Making a difference
The list of Australia’s 25 Most Influential Gays and Lesbians was revealed to the world on Tuesday night.
The list features a diverse collection of Australians whose impact on not only the gay and lesbian community but our nation as a whole is extraordinary.
They are presented here in no particular order.
The final 25 come from the political arena and the stage; the clubs and our health system; our education institutions and the sporting fields.
Hundreds of nominations were posted during the campaign, leaving judges with a massive job to cull the list back to 25.
The process took twice as long as expected, but the final result is a comprehensive collection of the people who have contributed enormously to the lifestyle we enjoy today.
Judges: Andrew Mercado, Sally Horrobin, Kevin Golding, David Wilkins, Silke Bader, Tim Duggan, Christian Taylor and Libby Clarke.
Here are profiles of the final 25:
Profile by Jonathon Burgess
Adam Sutton’s inclusion in the SameSame 25 comes as no surprise. Many know him as the cowboy who worked with Heath Ledger on the film Brokeback Mountain. Since then he’s been the subject of ABC’s Australian Story, was the patron of this year’s Mardi Gras parade with Rupert Everett and released his autobiography Say It Out Loud.
Being honoured in this way shows the impact that telling my story has had, says Adams. I’m just a simpleton cowboy, there’s nothing special about me. I guess I haven’t accepted the impact that I’ve had. I’m learning as I go.
Since Adams story found its way into mainstream arena, he’s become a role model to a lot of young men facing coming out, not just in country Australia but in the cities as well.
The feedback I’ve had after doing the book and Australian Story has been incredible -“ so many letters and phone calls from people. I’ve suddenly found myself in this position and it’s something I didn’t know I was undertaking at the time, but I’ve been able to accept and learn about it as I’ve gone along.
Sutton responds to all the mail he receives and has even gone on to develop friendships with these people as a result. He’s also had people approach him in the street and pour their hearts out to him. It took me aback a little bit at first, I didn’t know how to take it -“ speaking to these people, hearing their personal stories, listening to the burdens that they’ve had on their shoulders. It’s been quite humbling to speak to so many people from so many different backgrounds about so many different issues. It’s been amazing to know that you’ve made change and been a positive influence in so many people’s lives for so many different reasons.
But has he found this new responsibility exhausting, or a burden at times? I don’t like to see things as burdens any more. It takes courage for someone to come up to you in the street and tell you something that they haven’t told other people. I see it more as an opportunity to help someone, an opportunity to share your experiences with each other. It shows me that causes that motivated me initially are real and it inspires me to do more. It empowers me to do more.
Adam struggled greatly with coming out -“ he says that the hardest thing was to tell his parents. It’s a story that’s all too familiar to most people in that position -“ but with the support of his sisters, he broke the silence and now says that being out is a wonderful feeling.
I think waking up every day, being able to stand on two feet and attack the day with a smile on your face is a good thing. To me everything is a blessing, I look forward to tomorrow and the next day.
Profile by Tim Duggan
When your teammates, fans, media and international competitors all label you the best female hockey player in the world, you know you’re not just any ordinary player.
Alyson Annan is that rare breed of sportswoman. The proudly out lesbian, and recent new mum, is widely regarded as one of the best hockey players to ever pick up a hockey stick. As a player, Annan was the instrumental goal scorer in the squad that won a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and, remarkably, led the team to victory again at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Her contribution to the popular sport is one of the key reasons that the Hockeyroos were able to emerge as one of the most successful Australian sporting teams of the past few decades.
The gold medals weren’t the first time that Annan tasted success, however. After making her international debut in 1991 at the age of just 17, Annan became the highest ever goal scorer in Australian history at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, scoring a whopping total of 149 goals in 201 international games.
But it was only when Annan retired from competition that the next chapter of her life really began. Just after the Sydney Olympics Annan divorced her husband, moved to Holland and struck up a friendship with her former rival, the Dutch hockey captain and fellow Olympic medallist Carole Thate, whom she triumphed over at both Olympic Games. The friendship controversially blossomed into a relationship and, eventually, into marriage.
In May of this year, Annan became a mother to Sam Henk Brian Thate. One of the great gifts of life is being able to have a baby, she told The Sydney Morning Herald when she gave birth. I think motherhood is the most amazing thing in the world. You see your child grow in your stomach, then you give birth. It is a big responsibility but there is no part of motherhood I find daunting. It comes very naturally to me.
As is befitting for the child of two successful sporting parents, there’s always the faint glimmer of a sporting career for their son. As soon as he can hold a hockey stick in his hand he will have one, she joked. Then a football. But if he tells us he has more fun playing volleyball, then he can. We want to bring him up so that he plays outside and is active. It is too easy to put kids in front of television or a computer.
Annan’s influence over the sporting community is immeasurable, consistently ranking as one of the greatest sporting heroes Australia has produced and proudly living her new life out in open in her lauded biography, Beyond The Limits.
She currently lives in Holland where she works on providing education for athletes, and adores her new life and all that comes with it. Our relationship -“ and now Sam’s birth -“ has never been frowned upon, she said. We live in a street where there are 20 kids under the age of three. Everyone has accepted us as a couple.
Annan is in a great stage of life and she knows it. Being a mum is feeling the satisfaction of winning a medal every day, she says. And you can’t argue with that.
Profile by Blake Price
Andrew Benson is quick to say what being one of the SameSame 25 means to him. I hope it opens a lot of doors, he laughs, and I hope I get a lot of VIP seats. He quickly gets serious, however, when discussing the importance of the award. I think it’s a fantastic idea. I think unfortunately in the media gay and lesbian people are branded either as sexual deviants or people who are pass?They are not seen as normal people who live normal lives in loving relationships, he states. You never see positive stories about gays and lesbians on the television, or if you do it’s fleshed up with tits and bums. It’s never, -˜Here’s someone who is the CEO of a company.’ It’s all very sexualised.
A self-professed wearer of two hats -“ one as the critically lauded tap-dancing, tea-swilling comedy circuit regular, Aunty Mavis -“ Benson’s work outside of the public eye has also drawn much praise. As a high school teacher at a local Sydney school who never tried to hide [his] sexuality, Benson has been a champion for the development of a stronger voice for gay youth. One of the biggest issues gay youth faces in the school system is having a profile, says Benson. The school system says we don’t want schools to be sexualised places -“ but they are. They might teach ideas about safe sex -“ but they often only teach ideas about heterosexual sex. So these issues are something I try and put on the table.
Benson also realises the importance of being a homosexual figure. I think it’s important to be a role model for gay and lesbian students. But respect is earned, not forced. If a student respects you, they can see part of themselves in you, and see that you’ve turned out okay.
One of Benson’s most praised teaching experiences is for his work gaining representation and acceptance for a young transgender student. It was a big thing for me, he reflects. Being gay, I thought that I -˜knew’ transgender. But I didn’t. So it was a really empowering thing to be able to get people talking about that. That person was able to express who they really were. They weren’t forced into being something else. That kind of model would be fantastic around the entire country.
When discussing his final words of advice for the younger queer generation, Benson reflects upon his own experiences. When I moved to Sydney I was blinded by the enormity of the gay scene. I felt very alienated. I felt like I didn’t fit in with being gay, he says.
I think it’s important to make young people aware of difference -“ especially that it’s okay to be different. Don’t feel the need to try and belong. By being yourself you will belong. And eventually you’ll find something out there that you connect with.
And where does Andrew Benson see himself fitting into this? If I could be a role model just to one gay and lesbian student, he says slowly, then I’ll feel like I’ve done something good.
Profile by James Forbes
Anthony Venn-Brown may have once been a preacher with the Assemblies of God Church -“ one of the most homophobic in Australia -“ but that’s far behind him now. Today, he speaks with a calm resolve. It is testament to the skill this man has for communicating with church leaders in Australia to bring about a quantum shift in attitude. It is also this resolute and composed approach to bringing about change in religious circles that has earned him, he believes, this nomination.
Venn-Brown resigned as a minister in 1991 after coming out. In 2004 he published his autobiography, A Life of Unlearning: A Journey To Find The Truth. It detailed his struggle to reconcile his homosexuality with his Christian beliefs and won the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association Literary award in 2004. The book was revised and updated in 2007.
I’ve been able to give a voice to so many people, Venn-Brown enthuses when asked why he has been nominated without a hint of conceit. Through telling my story, I’ve really influenced people, and in some cases allowed them to be freed of the debilitating self-loathing that drives people to self-harm.
Meeting church leaders is something Venn-Brown does behind closed doors and without any recognition, as he goes through the time consuming process of educating the church leadership about sexual orientation. It takes anywhere from six to 10 months of regular contact before individuals come to an understanding and are prepared to take action.
In the meantime, Venn-Brown continues to take action every day with his charity Freedom 2 Be. Historically, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches have maintained the outdated belief that homosexuality is a sin, a choice or the result of a dysfunctional upbringing. Freedom 2 Be was established to give people in the church a forum to discover that they are not alone and to begin the journey of repair that allows them to live authentically and continue, if they choose, to have faith.
While Venn-Brown continues to practise as a life coach, he would dearly love to find a benefactor who could support him to carry on his work full time. There are so many people in need out there and we risk losing them unnecessarily. If I could devote all my time and energy to this work, I believe we would see some massive change.
Profile by Danny Corvini
While America has Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives, The Golden Girls) and Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), we have out television creator Bevan Lee, responsible for writing and creating many of Australia’s best-loved TV shows over the last three decades.
Lee’s impressive r?m?pans All Saints, Headland, Marshall Law, Always Greener, The Potato Factory, Water Rats, Halifax F.P., Spellbinder, The Last Bullet, Home & Away, The Flying Doctors, Sons and Daughters -“ even Prisoner and The Adventures of Skippy.
He says his nomination has come out of the blue and that he’s chuffed, admitting, I’ve never thought about whether I’m influential or not; I just do what I do.
I never set out with an agenda, Bevan says of his 30 years in Australian television. I don’t have a gay agenda. But I guess I look back on certain stories that I’ve done and three years ago I did do the first story ever on Australian television about crystal methamphetamine on Home & Away; I showed positive gay characters on All Saints. And I guess without having an agenda I have done some stories that really have shown gay life and gay sensibilities -“ hopefully in a non-clich?way.
The advice he gives to young scriptwriters following in his footsteps is a softly, softly approach. If it’s commercial you shouldn’t be too strident about your agenda because any commercial television operator is going to be cautious about a creative person who is wanting to come in with some agenda or their own sexual politics they want to inject into everything. You go in there, you tell interesting stories which are about the people and about emotion, and if that happens to be a story that has a gay sensibility and people stop, muse or rethink from it -“ then that’s great. If I’m going to get my message across, am I actually going to get it across to an audience that wants to sit there and look at it?
Lee’s profile on Amazon.com reads: I believe that a judicious combination of living it and reading about it is a great balance. Sometimes you’ve got to turn away from life and read about it and at other times you have to put down the book and look at the reality.
They’re appropriate words from someone who does both very well.
Profile by Danny Corvini
Greens leader Bob Brown is a rare creature in Australian politics: a man who commands wide respect for his political idealism, has an unwavering loyalty to nature and who is openly homosexual too.
Brown began his political life when he joined Australia’s first green group, the United Tasmania Group, in 1972 to save Lake Pedder, which was also when he came out. In 1983, as a major proponent in the movement to save Tasmania’s mighty Franklin River from being dammed, Brown was locked in Hobart’s Risdon Prison for 19 days and went on to become a member of the Tasmanian Parliament on the day he was released.
Along with a range of other essential reforms, Brown started Tasmania’s 10-year road to gay law reform which began in the 80s and which eventually resulted by the 90s in Tasmania having the most progressive legislation of this kind in the entire country.
In 1989 Brown became the Greens’ first leader and by 1996 was elected to the Australian Senate for Tasmania. He has since been a much needed voice of opposition to the grey mediocrity of John Howard, especially when there was very little being provided by Labor’s Kim Beazley.
Brown was re-elected to the Senate in 2001 with an even larger vote and has continued to criticise Australia’s involvement in Iraq, our treatment of refugees and the government’s slow reaction to global warming.
So well known is he for being progressive that The Chaser boys joked on their website that Brown has skipped MySpace and Facebook for his electronic election campaign to sign up with Bebo.com.
Profile by Christian Taylor
As Foxtel’s Director of Marketing and Television, Brian Walsh has an enormous influence over the ever-growing industry of pay television in Australia. When it comes to TV, Walsh has a wealth of skills and experience. Back in the 80s he re-invented Network Ten by launching Neighbours, turning Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, amongst others, into household names. He also re-launched the rugby league with a lavish advertising campaign that still lingers on in many memories, starring Tina Turner and players Wayne Pearce and Andrew Ettingshausen.
Often referred to as TV’s Mr Fixit, Walsh’s opinion is sought by many and he is ultimately responsible for Foxtel’s programming, on-air personality and communications. He’s been with the pay TV giant right from the beginning. In 2005 he told The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Michael Idato that his fondest memory was the day he rolled up his sleeves and carried boxes of one-inch broadcast video tapes of Dallas (the first program to arrive from Foxtel’s program suppliers) from the dock to the tape library. It was extraordinary, said Walsh. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.
Over a decade ago, convincing Australians to pay for television seemed akin to selling ice to the Eskimos. However, since its arrival in October 1995 Foxtel has flourished, pushing one-time rivals Galaxy and Optus Vision well and truly out of the race. Now, 12 years on, Foxtel directly employs over 1,900 people and a further 1,400 are indirectly engaged by the company in sales and installation roles nationally.
And even though Walsh wears two very large hats, both Marketing and Television -“ hats that once resided on the heads of two individuals -“ he still manages to take the company from strength to strength. As Walsh once told B&T magazine, I’m a guy who lives and breathes television, and I am a firm believer that content is king and that is what’s going to drive our business.
His support of three seasons of the Logie award-winning television drama Love My Way is one example of how his influence has lifted the standard and perception of locally produced cable programming in this country. Love My Way [was] truly a defining Australian drama, one of the finest series ever produced in this country, and we are delighted that it [was] exclusive subscription television property, Walsh told the Herald last year.
Profile by Danny Corvini
As one half of Brisbane supergroup Savage Garden Darren Hayes sold 23 million albums worldwide. The 35-year-old singer-songwriter has had one of the most incredible careers of any Australian performer of our time -“ but it has not been without its share of dramas, as witnessed in the behind-the-scenes DVD Too Close for Comfort released last December.
Hayes came out earlier in 2006 a month after a Civil Partnership ceremony with his lover Richard Cullen and has since increasingly spoken out about being gay. He has a lot to say about the challenges he faced growing up in blokey Brisbane in an alcoholic home, and coping with stardom as an adult, when his sexuality started bursting at the seams.
I spent the first 10 years of my public life creating this myth. That’s what it was, Hayes told SMH. The music was the only true thing. Everything else was a contrivance. Not at all from a cynical or Machiavellian point of view; it was just a survival mechanism. Like most pop stars I hated myself, needed something, dyed my hair a certain colour, acted a certain way, imitated people. You can join all the dots and work out where I got to.
The artist’s pain is there for all to see with Darren Hayes but rather than it being a squeamish experience where you want to tell them to shut up, it’s one where the switched-on to it simply realise that the artist is using their experience in celebrity as a revelation, posting their findings into the world for the benefit of others.
While his solo work has a way to go yet to match the runaway success he had as part of Savage Garden, his recent releases like On the Verge of Something Wonderful from the album This Delicate Thing We’ve Made show that the spark of Savage Garden is increasingly present in his own music.
He headlined London Gay Pride at Trafalgar Square in June this year, performing his tracks I Want You and On the Verge of Something Wonderful.
Profile by James Forbes
David Berthold seemed to beam over the phone and I was instantly taken by his utterly charming manner. Berthold may not be a household name -“ yet -“ but his collaboration with Tommy Murphy on the year’s hit play, Holding the Man, has ensured that his place in the Australian theatrical firmament is assured. It was nominated for Best Play at this year’s Helpmann Awards, picked up an Awgie Award as well as a NSW Premier’s Literary Award.
I take my hat off to Tim Conigrave, the author of Holding The Man, the book on which Tommy Murphy’s play is based. His book is a text for young gay men to use to work through issues and their sexuality but also to be in tune with their own interior life.
It would seem that Berthold is all too aware of the very resonant effect that Holding the Man has had, not just on the gay and lesbian community but the wider community as well.
In 15-20 years of directing plays, I’ve had more letters, emails and conversations about this particular work than any other; and seen how it has really affected people’s lives or the lives of those around them.
Berthold’s career has been stellar working for the Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company, as artistic director of the Australian Theatre for Young People and until recently as artistic director of Griffin Theatre Company. In 1992 Berthold won the Brisbane Critics’ Award for his contribution to theatre in Queensland.
It was at Griffin that he first staged Holding the Man, which has seen two seasons at The Stables, the Sydney Opera House for a season and is now playing at the Belvoir Street Theatre.
Next year it will be off to Brisbane and to the Melbourne Theatre Company where it will continue to cut a swathe through people’s minds bringing a wider audience closer to the experience of growing up gay. Given that half the play is set in Melbourne, Berthold had always hoped it would be able to play there.
It’s been a great satisfaction to see the impact that Holding the Man has had and it’s really been quite a humbling experience.
It would appear that Berthold’s inclusion on the SameSame 25 list has also left him a little humbled.
I am incredibly flattered about being nominated; I think it is a terrific initiative that will present great role models for young people.
Profile by Cameron Bayley
David Marr is a journalist whose r?m?eads like a roll call of some of Australia’s most highly respected media outlets. He currently writes for The Sydney Morning Herald, and in the past has written for The Bulletin as well as The National Times, for which he was also later the editor. He’s been a reporter for ABC’s Four Corners and went on to host Media Watch from 2002 to 2004. During his time with the program he was one of the key players in exposing the ongoing cash for comment scandal surrounding Alan Jones and John Laws.
So how does he feel about his inclusion as one of the SameSame 25? Well, I’m honoured, Marr says, but where’s Alan Jones?
When it comes to the influences and role models in his life, Marr cites parents, teachers, friends and a few savagely funny old lesbians. When asked if there were enough role models for gay people out there, Marr says, Better than role models would simply be everyone coming out.
Marr has published a number of books including a critically acclaimed biography of Australian writer Patrick White, which won The Age Book of the Year award and the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. Marr says that out of all the career highlights he’s had, writing about the life of Patrick White is the one that stands out. In 2004 Marr co-wrote Dark Victory, which was an account of the 2001 Australian election campaign in the wake of the MV Tampa incident.
Marr says his influence boils down to simply writing and talking, and sexuality aside he has always simply set out to tell it like it is.
I’ve had a great time [working in the mainstream media], Marr says. But if I’d been straight it would have been duller. And what’s next for Marr? Only more of the same, I’m afraid.
Profile by Christian Taylor
One could call David Page a jack of all trades. As an accomplished actor, composer and writer he’s carved quite a niche for himself in Australia’s creative scene. He’s composed for ABC, SBS, a swag of short films, Bangarra Dance Theatre, The Australian Ballet, the Sydney Olympic Games and more recently the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. As an actor he’s appeared in countless productions since 1987, and his one-man, autobiographical show Page 8 toured nationally and internationally to great acclaim.
So how does he feel being named one of the most influential gay Australians? Well, you don’t usually think of being in that position when you’re just doing what you’re doing. I love my work, I love what I do.
Since 1995, David has received four Deadly Sound Awards, an ARIA nomination in 1996 and was given the first Indigenous Artist Award for The Sidney Myer Foundation in 2000. David says that while such accolades aren’t the things that drive him, they do remind him that people are watching. It’s funny, you look for inspiration from other peers -“ I know I did when I first got into this sort of work, so I suppose now it’s my turn. I’m willing to pass my knowledge onto the younger generation. That’s what we do, it’s part of our culture -“ we tell stories, especially in this field of work. It’s just a natural thing.
When asked about the role models who have influenced him throughout his career, David says there are too many to count. They vary. I don’t like pinpointing certain people, because there are lots of them. I guess I’m influenced by anybody who goes out there and does it for themselves in a really honest way. They have to be real, none of this climbing the ladder stuff. They have to be people who give something back. I look at Kath Walker, I look at Bob Maza, I look at Lydia Miller.
When it comes to career highlights so far, David says that performing his one-man show Page 8 is definitely up there. I toured it, went to Belvoir, Opera House, Melbourne, New Zealand, regional, national, I went to England for seven weeks. It was hard work, but it was also pretty special in terms of getting out there on your own and challenging yourself as an artist, telling a story about your own life -“ sharing it, exposing it. It was like coming out again -“ to a lot of people, he laughs. That was definitely a highlight, that and working with Bangarra, that’s also been great.
At the moment David’s writing a film inspired by Page 8 with Louis Nowra and his brother Stephen. It’s all about going home and looking after my godparents who have dementia. I’m in a little town and the only gay person -“ the only gay in the village. It’s a really great story -“ the character goes back in time because of the dementia, because of that disease of memory, and learns a lot about himself.
Profile by Emmett Pink
At 23, Ghassan Kassisieh from the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby is the youngest of the SameSame 25. He was surprised to be named one of the most influential members of the gay and lesbian community, and says that in making a difference at a local level with friends and family he hopes it will inspire others to take action in their own way and within their own circles.
It was a bit of a shock, Kassisieh says. I was really honoured. I hope people do feel they can make a difference and I hope what I show is that anyone can make a difference if they get involved.
Migrating from Jordan to Sydney with his family at the age of six, he understands full well what it means to live a little outside the box. It is this comprehension that drives his influence over the community, albeit perhaps unconsciously. Kassisieh’s personal passions are changing public perceptions towards gays and lesbians, promoting greater acceptance, and fighting for equality, which includes not only challenging the mainstream but also the gay and lesbian community’s own prejudices.
[Our community] has a lot of freedom to express our identities and show creativity in the work we do. Things can be political and fun and cheeky. We have a lot of humour, lots of courage and a strong history of activism -“ there’s a lot about it that inspires me, particularly the people who have been there right back from the days where homosexuality was criminalised, who so generously give their time to mentor younger generations.
Ghassan’s accolades not only include theatre, music and even belly dancing but he is also a Law student at the University of Sydney, Vice-President (Social Justice) for the University of Sydney Law Society and also spends what minimal free time he has working for a law firm on a review of Australia’s treatment of gay and lesbian refugees.
As part of his role with the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Ghassan is currently working on two major law reforms -“ the first for relationship recognition, to ensure that same-sex couples have equal rights and entitlements as well as formal recognition and equality before the law, the second for equal parenting and adoption rights for gays and lesbians. This reform is working towards ensuring children in same-sex families have automatic inheritance rights and recognition of their parents on their birth certificate. It also ensures that adoption laws will treat same-sex couples without discrimination and that non-biological mums will have the legal right to make medical decisions where their children are concerned.
It doesn’t stop there. As part of the group Beit el Hob -“ a group for Middle Eastern queers -“ Kassisieh is also involved in helping the group broaden its monthly social events to include more resources and safe spaces for queer Australians from Arabic-speaking backgrounds to find support in dealing with sexuality and helping with family issues.
The difficulties I have had in negotiating my own sexuality with my family inspire me to promote acceptance and tolerance in the broader community.
Profile by Danny Corvini
On Glyn Cryer’s fridge in Fitzroy there is a magnet stating: Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. The SameSame 25 member may not be a Zen master but his kitchen philosophy does give insight into how he’s helped shaped Melbourne’s Midsumma organisation into a bona fide business which hosts one of the most exciting GLBTI festivals in the world.
Cryer joined Melbourne’s Midsumma half a decade ago and spent two years as Marketing Director and two years as Chair. Having decided that it’s time to move on this year to pursue a business of his own, Cryer will be happy to play volunteer at the upcoming festival in January and February and is excited at the promotion of former Deputy Chair Lisa Watts to the organisation’s helm. Watts has already had to make the tough call to kill off Midsumma’s Opening Night at Federation Square and bring the popular Carnival event forward in the program -“ which is not yet finalised -“ and Cryer says the festival will only continue to change. The thing with community organisations is they can go in totally different directions -“ and they should go in different directions, according to what people want to get out of them.
He describes working in Midsumma as an intense environment with a huge task representing all of gay Melbourne. You talk to 10 people and there are 12 opinions about what Midsumma should do differently, he says. The challenge for Midsumma is to hear all of those opinions and go in those directions that people want to go in.
Responding to the million dollar question -“ how Melbourne’s Midsumma differentiates from Sydney’s Mardi Gras festival -“ Cryer describes the cultural program here as edgier because it’s given precedence over the parties. The range of expressions of gay life in Melbourne is huge, he says. There’s obviously a party scene, but there’s also a very strong family and kids scene. There’s a thriving indie arts scene and a huge dinner party circuit. There are a lot of informal but very strong queer networks in Melbourne. If you want to serve a queer community like that, you have to have a very diverse program with a whole lot of smaller events so that you can touch people’s different buttons.
Cryer’s legacy to Midsumma will be the transformation from having an onerous volunteer-based board to a business with real jobs and real salaries -“ and one that gets more support and funding from councils, the State Government and corporations than ever before. It’s a scrappy community organisation that has transformed itself into a fairly professional and normalised organisation -“ that’s a hard thing to do, he admits. I didn’t initiate it, but I’ve been a part of that over the last five or six years.
Profile by Daniel Cheetham
Graeme Browning’s drag creation Mitzi Macintosh is one of Gay Sydney’s icons. Known for her comedic timing and her relentless volunteering, she’s been a staunch advocate of the gay community for years. She is the Creative Director of Mardi Gras, has raised bundles of cash for ACON as host of Bingay every week and can be found at every Shop Till You Drop, Drag for Dollars, Fair Day bucket-collecting-charity-event there is. Is it any wonder she’s considered one of the most influential gay Australians?
Mitzi says she’s very grateful to every last person who nominated her. It’s just fantastic, truly an honour! It’s lovely when your efforts get recognised. At the beginning of my career, I thought, -˜I’m not going to have an effect,’ but you look back and reflect on it down the track and you see what you can achieve.
Mitzi has worked her way up to becoming part of the furniture at The Imperial over the last 14 years, winning countless Drag Industry Variety Awards (DIVAs) along the way, and is an inspiration to many within our community both on personal and professional levels.
Every week Mitzi has people coming up to her and telling her what a great job she does and what an impact she’s had on their lives. I once had a man come up to me after a show and tell me that he was nursing his partner through the last stages of AIDS and that coming to see my show allowed him to forget about his life and gave him the chance to laugh each week. I’ve also had a lesbian who’d been receiving chemotherapy come up to me a few weeks ago and tell me the same thing. Mitzi says it’s not rocket science. But with all the good that she does in our community, where does she get her inspiration from? Mitzi says she’s driven by the people standing alongside her.
Volunteering is not always an easy thing to do -“ it’s a bit like washing the dishes, there’s always something better to do, but it’s the other people that get involved. It’s the people that work at the events that support the community -“ the fundraisers, the big events that bring the community together. I do all this stuff and it’s easy for me to get noticed, because I’m Mitzi Macintosh. But behind me there are hundreds of other people all doing their thing to help out too. It’s those people who inspire me, the ones who keep on doing it without the recognition.
With bars and clubs closing every few months, there has been a lot of discussion recently about the death of Oxford Street and the lack of community spirit. In her opinion, we all just need to come together and help each other a little more.
That’s what gets me so frustrated with the community. The people who help out with volunteering are always the same people. The church has such a huge following and achieves so much and has so much power, because they have the numbers to support it and they have cohesion. That is something we desperately need.
Mitzi’s received a swag of accolades over the years, she’s performed in countless shows on just about every gay stage around town but counts having the lead in the 1998 Sleaze Ball show Horny as a career highlight, calling it camp, over the top and brilliant. Now, with all that under her belt, Mitzi’s ready for the next chapter, which will be when The Imperial re-opens, sometime in February or March next year.
I’ve been performing there for 14 years and I love the place, it has amazing potential. I’m so happy that I’m finally going to be seeing the facilities I have wanted for years -“ it’s going to have entertainment seven days a week, it’s going to be the spot.
Profile by Christian Taylor
I never really ever thought of myself as a role model, iOTA says. Since hearing about this I’ve really sat and wondered why someone would see me as influential. Perhaps it’s because I’ve done good things? I’ve always thought that I was more of a bad influence than anything.
That’s debatable. This multi-award-winning gender bender has been a force in the masculine-dominated world of rock for years now, and his popularity and influence only continue to grow as he diversifies and moves into musical theatre.
This year, iOTA won a Helpmann award for Best Male Actor In A Musical for his appearance in Hedwig And The Angry Inch. I remember getting an email from the Hedwig people and they said, -˜We know you can sing, we want to know if you can act.’ I auditioned for that role and I got it -“ but we opened the show in Katoomba, just in case I was really bad!
He says the first time he performed in the show he was way out of his comfort zone. Trying to remember 60 pages of dialogue, walking in heels -“ it was a lot of work. We’d have the slightest distraction and it would just empty my head. It took a while to overcome that.
The hard work has certainly paid off. iOTA’s currently appearing in Graeme Murphy’s Berlin. It’s about a heroin addict prostitute in Berlin who falls in love. There’s an angel who watches over the couple as they dance -“ that’s me. I come down to earth for an hour or two to check things out, sing some beautiful songs -“ Lou Reed, Talking Heads, Sinatra. I’ve got wings and a harness, and I’m all rigged up so I can fly around.
While musical theatre wasn’t something iOTA necessarily sought out, he often imagined heading in that direction at some point. I guess in the back of my head I always wanted to be doing something a little more fabulous than standing onstage with a guitar. I’ve always wanted to be more theatrical but, in the music industry, when you’re playing gigs in pubs and bars, it’s not always appropriate. Most people want to just hear their Barnesy cover, not watch a man swanning around in a frock.
After the Australian tour of Berlin, iOTA will be putting the finishing touches on his next album before appearing in The Rocky Horror Show, which starts in January. I feel good about that show, I’ve had the script for a long time now and I know all of those songs, I’ve loved them for years.
Profile by Christian Taylor
Jenni Millbank is a Law Lecturer at Sydney’s University of Technology, and is one of the key brains behind many of the law reforms this country has seen in terms of recognition of same-sex relationships and families. Her academic work was the backbone to NSW law reform in 1999 for same-sex de facto couples. More recently she authored the research paper for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission that sparked national debate on discrimination against same-sex relationships, and in turn formed the blueprint for the law reforms recommended by the inquiry.
So how does she feel about having such an influence? I have always worked as a researcher in law and social change -“ initially in law reform and then in academia. It is wonderful that my work has helped to encourage and to inform changes to the law -“ but there is a lot more to be done before Australian law treats lesbian and gay couples and their children equally.
Millbank’s expertise is in family law, particularly gay and lesbian family and relationship issues. My research is informed by the belief that law should respect and reflect people’s lived lives.
Millbank says that early in her career her inspiration came from feminist lawyers. Especially those who taught me at law school and in my postgraduate studies, she says. Those women took on an inhospitable discipline with courage and perseverance, and their work in feminist jurisprudence made much queer scholarship and activism possible.
So how long does Millbank think we’ll have to wait to see full equality in this country? I think it is inevitable that same-sex couples will get recognition as de facto relationships in federal law in the next few years, Millbank says. The task of crafting a range of new laws to properly recognise the range and diversity of parent-child relationships in gay and lesbian families is going to take some time, not least of all because of the difficult interplay of Federal and State law around children in Australia.
Millbank believes that when it comes to law reform for lesbians and gay men, and real changes in rights, the strongest influence actually comes from the Australian public. Look at the amazing array of rights that have been won over just the past few decades -“ I think the force of most influence has been ordinary people and their changing attitudes.
Profile by Christian Taylor
Joy Murphy is a Victorian policewoman who managed to turn a hideous workplace outing into a positive experience not only for her, but for other gay and lesbian police who faced similar workplace discrimination. She was one of the founders of the Gay and Lesbian Police Employee Network, and in August was named the Most Outstanding Female Leader in the Australasia and Pacific Island Region.
I feel a little bit humble actually, Murphy says of her SameSame 25 accolade. It was quite a pleasant surprise. I don’t feel like a role model, but it’s nice that other people think that I am.
Back in 1992 Murphy was outed by some of her colleagues -“ it was an experience that she describes as scary and disappointing. Whilst I think some people had an idea, I didn’t deny it but I didn’t confirm it either. It did get quite nasty. Where I felt that I was previously held in high esteem, all of a sudden everything I did wasn’t up to standard. It changed the way people looked at me almost overnight. It was hard, because I was the same person upholding the same standards, doing the same quality of work but people chose to look at things differently because they knew more about me.
Murphy was the first to complain to the Equal Opportunity Commission about same-sex discrimination within Victoria Police. She didn’t do that until 1998 -“ six years later, after colleagues targeted her supporters and friends.
That all started 15 years ago. There have definitely been some changes since then and to some degree I think the action that I took kicked a little bit of that off. I wouldn’t say that it’s perfect though -“ I’d like to see it go a lot further. If a young person came to me today and asked, -˜should I be open about my sexuality at work?’ I’d have to caution them to some degree.
Murphy’s influence has been instrumental and visionary when it comes to the way police deal with issues including family violence, sexual assault, discrimination in the workplace against gay, lesbian and transgender people -“ both in the community and the police force as well. The fact that I’m out and I’m not ashamed of it probably gives some people a little more confidence to come forward, people who may not have done so in the past, Murphy says. The introduction of Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers within Victoria Police is a positive step, although we still don’t have enough.
Murphy says that fundamentally, the ideology underpinning her work is a desire to be fair. I just try to influence people to do their job the right way, and not have gender or sexual orientation be a consideration when it comes to how the job’s done. It’s about providing people with the service that they deserve, regardless of their personal circumstances. I try to treat people how I’d like to be treated myself.
Profile by Christian Taylor
As one of the seven Justices of the High Court of Australia, the highest judicial level in the country, Michael Kirby’s influence is indisputable.
When it comes to his judgments, Kirby is considered liberal in his approach, displaying a great degree of compassion, humanity and thoughtfulness. He is also an outspoken, fiercely intelligent advocate for gay rights in Australia, and has been pushing for change and recognition since he came out publicly in 1999.
In July this year Kirby made headlines when he asked the Government to consider changing discriminatory legislation so his partner of 38 years, Johan van Vloten, could access a part-pension payable for life, if Justice Kirby was to pass away first. It was a call for equality and while it was rejected by the Government, it was at least successful at highlighting the discrimination that still exists within Australian legislation.
Kirby has faced his critics head on with a rare dignity and grace. In 2002, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan attempted to smear his reputation by using parliamentary privilege to accuse Kirby of trawling for rent boys using a government vehicle. Heffernan’s evidence was later proven to be a forgery, and when Heffernan eventually apologised for his false allegations, Kirby accepted it generously and wholeheartedly, saying, I accept Senator Heffernan’s apology and reach out my hand in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homosexuals can lead to.
As a keynote speaker, Kirby’s regarded as one of the most inspiring. His charisma, perspective and positive outlook never fail to move. At the opening of the Gay Games in Sydney in 2002, he spoke in the most inspiring manner to a 30,000-strong crowd about Australia’s past, present and bright future. The changes Australia has witnessed over 30 years would not have happened if it had not been for people of courage who rejected the ignorant denials about sexuality. Who taught that variations are a normal and universal aspect of the human species. That they are not going away. That they are no big deal. And that, between consenting adults, we all just have to get used to it and get on with life.
He went on to say, This is not just an Australian story. In every land a previously frightened and oppressed minority is awakening from a long sleep to assert its human dignity. We should honour those who looked into themselves and spoke the truth. Now they are legion. It is the truth that makes us free.
Profile by Christian Taylor
I was thrilled when I found out, Neil Armfield says about his inclusion in the SameSame 25. How does this innovative director feel about being a role model and an influential figure in Australia’s creative industries?
I’m just trying to do the best job I can, trying to take money out of the motivation and create work that’s the most interesting, the most enjoyable, that has the most to say about the country and the world.
Company B, housed at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre, has been Neil’s life’s work. He’s been there since the beginning, back when the company was nothing more than a 600 strong syndicate of artists who had all pitched in to save the venue from demolition. I’ve been trying to build up a place of theatrical storytelling that’s both consistent in its power but always surprising. We have a focus right through the company on this communication of story, where the actual artistic event is always the crucial light of the company. We’ve always had a parity pay structure -“ where everybody is paid the same wage -“ it’s always been a structural underpinning of this philosophy. It’s a great equaliser -“ it has its problems but has been an essential part of our growth.
When asked who his role models have been, Armfield quickly names Jim Sharman, fellow SameSame 25 member David Marr, as well as the late Patrick White. Patrick was a very powerful mentor when I started directing. He came and saw the first professional production that I did and wrote a play for me out of that. Over the last 10 years of his life we were very close.
So what, in his opinion, have been the major moments at Company B? Definitely the establishment of our first subscription season in 1988. For me, doing Diary Of A Madman in 1989 and taking it to Russia in 1991 with Geoffrey Rush and Lydia Miller. The classical productions -“ Ibsen’s Ghosts, The Shakespeares, especially Hamlet which we did in 1994-95 with Richard Roxborough, Geoffrey Rush, Jacqueline MacKenzie, Cate Blanchett and Gillian Jones. And of course Cloudstreet, which for me in many ways was the culmination and the high point, then taking it to London twice, then New York, Washington, Dublin -“ it was everything the company had been working towards and had stood for.
In addition to theatre direction, Armfield has directed opera, film and television. In 1988 he received the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Performing Arts.
So what does Armfield think of the future of Australian theatre and film? I think it’s going quite well, he laughs. You get these commentators announcing the death of film or the death of theatre regularly and you think, -˜Well, it seems quite alive from my perspective.’ Things go up and down, but I do think things are growing.
Profile by Tim Duggan
It’s been twice as hard for Penny Wong to get to where she is today. Not only is she the first Asian-born female in the Australian parliament, she’s the first openly lesbian one too.
Malaysian-born Wong is one of the fastest-rising stars in Australian politics. Arriving in Australia as a child in 1977, she admits it was initially very difficult to adapt. It was a hard time, Wong said in her maiden speech to Parliament, to leave a familiar place and come somewhere where you and your family were seen as so different. Racial abuse was not unusual.
A woman in a man’s world -“ and a lesbian in an extremely heterosexual workplace -“ Wong represents South Australia in the Senate as a member of the Labor party. I believe that a person’s sexuality should have no impact on how they are treated in their workplace -“ and I think that is an attitude most Australians share, says Wong.
My experience has been that Australians are more interested in what their politicians do for the community, rather than whether they are gay or straight.
Wong has been a vocal critic of PM John Howard’s ban on same-sex marriages, not something that’s easy to do when it means going against the grain of your very own party. I’m proud to serve as a Labor Senator, Wong says. When it comes to rights for gay and lesbian Australians, Labor has the most progressive position any party of government in this country has ever had.
Wong has been open about her sexuality since August 2002, and sees it as a positive step that it’s not much of an issue in her home town of Adelaide. It seems that public figures are becoming more prepared to be open about their sexuality, Wong told Sydney Star Observer in 2003. This demonstrates an increased confidence in the community that people can be openly lesbian or gay and still be successful in their chosen field -“ a credit to years of advocacy by very brave people. That advocacy has enabled many lesbian and gay public figures to focus on their chosen fields, rather than automatically becoming spokespeople on sexuality issues. I believe this reflects maturity, diversity and strength among the lesbian and gay community.
Before entering parliament, Wong was a barrister and lawyer in Adelaide and worked as an adviser to the Bob Carr in Sydney.
Wong’s influence is far-reaching. Representing South Australia she is the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workforce Participation, and the Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility. As a role model for immigrants and the gay and lesbian community, she has reached the highest levels of her profession and dignity, integrity and respect are always high on her agenda with everything that she does.
Profile by Christian Taylor
Influential can be a pretty fluid term, but when your job is to determine where the economy and interest rates are going, and whether governments and the Reserve Bank are doing the right thing, then there’s really no disputing that you have a pretty major influence.
Certainly the people that I either work for or work with, or people who approach me for my opinion on the economy are influential, says Dr Ron Woods, a man who is far from your run of the mill economist.
David Koch once said of Woods, He’s out there and he’s an outsider, but it’s amazing how often he gets it right.
Woods says, In this job, being gay can help, because it gives you a different perspective. You can see what the consensus doesn’t necessarily see. I think that’s why I have a following.
While Woods notes the benefits of being gay, he also says that in the business world it’s been far from easy. In the mid-90s I was outed in the financial market. What followed was 18 months of working in an appalling situation, something that scarred me for a long time. Some of my colleagues were allowed to have this cowboy mentality and they were allowed to harass me in some of the most unspeakable terms. I lost a lot of friends both gay and straight because of it.
Woods developed health problems as a result of the constant workplace homophobia. I retreated into my work and I continued to shine and eventually I got out of there and moved to another company. I’ve lived through some horrific events -“ my partner and I were on the beach in Thailand when the tsunami hit, and people died all around us. I’ve also been in a hurricane when I was living in the States and our town got flattened. I’ve been in a cyclone at sea in Indonesia, in an earthquake as well -“ but all of those events are nothing compared to the damage that people can do to other people because of their sexuality.
Woods says all these years later the financial industry hasn’t changed much. The same people are still there, they’ve attended workshops on how to deal with gays and it hasn’t changed their attitudes. At different times they’ve sought to undermine me through other means, the nice thing is that I’ve still survived through it all.
When it comes to role models, Woods says that he’s basically had very few to look up to. Professionally I suppose there have been the great economists through history that I’ve admired and most of them have been gay or bisexual anyway, but essentially I’ve had to forge my own territory. In business everyone is invariably white, middle class and married.
How does he feel about being considered a role model himself? I’m proud to put myself forward so that everyone can see that gays can be regular business people like everyone else, says Woods.
You never know what non-gay people are up to in their bedrooms, but somehow it’s an issue for us. There’s always been that double standard. One of the things about my life I’m the most proud of is that I didn’t give in and get married and live that closeted heterosexual life. It was available to me -¦ but I’ve always had a level of integrity within myself and I just couldn’t lie to any female friends. To me, that’s one of the things I am proudest of. It’s caused me grief at times, but at least I’ve always been honest.
Profile by Tim Duggan
There’s a lot about Stevie Clayton that you don’t know. The popular CEO of ACON (formerly the AIDS Council of NSW) is often in the firing line as the head of the largest gay and lesbian community organisation in the country. But after almost two decades of community work, Clayton continues to stand tall and deflect criticism.
When I think of influential people I always think of politicians and people who are high up in business, and people who are rich and I tend not to expect people to think of community workers like me, she says. I think probably one of my greatest talents in the community is being able to find people who are powerful and influential, and convince them to want to do things for our community.
It’s this tireless work for the community that gives Clayton a huge amount of respect. That and her slightly rebellious nature that’s been with her from the very start.
When Clayton was a teenager, she decided she didn’t like the name her parents had given her, so she put half a dozen names in a hat and drew out Stevie. And so simply Stevie it was. No surname, just Stevie.
It was a nightmare from that minute on. Computer systems weren’t set up to deal with one name, you couldn’t open bank accounts, she laughs. The RTA denied that she even existed (she was eventually found in the system, three months later, as three blank spaces and just Stevie as the surname).
But the final straw of the single moniker was when Stevie, as the co-convenor of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, wrote a letter to every member of Federal Parliament. Some of the more homophobic ones wrote back, Clayton says, and said that if I had the courage to use my surname then they might pay more attention to me. I thought, if not having a surname was going to get in the way of achieving the things I want to achieve, then it’s time to give up on that little rebellion and have a surname. And so she was christened Clayton -“ the surname you have when you’re not having a surname.
Clayton has always worked within the gay and lesbian community, starting out with Lesbians On The Loose (now LOTL), which was born out of her lounge room. If you ever look back at some of the early days, you’ll see some of the worst theatre reviews ever written in recorded history. They were done by me.
Thankfully Clayton gave up the journalism and joined the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby in 1992 and was co-convenor from 1993 to 1998, was on the Parade Committee of Mardi Gras, President of Out FM, joined ACON in 1997 and has been CEO of ACON for the past seven years. In 2002 she also helped resurrect the Mardi Gras organisation into New Mardi Gras.
She may have achieved a lot, but she’s stepping in large footprints. I’ve learnt heaps from all of the people who have gone before me in community organisations, she says. People who did the hard slog in the really early days. Community organisations really build on the work of people who have gone before them and I never forget that.
Profile by Danny Corvini
Everyone knows The Peel Hotel’s Tom McFeely -“ he has been in the news a lot lately. While he’s admittedly not everyone’s favourite person, more people respect McFeely than not, for his dedication to his customer base -“ namely Melbourne’s gay males -“ and his ability to articulate their rights and needs.
Scottish-born McFeely has been running The Peel in Melbourne’s inner-city Collingwood for the past 14 years and says he has been in hospitality forever. But his well-documented experiences lately have made him think outside the square of Melbourne’s gay bar scene.
Earlier this year, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) granted McFeely’s venue a three-year exemption to refuse or restrict entry to people who do not identify as homosexual males -“ a landmark case that was reported everywhere from lads’ magazines to ABC’s The Chaser.
Having just dusted himself off from that fight, McFeely finds himself and The Peel again at the centre of another controversy -“ this time at the spike of a wider-ranging debate about new residential development versus pre-existing entertainment in Melbourne’s culture-rich inner city.
To be honest this has made me think a wee bit more about lobbying government and perhaps getting involved in politics, he admits. It’s all very well to sit back and think -˜well, people should do something’, but this particular issue has got me fired up and made me think that to make people do something you have to get involved. I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should.
How does McFeely feel about being a role model for other people out there? I wouldn’t classify myself as a spokesperson but I do think with this it’s taken the Peel to highlight the issue, he says of his current battle. There are organisations in Victoria that represent the industry that should’ve done more sooner, rather than waiting for a venue like The Peel to get picked on. But if that has to be the one, then that’s fine. I realise that The Peel is a bit of an infamous venue, but I’m more than happy to lobby government on this issue.
McFeely references fellow venue owner Dale Smedley of DT’s in Richmond as a role model of his own. I’ve always been very business driven and Dale’s helped me think a bit more about the community, he admits. So I think his influence over the 11 years has been a tremendous help to me.
Profile by Tim Duggan
Lesbian activist Vicki Harding is used to being in the eye of a storm. Harding and her family have been at the centre of two of the largest gay and lesbian controversies to hit the mainstream media over the past few years, nicknamed by the tabloids as Gay School and Gaycare respectively.
The first started innocently enough, when a friend of Harding and her partner Jackie Braw asked if they wanted to spend a day at theme park Australia’s Wonderland with their daughter Brenna in front of some cameras. Brenna and a friend spent the day on the rides with her parents. The footage went to air on the ABC children’s show Playschool six months after it was filmed, and nothing happened. Then it went to air again a few months later -“ but this time the wife of a cadet journalist was watching the show, told her husband and, in the words of Harding, it just totally blew up. From the Prime Minister to the front pages of the national newspapers, the Gay School controversy brought same-sex parenting crashing into the headlines.
How did it feel to be at the centre of a storm? It was pretty exciting, I must say. Brenna was thrilled, absolutely thrilled. I’ll tell you what she said -“ and it’s kinda funny now -“ she said, -˜I’m going to be as famous as Britney Spears.’ Harding laughs at the irony. We had to explain to her that it’s come from a pretty bad place, from people who don’t think that we should be a family. But I think it has built up her confidence around this issue that she’s really confident about it at the moment, and hopefully we can hold onto that for a few years.
After the Gay School controversy died down, it wasn’t long before Harding was back in the news. In 2006, the tabloids again picked up on the ground-breaking series of Learn To Include children’s books that Harding had co-written with her daughter that featured same-sex parents. The books were born out of necessity, says Harding.
When Brenna was learning to read I went to a teacher and asked if they had any books that challenged gender stereotypes. I couldn’t find anything with same-sex parents, I just found stupid books about mum in the kitchen baking cakes and dad in