Mike Clohesy and Peter de Waal, CAMP NSW demonstration at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 19 October 1975 (Peter de Waal papers, State Library of NSW, MLMSS 6089)
The Royal Commission on Human Relationships was an initiative of the Whitlam government, instigated in 1974 to investigate ‘the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships’. The three commissioners (Justice Elizabeth Evatt, journalist Anne Deveson and Archbishop of Brisbane Felix Arnott) delivered their final report in 1977: that the report contained thirteen recommendations about homosexuality was testament to the success of gay and lesbian activists in placing their concerns on the Commission’s agenda. Through an examination of the testimonies and submissions presented by gay men and lesbians to the Royal Commission, this paper will investigate the ways that these activists framed their public, citizen identities as homosexuals, and how this framing found purchase in the Commission’s recommendations. Seeking rights and protections from a newly receptive Australian social liberal state, gay men and lesbians framed their experiences through narratives of exclusion, trauma and a nascent language of homosexual citizenship. This language drew upon the ways that women’s liberationists were framing their claims on the state and also shaped by the ways that that state was recognising these emergent political actors, such as women and migrants. By presenting themselves as unequal citizens, subject to ‘daily oppressions’, gays and lesbians worked to legitimize the homosexual sexual citizen and his or her claims on the state, even as it recast and reinforced the power of the state in the process.
Dr Michelle Arrow is an Associate Professor in the Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University. She has published widely on post-war Australian history, the history of popular culture and history on film and television. Her radio documentary ‘Public Intimacies: The 1974 Royal Commission on Human Relationships’, won the 2014 NSW Premier’s Multimedia History Award. She is currently based at the National Library of Australia as a 2016 Library Fellow, working on a new history of the 1970s.