Tag Archives: gay rights

Gay History: Unearthing The Surprising Religious History Of American Gay Rights Activism

COURTESY OF THE LGBT RELIGIOUS ARCHIVES NETWORK A press conference in reponse to arrests at a Council on Religion and the Homosexual fundraiser and dance was featured on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 3, 1965.

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.”

On Dec. 7, 1964, a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle announced the launch of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual.

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.”

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Gay History: Johnny Mathis on the Long Road to Gay Rights: ‘People Are Stubborn; There’s a Waiting Period Until They Catch Up’

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?”

 Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Mathis with Johnny Carson in 1979.

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.

The 74 titles Mathis has charted on the Billboard 200 have included numerous Christmas albums.

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.

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Gay History:The Mattachine Society

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.

Political Setting.

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.

Crisis.

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.

Mattachine Restructured.

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.

Reference

Gay History: Lex Watson: Leading Gay Rights Activist and Trailblazer.

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. 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.

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