Spokesperson of the Rainbow Sash Movement, Michael Kelly passed away in November 2020. He was suffering from cancer and was admitted to Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. A memorial was held on November, 23 by his friends and family. Graham Willett, historian of Australian gay and lesbian past, used to visit him at the Cancer Centre, between lockdowns. According to Graham, Michael was in good spirits and keen to chat.
Michael’s work in the Rainbow Sash Movement was momentous. The movement, started in 1997, publicly challenged the Catholic Church’s treatment of LGBTQI people. In May 1998, around 70 people attended mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral wearing a rainbow sash in Melbourne.
“On Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 1998, when the movement formally began, around 60 people were publicly refused Holy Communion by Archbishop George Pell. In Catholic culture worldwide this was unprecedented, and it created a media storm,” Michael said previously. He was living a quiet life on the Mornington peninsula in Australia, until he was asked by a young friend to join him in wearing the rainbow sash. He said ‘yes’, and never looked back since then.
Michael started a career in Catholic Education in 1973, which ended when he came out as a gay man in public. However, he kept persevering, and ended up publishing several works on gay experience and Christian mysticism. His works include The Erotic Contemplative and Christian Mysticism’s Queer Flame: Spirituality In The Lives Of Contemporary Gay Men, the former being a study guide that accompany the re-release of a six-volume lecture series published in 1995 by the Erospirit Research Institute. Through his writings on priesthood and sexuality, Michael brought together ‘body and soul, sex and spirit’ in a split world.
“We were honoured recently to be entrusted with a small package from Michael containing sashes and clippings for our collection, which adds to a range of our existing holdings relating to Michael’s life and work, including an oral history recorded by Dino Hodge,” said Australian Gay and Lesbian Archives.
Members of the Archive were aggrieved to hear of Michael’s death.