Twenty-eight years ago, Gail Hewison’s struggle for community acceptance saw her arrested with 51 others at an inner-city protest march that marked the beginning of Mardi Gras.
This week, Hewison increased community visibility in a less controversial way when she and her sister Libby Silva were awarded Medals of the Order of Australia (OAM) for their work running The Feminist Bookshop in Lilyfield.
The lesbian sisters won the Queen’s Birthday honour in recognition of their support for women and emerging authors through a bookshop renowned as a gay and lesbian centre.
We were absolutely thrilled, Hewison told Sydney Star Observer.
We feel it’s a great acknowledgement of the work that we do and -¦ and the position of the bookshop in our community, which includes the GLBTI community as well as far as we’re concerned.
Hewison and Silva bought The Feminist Bookshop in 1982 with their sister Jane Waddy, using money from the sale of a house an aunt had left them in Adelaide.
The trio had previously worked as activists and in women’s health. They moved The Feminist Bookshop from Balmain to Lilyfield, building up a loyal gay and lesbian clientele.
Waddy retired from the bookshop about seven years ago, but I think she would have been probably with us in this [award] had she stayed in the bookshop, Hewison said.
While the OAM recognised the sisters’ service to the general community, the award was also an endorsement of gay and lesbian people.
Because we’re well known as a GLBTI institution and resource, the recognition is that GLBT people can be nominated for service awards like this for the work that we do, Hewison said.
It’s a recognition of the valuable work that lesbians and other GLBT people do in the community, not just for our community but for the larger community.
Libby Silva said the Queen’s Birthday honour marked a change in community attitudes towards lesbians.
Not too many feminists get awards and not too many lesbians that I know of have got this award, so I think it’s very exciting that we’ve been acknowledged in this way, Silva said.
It’s just one more thing for our community to achieve to sort of normalise us in the scheme of things.
Hewison and Silva joined 668 others on this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, including 477 fellow OAM recipients.
Among them was Darlinghurst GP Dr Marilyn McMurchie, a former president of the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, recognised for her long-running HIV/AIDS work.
Gay icon Olivia Newton-John was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for her work as an entertainer, breast cancer educator and environmental activist.