Fifty years ago, and just one year after the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969, Australian homosexual city life involved clandestine private dinner parties, Friday night drinks at a ‘friendly’ bar, weekends away, perhaps an arts ball, an opportunistic visit to a beat. This was a hidden culture, and what we did in bed was illegal.

Fast forward to 1995 Oxford Street Sydney or Commercial Road in Prahran in Melbourne where you would see more openly gay-owned businesses than you could count on two hands. Bookshops, restaurants, coffee lounges, hotels, bars, night clubs, saunas, and sex shops. The gay ghetto had arrived. It was the gay mecca to be seen in, buy at, dance at, eat at, read at, drink at, have sex at.

And it was in those gay establishments displaying the gay flag icon on their door that we spent our hard-earned pink dollars. We felt safe and respected inside there.

Where simply browsing a gay magazine, you could get picked up and be in bed with the stranger 20 minutes later. There were gay newspapers (yes, plural), magazines, dance party posters, safe sex literature, cheeky underwear, amyl, gay greeting cards, and great coffee.

 When travelling, we sought out similar streets. We’d stay in gay accommodation, devour the latest paperback edition of Spartacus to find gay-friendly cafes and sex shops and meeting places.

We loved those active, diverse community streets. It was a rite-of-passage to be part of your gay ghetto. Damn the rest of the world, we were here and now, gay and proud.

Now in 2020 that world of community, of multiple side-by-side street-front gay businesses, of a place to mingle, of a ghetto, has disappeared forever.

So, what happened? The younger generation began mixing openly with straight friends – it was the importance of the music, not the sexuality. Older gay men blended back into the security of suburbia and found good coffee locally. Overall, Australians became a more mature and accepting society.

But in my opinion, it was the combination of the internet and mobile phones that killed the ghetto.

Today, our hand-held device has become our new ghetto, our go-to locality – it’s from where we strike out to buy, connect, read, exercise, have sex with, be informed, or otherwise enjoy. Now we can be gay and proud, from anywhere – and that’s an incredible journey in a mere 50 years.

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