Community members will get together on September 24 to recognise the achievements of Ken Davis, who took up the fight for gay liberation at the age of 15 and remains passionate about seeing those debates extend worldwide.
“It all goes back to Harvey Milk,” Davis reflected in the lead-up to receiving his award.
“Harvey Milk was fighting the Briggs initiative in 1978 and his committee was emphasising visibility and mass mobilisation. They wrote to activists in Australia saying they wanted a solidarity action on June 24 [gay freedom day in San Francisco]. We got together a coalition of the left groups and the student groups and the religious gay groups to run a march and a forum.”
Gay Solidarity was born — a new consolidated force to be reckoned with. The group quickly set about planning a street demonstration-come-celebration — Mardi Gras.
“The Mardi Gras itself had around 1500 people and was planned as a celebration, not a riot. That was what was really surprising,” Davis said.
“I remember people didn’t turn up on time, so I thought it was a flop,” he recalled with a slight laugh. “Not many people came in costume although I was wearing a country and western outfit — a polka dot dress.
“The excitement of being in the street and being free at night — there was something quite exhilarating about being publicly gay, which was not that common in the ’70s.
“Social life was very much behind closed doors and the venues that we had were beholden to the police. Women were arrested for kissing in Hyde Park and men were arrested for dancing together and were entrapped in toilets all over the place.
“It was a time of great contestation and our way of life as a whole was being rejected in terms of consumerism and capitalism. There was a politics of daily life and the alternative for gay people was to accept we were sick or criminal or inferior and to internalise that. The only way not to internalise that sort of pathology was to become visible and come out and take action.”
While working for the Council of People with Disability in the 1980s, Davis established networks to provide financial and emotional support to people struck down by — the as yet unnamed disease — HIV. He became involved with the newly-established ACON and then worked with AFAO.
Davis, who now works for the development agency Union Aid Abroad, remains committed to social justice.
“I think I’ve always fought for gay freedom but in the context of a broader struggle for international social justice. I think you can only make gains in terms of our freedom or HIV as part of a much bigger set of questions around international social justice. I think the basic agenda for gay rights is achieved and the areas we want to make progress in, in terms of some sort of emancipatory social project, are about bigger questions.”
info: Ken Davis will receive his Honour award alongside Graeme Browning (Mitzi Macintosh) on September 24.
To book tickets, visit www.acon.org.au/honour.