Amidst the celebrations of 25 years since Sydney’s first ever Mardi Gras, it appears that a thorough history of gay and lesbian activism before 1978 is yet to come out of the closet.
Along with the 25th anniversary of Mardi Gras this year, it is also the 30th anniversary of the first ever Gay Pride Week. However, this event has gone almost unnoticed, according to John Witte, who is seeking to have the work of early gay and lesbian activism recognised and remembered.
I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the people in the gay community are unaware of the history before Mardi Gras, he said. That’s what has spurred me on into devoting a bit of time to gathering some recollections from people who were involved in the movement before 78.
The first Gay Pride Week in September 1973 in Sydney was reported to involve a speak-out, a festival and a demonstration. Nearly 200 people marched from Town Hall to Martin Place, resulting in the arrest of 18 people. Similar events were held in other states as part of a national gay liberation protest.
Craig Johnston was at the Sydney protest in 1973, and said that it was important to recognise gay and lesbian activism before Mardi Gras.
We have a particular problem in Sydney of giving so much status to the first Mardi Gras in 1978, he said. In fact there had been seven years of street-based public activity around gay rights and gay liberation by the time the first Mardi Gras happened.
Witte wants a social history of the gay liberation movement recorded before we lose that memory. He is also calling on the Pride Centre to include the 30th anniversary of Gay Pride Week in its celebrations this year.
Anybody with recollections of the first Gay Pride Week, or of gay and lesbian activism prior to 1978, can contact John Witte on 9558 9419 or at email@example.com.