to male-to-male sex—a similar proportion to earlier years.7 Alongside this, the rate of HIV among intravenous drug users and women in these countries is much higher than in Australia.

Public perceptions of HIV/AIDS in Australia have shifted and changed over the years to the point where HIV/AIDS is increasingly viewed in a global context as a disease of poverty and underdevelopment. When AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s, however, many people suspected that it was a disease exclusive to gay men. Before HIV was identified as the virus causing AIDS—even before the term AIDS was established—the syndrome was being called Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), the ‘homosexual cancer’ or the more derogatory ‘gay plague’. Early theories regarding the cause of AIDS pointed to factors such as excessive semen in the bloodstream from anal intercourse or the ‘fast-paced’ lifestyle of many gay men.8 Although it was not long into the 1980s when the first cases of AIDS among heterosexual people began to appear in Australia, the belief that there was an inherent association between AIDS and the lifestyle and sexual choices of gay men seemed to be entrenched in Australian public consciousness.

There were indications, and fears, that the contagious nature of the illness would provide licence for a formal crackdown on the recently won social freedoms of gay men, such as the decriminalisation of homosexual sex in some States and Territories of Australia. As well as threatening lives, AIDS made vulnerable the civil liberties and public acceptance of lesbians and gay men that had slowly been expanding throughout the 1970s.

It was in this context that AIDS activism first emerged. Gay men in Australia began to organise politically not only to protect people afflicted with AIDS and draw attention to their needs, but to defend the broader social rights of gay men and lesbians.

The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the rise of consumer-based health movements, both in Australia and across the Western world. But when AIDS first appeared in the early 1980s the sophistication and breadth of the organised response to it by the gay community were unheralded. To date in this country, no other community or consumer-based health movement has captured the same level of public and political influence as that of the AIDS movement.9

In part this was due to the extent to which the politics of HIV/AIDS became connected with the broader gay and lesbian movement.10 Organisational structures that had been established through the 1970s in campaigns for gay and lesbian rights were drawn upon, and the cultural and political framework of the gay movement was reoriented towards the immediate problem of AIDS.

At issue for the AIDS movement was the way in which HIV/AIDS and the people most affected by it were constructed in the public’s imagination. It was this that would inform policy and direct the treatment of HIV/AIDS by government and public health authorities. If HIV/AIDS continued to be seen as a disease of immorality, of ‘blameworthy deviants’, then punitive and restrictive measures to control its spread could potentially be considered justifiable. AIDS activists campaigned on a number of fronts: to reduce stigma and discrimination against gay men and people with HIV/AIDS; and to ensure that the concerns of the gay community were taken into account in public health responses.

The Influence of History

In 1932, a clinical study into the efficacy of syphilis treatment began in the American town of Tuskegee, Alabama. Although originally planned as a six-month trial, the study continued for nearly 40 years. It finally ended in 1972, when a journalist revealed that the researchers involved had intentionally denied 399 African-American men knowledge of the existence of effective treatment for their syphilis infection. Although penicillin had been discovered as a simple cure for syphilis as early as 1947, researchers chose not to inform their research subjects about this so they could observe the long-term effects of syphilis on African-American bodies. The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male resulted in the unnecessary deaths of more than 100 men from syphilis or its complications. Many of these men also infected their wives or partners. The legacy of the Tuskegee study—the so-called ‘Tuskegee effect’—has been described as a collective memory of experiences that shaped a powerful mistrust of medical authorities among African Americans.11

This mistrust was still apparent in the early 1980s when HIV/AIDS first emerged in America. In 1990, a New York Times/WCBS TV news poll found that 10 per cent of African Americans ‘genuinely and definitely’ believed that HIV/AIDS had been ‘deliberately created in a laboratory in order to infect black people’. A further 20 per cent agreed that this could ‘possibly be true’.12 For many African Americans, AIDS was perceived within a context of several centuries of racial discrimination and abuse.

In Australia, AIDS has overwhelmingly been a disease that affects men who have sex with men. When the first diagnosed Australian cases were reported in 1983, public reaction was layered in homophobia. Fear of AIDS was dressed as a fear of gay men.

By the same token, the response of gay men to the illness occurred on the back of a long history of homophobic discrimination and a mistrust of authorities stemming from many years of legal, religious and medical efforts to control or punish homosexuality.

Comparisons between the history of racism in America and the experiences of gay men in Australia might seem tenuous. But both cases are illustrative of the way in which the responses of people and communities to an issue or threat in the present are influenced by the past. For groups that have experienced discrimination throughout history there is every reason for fear of continued discrimination to frame many of their actions and decisions. This can sometimes be whittled down to more specific instances of abuse on behalf of specific authorities, as with the Tuskagee study. But it can also manifest as a more general mistrust.

This idea is the starting point for this account of gay activists’ responses to AIDS in Australia. The gay community’s response to AIDS was arguably the most significant consumer health movement Australia has ever witnessed. Many thousands of people became involved in the community response to AIDS and the AIDS movement achieved considerable political and public influence. But the gay community did not mobilise such a response to AIDS in the context of the immediate threat of AIDS alone. Rather, the threat posed by AIDS sat within the context of a history of homophobia and the way in which gay men and women had come to respond to homophobia over many decades in Australia.

‘Sodom of the South’: Homophobia in Australia’s history

Homosexuality—often defined and conceptualised primarily by the act of sodomy—has been part of public consciousness in Australia since early settlement. The first Governor of the Australian colony established in 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip, is recorded as saying: ‘There are two crimes that could merit death—murder and sodomy. For either crimes I would wish to confine the criminal till an opportunity offered of delivering him as a prisoner to the natives of New Zealand, and let them eat him.’13

In the early days of Australian settlement, the threat of severe punishment ensured any sexual act between two men remained extremely covert. As such there is minimal documented evidence of homosexuality from this period.14 Despite this, by the early 1800s Australia had developed a reputation of being the ‘Sodom of the South’—an image articulated in the testimonies of Roman Catholic clergyman Dr William Ullathorne, Vicar-General of the colonies at the time. In his report on the state of the Catholic mission in Australia, prepared for the Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda Fide, Ullathorne provided considerable detail of the existence of a ‘class of crime…which St Paul, in detailing the vices of the heathens, has not contemplated’.15 Similarly, the 1837–38 Molesworth Committee on (convict) Transportation heard evidence from Superintendent James Mudie that homosexuality at the Sydney Cove Settlement was far from uncommon.16 Mudie stated that ‘[u]pwards of 150 male couples may be pointed out who habitually associate for this most detestable intercourse, whose moral perception is so completely absorbed that they are said to be “married”, to be husband and wife.’17

Sodomy18 was an offence punishable by death in the early Australian colonies, the first hanging for this ‘crime’ taking place when a man named Alexander Brown was committed to die in 1828. Despite all evidence suggesting that Brown’s sexual partner was willing (the partner’s death sentence was commuted), the hanging went ahead. The last execution in Australia for the charge of sodomy took place in Tasmania in 1863. Capital punishment for homosexual sex then ceased when the 1885 (British) Criminal Amendment Act was introduced. This Act still made sure all male homosexual acts (including mutual masturbation) were criminal offences, but deemed the maximum punishment to be life imprisonment rather than death.19

In its first period of settlement, Sydney would not have been large enough to allow the anonymity that made possible the extensive gay subcultures that existed in London and other major cities at the time, although there is evidence of a few gay ‘beats’ around Sydney in the early decades of the 1900s. By the 1920s there was an emerging gay underground in all major Australian cities.20 Publicly, however, there was a veil of silence around homosexuality and Australian social attitudes tended to remain fairly conservative through the first half of the twentieth century. There are numerous reports from this time of police raids on gay and lesbian gatherings. For example, in 1942, five men were arrested in a raid on a house party in Annandale, Sydney (journalists must have been ecstatic with the possibilities for scandalous headlines when four of the accused fronted up to court the following day still dressed in drag).21

Throughout the 1940s, the Australian media began to promote the idea that an increase in the number of men appearing in court for homosexual-related offences was indicative of a growing culture of ‘sex perverts’ in Sydney. Various organisations began to respond to this, particularly conservative groups such as the Country Women’s Association, which passed a resolution at its 1949 conference to urge the Government to implement heavier penalties for (homosexual) sex crimes.22

Despite this, there were some indications that social and sexual conventions were becoming more relaxed during the post–World War II period, and gay subcultures began to grow. For instance, in 1949 an article appeared in Sydney newspaper The Sun documenting the workings of the Sydney gay scene. The article discussed the lives of gay men without the usual references to perversion and sex crime—a rarity in mainstream media and possibly a sign of changing attitudes.23

This was short-lived, however, as the Cold War atmosphere of the 1950s ushered in a new climate of intolerance towards any signs of non-conformism or radicalism. All things perceived to be morally or politically ‘deviant’ were a target of sanction.24 Communism and homosexuality were considered close associates—‘Reds’ and ‘Pinks’ equally suspect and both a threat to the nation. This suspicion played out within government bureaucracy, particularly those agencies concerned with national security. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) put requests to the Federal Cabinet on more than one occasion to disallow homosexuals from employment in the Federal Public Service.25 Other countries had enacted similar bans. For instance, an article published in the Melbourne Truth in April 1950 discussed a crackdown on lesbians and homosexual men employed by the US Federal Government. In all, 91 people were forced to resign from the US Civil Service following investigations into their personal lives. This purge was explained on the basis that gay people were considered a security risk, more likely to be loyal to each other than to their country.26 While homosexuals were never banned from Australian Government jobs, in the early 1960s, Prime Minister Robert Menzies issued a directive that no homosexual would be allowed access to classified information. Further, heads of departments were directed to observe staff to detect character defects such as homosexuality, drug addiction or serious financial irresponsibility.27

The 1950s also bore witness to increasing media concern about ‘moral indecency’. In November 1951, church leaders and judges broadcast on ABC Radio a ‘Call to the People of Australia’. This announcement aired concerns about the so-called moral decay of Australia. It was accompanied by media reports of an ‘alarming’ increase in male homosexuality.28

Police attention began to focus much more closely on homosexual ‘crimes’, leading to a sharp increase in the number of people charged with committing ‘unnatural offences’.29 In many States, special ‘vice squads’ were formed specifically to target ‘parks and lavatories frequented by perverts and prowlers’.30 In 1958, the NSW Police Commissioner Colin Delaney was widely reported in the media as having identified homosexuals as ‘Australia’s greatest menace’.31 Delaney was known to be an ardent campaigner against the ‘homosexual threat’ and his claims were reported not only in the tabloid press—the arena in which stories relating to ‘moral indecency’ were traditionally aired—but also in the broadsheet newspapers, including the Sydney Morning Herald Quarterly Index.32

It is difficult to assess conclusively where public attitudes towards homosexuality stood during this period. Despite legal and moral concerns about homosexuality in the Cold War era, it was still relatively hidden and not of academic or political interest. The first public opinion polls on the issue were not conducted until the late 1960s. It is, however, reasonable to assume that few people (knowingly) had contact with, or knowledge of, gay men or lesbians beyond what was reported in the mainstream press, putting the media in a powerful position to influence public perceptions. If the average heterosexual Australian relied on 1950s media reporting alone to gain an understanding of homosexuality, their perception would have been one of crime and perversion, and a lifestyle dedicated to cross-dressing and sex in public parks. Sensationalist reporting was common practice for topics related to homosexuality. For example, following a series of arrests at a gay party in Newcastle in June 1952, the media claimed that ‘[a] society of perverts, membership of which was quite large, existed in Newcastle’.33

Medicine, Psychiatry and the 1960s

The 1960s saw a new profile of homosexuality emerging as the medical and psychological professions began to take an increasing interest in sexuality. The Kinsey Reports of the late 1940s and early 1950s had been among the first of a number of new studies into human sexuality. In the 1960s, ‘sexology’ as a discipline became more prominent and the study of sex and sexuality was increasingly a topic of interest to medical and psychological researchers. Following this upswing in medical interest, psychological studies began to adopt a medicalised definition of homosexuality, positioning it not in terms of a criminal or deviant act but as a mental illness or, in some cases, a peculiar character trait. While some psychologists saw it as evidence of mental problems or moral insanity, others followed the theory first articulated by Havelock Ellis in 1915 that homosexuality was a ‘congenital and a relatively harmless “anomaly” that should not be criminalised’.34 Either way, one consequence of a medical or pathological perspective on homosexuality was that psychological researchers and practitioners began to explore the possibility of a ‘cure’. Psychological and medical therapies, such as electroshock therapy, began to be trialled.35 In October 1966, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a feature article on the ‘new hope for deviants’. It discussed results of research being undertaken at Prince Henry Hospital into the treatment of a range of psychological disorders including homosexuality. The treatment involved electroshocks and other forms of aversion therapy.36

New ideas started to emerge advocating ‘help’ rather than ‘punishment’ for gay men and lesbians, and criticism of laws criminalising homosexuality began to circulate in public discourse. For example, in 1965 a Sydney judge, Justice Hiddens, drew on medical and psychological theories as he reluctantly sentenced two men who had been found guilty of indecent assault. Hiddens complained that the law had not kept pace with modern thought on homosexuality and that it should now be seen as a ‘disease not a crime’.37

As this medicalised definition achieved more common acceptance, the idea that homosexuality could be viewed as something other than criminal, or deliberately perverted, behaviour gained credibility. The underlying message of the medical model of homosexuality was, however, that gay men and lesbians still required surveillance and intervention. Homosexuality was now seen as a condition or illness that needed, instead of legal surveillance, to be diagnosed, and possibly cured, by professional intervention. In effect, the medical profession overtook the criminal justice system as the authority with the legitimate right to manage and control homosexual lives. As Robert Reynolds has written: ‘By the very nature of their neurotic condition, homosexuals were denied an autonomous sexual existence—experts represented homosexuality and their official prognosis neatly encapsulated the constraints of a medical discourse’.38

The Beginnings of Law Reform

Unlike the United States and Britain, where demands for decriminalisation of homosexuality came from a radicalising gay movement, in Australia, the early push for law reform came from welfare organisations and churches. As medical definitions of homosexuality gained more currency, religious and social organisations began to declare publicly that gay people were in need of treatment and support rather than criminal sanction. This was not necessarily indicative of more liberal attitudes emerging. Rather, the interest for many religious organisations was the potential for a cure. In the 1960s, Reverend Ted Noffs of the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney, urged the State Government to consider law reform so that homosexuals could seek ‘treatment’ without fear of arrest. Similar calls were made by a committee of inquiry established by the Presbyterian Church in 1967.39

Australia has not been subject to the fundamentalist zeal and political might of the far-right religious groups that dominate the social agenda in the United States. Religious leaders tend, however, to be considered legitimate commentators on matters of human sexuality and relationships, and they have a strong presence in public discourse on this issue. The media certainly regularly consults and quotes church leaders on such issues. Since the 1970s, several non-Catholic church groups in Australia, including the Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers) and the Uniting Church, have been in favour of law reform to decriminalise homosexuality. The SA Methodist Church also endorsed law reform at its 1972 conference, and the social questions committee of the Melbourne Anglican Diocese in 1971 stated that homosexual acts need not be considered criminal even though they did not accord with Christian values.40 The Christian approach, while promoting tolerance, still maintained, however, the line that homosexuals needed ‘help’. The NSW Presbyterian Assembly, for example, expressed their support for law reform in the 1970s while also appealing to the State Government for funds to research the causes and cure of homosexuality. Homosexuals were considered to be people who needed care, and a role was seen for the church in advocating these needs as perceived through religious values.41

The notable exceptions to the ‘compassionate’ approach taken by Australian churches were the Sydney Archdiocese of the Anglican Church and the multi-denominational conservative grouping the Festival of Light (FOL). Along with the official voice of the Catholic Church, these both represented long-time vocal opposition to homosexuality in Australia. A Sydney Anglican Archdiocese report on homosexuality in 1973 stated that homosexual sex should remain criminalised as it threatened the institution of marriage and was ‘intrinsically wrong’.

The conservative churches tend to receive regular media coverage and are generally consulted by journalists on their views regarding sexuality—if only as a source of controversy to spice up media stories. While it attracts a following in some areas, however, extreme religious conservatism has also often been depicted in the Australian press as irrational or ‘loopy’, particularly the antics of FOL spokesman, Reverend Fred Nile. As such, they have not always had the same impact as the far-right churches in other countries, particularly the United States. In Australia during the 1970s, those churches calling for decriminalisation of homosexuality probably had greater political influence.42

Lobbying for Law Reform

The first political lobby group dedicated specifically to gay law reform, The Homosexual Law Reform Society of the Australian Capital Territory, was formed in 1969 after two men were arrested for engaging in homosexual practices when they were found in a parked car on the outskirts of Canberra. This group comprised academics, lawyers and civil libertarians, some of whom were gay but certainly not all. The make-up of the group was reflective of a general left-wing support base for gay law reform that was emerging in Australia. Support for law reform also came from individual Members of Parliament. For example, in 1967, Bill Hayden, who would later become Leader of the Federal Opposition and Governor-General, suggested establishing a national committee on gay law reform and looked at ways the Federal Government could override the States on this issue.43

Don Dunstan, the Attorney-General and popular leader of the SA Labor Party, had been pushing for law reform in that State since the mid-1960s. When he became Premier in 1970, the campaign reached new ground and South Australia became the first Australian State to decriminalise homosexuality, in 1972. The Federal House of Representatives followed suit in October 1973, voting 60 to 44 in favour of a motion to decriminalise homosexual acts. It was not until 1975, however, that draft law reform was sent to the Attorney-General so legislation could be amended in the Federal Territories. In the Australian Capital Territory, homosexuality became legal in 1976, although the law was not put in place in the Northern Territory until 1983.

In 1978, the Commonwealth Royal Commission on Human Relationships concluded that it was ‘unnecessary’ to put homosexuality on the criminal code and that it should be an offence only in the case of rape or where it offended public decency and order. Victoria complied with this, decriminalising homosexual acts in 1980. In Tasmania, despite a select committee set up in 1978 recommending decriminalisation of private homosexual acts, law reform was blocked by a conservative Upper House. This did not change until the late 1990s.44

In July 1982, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Commission released a report that made 35 recommendations, including: decriminalisation of homosexuality; better education within schools about homosexuality; and improving relations between gay people and the police force, beginning by ending the common police practice of surveillance and deliberate trapping of homosexuals. The report received publicity in all major newspapers but was ignored by the State Government.45 New South Wales repealed laws criminalising homosexuality two years later, in 1984.

Law reform came much later in Queensland and Western Australia—1990 and 1989 respectively46—and when it did come it was not necessarily indicative of more progressive social attitudes among politicians. For example, when the new laws were introduced in Western Australia (the 1989 Law Reform, Decriminalisation of Sodomy, Act), State parliamentarians insisted on inserting a preamble to the legislation that, while acknowledging that they felt it to be inappropriate for criminal law to intrude on personal sexual relationships, expressed their overt condemnation of homosexuality. Furthermore, while male-to-male sex was made legal, a range of new offences prohibiting the ‘encouragement’ or promotion of homosexual behaviour was introduced. This included a section on the illegality of ‘promoting’ or ‘encouraging’ homosexuality within educational institutions.47

Homosexual law reform was also limited to the notion of ‘actions undertaken in private’. While this was no doubt considered to be the most acceptable—or at least a less controversial—way to approach the debate, it had the effect of containing the laws, maintaining only limited acceptance of homosexuality. Public displays of homosexuality could still be considered indecent or offensive in a legal sense. Nevertheless, the debate over law reform did open space for public discussion on homosexuality that was not immediately associated with criminality, illness, sinfulness or immorality. Ideas of human rights and minority representation began to carve out a new frame for the public treatment of gay men and lesbians.48

Public Opinion

Criminologists conducted the first Australian survey of public attitudes towards homosexuality in 1968, with the results published in the Australian Law Journal. The survey indicated that only 22 per cent of respondents favoured homosexual law reform and many felt that punishment for engaging in homosexual acts should be ‘severe whipping’ or ‘a long period of imprisonment’.49 When the same survey was repeated in 1971, however, more than half of respondents (56 per cent) indicated their support for law reform.50 In 1965, an article was published in The Bulletin by criminologist Gordon Hawkins discussing myths and stereotypes about homosexuality and changing public attitudes towards law reform in the United Kingdom and America. Hawkins was, at the time, one of the few high-profile authors seriously bringing homosexuality to public attention and he was able to gain a sense of attitudes through people’s reactions to his publications. In 1970, Hawkins expressed optimism for law reform, commenting on what he observed to be a marked increase in positive public attitudes towards homosexuality.51

In 1973, Australian National Opinion Polls asked people what their reaction would be if they found out two men were living together in a relationship in their neighbourhood. Of the respondents, 8 per cent said they would inform authorities or police and 75 per cent said they would consider it none of their business. In 1974, a Morgan poll indicated that just more than half of all respondents (54 per cent) thought sexual acts in private between consenting males should be legal.52 While polls taken during the 1970s and early 1980s tended to indicate public support for decriminalisation and non-intervention in gay relationships, there was still, however, a view that homosexuality was morally wrong. For example, the 1984 Australian Social Science Survey found that 64 per cent of respondents indicated that they believed homosexual behaviour was always wrong. In the 1999–2000 survey, 48 per cent of respondents felt it was always wrong.53

Simon Watney once wrote that ‘a specific cultural agenda imposes its values via the very questions it asks’.54 While opinion polls tend to be inconsistent and are unlikely to be the most reliable reflection of broad public opinion, the fact that such polls exist on the issue of homosexuality is in itself indicative of a belief that homosexuality is a ‘public issue’ in a way that heterosexuality is not. The history of regulation of homosexuality, whether medical or legal, has positioned it as a political and social ‘problem’ considered a valid topic for public debate. There is a sense that society and the state, rather than individual gay men and lesbians, have a right to decide if homosexuality is acceptable behaviour or not and sanction it accordingly. Similar debates rarely, if ever, occur on the topic of adult heterosexuality.

The history of homosexuality is one marked by professional intervention into the lives of gay men and lesbians. While homosexuality had been subject to much public debate, it was generally a debate played out in the media between medical and legal ‘experts’. Gay men or lesbians had no voice in such discussion. Indeed, the construction of homosexuality as either ‘illness’ or ‘crime’ meant gay people were, on the whole, deliberately excluded from communicating their opinion. It was only with the emergence of organised gay and lesbian activism that this began to change.

The Gay Movement in Australia

Australia does not have long-established gay and lesbian political organisations, such as the Mattachine Society in the United States and other groups associated with the early ‘homophile’ movement of the 1950s. By the 1970s, however, there was a fledgling gay and lesbian movement in Australia and a number groups were forming around issues of gay law reform and challenging definitions of homosexuality as a psychological disorder. The largest of these groups was the Sydney-based Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP).55

According to Graham Willett, ‘[i]f the Australian lesbian and gay movement can be said to have a birthday, 19 September 1970 is it’.56 It was on this day that a feature article published in The Australian newspaper announced the formation of CAMP. Two friends, John Ware and Christabel Poll, conceived the idea for CAMP over a bottle of whisky. It was to be one of the first overtly political gay organisations in Australia. Prior to this, gay and lesbian groups had generally been social or support based and non-political. It seems, however, that in the 1970s the time was ripe for a shift to a more political orientation. A year after the feature on CAMP appeared in The Australian, the group had acquired more than 1500 members, and what began as a loosely structured collaboration developed into an established organisation with set procedures and a constitution.57

Encouraging gay people to ‘come out’ publicly was a core tactic of CAMP in the early 1970s and this resulted in some high-profile publicity in Australian newspapers and a growing membership of the organisation. Graham Willett describes well the significance of this, writing:

Unquestionably it was the willingness of CAMP’s leaders to come out publicly as homosexuals that elevated CAMP from a ‘sort of book club’ to the founding organisation of a social movement. Never before had anyone in Australia willingly identified, indeed proclaimed, themselves as homosexual to the media as Ware and Poll were doing. Their courage was the spark that lit the bushfire.58

CAMP first shifted its attention from publicity stunts to collective protest in October 1971, when they demonstrated outside the Liberal Party headquarters during preselection for the seat of Berowra in New South Wales. Berowra’s sitting member, Tom Hughes, a man who had demonstrated cautious but relatively progressive support for gay law reform, was facing a conservative challenge from a contender known for his homophobic views, Jim Cameron. The protest had not been easy for CAMP to organise as fears of attracting anti-gay violence meant that the time and place were advertised only by word-of-mouth. The crowd that turned up was, however, fairly large and certainly vocal. They carried banners proclaiming that ‘Cameron hates homos, but he’ll sure b-g-r the Liberal Party’, and handed out leaflets explaining CAMP’s position to delegates as they entered the meeting.59

While Tom Hughes easily won the preselection and the demonstration was deemed a success, CAMP did not continue to grow as a ‘radical’ organisation. Inhibited by the lack of any precedent in Australia for more radical gay action, major legislative or political change was not on CAMP’s agenda—particularly in branches of CAMP outside Sydney. Instead, the organisation tended towards conciliatory statements aimed at convincing the broader public that gay men and women were just average people.60

However, it was around this time that other gay and lesbian activist groups began to focus more directly on achieving political change. In 1975, the Australian Union of Students (AUS) adopted a pro-gay policy and sponsored the first annual National Conference of Lesbians and Homosexuals.61 The AUS engaged in a campaign to reduce homophobia on campuses and within teaching practices. They also mounted a major public defence of Queensland teacher Greg Weir who had been refused employment as a teacher on the basis of his homosexuality. From this, an action group called Melbourne’s Gay Teachers’ Group was formed, leading to an ongoing campaign to ensure job security for gay and lesbian teachers.62 Actions such as this began to draw attention to the legal status of homosexuality and the lack of legal protections in society for gay men and lesbians. By the end of the 1970s, there was more consistent political organising occurring around the issue of the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Gay and lesbian activism in Australia achieved perhaps its highest public profile with the event now marked as the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. On the night of 24 June 1978, a group of lesbian and gay revellers paraded down Oxford Street in Sydney. The celebration was held to commemorate the Stonewall riots that had begun in New York on 28 June 1969, while also drawing attention to the ongoing campaign for law reform in Australia. Dancing down Oxford Street, demonstrators hoped people would be drawn out of bars and pubs to join them. The gathering was peaceful and had been given all the necessary approval by authorities; however, as the marchers reached Hyde Park, police unexpectedly attempted to disperse the crowd. Protestors reacted angrily to this, and moved on to Kings Cross where a violent confrontation followed. This continued for some time and 53 women and men were arrested. Allegations of police brutality soon followed.63 Eventually, those demonstrators who had not been arrested held a frantic meeting outside Darlinghurst Police Station, at which bail was raised to release those now held by the police (although the amount was only $70–100 for each person, it required a fair amount of organisation to gather the cash very early on a Sunday morning in pre–ATM machine 1978). A meeting later that day was also arranged to devise a media communications strategy. Influential people within the gay community were contacted and mobilised. The demonstrators re-gathered outside the Courthouse on Monday morning where more arrests were made. Large solidarity protests were held all over Australia in response.64

The following year, in June 1979, another night time parade was assembled in commemoration of the violent events of the year before. Police did not prevent this parade and it went ahead, peacefully, as planned. The event became an annual gathering, growing over the years to become one of the largest street festivals in the world: the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. In 1983, six years after the first protest, more than 20 000 spectators attended the parade, which by this stage had been moved from June to March to catch the end of the Australian summer. By 1994, the ‘Mardi Gras’ audience had increased to four hundred thousand. In addition, Mardi Gras had become a month-long community festival incorporating arts and sporting events. While there is debate about whether or not the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras should be considered a ‘social movement’ or even a political initiative, there is no doubt that the annual event created unprecedented publicity for the Australian community of gay men and lesbians.65 As author and academic Dennis Altman observed in 1993:

Of course, now [Mardi Gras has] become a massive event that is recognised by almost everybody…as one of the things that happens in Australia in Summer: certainly, in Sydney…[For] example, [for] the last Mardi Gras the Sydney Morning Herald had a special Mardi Gras crossword that Saturday. Now, this is the newspaper which 20 years ago refused to use the word ‘gay’ in its pages. That change, I think, is symbolic of what’s happened, which is, that the lesbian and gay community, which is now the term which is most often used, has actually become recognised as a legitimate community in Australian life—most obviously in Sydney, but to a considerable extent elsewhere. We see that reflected in politics. It was very clear in the last election when politicians were courting the votes of that community.66

Although ‘Mardi Gras’ had become a major focus of gay and lesbian activism over the past decades, in the early 1980s homosexuality remained on the criminal code in most Australian States and a number of organisations were being formed separate to Mardi Gras to tackle this issue. In Sydney, two gay activists, Lex Watson and Craig Johnston (both of whom would later go on to be involved in AIDS activism), established the Gay Rights Lobby (GRL), the first meeting of which was held in February 1981. The GRL began a campaign involving political lobbying, petitioning, media liaison and community education around the law reform issue. They also sought support from churches and other community groups. In late 1981, GRL mounted a campaign around the State election, lobbying candidates and voters in key seats. The organisation found support for their goals from a left-wing member of the NSW Parliament, George Petersen, when he announced his intention to try to repeal laws that criminalised homosexuality. The GRL worked closely with Petersen to draft his bill. They also continued to campaign among the gay community, generating enthusiasm for the prospect that law reform could become a reality. When the bill was to be tabled in April 1981, 500 people attended a demonstration outside the NSW Parliament. Although Petersen’s bill was defeated and the laws remained unchanged, these actions still represented a surge in momentum for activism around gay law reform.67

The issue resurfaced in January 1983 when police raided a gay nightclub in Sydney’s inner suburbs. During the raid, more than 100 men were detained and four people were charged with indecent assault. Police claimed that they had visited the club only following a complaint made by a patron. But once there, they had apprehended a number of men, taking their names and, in some cases, the contact details of their employers.68 At the time, under the Crimes Act, a man charged with indecent assault against another man (sodomy) could be sentenced to 14 years’ jail in New South Wales, and consent could not be used as a defence (this was despite the fact that a charge of ‘rape without violence’ attracted only a seven-year sentence). More than 1000 people demonstrated in angry protest of the nightclub raid. The GRL released a media statement that said: ‘It is ironic that at the same time police are complaining about a lack of resources and overtime that 15 officers, four cars and two vans could be devoted to harassing homosexuals.’69 Despite this protest, a second police raid on the same nightclub was conducted less than one month later. This time, 11 men were charged, some under the archaic common-law offence of ‘scandalous conduct’. A second protest rally was organised, at which about 300 people demonstrated outside Sydney Police Headquarters.70 Actions continued, with 28 men presenting themselves to the Darlinghurst Police Station in Sydney in October 1983 with statutory declarations confessing to engaging in sodomy.71 In 1984, NSW Premier Neville Wran finally announced that he would support a bill to decriminalise homosexual sex—although not to equalise the age of consent between homosexual acts and heterosexual sex.72

Community, Identity and Activism

Although law reform had involved many hundreds of gay men, the late 1970s had also produced increasing visibility of the non-political gay scene. People now spoke about the ‘gay community’, rather than gay activism or a gay movement. By the early 1980s there were a number of prominent non-political gay groups across the country, as well as a range of gay businesses including bars, pubs and nightclubs starting up in known ‘gay areas’ of the major cities. There is much debate among gay activists, and in academic writing, on the notion of community and whether a ‘gay community’ exists at all. Those who support the notion argue that gay men and lesbians share a community-like connection through shared social experiences, close friendship ties and strong social networks. The counterargument to this, however, asserts that similar experiences of sexuality do not create a basis for community and that the lives of lesbians and gay men are too diverse to warrant the term ‘community’ based on common social identity. There is also a concern that the growth of a gay ‘community’ represents the de-politicisation and increasing commercialism of gay identity. In this approach, gay community is seen to amount to the ghettoisation or containment of gay politics.73 In the early 1980s, however, there was a sense of politics and activism present in the general gay community that reflected a collective consciousness of the marginalised status of gay men and lesbians and their history of activism. For example, the two major gay community publications at the time had overtly political titles: Campaign, published in Sydney since 1975, and Outrage, published in Melbourne from April 1983.74 The history of (and ongoing) discrimination against gay men and lesbians also meant community events such as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival were grounded in a sense of politics in a way that mainstream festivals are not.75 As Ariss writes: ‘While not all gays participating in the Mardi Gras may consciously perceive it as a political event, participation is a very emotionally charged experience, much like a religious ritual.’ Moreover, Ariss argues, the concept of gay community in itself has political utility.

Gay identity was now socialised via this link to a ‘community’ of like others. ‘Gay’ constituted a quasi-ethnic identity with geographical, social, behavioural and cultural features shared by its members. By socialising gay identity, political strategies were opened up to include more diverse forms of activities and greater participation in terms of the numbers of people involved.76

AIDS Activism

The fact that there was an existing gay and lesbian media and a history of organised activism among the gay and lesbian community meant that when AIDS first arrived in the early 1980s gay men were in a strong position to respond to it collectively.77 The organisational structures necessary for political mobilisation were, to a large extent, already in place and people were drawn in to the politics of HIV/AIDS in some cases because they identified personally and socially with the visible gay community rather than because they considered themselves to be overtly political.

AIDS beckoned a whole new generation of political activity. Many hundreds of people—many of whom had not previously been part of the organised gay-rights movement—became involved with AIDS activism. Long-term Australian gay activist Lex Watson once wrote, ‘AIDS has fundamentally changed the style, the content and, indeed, the whole notion of gay male politics. And it has done something—unfortunately, as it happens, but nonetheless in a very real way—that nothing else in the gay community did.’78

The organised response of the gay community has been one of the most striking features of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Australia. Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, the Australian gay community and their supporters established the first ‘safe sex’ HIV-prevention campaigns, created large volunteer-run care and support networks for people living with HIV/AIDS, produced volumes of information to educate people and inform policy debate, and established a presence at the forefront of public health policy making regarding HIV/AIDS.

Alongside this, the AIDS movement played an increasingly important role in shaping public attitudes towards homosexuality more generally. HIV/AIDS brought the gay community under intense public scrutiny. While issues around the nature, legality and social acceptance of homosexuality dominated public discussions around HIV/AIDS, the AIDS movement organised to ensure it had a presence in this discussion. Paradoxically, despite the devastation it caused the gay community, HIV/AIDS brought unprecedented opportunities for gay activists to present publicly a perspective on homosexuality and the gay community that was not bound by legal, moral or medical definitions. Instead, the community had a voice that was independent of these authorities.

This account of the emergence of the organised AIDS movement in Australia focuses on how the movement was able to gain enough political strength and public profile to influence the policy response to HIV/AIDS, and to shape public knowledge about the virus and those affected by it. The emphasis is not on the tangible or policy outcomes achieved by the AIDS movement. Rather, I am interested in how the actions of the movement contributed to changing public knowledge about, and attitudes towards, homosexuality, and how activists were able to inject a new perspective about the role of community into the Australian medical and public health systems.

AIDS Activism as a Social Movement

Throughout this text I refer to collective action in response to AIDS as a movement: the AIDS movement. There are no clearly definable elements that mark a social movement, and whether or not particular forms of collective action constitute a ‘movement’ is a source of much academic debate. But there are some key features that have been identified by a number of researchers as common to most social movements. First, many theorists agree that an analysis of movement tactics must be at the basis of any definition. Paul Burstein et al., for instance, construct a definition of social movements based on the willingness of actors to use ‘non-institutionalised tactics at least part of the time’.79 Social movements, they argue, must not be bound to any institutional structures or have formal alliances to a political party, institution or government. Movements are independent, organised, collective efforts aimed at achieving some form of social change.80

Researchers also generally consider the goals of collective mobilisation to be central to the definition of a social movement. Social movements in general are assumed to be aiming to achieve some measure of cultural, social or political change. Alberto Melucci and Leonardo Avritzer, for instance, explain a social movement as a form of collective action that produces solidarity among actors, presents an existing conflict to the public and challenges social or political systems.81 Sidney Tarrow bases his definition on the structural location of movement actors, arguing that social movements involve contentious collective action. According to Tarrow: ‘collective action becomes contentious when it is used by people who lack regular access to institutions, who act in the name of new or unaccepted claims.’82 In other words, social movements are the main mechanism by which ordinary people can challenge more powerful or better resourced opponents. The basis of contentious action is movement actors’ belief in the capacity of action to challenge authority.

I have no intention here of determining systematically whether or not the community response to AIDS in Australia constituted a social movement. I maintain the basic assumption that it did and that it is appropriate to discuss the AIDS movement within the framework provided by social-movement literature. It is certainly worth noting that the collective response to AIDS on the part of gay activists bears many of the indicators of a ‘social movement’ as defined by the authors mentioned above. The response to AIDS by community-based activists involved sustained, collective action over a number of years aimed at influencing public policy and improving social conditions for gay men and lesbians. People were drawn to the movement through their relationship with HIV/AIDS itself or because they broadly identified with the population group most affected in Australia—namely, gay men. AIDS activists utilised a range of tactics, from formal lobbying and participation in government advisory bodies to street demonstrations and pickets.

The response of community actors to AIDS was diverse. Some people volunteered for care and support roles, establishing charities and agencies that provided at-home care for people with AIDS-related illnesses. Others became more directly politically engaged, lobbying for increases in government funding and action around HIV/AIDS. Education and HIV-prevention initiatives were also major focuses of community action, with many people involved in the production of HIV information materials and running ‘safe sex’ campaigns. When I refer to the ‘AIDS movement’ as an identified group, I seek to encompass the full range of initiatives taken up by activists. This is not an attempt to simplify or ignore the diversity of community responses to AIDS. Defining the community response to AIDS as a social movement, however, is an expression of my assertion that analysis of the history of the AIDS movement in Australia can be seen as an analysis of the history of a social movement.

Through analysing this history, I seek to explore the process by which the AIDS movement progressed from being a group of activists sitting far outside formal systems and institutions—and representing a highly stigmatised and marginalised group—to a relatively powerful and well-resourced political force that gained a legitimate and credible standing in the public eye, with government and the medical system. What factors enabled this shift to occur? Was it particular to the historical conditions into which AIDS emerged or the skills of individual activists?

I am also interested in the way in which AIDS activists were able to influence public knowledge and attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. How did this occur? What role do social movements play in constructing social knowledge? What is the cultural legacy of social movements such as the AIDS movement?

Exploration of these questions is not a matter of assessing in a positivistic sense the concrete achievements of the AIDS movement. Rather, I use a narrative-history approach to detail the rise of the AIDS movement in historical context and track the development of relationships between AIDS-movement actors and other social groups, such as medical doctors. I also look at the way in which the AIDS movement contributed to political and cultural discourse around homosexuality—an approach to the study of social movements that could be described as ‘hermeneutic’.83

In part, this involves consideration of the content of mainstream media related to HIV/AIDS. My assumption is that what is expressed in the mainstream media will reveal shifts in public perceptions of HIV/AIDS and the people affected by it.84 Given that a majority of the general heterosexual public had limited personal experience with either gay men or people with AIDS, the media was their central means of acquiring knowledge. The way in which the media constructed images of HIV/AIDS was instrumental in determining how the general public perceived their level of risk with regards to HIV transmission.85 This was confirmed in a study conducted through Macquarie University in which the media was identified as an important source of information through which Australians formed opinions and beliefs about HIV/AIDS and HIV-positive people. The authors of this study write:

It was clear from the group discussions that people obtained information and constructed meaning from media sources. News reports were very frequently mentioned either implicitly or explicitly. Cases such as Holly Johnson,86 Charleen,87 the dentist in Miami who infected his patients, the prison officer who was injected with a blood filled syringe…were mentioned. When such cases were mentioned, the other group members had no difficulty in identifying them.88

An inquiry by the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board in 1992 also concluded that the media plays a central role in determining public attitudes towards HIV and AIDS. The inquiry report stated that the media could be responsible for either legitimising discrimination or promoting positive public attitudes.89

The AIDS movement employed campaign strategies that deliberately sought to influence media portrayals of both gay men and HIV-positive people. Activists also worked hard to position themselves as legitimate media spokespeople on HIV/AIDS-related matters. This was an important political strategy given that the historical authority and respect afforded to medical authorities mean information from these sources tends to be privileged in the media over that of activists or non-medical sources.90

The media was important in debates about HIV/AIDS because to a large extent it is the media that makes or breaks the credibility of social actors or groups. If the media was willing to accept AIDS activists as legitimate contributors to debates about HIV/AIDS, this would in turn give them a higher standing in the public eye.91

Of interest in this historical account is whether or not, over time, AIDS activists managed to gain greater access to the media as ‘legitimate experts’ as well as the way in which HIV/AIDS issues were framed by the media and how this changed over time.

A Note About Emotions

Each section of this book is framed around a different emotion: fear, trust and mistrust, and grief. These themes emerged from the subject of the book itself. Emotion is a consistent, if not implicit and unacknowledged, presence throughout much of the literature on the social history of HIV/AIDS. It was certainly present in the interviews I conducted with AIDS activists. In the early days of HIV/AIDS, there was an obvious relationship between fear, anger and the mobilisation of the AIDS movement. Gay activists were motivated to begin campaigning because they were fearful, not only of AIDS itself but also of the potential social and political repercussions it brought. They were also angry about the lack of political attention being given to AIDS (if not in Australia then certainly in other dominant Western countries, most notably the United States). As the movement developed, the issue of trust and mistrust between AIDS activists and the medical profession was an important underlying factor in the negotiation of AIDS policy and practice. Underpinning all of this was an immense sense of grief. In the 1980s, many gay men attended a funeral every few weeks. Some people spoke of the early years of AIDS as a surreal experience—like the plot of a bad movie—in which they endured the deaths of so many friends and lovers from a largely unknown cause, not knowing if they would be next. In the final section of the book, I look more at the relationship between grief and stigma, exploring the way in which the AIDS movement challenged homophobic discrimination and stigma around AIDS through the creation of AIDS memorials as outlets for public grieving.

There is much academic work on the relationship between organised, collective action and emotion. Implicitly or explicitly, all social movements appeal to emotion in some way. Feelings of fear, anger, indignation or joy are emotions that can inspire and galvanise collective action. Rituals and demonstrations are also used to stir up emotional sensations and affirm connection with the group.92 Early academic work on emotion and collective action focused on emotional reactions to events that led to crowds spontaneously reacting in anger or hatred ‘in the heat of the moment’.93 More recent scholarship has sought to examine the relationship between emotions that inspire collective action and the cognitive, rationalised decisions of movement actors. James Jasper, for instance, uses the term ‘moral shock’ to suggest that what might motivate a person to take political action are feelings of moral outrage or indignation towards events—such as anger following an environmental disaster or offence over government decisions. Jasper suggests that emotional reaction and rational political argument go hand in hand; morals are a culturally or cognitively framed assessment of the situation, but these generate an emotional reaction (anger, indignation).94

Of further interest to social-movement scholars is the question of how movement actors work to maintain the emotional reaction of groups and direct it towards a political target and substantive goals. Moral outrage sparks an emotional response, which social-movement organisers then steer towards a sustained political strategy.95 As a movement progresses, the sensations of empowerment and elation that often accompany involvement in collective protest can serve to maintain motivation for movement action.96

I do not wish to make a generalised statement about the role of emotion in social processes. As Jack Barbalet has written: ‘Rather than treat emotions in general it is absolutely necessary to treat particular emotions.’97 I do maintain the view, however, that the relationship between emotions and the development of the political and ideological goals of a social movement (or what is often called the ‘frame’ of a social movement) is not coincidental.

Social-movement ‘frames’ can, in a nutshell, be described as the ideological position of a movement—the view of social reality adopted by movement activists, and their ideas about what social and political changes are required to achieve their ideal world.98 I argue that the history of the Australian AIDS movement demonstrates the need to look at social-movement frames not just in terms of their intellectual content and form, but also from the personal and emotional perspectives of movement constituents. When HIV/AIDS first emerged, members of the gay community were incredibly fearful about what the future held for them. People were worried that the virus would, along with the devastation caused by AIDS itself, inspire a new wave of homophobia and prejudice in society. A social group that held a more dominant position in the social fabric, and that did not have a history of discrimination, would not have experienced the impact of HIV/AIDS in the same way. The gay community mobilised in response to the fears of their constituents and the grief and anger that followed AIDS deaths. The political outlook and strategies adopted by the AIDS movement were based on activists’ knowledge and experience of past injustices as well as their emotional reaction to the current situation. In other words, the history of the AIDS movement demonstrates the way in which movement frames are informed at once by emotion, history and political strategy.

1 Editorial, ‘Twenty Years’, Positive Living, November–December 2002, <>; Menadue, David 2003, Positive, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

2 Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that leads to a breakdown of the immune system causing the collection of illnesses and infections that is known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is not the same as AIDS and the acronyms should not be used interchangeably. A person living with HIV is not necessarily a person who has AIDS. An HIV-positive diagnosis is different to a diagnosis of AIDS. When I use the term AIDS, rather than HIV/AIDS or HIV, I am referring either to the physiological condition of AIDS or to the period, before 1985, when HIV had not yet been discovered.

3 National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research 2010, HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexually transmissible Infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report 2010, National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

4 Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations 2003, HIV on the Rise in Three States: Australia’s National AIDS Strategy Must Be Revitalised, Press release, 29 May 2003, viewed 2 June 2003, <>; Wilkinson, David and Dore, Greg 2000, ‘An Unbridgeable Gap? Comparing the HIV/AIDS Epidemics in Australia and Sub Saharan Africa’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 24(3), pp. 276–80.

5 National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research 2006, Australian HIV Surveillance Report, 22(2), National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, University of New South Wales, Sydney, pp. 1–16; World Health Organisation 2002, ‘Australia 2002 Update’, Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections, viewed 2 June 2003, <>; National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, 2010.

6 Wilkinson and Dore, 2000; Centers for Disease Control 1985, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Weekly Surveillance Report—December 30, US AIDS Activity Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Ga; Centers for Disease Control 2005, HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report 2004, US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga, viewed 21 November 2005, <>

7 National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, 2006.

8 Seidman, Steven 2002, ‘AIDS and the Discursive Construction of Homosexuality’, in Kim Phillips and Barry Reay (eds), Sexualities in History: A Reader, Routledge, New York.

9 While it is common to refer to HIV and AIDS in conjunction with each other, as in HIV/AIDS, to signify the medical and social association between the two, I have chosen to use the terms ‘AIDS activism’ or ‘AIDS movement’ rather than ‘HIV/AIDS activism’. This is, in part, a stylistic decision. AIDS activism is shorter and more readable; however, it is also indicative of the fact that AIDS activism in Australia emerged before HIV had been diagnosed and named. As such it is historically accurate to refer to early activism as AIDS activism. Further, before the antibody test for HIV became available, the only way of knowing that someone was infected were the physical symptoms of AIDS. Hence much of the stigma around AIDS in the early 1980s was associated with the visible attributes that came to signify AIDS-related conditions such as Karposi’s sarcoma.

10 This text focuses on the response of gay male activists to HIV/AIDS. While there were a number of lesbians who were involved in AIDS activism, and a study of their role would be a worthy project in its own right, I do not discuss in detail the role of lesbians in Australian AIDS activism.

11 Jones, James 1992, ‘The Tuskagee Legacy: AIDS and the Black Community’, Hastings Centre Report, November–December pp. 38–40; Bates, Benjamin and Harris, Tina 2004, ‘The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis and Public Perceptions of Biomedical Research: A Focus Group Study’, Journal of the National Medical Association, 96(8), pp. 1051–64.

12 Ibid., pp. 38–40.

13 French, Robert 1993, Camping by a Billabong, Blackwattle Press, Sydney.

14 Lewis, Milton 1998, Thorns on the Rose: The History of Sexually Transmitted Disease in Australia in International Perspective, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

15 Cited in Fogarty 1992, Walter, ‘“Certain Habits”: The Development of a Concept of the Male Homosexual in New South Wales Law, 1788–1900’, in Robert Aldrich and Gary Wotherspoon (eds), Gay Perspectives: Essays in Australian Gay Culture, Department of Economic History, University of Sydney, NSW, p. 63.

16 Simes, Gary 1992, ‘The Language of Homosexuality in Australia’, in Aldrich and Wotherspoon, 1992.

17 Cited in Stannard, Bruce and Murphy, Kevin 1989, ‘More Than a Million Australians? Still Glad to be Gay?’, The Bulletin, 10 October, pp. 50–7.

18 The intention of ‘anti-sodomy’ laws seems to have been to prevent homosexual sex rather than sodomy itself as acts of sodomy within heterosexual relationships are very rarely mentioned within the context of anti-sodomy legislation.

19 French, 1993.

20 Ibid.; Lewis, 1998.

21 French, 1993; Lewis, 1998.

22 Lewis, 1998.

23 French, 1993.

24 Hilliard, David 1997, ‘Church, Family and Sexuality in Australia in the 1950s’, Australian Historical Studies, 28, pp. 133–46.

25 Willett, Graham 1997, ‘The Darkest Decade: Homophobia in 1950s Australia’, Australian Historical Studies, 28, pp. 120–32.

26 French, 1993.

27 Willett, 1997.

28 French, 1993.

29 Willett, 1997; Wotherspoon, Garry 1991, ‘From Sub-Culture to Mainstream Culture: Some Impacts of Homosexual and Gay Sub-Cultures in Australia’, Journal of Australian Studies, 15(28), pp. 56–62.

30 Willet, Graham 2000, Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney; Reynolds, Robert 2002, From Camp to Queer: Remaking the Australian Homosexual, Melbourne University Press, Vic.

31 French, 1993; Willett, 1997.

32 French, 1993.

33 Cited in ibid., p. 90.

34 Weeks, Jeffrey 1981, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800, Longman, London; Thompson, Denise 1985, Flaws in the Social Fabric: Homosexuals and Society in Sydney, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

35 Willet, Graham 2005, ‘Psyched In: Psychology, Psychiatry and Homosexuality in Australia’, Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 2, pp. 53–7.

36 Reynolds, 2002.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Lewis, 1998.

40 Ibid.

41 Reynolds, 2002.

42 Lewis, 1998.

43 Ibid.

44 Altman, Dennis 1989, ‘The Emergence of Gay Identity in the USA and Australia’, in Christine Jennet and Stewart Randal (eds), Politics of the Future: The Role of Social Movements, Macmillan, Melbourne; Lewis, 1998; Bull, Melissa, Pinto, Susan and Wilson, Paul 1991, ‘Homosexual Law Reform in Australia’, Australian Institute of Criminology Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 29, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, <>

45 See Mercer, Neil 1982, ‘Board Reports on Homosexuality’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July; ‘NSW Study Finds One in 10 Are Gay’, Sunday Times [Perth], 18 July 1982; ‘Law Change on Homosexuality Recommended’, The Canberra Times, 6 July 1982; ‘Homosexuals Should Get Rights, Says NSW Board’, The Age, 6 July 1982, p. 5; Cumming, Fia 1982, ‘Homosexual Study Urged Law Reform’, The Australian, 6 July, p. 3; Bull et al., 1991.

46 The relatively late change in law in Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland also meant that in the mid-1980s Australia was one of only three other Western democracies (alongside Ireland, a number of states in the United States and Israel) to maintain consensual adult homosexual sex as a crime (Altman, 1989). Paradoxically, however, a few years later Australia also led the way in the area of anti-discrimination law. In New South Wales and South Australia, there were legal protections from discrimination on the grounds of homosexuality in place by the end of the 1980s (ibid.).

47 Pereira, Darryl 1999, ‘HIV/AIDS and its “Willing Executioners”: The Impact of Discrimination’, Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, 6(4), <>; Bull et al., 1991.

48 Reynolds, 2002.

49 Ibid.

50 De Waal, Peter, Black, Ian, Trebilco, Peter and Wills, Sue 1994, A Review of the 1976 Tribunal on Homosexuals and Discrimination, The Tribunal Working Group, Sydney.

51 Reynolds, 2002; Lewis, 1998.

52 De Waal et al., 1994.

53 Kelley, Jonothan 2001, ‘Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in 29 Nations’, Australian Social Monitor Online Journal, <>, pp. 15–22.

54 Watney, Simon 1994, Practices of Freedom, Rivers Oram Press, London.

55 Thompson, 1985.

56 Willet, 2000.

57 Thompson, 1985.

58 Willet, 2000.

59 Ibid.

60 Thompson, 1985.

61 Ballard, John 1992, ‘Australia: Participation and Innovation in a Federal System’, in David Kirp and Ronald Bayer (eds), AIDS in the Industrialised Democracies: Passions, Politics and Policies, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.

62 Willet, 2000.

63 Ariss, Robert 1997, Against Death: The Practice of Living with AIDS, Gordon and Breach, Amsterdam.

64 Phil Carswell, Personal Communication, 25 October 2006.

65 Marsh, I. and Galbraith, L. 1995, ‘The Political Impact of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 30(2), pp. 300–20; Ariss, 1997.

66 Dennis Altman, Interviewed by Heather Rusden, 7 July 1993, Oral History Project: The Australian Response to AIDS, TRC 2815/37, National Library of Australia, Canberra [hereinafter NLA].

67 Willet, 2000.

68 ‘Homosexuals March’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 1983, p. 10; ‘Gay Protest’, The Canberra Times, 6 February 1983, p. 3.

69 Cited in Coultan, Mark 1983, ‘Police Raid on Club Angers Homosexual Community’, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 January, p. 3.

70 Mercer, Neil 1983, ‘Anti-Labor Threat After Homosexual Club Raid’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February, p. 3; ‘Gay March on Police Station After Raids’, Border Morning Mail, 28 February 1983, p. 8.

71 Willet, 2000.

72 According to Dennis Altman, it was only New South Wales that could claim law reform had been the result of movement action. Altman argues that in New South Wales continued pressure from activists caused enough embarrassment for the State Premier Neville Wran to push for conservatives within his party to allow law reform. In contrast, Victoria had no real mass gay movement. If law reform had been influenced by the work of activists, it was due to the more formal lobbying efforts of the Gay Legal Rights Coalition (Altman, 1989).

73 Ariss, 1997, p. 28.

74 The immediate precursor to Outrage was a publication called Gay Community News.

75 Carr, Adam 1988, ‘Outrage at 15 or the Rise and Fall of Practically Everyone’, Outrage, April, [Republished by the author on his personal web site: <>]; Lewis, Lynette and Ross, Michael 1995, A Select Body: The Gay Dance Party Subculture and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, Cassell, London.

76 Ariss, 1997.

77 This point has been made by several authors writing on the Australian response to AIDS. See, for example, Altman, Dennis 1988, ‘Legitimation Through Disaster: AIDS and the Gay Movement’, in Elizabeth Fee and Daniel Fox (eds), AIDS: The Burdens of History, University of California Press, Berkeley; Ballard, John 1989, ‘The Politics of AIDS’, in Heather Gardner (ed.), The Politics of Health: The Australian Experience, Churchill Livingstone, Melbourne; Misztal, Barbara 1991, ‘HIV/AIDS Policies in Australia: Bureaucracy and Collective Action’, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 11(4), pp. 62–82; Sendziuk, Paul 2003, Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS, UNSW Press, Sydney.

78 Watson, Lex 1988, ‘Life After AIDS’, Australian Left Review, October–November, pp. 12–15.

79 Burstein, Paul, Einwohner, Rachel and Hollander, Jocelyn 1995, ‘The Success of Political Movements: A Bargaining Perspective’, in Craig Jenkins and Bert Klandermans (eds), The Politics of Social Protest, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, p. 278.

80 Ibid.

81 Melucci, Alberto and Avritzer, Leonardo 2000, ‘Complexity, Cultural Pluralism and Democracy: Collective Action in the Public Space’, Social Science Information, 39(4), pp. 507–27.

82 Tarrow, Sidney 1998, Power in Movement: Social Movement and Contentious Politics, Cambridge University Press, p. 3.

83 Eyerman, Ron and Jamison, Andrew 1991, Social Movements: A Cognitive Approach, Polity Press, Cambridge.

84 Gamson, William and Modigliani, Andre 1989, ‘Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach’, American Journal of Sociology, 95(1), pp. 1–37; Lawler, Steph 2004, ‘Rules of Engagement: Habitus, Power and Resistance’, The Sociological Review, 52(s2), pp. 110–18.

85 Wellings, Kaye 1988, ‘Perceptions of Risk—Media Treatment of AIDS’, in Peter Aggleton and Hilary Homans (eds), Social Aspects of AIDS, The Falmer Press, London.

86 Holly Johnson was a child who was infected with HIV by her mother, who had acquired the virus through a blood transfusion. The case received a great deal of media attention when Holly’s father made a legal claim for compensation. Holly Johnson died in 1990. Riley, Mark 1990, ‘Holly is Farewelled, But the Grief Stays’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 September, p. 9.

87 Charleen (sometimes spelt Sharleen) was a sex worker who achieved infamy when, in 1987, newspapers ran stories claiming she continued to have sex with clients despite knowing her positive HIV status. The then NSW Minister for Health, Peter Anderson, wanted to use the Public Health (Proclaimed Diseases) Amendment Act to detain her, but it was not until two years later, in 1989, following her appearance on the 60 Minutes current affairs show, that the Department of Health arrested her, enforcing the Public Health Act 1903, which enables health authorities to detain an infectious patient for treatment. This led to outrage among AIDS activists and civil libertarians, and was a high-profile media story for some weeks. It was the first act of compulsory quarantine of an HIV-positive person ever seen in Australia. Perkins, Roberta 1991, ‘Working Girls: Prostitutes, Their Life and Social Control’, Australian Studies in Law, Crime and Justice Series, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, viewed 12 November 2006, <>

88 Kippax, S., Tillet, G., Crawford, J. and Cregan, J. 1991, Discrimination in the Context of AIDS, Macquarie University Research Unit, National Centre for HIV Social Research, Sydney, p. 31.

89 NSW Anti-Discrimination Board (ADB) 1992, Discrimination—The Other Epidemic, NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, Sydney.

90 Kippax et al., 1991, p. 41; Gamson and Modigliani, 1989; Klandermans, Bert 1992, ‘The Social Construction of Protest and Multiorganizational Fields’, in Aldon Morris and Carol Mueller (eds), Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.

91 Epstein, Steven 1996, Impure Science: AIDS, Activism and the Politics of Knowledge, University of California Press, London.

92 Taylor, Verta and Rupp, Leila 2002, ‘Living Internationalism: The Emotion Culture of Transnational Women’s Organisations 1888–1945’, Mobilization, 7(2), pp. 141–58; Goodwin, Jeff, Jasper, James and Polletta, Francesca 2001, ‘Why Emotions Matter’, in Jeff Goodwin, James Jasper and Francesca Polletta (eds), Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements, University of Chicago Press, Ill.

93 Goodwin et al., 2001.

94 Ibid.; Jasper, James 1998, ‘The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions In and Around Social Movements’, Sociological Forum, 13(3), pp. 397–424.

95 Jasper, 1998.

96 Gould, Deborah 2000, Sex, Death and the Politics of Anger, Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Chicago, Ill., p. xvii.

97 Barbalet, Jack 2001, Emotion in Social Life and Social Theory: Recovering the Leicester Tradition, Inaugural Lecture, 20 November 2001, University of Leicester, UK, p. 16.

98 Snow, David and Benford, Robert 1992, ‘Master Frames and Cycles of Protest’, in Aldon Morris and Carol McClung (eds), Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.; Benford, Robert and Snow, David 2000, ‘Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment’, Annual Review of Sociology, 26, pp. 611–39; Tesh, Sylvia 2000, Uncertain Hazards: Environmental Activists and Scientific Proof, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

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