BILLED as the world’s longest-running LGBTI cultural event, Brisbane’s Queen’s Birthday Ball Awards recently celebrated its 54th year in appropriate disco style and is not looking to go anywhere anytime soon.

Wigs, flares and hot pants were all the rage as the theme of “Studio 54” helped usher in another year of Brisbane’s premiere LGBTI awards night presented by Brisbane Pride Festival (BPF).

Acknowledging the work done by community activists, volunteers and artists and more is the key component to the event that has been running since its inception in the Gold Coast hinterlands in 1961.

For BPF president Peter Black, the Queen’s Ball may have gone through several incarnations but its purpose has always remained the same.

“The Queen’s Ball has come a long way from a small hall in Mount Tamborine in 1961 to be held again this year in the Main Auditorium of Brisbane’s City Hall,” he told the Star Observer.

“While the surroundings may have changed, its mission remains the same: a celebration of the identities, organisations and events that contribute to the colour and spirit of our community.”

Last year marked the first time the awards had been held at Brisbane’s City Hall and for Black it was a welcomed return to the landmark this year, coupled with a growing attendance and acknowledgment by the city and Queensland’s political community.

“We have over a dozen elected politicians from all three major political parties and all three levels government, including both the Lord Mayor and the Deputy Premier,” Black said.

“I think that is a strong sign of the support from political circles for the LGBTIQ community — and the Brisbane Pride Festival.

“The symbolism of having so many politicians attend an LGBTIQ event in City Hall, with the rainbow flag flying proudly from the front portico, and the building lit up in a rainbow both inside and out, is very powerful.

“However, as I said on the night, it is also important that politicians also deliver on the various policy commitments they have made to the LGBTIQ community over the past few years.”

A key feature of any Queen’s Ball is the announcement of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the recipient whose nomination is decided by the community.

This year’s recipient was HIV and AIDS campaigner and long-time community advocate John Ebert, who was one of the founding committee members of the Queensland AIDS Council in 1984.

Ebert was lauded for his pioneering work in helping to establish the council at a time where fear, panic and death was rife within the community and the government at the time offered no assistance.

“[Ebert] was present at the very first meeting of the Queensland AIDS Committee on 27 November 1984 at the Ambush Bar at the Alliance Hotel,” Black said on the night.

“Of course, initially this committee was supposed to be the AIDS Council but the then Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, would not allow it to be called that, so it had no legal standing and was ineligible for government funding.

“At this point gay men in Brisbane had begun to get sick and there was no one to do even the simplest tasks – such as grocery shopping – for them. The AIDS Committee was trying to fill this void and it was at this point the group was saved by some Catholic nuns.

“As such, the decision to award this man the Lifetime Achievement Award this evening is not just a personal honour. It is also a way to recognise the valuable work the Queensland AIDS Council has done for our community over the past 30 years.”

For Ebert the nomination and award came as a complete surprise.

“I wasn’t even attending the Ball until the Thursday before when I was invited by the Queensland Aids Council to attend with my friend and nominee for Volunteer of the Year, Gary Williams,” he told the Star Observer.

“As I was listening to the introduction of the award and the bio of the recipient, I was thinking, ‘great, it’s someone who was active from the 70s and 80s, I hope they’re here’.

“It was only when Peter Black mentioned the assistance of the Sisters of Mercy… that I thought that it may be me. It was only when he said that the recipient had been in a relationship for 45 years that I knew.

“I was extremely surprised, incredibly happy and I only realised that there were tears streaming down my cheeks when someone at the table handed me a serviette to dry my eyes.”

Ebert was deeply moved by the recognition and credits his partner of 45 years, John Stafford, for encouraging him to undertake community work and volunteering.

While the advancements made with the HIV and AIDS since the 80s has given him great heart, Ebert believes the community has strayed from a sense of unification.

“I believe that organisations in the current LGBTI community are more professionally organised and accountable to their members and the community than ever before, but unfortunately, our community is not as united as it once was,” he said.

“Certainly in the 80s it was all hands-on-deck when the AIDS crisis was at its peak, admittedly that crisis has all but passed, with the development of new drug regimens and QuAC has diversified its interests to include improving the care of our elderly members and those involved in domestic violence.”

As for continued support from Brisbane City Council and future Queen’s Birthday Ball Awards at City Hall, Black said he’s optimistic they will be back for many years to come.

Complete list of Queen’s Birthday Ball Award recipients:

Activist of the Year: Stephen Page
Volunteer of the Year: Sally Morris
Artist of the Year: Joel Devereux
Performer of the Year: Steven Oliver
Media Personality of the Year: Benjamin Zabel
DJ of the Year: DJ Arsee
Drag Performer of the Year: Martini Ice
Regular Event of the Year: Balls Out Bingo
Annual Event of the Year: Big Gay Day
Adult Venue of the Year: Number 29
Licensed Venue of the Year: The Sportsman Hotel
Community Social Group of the Year: Wendybird
Community Support Group of the Year: Open Doors
Young Achievement Award: Kai Clancy
Lifetime Achievement Award: John Ebert

[Main image source: Brisbane Pride Facebook page]

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