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social sciences

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AIDS in Australia

But the most important difference is undoubtedly the experience of AIDS in Australia. The first cases were transmitted in Australia in 1981. Three years later, there were 2,500 new infections. But then a surprising thing happened. Infection rates dropped. And kept on dropping. In 1988 there were 750 infections. In 1992 there were 500, an annual rate that has been maintained ever since. As a result of this, Australia's HIV-positive population is about 14 per 100,000 people (in the U. S. it is 167); and it is largely confined to gay men.

Australia's remarkable success in containing AIDS relies heavily upon the specifics of Australia's political culture. A newly elected Labor Party government, a gay community leadership that knew what was coming and what had to be done (having watched the first year or two of the epidemic in the U. S. with fascination and horror), a willingness on both sides to trust the other and to cooperate, the existence of a national health system (including universal health insurance and universal access to subsidized pharmaceuticals): all these factors came together in a truly daring experiment.

Sponsor Message.

Sexually explicit information, discussed in the language of the real world, voiced by people who were in and of the gay community, was the key element in bringing about an extremely rapid and widespread adoption of safer sex practices. When gay men spoke to gay men and told them what they needed to do to save their lives, it worked. When they did so with millions of dollars of government funding, they saved even more lives. And if the government could stand at arm's length, denying all responsibility for (sexually-explicit and therefore politically explosive) content, then the truth could be told in an unvarnished form without public controversy and at very little political cost.

By the end of the crisis phase of AIDS the gay community was in a stronger position vis-á-vis the state and opinion-makers than it had ever been. It had proved itself to be a responsible and well-organized part of the national community; it had saved thousands of lives, generated goodwill, and avoided social and political backlash.

It could well be argued that for the last twenty years, the Australian gay and lesbian movement has been reaping the benefits of this achievement.

Recent Developments

Although Australia still not does permit same-sex marriage, and indeed expressly prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside the country, marriage equality has recently become a subject of intense debate.

As a result of reforms made in 2008, after the Labor Party came to power in the federal elections of 2007, "de facto" same-sex couples have been extended the same rights and responsibilities enjoyed by cohabiting opposite-sex couples, including social security and veterans' rights, employment entitlements and pensions, workers' compensation, joint access to the Medicare Safety Net, hospital visitation, immigration, inheritance rights, and the ability to file a joint tax return and gain the same tax rebates as married couples.

Australia has no federal law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act empowers the HRC to investigate complaints of discrimination in employment and occupation on various grounds, including sexual preference, and to resolve such complaints by conciliation.

While same-sex couples are now recognized in federal law as having the same rights as unmarried heterosexual couples, the burden is on individual couples to prove that they are entitled to these rights, since Australia does not have registered partnerships or civil unions on the national level, though some states do: New South Wales, Tasmania, and Victoria offer domestic partnerships, while civil partnerships are performed in the Australian Capital Territory.

Polls indicate that more than 60% of Australians--including a larger majority of Labor Party members--support marriage equality. However, current Prime Minister Julia Gillard and a conservative minority within the ruling Labor Party are committed to blocking same-sex marriage.

Still, it is likely that Australia will eventually join the list of nations extending full equality to its glbtq citizens.

Graham Willett

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arts >> Overview:  Australian Art

Historically, Australia has produced some important gay and lesbian artists, but only recently have openly glbtq artists felt comfortable in Australia.

arts >> Overview:  Australian Film

The recent efflorescence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer themes in Australian film must be placed in the context of a film industry that, prior to the 1970s, was characterized by social conservatism and censorship.

literature >> Overview:  Australian and New Zealand Literatures

In the past two decades Australia has come to occupy a leading place in gay and lesbian literature, and New Zealand has recently produced some significant gay and lesbian texts.

arts >> Overview:  Australian Television

Despite some important breakthroughs in the depiction of gay men and lesbians in the past, Australian television today lacks any regular and open discussion of queer issues and lives.

social sciences >> Overview:  McCarthyism

McCarthyism, which attempted in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expunge Communists and fellow travelers from American public life, made homosexuals the chief scapegoats of the Cold War.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy Laws and Sodomy Law Reform

Sodomy laws, which provided the legal basis for police harassment of sexual minorities, were conclusively overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 2003, after more than half a century of efforts at reform.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sydney

With thriving glbtq communities, an accommodating atmosphere, and a mammoth Mardi Gras celebration, Sydney is a center of glbtq culture and a favorite destination for tourists of all genders and sexualities.

social sciences >> Altman, Dennis

Australian political scientist and self-described "international activist-academic" Dennis Altman has studied both the glbtq political movement and the globalization of sexual identities.

literature >> Goldsmith, Andrea

Australian novelist Andrea Goldsmith writes books that reflect her own life and dearest concerns--lesbian relationships, her hometown of Melbourne, Australian Jewish culture, and the inevitable, yet unpredictable, effect of the past upon the future.

social sciences >> Kirby, Michael

Michael Kirby, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, is respected not only for his legal acumen but also for his devoted commitment to the cause of social justice in his homeland and also around the globe.

arts >> Kowalski, Daniel

Australian Olympic medalist Daniel Kowalski remained closeted during his competitive swimming career but found the courage to come out publicly in 2010.

arts >> Mitcham, Matthew

Out gold medal diver Matthew Mitcham earned the highest score in the history of the sport on his final dive in the ten-meter platform event at the 2008 Olympic Games.

arts >> Roberts, Ian

At the height of his athletic career, Australian rugby superstar Ian Roberts made the courageous decision to come out as a gay man.

social sciences >> Wolfenden Report

The Wolfenden Report, a 1957 British government study, recommended that homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private no longer be criminalized in England.


Carbery, Graham. A History of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Melbourne: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, 1995.

De Waal, Peter. Lesbians and Gays Changed Australian Immigration: History and Herstory. Darlinghurst, N.S.W.: Gay and Lesbian Immigration Task Force NSW, 2002.

French, Robert. Camping by a Billabong: Gay and Lesbian Stories from Australian History. Sydney: Blackwattle Press, 1993.

Gays and Lesbians Aboriginal Alliance. "Peopling the Empty Mirror: The Prospects for Lesbian and Gay Aboriginal History." Gay Perspectives II. Robert Aldrich, ed. Sydney: Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research, 1994. 1-62.

Hodge, Dino. Did You Meet Any Malagas? A Homosexual History of Australia's Tropical Capital. Darwin: Little Gem Publications, 1993.

_____. The Fall Upward: Spirituality in the Lives of Lesbian Women and Gay Men. Darwin: Little Gem Publications, 1996.

Hughes, Robert. The Fatal Shore. London: Collins, 1987.

Hurley, Michael. A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Writing in Australia. Sydney: Allen and Unwin and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, 1996.

Jackson, Peter A., and Gerard Sullivan, eds. Multicultural Queer: Australian Narratives. New York: Haworth Press, 1999.

Johnston, Craig. A Sydney Gaze: The Making of Gay Liberation. Sydney: Schiltron Press, 1999.

Moore, Clive. Sunshine and Rainbows : The Development of Gay and Lesbian Culture in Queensland. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001.

Morris, Miranda. Pink Triangle: The Gay Law Reform Debate in Tasmania. Sydney: UNSW Press, 1995.

Phillips, David L., and Graham Willett, eds. Australia's Homosexual Histories. Sydney: Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research; Melbourne: Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, 2000.

Reeves, Tim. "The 1972 Debate on Male Homosexuality in South Australia." Gay Perspectives II. Robert Aldrich, ed. Sydney: Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research, 1994. 149-192.

Sendziuk, Paul. Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2003.

Smith, Anthony M.A., Chris E. Rissel, Juliet Richters, Andrew E. Grulich, and Richard O. de Visser. "Special issue: Sex in Australia." Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 27.2 (April 2003).

Thompson, Denise. Flaws in the Social Fabric: Homosexuals and Society in Sydney. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1985.

Wafer, Jim, Erica Southgate, and Lyndall Coan, eds. Out in the Valley: Hunter Gay and Lesbian Histories. Newcastle, N.S.W.: Newcastle Region Library, 2000.

Willett, Graham. Living Out Loud: A History of Gay and Lesbian Activism in Australia. St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2000.

Wotherspoon, Garry. "City of the Plain": History of a Gay Sub-Culture. Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1991.


    Citation Information
    Author: Willett, Graham  
    Entry Title: Australia  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 26, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
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