With the publication of her autobiography Raelene: Sometimes Beaten, Never Conquered, Raelene Boyle joins a growing list of prominent Australians who have revealed that they are in a same-sex relationship.

Boyle has been hitting the publicity trail over the past two weeks, drumming up media interest in the book and her work among women with cancer.

But the Star’s request for an interview was denied. The reason? Because Raelene does not want the media to focus on her personal life.

And they haven’t. Although Boyle’s sexuality has been a subject of speculation for many years, there has been little media commentary about the fact that for the first time she has admitted to being in a lesbian relationship.

One reporter who spoke to Boyle about her book (David Gilchrist, for The Canberra Times) told the Star that Boyle admitted to him that she had a few qualms about outing her relationship, but decided that she did not want to be caught out -“ ?a Cheryl Kernot -“ publishing a story that was not the whole truth.

Boyle’s story echoes that of Dawn Fraser, who revealed that she had a number of affairs with women in her 2001 autobiography -“ although Fraser added that she decided it wasn’t for her. (Interestingly, Fraser also refused an interview request from the Star.)

The muted media response to Boyle’s self-outing is not necessarily a sign of an increasingly tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, contends long-time gay activist Rodney Croome.

It’s not a sign of social acceptance, it’s a strategy of homophobia to ignore and to forget, he said. Australia is still not the accepting community it likes to think it is.

Croome acknowledged that Boyle grew up at a time when these issues were not discussed, but said it was unfortunate that Boyle was not taking the opportunity to talk further about her personal life.

Young people are still in desperate need of good role models, and Raelene Boyle is an Australian icon, he said.

Fellow activist Dennis Altman said that each celebrity coming-out story made the succeeding one less interesting.

It just confirms what everyone has always known anyway, he said. I’m impressed with people who come out who have something to lose. An AFL footballer still playing in a team -“ that would be a risk.

This treatment of people who come out at the end of their careers as being brave and noble -¦ it’s absolute crap! Altman exclaimed. Where the fuck was Dawn Fraser when her coming out would have made a difference?

But not all prominent Australians who come out are doing so in the twilight of their careers. SBS newsreader Anton Enus came out in a TV Week interview in 2000 and allowed his relationship to be profiled in the Good Weekend earlier this year.

My attitude over the past several years has not been to beat a drum about [my sexuality], but I won’t deny it, Enus told the Star this week. I didn’t seek to have the article published, or to raise my profile. Somebody approached me and said, -˜We’re interested in you,’ and that’s why I did it. I didn’t go out to seek publicity, but by the same token I also think if people in prominent positions are able to be honest and open, then that makes it 10 times easier for other people, who maybe find it more difficult to come out. That’s certainly been my experience over the years.

Somewhat surprisingly, Enus revealed that he did not seek the clearance of SBS management before the Good Weekend article appeared.

I didn’t discuss it with them beforehand, but as far as I was concerned it wasn’t really any of their business, and that was their reaction after the article came out as well. I didn’t know how they were going to react, but it was quite encouraging to know that they took a progressive point of view.

The response from colleagues and viewers since the Good Weekend article, Enus said, has been 100 percent positive.

There’s been no hate mail; not one single letter that was critical, he said. We get a lot of reaction at SBS to Queer As Folk, and it’s kind of divided between pro and anti. We get the fundamentalists who write in saying it’s filth and it’s corrupting children -“ and I was expecting some of that kind of element -“ but there’s been none of that at all.

Little has also been made, to date, of media comments suggesting that new South Australian senator Penny Wong is a lesbian (see sidebar).

The Star contacted Senator Wong’s office this week and asked if she would be interested in being interviewed for this story. She responded in a written statement.

It seems that public figures are becoming more prepared to be open about their sexuality. This demonstrates an increased confidence in the community that people can be openly lesbian or gay and still be successful in their chosen field -“ a credit to years of advocacy by very brave people. That advocacy has enabled many lesbian and gay public figures to focus on their chosen fields, rather than automatically becoming spokespeople on sexuality issues. I believe this reflects maturity, diversity and strength among the lesbian and gay community, Senator Wong said.

It would seem, with public figures coming out only a little bit, or even going back in, that this community still has some more maturing to do.

Recent Outings

Late 1998: Justice Michael Kirby
Justice Michael Kirby revealed his partner, Johan van Vloten, for the first time in the 1998 edition of Who’s Who. But it was not until April 1999 that anybody in the media realised the significance of the action, leading to a string of opinion pieces and articles. Justice Kirby refused all requests for follow-up interviews -“ until the debut issue of independent news magazine The Eye in October 1999. I have a saintly partner who has endured 30 and more years of this kind of life, Kirby said then. It’s one of the reasons I thought the time had come to reach the conclusion that this was not just a fling, that this was something that ought to be publicly acknowledged. And I’m glad I did it.

May 2000: Neal Blewett
Blewett made a brief reference to his companion Robert Brain in the 1999 memoir A Cabinet Diary, but in May 2000 Blewett and Brain’s relationship was profiled in the Good Weekend column Two Of Us. It surprised many people, Blewett said of the article this week when contacted by the Star. Both in terms of what was revealed, and the fact that one revealed it. It also brought some of my old critics out of the woodwork.

December 2000: Anton Enus
SBS newsreader Anton Enus and his partner Roger Henning were also profiled in the Good Weekend (in March 2003), but the first revelation of Enus’s sexuality in the Australian media was in a story in a December 2000 issue of TV Week. The reporter [John Burfitt] had done some homework and asked me a direct question, Enus told the Star this week. I had taken part in the Gay Games in Amsterdam in 1998 and won a medal there, and he asked me about it straight out. I didn’t want to deny it, and I couldn’t without lying.

April 2001: Alyson Annan
Hockeyroo star Alyson Annan went public about her relationship with Dutch hockey player Carole Thate in print and on 60 Minutes in April 2001, although she described herself as a woman in her first gay relationship rather than a lesbian. Since then, she has moved to the Netherlands, retired from international competition and, according to a recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald, been in demand at coaching clinics for juniors in the Netherlands and across Europe.

June 2001: Dawn Fraser
Living national treasure and swimming legend Dawn Fraser revealed a bit about her personal life with the publication of her autobiography Dawn: One Hell Of A Life. Although the book made reference to a number of relationships Fraser had with women, she stressed that she did not regard herself as gay. I trust -¦ that I will not be approached to become some sort of symbol for gay people, she wrote in the book. I see myself as a woman who had a couple of relationships with other women and then found it wasn’t for her. I want privacy for that part of my life because I am, after all, a sportswoman and ambassador, not a sex symbol.

August 2002: Penny Wong
The sexuality of new South Australian Labor senator Penny Wong was discussed in a feature interview with The Advertiser in August 2001. Reporter Samantha Maiden wrote: In Labor circles, it is also well-known Senator Wong is gay, a fact she would prefer to leave as a private matter. Although Wong knew that Maiden was including the reference in her article, she has since declined to discuss issues of a personal nature in the media.

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