Shayne Wilde: A Living Treasure of Queensland


shayne wilde queensland law reform
Photo: Supplied

In this internet age, ticking multiple ‘likes’ on Facebook apparently qualifies as activism. However, not so long ago, community members risked jail and physical violence to achieve the rights we enjoy today. Shayne Wilde was one of them, writes Bill Rutkin. The scope and magnitude of her contribution to homosexual law reform and anti-discrimination legislation staggers the mind. Many of the rights and freedoms we now enjoy in Queensland are owed in part to the efforts of this amazing woman.

Shayne Wilde is a lesbian who assiduously avoids the spotlight.

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Before any curious reader asks, she is in no way related to fellow living treasure Toye de Wilde. It is mere good fortune that Queensland gave us two such wilde women.

Shayne is a slight woman who worked tirelessly for decades.

More recently she stepped away from the frontline to care for her aged mother. Later she needed to better manage her own health.

However, bureaucratic and political defenders of the status quo throughout the 1980s and 90s knew her name well. They probably feared hearing it.

Blessed with a wicked sense of humour, she was the bane of innumerable old police sergeants.

She inevitably undermined any of their attempts to intimidate the organisers and marshals of LGBTIQ marches, protests and demonstrations.

Shayne’s approach to reform campaigning can be summarised in a few words: unrelenting, well-reasoned, articulate and successful.

Trade union movement

Shayne Wilde commenced employment at the Telegraph newspaper in 1972 and joined the Federated Clerks Union (FCU).

She ended up on the FCU Executive and from there became a member of the Queensland Trades and Labour Council Women’s Committee.

During the Bjelke-Petersen era of gerrymandered elections and authoritarian rule, trade unions played a critical role. They not only opposed the regime. They also took up the fight for the rights of oppressed minorities.

Politicians like early LGBTIQ ally, Labor Senator George Georges, also played a key role. Many activists, including Shayne, volunteered for his and other allies re-election campaigns.

During this time allegiances formed between activists fighting the government on various fronts. Groups agitating for causes like worker’s, women’s, Murri, LGBTIQ and migrant rights all offered each other support. Shayne lent a hand on many diverse campaigns.

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Those early years in the union movement taught her the organising and campaigning skills she so effectively utilised in the coming fights over LGBTIQ rights. Crucially, they also gifted her an amazing network of useful contacts.

Along with another great hero Greg Weir, Shayne used those extensive networks in the union movement and progressive political parties to muster support for gay law reform.

LGBTIQ rights

Shayne was an early recruit to the Queensland Association for Gay Law Reform founded by retired Cairns school teacher Ted Kelk.

The organisation fought for the decriminalisation of adult male sex acts, achieving success in 1989 under the Goss Labor government.

In the early days of the movement, she and Toye De Wilde were the only women who regularly turned up for meetings. They both took an active role lobbying for law reform.

In 1990, she recruited more lesbians to the group in an effort to increase inclusion.

Soon after the group underwent a name change, becoming the Queensland Association for Gay and Lesbian Rights.

Gai Lemon was the first female co-convenor alongside Nick Ward. Following Gai’s incumbency, Shayne took over the role.

A founding member of Queensland Pride Collective in 1990, Shayne Wilde was one of the main organisers of the March, Rally and Fair for the first five years

She initiated the first ever LGBTIQ liaison meetings with the Qld Police Force.

First, she travelled to NSW to meet Sue Thompson, the first LGBTQ Police Liaison Officer in Australia, with a view to initiating a similar service in Queensland.

Then a delegation met with the Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner.

Among other issues the aim was to stop police and other assaults on participants in LGBTIQ marches. Following a fiery meeting, things began to change.

shayne wilde queensland gay rights march

This was more important than younger readers might think. During the early marches, in addition to insults, at least one religious group also threw rocks.

In the most serious incident, during the first Pride parade, a passer-by drove his car into the marchers at speed near the Treasury building.

Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

One old copper supervising the police presence at a rally in Roma Street told Shayne that if same-sex marchers held hands or kissed he’d throw the book at them, potentially resulting in jail sentences of thirteen years.

Shayne questioned his knowledge of the law, given a male same-sex f*** attracted a maximum sentence of fourteen years, thirteen seemed excessive for a mere kiss!

The various early LGBTIQ organisations in Queensland had a troubled relationship with the Brisbane City Council.

The council either denied permits or levied up to triple the fee for permits or park hire that other community groups paid.

Negotiations in 1990 saw Rainbow organisations finally recognised by council and treated equally.

Shane Wilde and International Lesbian Day

As a founding member of Queensland’s International Lesbian Day Committee, Shayne helped organise events such as the Kiss-In and distribution of wild flowers in Queen Street.

On one memorable Sunday, Shayne and other women drove all over Brisbane putting up posters for International Lesbian Day.

Late that night, after nailing posters to a pole in Paddington they found the car’s gears jammed. The vehicle only moved in one direction. Reverse.

Lesbians are sometimes said to be most pragmatic women and, in this case, certainly were.

They drove across Brisbane to West End — in reverse — stopping every block to put up more posters.

Towards equal rights

Many of successful reforms can be attributed to Shayne’s penchant for considering detail in obscure Acts of Parliament which, either by omission or specific mention, denied equality to Rainbow Community members.

In 1991 with gay law reform achieved, Shayne, working primarily with Craig Patterson, drafted the submission which resulted in Queensland’s anti-discrimination legislation.

In 1992, working closely with Democrat Senator Sid Spindler, she contributed to the passage of amendments to the Federal Industrial Relations Act which resulted in the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

Her strenuous efforts to include protection from discrimination for transgender people failed.

By 1994, Shayne was the national spokesperson for the Australian Council of Lesbian and Gay Rights on industrial relations.

She played a leading role in intervening in the federal and state family leave test cases, with the aim of securing equal rights to family leave for same-sex couples.

Industrial Relations Law

That right then extended to innumerable other areas of industrial relations law.

An indefatigable campaigner, she also worked to have recognition of same-sex couples in the Australian Tax Office’s enterprise bargaining agreements and the Bureau of Census and Statistics’ census data.

She worked on a 1998 review of Queensland industrial relations legislation to eliminate residual discrimination. (Once again the government refused specific protection for transgender people.)

The review obtained equal rights to workplace leave provisions and extended adoption leave to lesbians.

Other Queensland legislation which was amended as a result of lobbying included:

  • The Domestic Violence Act
  • The Guardianship Act
  • Powers of Attorney Act
  • De-Facto Relationship Laws
  • The Acts Interpretations Act.

In her spare time (Editor’s note: what spare time?) Shayne is a passionate folk music lover, involved in folk music clubs and the Woodford Folk Festival.

There are just too many strings to this woman’s bow to list them all in one article.

However, I will mention she also volunteered at the Queensland AIDS Council through all those years.

Shayne donated her extensive records to the John Oxley Library.

Chris Carter Memorial Award

In 1995, the Australian Democrats recognised her for significantly contributing to 100 pieces of legislation to benefit the rainbow communities. They awarded her the Chris Carter Memorial Award.

Shayne reminds us to pay tribute to her great helper throughout those years, Ian Grey. Shane has limited use of her arms and it was Ian’s help enabled her to perform her work.

Shayne’s work involved many of the big picture issues of our generation, but also many smaller issues, the resolution of which contributed immeasurably to the quality of life of LGBTIQ Queenslanders.

We salute a magnificent contributor to law reform and a true Living Treasure of our communities — Shayne Wilde.

QN Magazine | For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.