Under different stars, at the beginning of a new millennium, in an old land and a young nation, we join together in the hope and conviction that the future will be kinder and more just than the past.
At a time when there is so much fear and danger, anger and destruction, these Games represent an alternative vision for humanity. Acceptance. Diversity. Inclusiveness. Participation. Tolerance and joy. Ours is the world of love, questing to find the common links that bind all people. We participate because, whatever our sexuality, we believe that the days of exclusion are numbered. In our future world, everyone can find their place, where their human rights and human dignity will be upheld.
This is a great time for Australia because we are a nation in the process of reinventing ourselves. We began our modern history by denying the existence of our indigenous peoples and their rights. We embraced White Australia. Women could play little part in public life: their place was in the kitchen. And as for gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities, they were an abomination. Lock them up. Throw away the key.
We have not corrected all these wrongs. But we are surely on the road to enlightenment. There will be no U-turns.
Little did my partner Johan and I think, 30 years ago, as we danced the night away at the Purple Onion, less than a mile away, that we would be at the opening of a Gay Games with the Queen’s representative and so many to bear witness to such a social revolution. True, we rubbed shoulders on the dancefloor with knights of the realm, such as Sir Robert Helpmann, and with future premiers, such as Don Dunstan. But if an angel had tapped us on our youthful shoulders and told us of such a change we would have said impossible. Well, nothing is impossible to the human spirit. Scientific truth ultimately prevails. So we unite together: men and women, indigenous and newcomers, black and white, Australians and visitors, religious and atheist, young and not so young, gay and straight.
It is put best by Corey Czok, an Australian basketballer in these Gay Games. It’s good to be able to throw out the stereotypes, he says. We’re not all sissies, we don’t all look the same and we’re not all pretty!
His last comment may be disputed. Real beauty lies in the fact that so many are united -“ not in the negatives of hate and exclusion, so common today, but in the positives of love and inclusion.
The changes Australia has witnessed over 30 years would not have happened if it had not been for people of courage who rejected the ignorant denials about sexuality. Who taught that variations are a normal and universal aspect of the human species. That they are not going away. That they are no big deal. And that, between consenting adults, we all just have to get used to it and get on with life.
The people of courage certainly include Oscar Wilde. His suffering, his interpretation of it and the ordeal of many others have bought such changes for us. I would include Alfred Kinsey. In the midst of the McCarthyist era in the United States he, and those who followed, dared to investigate the real facts about human sexual diversity. In Australia, I would also include, as heroes, politicians of every major party, most of them heterosexual. Over 30 years, they have dismantled many of the unequal laws. But the first of them was Don Dunstan. He proved, once again, the astonishing fact that good things sometimes occur when the dancing stops.
I would also add Rodney Croome and Nick Toonen. They took Australia to the United Nations to get rid of the last criminal laws against gay men in Tasmania. Now the decision in their case stands for the whole world. I would include Neal Blewett, who led Australia’s first battles against AIDS. Robyn Archer, Kerryn Phelps, Ian Roberts and many, many others.
Yet this is not just an Australian story. In every land a previously frightened and oppressed minority is awakening from a long sleep to assert its human dignity. We should honour those who looked into themselves and spoke the truth. Now they are legion. It is the truth that makes us free.
I think of Tom Waddell, the inspired founder of the Gay Games. His last words in this life were: This should be interesting. What an understatement. Of Greg Louganis, twice Olympic gold medallist, who came out as gay and HIV-positive and said that it was the Gay Games that emboldened him to tell it as it was. Of Mark Bingham, a rowdy Rugby player. He would have been at the Sydney Gay Games. But he lost his life in one of the planes downed on 11 September 2001, struggling to save the lives of others. He was a real hero. Of Bertrand Delano?the openly gay mayor of Paris, stabbed by a homophobe whilst attending a celebration at city hall. He showed courage. His last instruction before he was taken to hospital was that the party should go on till sunrise. Indeed, I think of everyone who affirms the fundamental unity of all human beings. Who rejects ignorance, hatred and error. And who embraces love, which is the ultimate foundation of all human rights.
Let the word go out from Sydney and the Gay Games of 2002 that the movement for equality is unstoppable. Its message will eventually reach the four corners of the world. The Games will be another catalyst to help make that happen. Be sure that, in the end, inclusion will replace exclusion. For the sake of the planet and of humanity it must be so. And by our lives let us be an example of respect for human rights. Not just for gays. For everyone.