Recognition of LGBTIQA* People in Australian History

Image from ‘Absolutely Mardi Gras: costume and design of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras’ by Robert Swieca, Judith O’Callaghan and Glynis Jones, p. 8, 1997 [RAHS Book Collection]

The RAHS Council recently acknowledged the historical significance of the results of the Same Sex Marriage Postal Survey, announced on 15 November 2017, in which 61.6% of Australians supported a change in the Marriage Act 1961 to allow two people of the same sex to marry. On 7 December the House of Representatives passed the same-sex marriage bill – constituting a milestone event in accepting LGBTIQA people as both part of our diverse community and history.

Bearing in mind the RAHS’ main objective of encouraging the study of Australian history in all its aspects, the RAHS Council made the following resolution at its November meeting:

That the RAHS:

  • encourage and welcome applications for affiliation with the Royal Australian Historical Society from associations whose objectives have some focus on aspects of LGBTIQA history in New South Wales or Australia, and
  • supports affiliated societies who decide to explore and include the histories of LGBTIQA people within their local area or area of special interest.

Councillors engaged in a lively and far-reaching discussion, including the importance of history in sustaining communities and groups, the role of historical societies in bringing people together around shared interests, the need to be inclusive and representative of all people in studying Australian and local history, the histories of marriage as a civil and religious institution, and the historical significance of so many people participating in a voluntary vote about accepting a group within the broader community.

It was noted that LGBTIQA history has been studied in Australia over the past 20-30 years, but that this has yet to extend to being an integral party of local histories.  Mover of the motion, RAHS Councillor Dr Bruce Baskerville, said he looked forward to the day when local histories included a chapter on local gay history, and a time when that would only be remarkable if such a chapter was absent.

The RAHS has always made space for a diverse range of historical interests.  The RAHS has long been supportive of studying Australian history in all its many forms, and looks forward to welcoming more LGBTIQA history groups into our ‘broad church’.

(*LGBTIQA means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer (or those questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation), and Asexual or Allies).

[This story was first published in our eNewsletter on 5 December 2017.]
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