A new book from Federation Press makes interesting reading for any-one wanting to understand the other side of how we, as a community, got to this point.

While the history of the gay rights movement has been well documented, Homophobia: an Australian History gives another perspective on that struggle by charting the changing face of homophobia.

The book is a collection of analytical pieces on everything from being gay in colonial Queensland to the medical profession’s effect on the lesbian community’s struggle. Essays examine the impact of more recent events like the repeal of Tasmania’s sodomy laws and recent rises in homophobic violence on Australia’s culture and our community’s sense of self.

We’re in a position now where we’ve had a few works that have talked about the emergence of homosexual culture in Australia, but I thought it would be very interesting to have a look at the other side of that and how as homosexual identity has developed, talk about the way that homosexual prejudices have also evolved, said the book’s editor, Shirleene Robinson, an openly gay woman from Queensland.

In terms of Australian homophobia and how it might be different, I think that in some ways it does reflect the trends overseas in England and the US about homosexuality, but the way that we think about it as an identity is something that emerged in the second half of the 1800s when we started to equate homosexuality with identity rather than acts.

The fact that we’re maybe not as religious, religious homophobia has not been as big as it could have been in the middle states of America and places like that. But then you also see a lot of similarities like the medical profession in the 1960s and ’70s doing a lot to continue homophobia.

It may be a history book, but Robinson pointed out this is not the end of the story.

Today people believe that homophobia is a thing of the past and that we have completely moved past it and that everything’s equal but if you look at incidences like the recent bashing of two men on Oxford St in horrific circumstances in 2007, this is still an area we need to try and understand -” both the more overt examples like this as well as the roles played by government and the legal profession.

info: Homophobia: an Australian History is available through Federation Press, www.federationpress.com.au

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