LGBTI punters will soon be able to order a beer and a burger with an extra portion of queer history under a bid to get the community more engaged in Sydney’s gay and lesbian past.
The initiative is a different direction for Sydney’s Pride History Group (PHG) under new chair, Dr Shirleene Robinson, an academic at Macquarie University.
[showads ad=MREC]Talking exclusively to the Star Observer, Robinson said the group would also consider backing a long-discussed museum to permanently house Sydney’s rich LGBTI history.
Robinson, who has been involved with the PHG for several years, takes over as the organisation’s head from archivist Robert French who himself took on the mantle from renowned LGBTI activist Lex Watson, who died in 2014.
“Both Lex and Robert played an enormous role, they are considerable boots to full,” said Robinson, who noted that French would continue to work on the group’s Pioneer Names Project which aims to record the biographical details of prominent members of Sydney’s LGBTI community.
The historian, who married her partner Sarah last year in Sydney under British law, already has credentials in the space being involved with Australia’s largest every LGBTI oral history project, the results of which are due later this year.
While the National Library and state libraries record some LGBTI history, as does the Melbourne-based Australian Lesbian and Gay archives, Robinson said there was a niche for the PHG.
“A lot of the other institutions are much more concerned with paper history than oral history,” she said.
“Being a Sydney based oral history organisation, we’re in a unique position to capture voices that otherwise wouldn’t be preserved.”
Robinson said Sydney was unlike any other part of Australia.
“When people think of LGBTI Australia they think of Sydney, because of Mardi Gras and because it was particularly affected by HIV/AIDS,” she said.
“A lot has happened here and it’s happened in a really distinct way and having a group that can unfold that history is great.”
While PHG already holds events in Pride Week and during Mardi Gras, one of the new ways Sydney’s history will be unfolded is through a series of evenings combining a pint — or a pinot — and the past.
“It’s really important that we introduce the community to what we hold and Queer History in the Pub, where we’ll have a few speakers and a chat, is a different way of making Sydney’s LGBTI history a little more accessible,” Robinson said.
The first event, to be held in Glebe on October 13, will look at the role sport has played historically and continues to play within Sydney’s LGBTI community.
Robinson told the Star Observer that the group would be looking to capture more stories from the 1980s and 1990s, the era when homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW and HIV and AIDS was at its height, and that she didn’t rule out the PHG throwing its weight behind a Sydney LGBTI museum.
“The group will be discussing the form a permanent maker for our LGBTI history could take,” Robinson said.
Much has been said, but so far little has happened, about a possible museum. While backed by a number of councillors from the City of Sydney, the council has shied away from committing funds to the project, urging historians to work with the state library and other organisations instead.
“There’s lots of challenges about funding it – and it could be online – but people are increasingly thinking about it,” Robinson said.
Sydney Liberal councillor Christine Forster, a supporter of an LGBTI museum or exhibition space, said she has received feedback for more than three years from people supportive of the idea.
“Sydney Council has massive financial and other resources and could easily assist the LGBTI community to establish a suitable facility,” she said.
“The Lord Mayor’s refusal to do so is continuing to deny Oxford St what could become a vital asset, attracting visitors and day-time activation to the area.”
The first Queer History in the Pub evening will be at 7pm on October 13 at the AB Hotel, Glebe Point Rd, Glebe. No booking required. Details on the group’s Facebook page.