My idea of being political is to try to live it on a day-to-day basis. I like the idea of working in small ways. I also think it’s really important that relationships are open and recognised. That public recognition to me is really important.
My partner Elaine and I have been together for about 27 years. When John Howard said we couldn’t get married, by introducing the federal same-sex marriage ban, I thought, How dare he?
So we decided to get married. Until then it had never really been a big issue, but the federal same-sex marriage ban felt so insulting and so denying of the reality of the relationship.
We chose Canada because the marriage rights were full and equal there. I just think it’s really important that it’s the same thing for everyone. I wouldn’t do it in England because it’s called a civil union. I don’t think there’s any advantage in making it separate and different because I don’t think it’s really that different.
We got married in Toronto last December. It was wonderful. Everyone we met was really pleased we were getting married.
At the hotel we were staying in they decorated a boardroom for our wedding. Even taxi drivers were excited when we told them. It just seemed so accepted there -“ which is how it should be.
Our plan is to have future travel where we get married in different places where gay marriage is legal and we can get married. We want to get so married that we’ll be more married than anybody else -“ people will have to realise our relationship is serious and that it means something.
And we’re going to continue to act as if our marriage is recognised here. On all the census forms and everything we’ll tick married and tick female-female and let the computer deal with that. I think if people generally did that there’d eventually have to be some sort of recognition.
I’ve been a GP for over 20 years and now I do mainly mental health work. I grew up in Guildford in the western suburbs and no one in my family had been to university. When I left school everyone said being a doctor was too difficult, so I ended up being a nurse for about 10 years.
It was so frustrating being told what to do by people who didn’t really know much more than me. I thought I can either get old and bitter and twisted or I can do something.
I went back to TAFE and did my Higher School Certificate to get into medicine. I graduated in medicine in 1982 and it was a pretty conservative profession. I do think being lesbian affected some of my career choices.
There was just this subtle thing: if you were female you probably didn’t get on quite as easily, but being female and having a female partner didn’t really wash. You had to really push yourself to get into specialties. Not knowing other lesbians who were doctors was also hard.
In 1999 I got a flyer in the mail telling me about a new group called the Australian Lesbian Medical Association (ALMA). I was so excited because I only knew one other lesbian doctor.
Two NSW lesbian doctors who knew each other decided they wanted to get some sort of lesbian medical association group. They sent material out to doctors who could conceivably be lesbian, which took a lot of courage, because some people reacted badly.
The first ALMA conference was in Newcastle in 1999. There were about 30 people there. We’ve got about 180 on our mailing list now. It was very exciting to find acceptance as both the things that you were -“ a doctor and a lesbian -“ because otherwise they were separate identities.
We now have ALMA conferences every year, where we present research that we’ve done. We also help lesbian medical students if they have problems in their course or applying to work at different hospitals.
One highlight was presenting at a major international conference for women in medicine in Sydney in 2001. We spoke about using ALMA as a model for women’s empowerment. We got a resolution with them to say lesbian rights are human rights and that they should campaign for proper education about gay and lesbian issues.
At that conference we also had a meeting about lesbian health. We expected to meet only lesbians from different countries.
About 20 women turned up from Africa, saying they weren’t lesbian but wanting to know the right terminology to use when they had patients who were gay or lesbian and what pronouns to use when asking about partners. There’s obviously an incredible amount of interest there.
Interview by Ian Gould