Australians have voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage — but elsewhere in the world gay people can struggle to simply stay out of jail.
Being openly gay is effectively illegal in more than 70 countries — and can result in severe punishment, sometimes even death.
See how Australia’s position on same-sex marriage compares around the world.
The state of marriage rights
Voters’ ‘yes’ response to the SSM postal survey is Australia’s latest step towards allowing same-sex couples to marry, and may prove close to the culmination of a long campaign.
Campaigners have suggested Australia is lagging behind rest of the world.
It is fair to say that most countries with similar cultural backgrounds to Australia have now legalised same-sex marriage, but based on total country numbers, Australia remains part of the majority in restricting marriage to couples made up of a man and a woman.
Out of 209 countries the ABC examined, only 24 allow same-sex couples to marry.
There is no same-sex marriage in Asia or the Middle East, and South Africa is the only country in Africa to have legalised it.
In Europe, the legal status of same-sex marriage is mixed. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, with other Western countries including the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Germany following it.
Yet more than half of European Union members have not.
Some countries in Eastern Europe have recently sought to amend their constitutions to entrench the “traditional definition” of marriage:
- Hungary brought in a new constitution in 2011 that specifically restricts marriage to heterosexual couples.
- Voters in Croatia (2013) and Slovakia (2015) voted to change the definition of marriage in their constitutions so that it applies only to a union of a man and a woman, although the Slovakian referendum was invalid due to a low turnout.
- In December 2015, Slovenian voters rejected the legalisation of same-sex marriage in a referendum.
Australia made a similar amendment to its Marriage Act in 2004, adding a definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.
How have countries legalised same-sex marriage?
In Australia, Parliament can legalise same-sex marriage by amending the Marriage Act but the Government’s policy has been that its MPs will only be able to vote for same-sex marriage if a majority of Australians support the change via a plebiscite.
The Government’s compulsory plebiscite proposal was defeatedin the Senate. Instead, the non-compulsory Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics between September 12 and November 7.
After the survey returned a yes outcome, a private member’s bill will now be debated in Parliament to legalise marriage between people of the same sex.
Out of the countries that have legalised same-sex marriage:
- Only one country, Ireland, put the change to a people’s vote. A referendum was legally required, held in May 2015, and overwhelmingly passed.
- Parliaments legalised same-sex marriage in 20 countries.
- Court rulings prompted the change in five countries.
The highest-profile court decision was in the United States in 2013, when the Supreme Court effectively legalised same-sex marriage by finding the Defence of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
Most recently, in April 2017, the Constitutional Court of Taiwan (Republic of China) ruled that the Taiwanese law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. It ordered that a change in the law had to occur within two years. At the time of writing, same-sex marriage is still unavailable in Taiwan.
Where is being gay illegal?
Marriage is an important issue in Western countries but elsewhere in the world, LGBT people can struggle to simply stay out of jail.
There are more than 70 countries where homosexual acts are illegal.
The countries shaded in the map above are those where there is a law that prohibits homosexual acts in part or all of the country.
Most of these countries fall within two main categories — just over half are former colonies mostly in Africa that inherited discriminatory laws but never repealed them, while the others are majority-Muslim countries.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) publishes an annual report of “state-sponsored homophobia”.
What exactly is outlawed varies from country to country. Twenty-eight states only prohibit relations between men.
A common formulation is a prohibition of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.
Sometimes gay sex is placed in the same category as bestiality.
- In India it is an offence to “voluntarily [have] carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”.
- In Mauritius, it is a crime to commit “sodomy or bestiality”.
- In Uganda, a law provides for a seven-year jail term for anyone who conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Not all the countries with these laws actually enforce them for consensual sex at home.
The Singapore Penal Code prohibits “any act of gross indecency with another male person” in “public or private”, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
But National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Lynette Chua says the ban has “seldom been applied in private, consensual situations and [is] typically used in non-consensual situations or cases involving minors”.
Similarly, Shakira Hussein of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne suggests that in Islam “on all sexual matters … it isn’t the act itself that is to be punished but the public commission of it”.
“Some sharia scholars say that the laws against illicit sex should basically be regarded as laws against public indecency, since they require four witnesses.”
Even if bans aren’t strictly enforced, they often still have a harmful impact on LGBT people.
Achim Hildebrandt of the University of Stuttgart says such bans “represent an ever-present threat of blackmail and public disgrace … they drive gays and lesbians out of public life and prevent them from demanding more far-reaching reforms such as the outlawing of discrimination in the workplace and the housing market”.
Where do LGBT people risk the death penalty?
The death penalty is in place for same-sex sexual acts in at least 11 countries.
According to the IGLA, the death penalty applies in Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and in parts of Nigeria and Somalia.
In theory the death penalty could also be imposed in Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emiratesthrough sharia law, but this does not appear to have occurred in practice.
Information on when the death penalty has been carried out is not readily available.
The “Erasing 76 Crimes” blog, which advocates for the repeal of anti-LGBT laws around the world, indicates that only Iran and Saudi Arabia have actually carried out executions for same-sex activity in recent times.
The blog’s founder, Colin Stewart, says that in Saudi Arabia“beheadings have been imposed for homosexual behaviour in the past, including three men in 2002, but imprisonment and lashings are a more common punishment”.
“Iran is second in the world for frequency of executions [after China], including executions for homosexual activity, although the facts about the offences being punished are often unclear or misrepresented in news accounts.”
At the same time, Dr Hussein points out the existence of established trans communities in Iran and Pakistan. She tells the ABC:
“Some same-sex male couples circumvent laws against homosexuality by getting a doctors’ certificate to say that one half of the couple is a trans woman. Supposedly, this is meant to be followed up with surgery, but that isn’t necessarily carried through.
“Pakistan has had a ‘third gender’ option on the national ID card for a few years now [and] Iran has one of the highest rates of male-to-female trans surgery in the world.”
What other forms of harassment take place?
Intimidation of LGBT people is not restricted to the threat of jail or death.
Homosexuality is legal in Russia but in recent years the Government has imposed laws that ban “promotion” of “sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism”.
Omar G Encarnacion of Bard College in New York suggests thatRussia’s law “is so broad that it outlaws gay pride parades, public displays of affection by same-sex couples, gay symbols such as the rainbow flag, and even a public admission of homosexuality, unless made in the way that casts homosexuality in a negative light”.
Closer to home, Singapore takes a tough line on “promotion” of LGBT issues — on paper at least.
According to Assistant Professor Chua, “Singaporean media are banned from carrying content that “promotes”, “justifies” or “glamorises” “lifestyles such as homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism, transsexualism [and] transvestism”.
In mid-2014, the National Library of Singapore announced it would pulp its copies of three children’s books with LGBT themes. According to the Government-linked Straits Times Newspaper:
“And Tango Makes Three is based on the true story of a pair of male penguins who raise a chick together; The White Swan Express features adoptive parents such as a lesbian couple; and Who’s In My Family highlights different family structures and includes same-sex parents.”
After a public outcry, two of the books were returned to the library but placed in the adults’ section.
In June 2016, the Singapore Government announced that“foreign entities should not fund, support or influence” Pinkdot, an annual LGBT event held in a Singapore park.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, suggests“Singapore’s demand that foreign companies stop sponsoring PinkDot encourages corporations to discriminate against LGBT people”.
Leaders in other countries freely use discriminatory language against LGBT people:
- In 2015, the mayor of Budapest in Hungary described the city’s Gay Pride rally as “repulsive”.
- In Africa, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has describedhomosexual people as “disgusting”.
The ABC has recently reported on LGBT Ugandans fleeing the country as refugees.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has previously said that:“Homosexuals are worse than dogs and pigs; dogs and pigs will never engage in homosexual madness,” and followed this up in 2013 by stating that LGBT people were “worse than pigs, goats and birds”.
In 2016 the ageing ruler vowed that Zimbabwe would reject any foreign aid that is “given on the basis that we accept the principle of gay marriages”.
Are things getting better for LGBT people?
With LGBT harassment and criminal penalties continuing in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe, the picture may seem bleak.
But veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, who famously attempted a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe in March 2001 and was then beaten by the president’s bodyguards, is more optimistic.
“There are rays of hope [in Africa], with the Seychelles, Mozambique and Sao Tome & Principe recently decriminalising homosexuality [and] in 2014, the African Commission on Human Rights and People’s Rights urged member states to protect LGBT people against discrimination and violence,” he says.
Ty Cobb from Human Rights Campaign said: “We have seen great progress with regards to global LGBTQ rights in recent years, with three countries decriminalising same-sex activity just [in 2016], 20 countries and certain jurisdictions in Mexico have marriage equality and more and more countries are taking measures to improve the lives of trans individuals.”
At the same time, Mr Cobb notes that anti-LGBT movements continue to work against the community.
“Extremists have organised marches against marriage equality efforts in Mexico, American evangelicals have resorted to exporting their dangerous messages of hate from Eastern Europe to Africa, and [Islamic State] continues to target and kill members of the LGBTQ community throughout the Arab world,” he says.
In Singapore, there are signs of increased cultural acceptance of the LGBT community, with the 2016 release of home-grown web drama People Like Us taking place with no real backlash.
Telling the stories of four gay men in Singapore, the series has been well-received by the local community.
Filmaker Leon Cheo says apart from some “thumbs-down” on YouTube, “we haven’t received flak or negative emails or comments from Singaporeans at large”.
Mr Cheo says while the situation for LGBT people in Singapore is improving, “challenges such as censorship of neutral and positive LGBT news, film and TV, and archaic anti-sodomy laws still exist”.
“One of our creative objectives was to portray Asian gay men neutrally or positively [so that the] series could play a part in changing the hearts and minds of the citizens and government of Singapore,” he says.
In the Middle East, LGBT rights remain strongest in Israel although it is unclear whether or when same-sex marriage might be legalised there.
- Pride, prejudice and punishment: Gay rights around the world, ABC News, 15 November 2017, by Paul Crossley, Colin Gourlay, and Ben Spraggon https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-04/gay-lesbian-mardi-gras-rights-around-the-world/8126828?nw=0
The Student Homophile League, the first gay student organization in the country, was founded at Columbia University in 1966 and held many of its activities in Earl Hall.
In 1970, the group became the more activist Gay People at Columbia (also known as Gay People at Columbia-Barnard), which sponsored a series of popular Friday-night dances in Earl Hall’s auditorium.
In 1971, gay students established a gay lounge in Furnald Hall, which is now known as the Stephen Donaldson Queer Lounge.
In 1966, Columbia University became the first collegiate institution in the United States, and possibly the first in the world, with an LGBT student group. In the fall of that year, bisexual sophomore Robert Martin (using the pseudonym Stephen Donaldson) founded the Student Homophile League (SHL) following a meeting with Columbia and Barnard representatives, religious advisers, and two of the most important national leaders for gay and lesbian rights, Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.
The small student group had the support of the university chaplain and, thus, gained space in Earl Hall, the center of student religious life. The university officially recognized the group in April 1967 with the stipulation that it not organize social events. A subsequent front page article in the New York Times resulted in outrage from hundreds of alumni and negative editorials in many newspapers; one alum wrote “Tolerance has its limits. Let the pansies go elsewhere.” The SHL sponsored lectures, held “rap sessions” about homosexuality on dorm floors, and advocated for the acceptance of homosexuals in society in generally, with specific emphasis on ending discrimination in the military and the psychiatric community.
By 1970, Columbia’s gay student group had become the more activist Gay People at Columbia (also known as Gay People at Columbia-Barnard), which sought to “present as complete a view as possible of the contemporary gay experience: socially, educationally and politically.” Its most popular activity was monthly Friday-night dances, beginning in 1970, held in the auditorium on the third floor of Earl Hall, which welcomed the entire gay and lesbian community of New York. The dances reached their peak popularity in the 1980s and were especially popular with those who enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that contrasted with the clubs and bars downtown. The group still exists as the Columbia Queer Alliance (CQA) and hosts “First Friday” dance events in Alfred Lerner Hall.
In 1971, gay students, led by Morty Manford (later the head of the Gay Activists Alliance and son of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford), requested space for a gay lounge. Although denied permission by the university, the group took over an unused space in the basement of the Furnald Hall dormitory. The lounge eventually was recognized by the university and the space is still in use, now known as the Stephen Donaldson Queer Lounge.
In March 2018, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project successfully nominated Earl Hall to the National Register of Historic Places, following its listing on the New York State Register in January 2018. The nomination is available in the “Read More” section below.
- Student Homophile League at Earl Hall, Columbia University ,Student Homophile League at Earl Hall, Columbia University,
On New Year’s Day 1965, hundreds of gay San Franciscans arrived at 625 Polk Street in the city’s Tenderloin district for a much-anticipated “Mardi Gras Ball.”
The event organized by gay rights — or, to use the then-common term, homophile — activists was not unlike the thousands of public parties being held this June during Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month: There were drinks and music, hand-holding, flirtatious glances and kisses between friends old and new. But it was also a private affair — $5 tickets had to be bought ahead of time — in a city where gay people regularly faced threats and arrests for gathering together and showing affection.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the San Francisco ball, however, was its purpose beyond merriment: It was held as a fundraiser for pro-gay clergy.
Today, although Americans for and against gay rights cite their religious beliefs, those who oppose same-sex marriage and other civil rights for LGBT individuals have been especially vocal in declaring that God is on their side. That’s not always been the expectation about the faithful. In the mid-1960s, LGBT activists often looked to men of the cloth as allies in their fight for justice and human rights, according to historians.
Just months before the ball, about two dozen Bay Area Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal and United Church of Christ clergy and gay activists had formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual to promote the “need for a better understanding of human sexuality” and its “broad variations and manifestations.”
Clergy and lawyers for the group had negotiated with police — who had a habit of shutting down LGBT events — to let the dance go forward. But according to contemporary newspaper articles, police still showed up that night, taking pictures of those entering as an intimidation tactic. When the cops demanded to get inside, the lawyers reportedly blocked them. Six people ended up in jail for interfering with the police and disorderly conduct.
The clergy fought back with a press conference the next day. “Angry Ministers Rip Police,” said a front-page headline in the San Francisco Chronicle below a picture of men in clerical collars. The clash mobilized both the city’s gay community and the pastors. The American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit over the arrests — the first time the ACLU had joined a legal battle over gay rights, according to the LGBT Religious Archives Network.
“That was years before the 1969 Stonewall riots, which is popularly considered the beginning of the gay rights movement,” said Heather White, a visiting assistant professor of religion at the New College of Florida who has spent years combing through LGBT archives for an upcoming book, tentatively titled Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights. “And that’s just one of the best-known stories. There were Councils on Religion and Homosexuality and similar groups in D.C., Pennsylvania, Ottawa, Hawaii.”
White is among a growing group of scholars who have been working to uncover the broad — and for many, surprising — history of religious gay rights activism. The LGBT Religious Archives Network has documented hundreds of stories like that of the San Francisco clergy since it was founded 13 years ago at the United Church of Christ-affiliated Chicago Theological Seminary. The organization is now based in Berkeley, California, at the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry.
The network’s website offers a series of profiles of and oral history interviews with Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Pagan LGBT clergy and religious activists, living and dead. Online exhibits cover topics ranging from the Council on Religion and the Homosexual to the 1973 UpStairs Lounge fire in New Orleans, an anti-gay arson incident that killed 32 people, including many members of the city’s gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church, to New York’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which launched in 1973 and calls itself the world’s largest gay synagogue. The network also holds archives on the lives of people like William R. Johnson, who in 1972, as a member of the Golden Gate Association of the United Church of Christ, became the first gay American Protestant to be ordained.
White, who sits on the network’s advisory committee, said expectations about how religion would view gay rights began to change after the 1960s.
“What we know of the face of religion and gay rights has been shaped by a shift that occurred in the 1970s with the rise of conservative Christianity. It’s a consolidated political force that wasn’t in place before then. There were certainly conservative people and religious people who were involved in politics, but in the 1950s and 1960s, homophile organizations saw religious leaders as likely allies,” said White. “That is less of the case today, though things are changing.”
A Pew Research Center survey, released Thursday, found that 62 percent of Americans now say homosexuality should be accepted, rather than discouraged, by society. But clear lines still divide religious Americans when it comes to gay rights, especially same-sex marriage. Polls show that white evangelicals tend to strongly oppose gay marriage. The nation’s largest churches — including the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — officially do not support same-sex marriage.
On the other hand, Catholic Americans as individuals tend to be supportive of gay marriage. And several denominations — including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and both Reform and Conservative Jews — allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages or blessings.
Some of the biggest gay rights activists and organizations started their work in churches,” said Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry and an associate professor of cultural and historical studies as the Pacific School of Religion.
He pointed to the Metropolitan Community Church, which gay rights activist Troy Perry launched in Los Angeles in 1968 to cater to gay people. The relatively small church has 222 congregations worldwide today, but Schlager said its influence was “monumental” in pro-LGBT Protestant movements. Another noted gay rights group, PFLAG — formerly known as Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays — had its first meeting in 1973 at the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church in New York City’s Greenwich Village (now called the Church of the Village).
Schlager suggested that the widespread, if inaccurate, perception of religion firmly opposing gay rights is also shifting. “It’s come to the point that sometimes people today say it’s more difficult to come out as a person of faith than it is to come out as LGBT in religious circles,” he said.
Melissa Wilcox, an associate professor of religion and gender studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, shared a similar view.
“With the increasing visibility of the marriage rights movement, we have started to see LGBT-supportive groups [within religious communities] being able to get their message out more clearly. That’s a battle for them, but many have been there all along,” said Wilcox, who also sits on the LGBT Religious Archives Network’s advisory committee.
After decades of church activism, for example, the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly last week voted to allow its pastors to officiate gay marriages in states where they are legal. The church’s presbyteries, or regional bodies, are also scheduled to vote on whether to change the definition of marriage to cover “two people,” rather than only a man and a woman.
“A lot of people are still wary of anything you’d call religion. A lot of people have been burned,” said Wilcox. “But there’s a rich history out there of gay religious activism for us to appreciate and uphold.”
- Unearthing The Surprising Religious History Of American Gay Rights Activism, Huffington Post, 28 June 2014, by Jaweed Kaleem https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2014/06/28/gay-religious-history_n_5538178.html?ri18n=true
At his penthouse in Beverly Hills, Johnny Mathis has no objection to a 9 a.m. interview — he has been up for five hours already, and at the gym for a long-standing regime of pulley stretching and leg lifts. “Anything to get the juices flowing and also get me into my stage clothes,” says the 81-year-old singer. “I look at myself in the mirror and go, ‘Well, not bad,’ ” he adds with a laugh.
Mathis has been donning those stage clothes all year, on a tour marking the 60th anniversary of his debut album. He is a singular vocalist whose classic hits from the 1950s — “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “It’s Not for Me to Say” — established an enduring style of pop romance. In Barry Levinson’s Oscar-nominated 1982 film Diner, set in the postwar era, the character Eddie Simmons memorably asks his pals, “When you’re making out, which do you prefer, Sinatra or Mathis?”
A native of Texas, raised in California and the fourth of seven children, Mathis caught his father’s passion for music at a young age. He began vocal lessons, including classical and operatic styles, at age 13. Yet, in high school, he also was talented enough at track and field to get an athletic scholarship to San Francisco State University and, later, an invitation to try out for the U.S. team heading to the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Around that same time, however, while performing at a San Francisco nightclub, Mathis caught the ear of George Avakian, head of jazz A&R at Columbia Records, who was vacationing in the city. “Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way,” Avakian telegrammed his label. “Send blank contracts.”
In the six decades since, Mathis has charted 43 hit singles and sent 74 titles, including numerous Christmas releases, onto the Billboard 200. In 2003, The Recording Academy presented Mathis with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement. It was recognition for an artist who has long sung of romance— but also has supported civil rights and gay rights, from singing with activists at the Salute to Freedom concert in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 to acknowledging his own sexual orientation two decades later.
You were part of a generation of racial pioneers in pop in the ’50s who crossed over to white fans. What’s your perspective on Black Lives Matter and race relations today?
The world changes. The world is completely different now from when I was growing up. Back then you didn’t say things like they say now out loud, about race and things. But that’s just progress. When are we going to find out that we’re all the same, we’re all absolutely, without a doubt, the same? It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or straight or gay.
You’ve seen a lot of change in attitudes toward being gay since you were getting death threats in the 1980s. [The threats followed a 1982 interview in Us Weekly in which Mathis was quoted as saying, “Homosexuality is a way of life I’ve become accustomed to.”]
Things take time. People are stubborn about what they perceive to be the right thing or the wrong thing, and it takes a long time to filter this human condition. There’s a waiting period until people catch up. But if you have patience — which it takes when someone thinks differently from you — everybody always catches up. That patience is a wonderful virtue.
You have declined to talk about your own relationships, and it seems that you prefer to lead by your presence rather than speaking out.
I’ve been very happy to see some of the success that I’ve had along the way in opening the eyes of people, especially people who listen to music.
Looking back, what do you remember about George Avakian discovering you at San Francisco’s 440 Club?
I didn’t realize he was in the audience, and unfortunately he had a bad case of poison oak or poison ivy. So he was not in a very good mood. But he heard me sing and said, “I think you’re ready to make your first recording.” George is still with us; He’s now 102 years old, and I saw him not too long ago. He counseled me for many years.
- Johnny Mathis on the Long Road to Gay Rights, Billboard, 12 December 2016, by Gary Graff https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/magazine-feature/7617724/johnny-mathis-anniversary-interview
McCarthy and the Mattachine Society
One of the earliest American gay movement organizations, the Mattachine Society began in Los Angeles in 1950-51. It received its name from the pioneer activist Hany Hay in commemoration of the French medieval and Renaissance Societe Mattachine, a somewhat shadowy musical masque group of which he had learned while preparing a course on the history of popular music for a workers’ education project. The name was meant to symbol- ize the fact that “gays were a masked people, unknown and anonymous,” and the word itself, also spelled matachin or matachine, has been derived from the Arabic of Moorish Spain, in which mutawajjihin, is the masculine plural of the active participle of tawajjaha, “to mask oneself.” Another, less probable, derivation is from Italian matto, “crazy.” What historical reality lay behind Hays’ choice of name remains uncertain, just as the members of the group never quite agreed on how the opaque name Mattachine should be pronounced. Such gnomic self- designations were typical of the homophile phase of the movement in which open proclamation of the purposes of the group through a revealing name was regarded as imprudent.
The political situation that gave rise to the Mattachine Society was the era of McCarthyism, which began with a speech by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin at a Lincoln’s Birthday dinner of a Republican League in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950. In it McCarthy accused the Truman Administration of harboring “loyalty and security risks” in government service. And the security risks, he told Congressional investigators, were in no small part “sex perverts.” A subcommittee of the Senate was duly formed to investigate his charges, which amounted to little more than a list of government employees who had run afoul of the Washington vice squad, but such was the mentality of the time that all seven members of the subcommittee endorsed McCarthyls accusations and called for more stringent measures to “ferret out” homosexuals in government.
The May 1959 issue of the Mattachine Review, an American LGBT magazine
Formation and Structure.
The organization founded by Hay and his associates was in fact modeled in part on the Communist Party, in which secrecy, hierarchical structures, and “democratic centralism “were the order of the day”. Following also the example of freemasonry, the founders created a pyramid of five “orders” of membership, with increasing levels of responsibility as one ascended the structure, and with each order having one or two representatives from a higher order of the organization. As the membership of the Mattachine Society grew, the orders were expected to subdivide into separate cells so that each layer of the pyramid could expand horizontally. Thus members of the same order but different cells would remain unknown to one another. A single fifth order consisting of the founders would provide the centralized leadership whose decisions would radiate downward through the lower orders.
The discussions that led to the formation of the Mattachine Society began in the fall of 1950, and in July 1951 it adopted its official designation. As Marxists the founders of the group believed that the injustice and oppression which they suffered stemmed from relationships deeply embedded in the structure of American society. These relationships they sought to analyze in terms of the status of homosexuals as an oppressed cultural minority that accepted a “mechanically …superimposed heterosexual ethic” on their own situation. The result was an existence fraught with “self-deceit, hypocrisy, and charlatanism” and a “dis- turbed, inadequate, and undesirable . . .sense of value.” Homosexuals collectively were thus a “social minority” unaware of its own status, a minority that needed to develop a group consciousness that would give it pride in it’s own identity. By promoting such a positive self-image the founders hoped to forge a unified national movement of homosexuals ready and able to fight against oppression. Given the position of the Mattachine Society in an America where the organized left was shrinking by the day, the leaders had to frame their ideas in language accessible to non-Marxists. In April 1951 they produced a one-page document settingout their goals and some of their thinking about homosexuals as a minority. By the summer of 1951 the initial crisis of the organization was surmounted as its semipublic meet- ings suddenly became popular and the number of groups proliferated. Hay himself had to sever his ties with the Communist Party so as not to burden it with the onus of his leadership of a group of homosexuals, though by that time the interest of the Communist movement in sexual reform had practically vanished.
Early Struggles and Accomplish- ments.
In February 1952 the Mattachine Society confronted its first issue: police harassment in the Los Angeles area. One of the group’s original members, Dale Jennings, was entrapped by a plain clothesman, and after being released on bail, he called his associates who hastily sum- moned a Mattachine meeting of the fifth order. As the Society was still secret, the fifth order created a front group called Citizens Committee to Outlaw Entrapment to publicize the case. Ignored by the media, they responded by distributing leaflets in areas with a high density of homosexual residents. When the trial began on June 23, Jennings forthrightly admitted that he was a homosexual but denied the charges against him. The jury, after thirty- six hours of deliberation, came out deadlocked. The district attorney’s office decided to drop the charges. The contrast with the usual timidity and hypocrisy in such cases was such that the Citizens Committee justifiably called the outcome a “great victory.”
With this victory Mattachine began to spread, and a network of groups soon extended throughout Southern California, and by May 1953 the fifth order estimated total participation in the society at more than 2,000. Groups formed in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, and the membership became more diverse as individual groups appealed t o different segments of gay society.
Emboldened by the positive response to the Citizens Committee, Hay and his associates decided to incorporate in California as a not-for-profit educational organization. The Mattachine Foundation would be an acceptable front for interacting with the larger society, especially with professionals and public officials. It could conduct research on homosexuality whose results could be incorporated in an educational campaign for homosexual rights. And the very existence of the Foundation would convince prospective members that there was nothing illegal about participation in an organization of this kind. The fifth order had modest success in obtaining professional support for the Foundation. Evelyn Hooker, a research psychologist from UCLA, declined to join the board of directors, but by keeping in close touch with Mattachine she obtained a large pool of gay men for her pioneering study on homosexual personality.
Dick Leitsch, president of Mattachine Society of New York, at its offices, December 30, 1965. Photo by Louis Liotta/New York Post. Source: NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images.
The political background of Hay and the other founders, while it gave them the skills needed to build a movement in the midst of an intensely hostile society, also compromised them in the eyes of other Americans. An attack on the Mattachine Society by a Los Angeles newspaper writer named Paul Coates in March 1953 linked “sexual deviates” with “security risks” who were banding together to wield “tremendous political power.” To quiet the furor, the fifth order called a two-day convention in Los Angeles in April 1953 in order to restructure the Mattachine Society as an above-ground organizaion. The founders pleaded with the Mat- tachine members to defend everyone’s First Amendment rights, regardless of political affiliations, since they might easily find themselves under questioning by the dreaded House Un-American Activities Committee. Kenneth Burns, Marilyn Rieger, and Hal Call formed an alliance against the leftist leadership that was successful at a second session held in May to complete work on the society’s constitution. The results of the meeting were paradoxical in that the views of the founders prevailed on every issue, yet the anti-Communist mood of the country had so peaked that the fifth-order members agreed among themselves not to seek of- fice in the newly structured organization, and their opponents were elected instead. The convention approved a simple membership organization headed by an elected Coordinating Council with authority to establish working committees. Regional branches, called “area councils,” would elect their own officers and be represented on the main council. The unit for membership participation became the task-oriented chapter. Harry Hay emerged from the fracas crushed and despondent, and never again played a central role in the gay movement.
The new leadership changed the ideology of the Mattachine Society. Rejecting the notion of a “homosexual minority,” they took the opposite view that “the sex variant is no different from anyone else except in the object of his sexual expression.” They were equally opposed to the idea of a homosexual culture and a homosexual ethic. Their program was, in effect, assimi- lationist. Instead of militant, collective action, they wanted only collaboration with the professionals – “established and recognized scientists, clinics, research, organizations and institutions – the sources of authority in American society. The discussion groups were allowed to wither and die,while the homosexual cause was to be defended by proxy, since an organization of “upstart gays . . . would have been shattered and ridiculed.” At an organization-wide convention held in Los Angeles in November 1953, the conflict between the two factions erupted in a bitter struggle in which the opponents of the original perspective failed to put through motions aimed at driving out the Communist members, but the radical, militant impulse was gone, and many of the members resigned, leaving skeleton committees that could no longer function. Over the next year and a half, the Mattachine Society continued its decline. At the annual convention in May 1954,only forty- two members were in attendance, and the presence of women fell to token representation.
An important aspect of Mattachine was the issuing of two monthly periodicals. ONE Magazine, the product of a Los Angeles/ discussion group, began in January 1953, eventually achieving a circulation of 5000 copies. Not formally part of Mattachine, in time the magazine gave rise to a completely separate organization, ONE, Inc., which still flourishes, though the periodical ceased regular publication in 1968. In January 1955 the San Francisco branch began a somewhat more scholarly journal, Mattachine Review, which lasted for ten years.
Helped by these periodicals, which reached many previously isolated individuals, Mattachine became better known nationally. Chapters functioned in a number of American cities through the 1960s, when they were also able to derive some strength from the halo effect of the civil rights movement. As service organizations they could counsel individuals who were in legal difficulties, needed psychotherapy, or asked for confidential referral to professionals in appropriate fields. However, they failed to adapt to the militant radicalismof the post-Stonewall years after 1969, and they gradually went under. The organization retains, together with its lesbian counterpart, the Daughters of Bilitis, its historical renown as the legendary symbol of the “homophile” phase of the American gay movement.
BIBLIOGUPHY. John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making o f a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1 970, Chicago: Chicago University Press,1983.
- Mattachine Society, Williamapercy.com, by Warren Johansson http://williamapercy.com/wiki/images/Mattachine.pdf
LEX WATSON, 1943-2014
For many of his generation and beyond, Lex Watson was the face of gay activism in Sydney.
For many of his generation and beyond, Lex Watson was the face of gay activism in Sydney.
For many of his generation and beyond, Lex Watson was the face of gay activism in Sydney. He was a foundation member of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP), the organiser of the first gay rights demonstration in Australia, a longtime passionate advocate of homosexual law reform and of anti-discrimination legislation, a pioneer AIDS activist, and in later years, a keen advocate for the preservation of gay community history.
Lex Watson addressing gay rights activists setting up their ‘Gay Embassy’ opposite former NSW premier Neville Wran’s home in Woollahra to protest against Club 80 arrests in 1983.
CREDIT: ADRIAN SHORT
Alexander Watson was born in Perth on January 29, 1943, the son of Alec Watson, a medical practitioner in Geraldton, and his wife, Margaret (nee Newnham), a nurse. Lex started his education in Geraldton, then the family settled in Perth, where Alec became a well-known surgeon.
Despite his parents’ wish to place him at Geelong Grammar, or the King’s School in Parramatta, Lex was determined to go to Perth Modern. There he developed a lifelong love of languages, particularly German, and music, again particularly German, from Beethoven to the present day. At school he acted in Gilbert & Sullivan productions, directed by a teacher who remarked that he was ‘‘rather self-confident and arrogant’’, an observation often to be made of him throughout his life.
Lex Watson (left) and Robert French signing statutory declarations in 1983.
At puberty, Watson’s parents gave him a booklet on sex that contained a small non-judgmental paragraph on homosexuality. ‘‘So that’s what it is called,’’ he thought. He then looked up homosexuality in the school library, but all the texts he consulted talked of disease and perversion. Watson’s response was, ‘‘Why, they’ve got it wrong!’’ but it was a defining moment in his life.
Watson won a scholarship to the University of Western Australia, where he started in 1960. He did an arts degree and studied history and philosophy He read John Stuart Mill, whose classic liberalism became the touchstone of his life and later activism. He later became a supporter of the Council of Civil Liberties.
For his honours year, Watson transferred to the government department at the University of Sydney. It was there that he worked for the remainder of his academic life, teaching Australian politics to hundreds of students, many of whom became academics and political activists themselves.
The homosexual law reforms in Britain in 1967 sparked Watson’s interest and he became involved with reform in Australia because ‘‘it was needed and therefore you did it’’. He was in Canberra in 1970 on the weekend of the formation of the ACT Homosexual Law Reform Society and joined up. He then attended a public meeting in Sydney, organised by the Humanist Society, which formed a HLR sub-committee, which he became a member of.
Lex Watson as the Empress of Sydney in 1982.
These moves, however, were ‘‘wiped off the table’’ by the announcement by John Ware and Christabel Poll in September 1970 of the formation of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP), the first openly homosexual group in Australia. Watson became a foundation member, and in early 1972, along with Sue Wills, became a co-president.
Ware credited Watson with making the organisation political, and it was Watson who organised the first gay demonstration, outside the Liberal Party headquarters in Ash Street, Sydney in October 1971.
Watson, as an academic, had contacts in the Liberal Party and got to hear of the challenge that conservative Jim Cameron was to bring against the federal pre-selection of Tom Hughes, after Hughes as federal attorney-general had raised the issue of homosexual law reform.
One of the major achievements of CAMP under Watson and Wills was highlighting the dangers of aversion therapy and psycho-surgery as then practised against women and homosexuals. That homosexual people then began to cease consulting practitioners for a ‘‘cure’’ for their sexual orientation was a triumph for CAMP.
Watson and Wills resigned from CAMP in October 1974 as the organisation concentrated more on its phone-counselling services.
Watson continued his activism and advocacy through newspaper articles in the gay press. In 1976 he, memorably and courageously, appeared on the ABC’s Monday Conference program in Mt Isa. Some of the audience were hostile, one member even pouring a bottle of sewage over his head. Watson maintained his composure throughout and won over the audience.
With the assistance of fellow academic and activist Craig Johnston in 1980, Watson approached Barrie Unsworth of the NSW Trades & Labor Council after the University of Sydney staff union had passed an anti-discrimination motion in relation to gays and lesbians. Unsworth was receptive and had a similar motion passed in the council. The move was the beginning of Gay Rights Lobby (GRL) and a new push for homosexual law reform in NSW, as well as support for a bill to incorporate homosexuality under the terms of the Anti-Discrimination Act.
Watson, in a dispute over tactics and his administrative style, fell out with GRL but that did not stop him and his fellow activists continuing to work together. After the police raid on Club 80 in 1983, it was Watson who suggested that the activists sign statutory declarations admitting to having committed buggery and to present them to the vice squad, seeking arrest. Watson was one of the first to present but the police had been forewarned and refused to make arrests.
He was a member of a delegation to premier Neville Wran in May 1984 on the morning of the introduction of his Private Members Bill to repeal the ‘‘buggery’’ provisions of the NSW Crimes Act. Watson attempted to persuade the premier to introduce an equal age of consent clause and when Wran refused, he argued for the inclusion of protections for persons between the ages of 16 and 18 years, which Wran enthusiastically agreed to. A new clause had been typed onto the bill when it reached the floor of the Legislative Assembly that day.
In 1982, the Chameleons social group had crowned Watson ‘‘Empress of Sydney’’, the first time for someone from outside the ‘‘drag’’ industry. He was proud of his only appearance in ‘‘drag’’, sporting a black velvet strapless gown. He wore the gown to the ‘‘Gay Embassy’’, a caravan that had been set up in front of the premier’s house in late 1983 as another move to push the law reform agenda. The embassy had been Watson’s idea.
Watson became aware of the problem of HIV/AIDS in 1982. He later became involved in the disputes with the Blood Bank, pointing out that the only solution to the implementation of sound public health policy relating to HIV was for the medical profession to engage in a dialogue with the gay community. He, and others, set up the AIDS Action Committee which, following federal government funding, morphed into the AIDS Council of NSW, of which Watson became the first president.
Watson later stepped down as president although he stayed on the committee. Truth to tell, he was not the greatest of administrators. He operated best as an individual activist, always sharp and on-message.
For many years Watson was also a block captain of marshals at Mardi Gras parades. In 2010, ACON awarded Watson and Wills their GLBTI Community Hero Award marking the 40th anniversary of the formal foundation of CAMP, and they were thrilled to ride up front in the 2011 Sydney parade.
After retirement from the University of Sydney, Watson became involved in the Pride History Group, Sydney’s gay and lesbian history group. He was president at the time that he died, assisting in the organisation of a history conference, set for November, on homosexual law reforms, his major life’s work. The conference will be dedicated to his memory.
Lex Watson is survived by his sister Wendy, brother-in-law Richard and nephews Nicholas and Ben and their families.
- Lex Watson: Leading Gay Activist and Trailblazer, The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May 2014, by Robert French https://www.smh.com.au/national/lex-watson-leading-gay-rights-activist-and-trailblazer-20140528-zrqes.html