Not sure that I actually have ‘an agenda’, but here goes…
Having realised from a very young age that I was sexually attracted to other boys, trying to come to terms with those feelings living in a western suburbs Sydney environment was never easy. Growing up there in the 1960s and 70s, it was difficult to express those impulses or desires in a physical sense though I managed to have my ‘fair share’.
Fear of being bashed, labelled a ‘poofter’, fear of being ‘exposed’ to family and friends led to suppression in most areas of my life. My very early childhood and subsequent adolescent ‘exploration’ was always consensual.
My involvement in theatre via a local musical society as a young adolescent introduced me to some gay men so I could talk about things with them. My association with the society led to me being awarded a drama scholarship that took me into Darlinghurst at the age of 17 for a summer school. Wow…this WAS where I belonged!!!
I’d reckoned from about the age of 12 that I really didn’t ‘belong’ in the western suburbs culture with its fibro houses and housing commission culture; the inner city had more appeal: its architecture, people, creativity and community. Having met more and more people who were ‘like-minded’ in the inner city, that’s where I wanted to live. I had to wait until my first year of teaching so I had my own full-time income but eventually that’s where I headed.
Three years at Teacher’s College along the way introduced me to more as I began exploring the newly emerging Oxford Street scene with its bars, discos and saunas in the company of a close friend who was also at College. I had a strong connection to the emerging gay politics of the mid-late 1970s (being part of the first Mardi Gras in 1978) and I went on to join the Gay & Lesbian Teachers and Students (GALTAS) group in Glebe.
It was great fun being an active part of that new ‘wave’. History has it that the ‘wave’ started some 100 years earler with Marcus Hirschfield et al in Germany. Much of the work of Hirschfield and his cohorts was destroyed during the Nazi occupation in the 1930s.
My identity strengthened through my connections in the GALTAS group. I met my first long-term lover and partner in 1976. We ‘got married’ on 2 September 1978 in our Ashfield home and were a partnership for some 11 years. It was difficult being a gay teacher for all the usual reasons, but I managed to work through it. I began an undergraduate degree via distance education through the University of New England in 1979 where I met even more same-sex attracted people. The ‘family’ was growing…
I’ve been fortunate to grow up in the era that I did – being able to proactively contribute to the politics of the time and be part of the ever-strengthening community. Friends of mine from a generation or two before me had it much harder. It was exciting to be part of what was evolving history. It seemed that, finally, we were going to be recognised for who were are in both a legal and social sense…it was and is, after all, a human rights issue.
Disaster struck in 1980 with the global emergence of HIV, then identified as a strictly gay ‘disease’. Suddenly, it wasn’t okay to be gay because of the association. Originally named GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), it set the agenda back many decades. Importantly, if it hadn’t been for the strengthening of the gay community, the battle would have been much worse. It was gay groups that rallied behind the cause to help to at least control wide-spread transmission. It was gay men, predominantly, who were the drivers of this action.
As the reality of the virus spreading through global heterosexual communities played out, the stigma was reduced – but the mud stuck. This presented another opportunity to join the ‘new’ agenda…
Having managed to successfully dodge that bullet (more by default than design), I worked with a variety of organisations in an attempt to help reduce the impact. I moved to Alice Springs in 1993 to work with the (then) local AIDS Council. Fears were held that if the virus found its way into Aboriginal communities, already plagued by extremely high STD and STI rates, it would spread like wildfire as it has in Africa over the past 30 years.
In Alice, my lover and partner for the last 12 years and I operated The Rainbow Connection here as a gay and lesbian Bed & Breakfast for over a decade. Being gay in business politics was something else. A lesbian business partner and I formed Alice IS Wonderland, a gay and lesbian events program that included dance parties, events and promotions that operated for around 5 years. Working with the commercial world built a profile. People often asked why I wasn’t in politics…being gay and in business was certainly about being in politics!!!
Being able to represent the people of Greatorex (in Alice Springs) as an Independent Member in the NT Parliament became my next objective. Much of that flow over three years can be found at www.philwalcott.com.au . Whilst unsuccessful in my initial bid last August, the game is not over yet. Neither am I.