Peter Black on 50 years of C.A.M.P. in Queensland | CAMP INK


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CAMP INK Nov, 1971. Archive online at: pridehistory.org.au

On the opening night of the annual MELT Festival at Brisbane Powerhouse, QC President Peter Black delivered a speech on the 50th anniversary of CAMP on Queensland. The Campaign Against Moral Persecution was the first local organisation dedicated to homosexual law reform in the state. 

Peter Black is the Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching in the Law Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology. He researches and teaches constitutional law and media law.

Peter graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws as a University Medallist. He went to complete a Master of Laws from Columbia University.
He has also been actively involved in the LGBTI community in Queensland for many years. The current President and Chair of the Queensland Council for LGBTI Health, he is also a board member of Australian Marriage Equality.

Peter was Queensland Coordinator for the Equality Campaign during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. Over the years, he made submissions and appeared before dozens of parliamentary committees and other reviews relating to LGBTI rights. Peter has also been appointed to several government bodies, including the Inclusive Brisbane Board, the Queensland LGBTI Roundtable. He is currently Chair of the Queensland Government’s Anti- Cyberbullying Advisory Committee.

I’d like to begin by also acknowledging the traditional owners of the land where we are meeting this evening, the Yugara to the North and Turrbal to the South. I pay respects to their Elders, lores, customs and creation spirits.

Campaign Against Moral Persecution

I am honoured to speak this evening on the extraordinary legacy of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in Queensland. Although not in the CAMP Club rooms back in 1971 – indeed, not even born at the time – I know that my life (my freedoms, my rights, my opportunities, my health) has only been possible thanks to everyone who came together to advocate for equality on the basis of sexual orientation at a time when they faced criminal sanctions just for being who they were.

A privilege of involvement in a variety of different LGBTI community organisations over the past decade has been the opportunity to meet and talk to many of the people who were at the forefront of what was described at the time as “homosexual law reform”. I hope you get a sense of their remarkable stories – and their wicked sense of humour – this evening.

Sunshine and Rainbows

Rather than share second, third or fourth hand stories, I’d like to speak to the legacy of CAMP on our diverse LGBTI communities and organisations today. In so doing, I will draw on the work of Clive Moore and his book, Sunshine and Rainbows: The Development of Gay and Lesbian Culture in Queensland. If you haven’t read this book, I would encourage everyone to do it. It is a comprehensive recounting of Queensland’s gay and lesbian history from colonial times to the 1990s.

You can draw a direct line from CAMP to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Queensland in 1991. Of course, even that struggle continued for almost three more decades; it wasn’t until 2016 that Queensland equalised the age of consent. And in 2017 we saw the Parliament of Queensland apologise to the hundreds of men convicted in the past of gay sex offences, alongside a legislative scheme to allow for the expungement of historic gay sex offences. I was involved in lobbying for these more recent reforms. On several occasions, I was moved to hear from men who had their lives destroyed by these convictions and were still dealing with their impact decades later.

Tony Lee

I can only imagine how challenging it was to live through these times. In 1970, before the formation of CAMP in Queensland, law professor William A Lee (Tony Lee) delivered a lecture to The Humanist Society of Queensland titled The Law and the Homosexual in Queensland. Semper Floreat later published a version of the lecture. In this paper, he outlined the law at the time on homosexuality in Queensland. It basically remained unchanged since drafting by Chief Justice Sir Samuel Griffith in the 1890s — becoming law in 1899. After discussing the offences in the Criminal Code, as well as blackmail and police attitudes, Tony Lee turned to the question of whether homosexuals were even allowed to mix socially under Queensland law.

He ultimately concluded that:

“There would not appear to be any law preventing homosexuals from mixing socially [and that] an association for homosexuals could hardly be characterised as a criminal conspiracy.

“Nevertheless the present state of police and public prejudice to homosexuals at large would seem to indicate that any organised attempt to provide homosexuals in Queensland with opportunities to meet off the streets would be met with difficulties and resistance.”

The slow march to legal equality

A group of gay and lesbian folk simply meeting was then a radical act. Most of us take that for granted today.

But this radical act set in motion the slow march towards legal equality. A march that began with decriminalisation in 1991. It has not yet ended, especially for people of colour, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI Brotherboy and Sistergirl communities and trans, gender diverse and intersex communities.

We can also trace the origins of many of our LGBTI community organisations directly back to CAMP. CAMP operated a telephone counselling service that ultimately became the Homosexual Community Welfare Service, then the Gay and Lesbian Welfare Association and now Diverse Voices. And significantly for us at the Queensland Council for LGBTI Health (QC), many of the early CAMP activists (Brian Day, Greg Weir) became involved in the AIDS Action Committee. That later became the Queensland AIDS Committee, and then the Queensland AIDS Council. Further, on the winding up of CAMP in 1985, the members transferred club funds approximating $14,000 to the then poverty-stricken Queensland AIDS Committee.

However, the significance of CAMP is not just in direct law reforms or organisational legacies; it also abides in the way CAMP brought our diverse communities together and the values that underpinned its organisation. This is abundantly clear from the early copies of its national magazine CAMP INK. The archives of CAMP INK are available on the website of the Pride History Group. They offer a revealing insight into the lives of gay and lesbian people in Australia in the early 1970s. The magazine was also the best (and possibly only way) to share information and solidarity and to connect gay and lesbian people across the country long before the internet and a time when even interstate phone calls were prohibitively expensive.

CAMP INK

Looking through the archive earlier this week, I felt drawn to Volume 2 Number 1 from November 1971, written and edited by the Queensland branch of CAMP. (It featured four attractive male members of the Queensland branch on its cover – including two of them shirtless.) Paul Lucas edited the edition with none other than Brian Day as Features Editor.

I want to highlight a few things from this edition that I think reveals a way of working and thinking that continues to guide us.

First, CAMP – at least in Queensland – saw gay men and lesbians working together. This can never be taken for granted. In some parts of Australia and around the world clear splits existed between the two in the gay rights movements of this era. We are stronger together. At the same time, there was clearly ideological diversity within its members, as well as disagreements about political tactics. The letters to the editor are especially feisty. Yet, they demonstrate a movement with engaged and passionate participants. Also, a movement strong enough to embrace, debate, and even dissent. In 1973, Brian Woodward wrote about the first two years of CAMP in William and John magazine in these terms:

“… out of all this, there arose something which most of us have never experienced before. An incredible feeling of brotherhood, of being a part of something that is part of all of us. There was no inward aggression, except maybe over strategy and methods of campaigning, which was good because it resulted in more thought and action about our oppression of ourselves and our oppression by society”

I actually think that is a value that some in the LGBTI political advocacy space today should remember.

Political, and social

Second, CAMP was not just political; it was social. The Scene updates in each edition of CAMP INK featured political and social updates from each capital city. In that November 1971 edition, there is a wonderful review of the Gold Coast scene. After reviewing the nightlife and the shows, it concludes, “For R&R we recommended the sun-drenched sand. Dark glasses to hold the popping eyes. And gaze on the gorgeous suntans romping around.”

We can never understate the importance of social opportunities for LGBTI people both then and now. Greg Weir said this about the need for gay spaces at the time:

“There is a desperate sense of isolation among members. Society looks on homosexuals, male and female, as outcasts. We aim to have a place where homosexuals can come and discuss their problems… problems of just living and knowing, and believing in yourself that you are a homosexual.”

That statement really resonated with me as safe, supportive social opportunities for our communities continue to be vitally important.

Third, CAMP understood the need to build evidence and research to persuade legislators of the need for reform. The November 1971 edition features a survey of 100 homosexuals by Cora Zyp. It covered a range of different topics: family background, early homosexual experiences, heterosexual experiences. I chuckled at the conclusion that ‘The extent of heterosexual experience of our sample was varied but tended towards the experimental and/or unsatisfying categories’. The survey also addressed relationships with family and work. Over half the survey responded their family had no knowledge of their sexuality.

Sexual Health

Fourth, even before the emergence of HIV/AIDS, CAMP also discussed sexual health. A November 1971 article on venereal disease or VD includes some quite graphic descriptions of syphilis and gonorrhoea. It also gives practical advice on prevention, including the use of condoms.

Fifth and finally – and I want to be careful not to overstate this – many of the early editions of CAMP INK also reveal support for and solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There is an implicit – and occasionally explicit – acknowledgement that we have much to learn from our First Nations people. Again in that November 1971 edition, Brian Day writes that Indigenous Australians have “something to teach us” but that the Government does not take notice as they are “more interested in assimilating [them] into white culture”. Elsewhere in the magazine, it’s written that ‘you don’t have to be black to campaign for Aboriginal rights’. The author cheekily adds, ‘In Queensland, it would be a distinct disadvantage’.

I realise I have spoken now for some time. I haven’t even had time to discuss the superhero cartoon called Super Phalla from the November 1971 edition. Super Phalla is a gay liberator from a distant planet. I would love to see Marvel add him to their cinematic universe. But I wanted to take the time to properly acknowledge how CAMP and the brave men and women that participated in it some 50 years ago set in motion important law reforms for LGBTI people. They also contributed to community organisations that continue to serve and represent our LGBTI communities today. Finally, they established values and principles that continue to guide us.

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Super Phalla

Thank you

And so I only have one more thing to do. And that is to say, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s one thank you for each decade. Your courageous lives have made possible the freedoms we enjoy today.

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 and YouTube.

Peter Black

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

7 Comments

  1. Mike Henry
    5 August 2021
    Reply

    Wow!
    Blown away to see your reproduction of Camp Ink front cover from November 1971.
    It certainly brought back some memories since I am one of those “shirtless young men” in the photo (L).
    The other was my partner (C) at the time standing next to Paul Lucas (R). I’m afraid I have no recollection of the identity of the guy who just got his head in the shot (Front)!
    It is satisfying to note that we youngsters of 50 years ago did play some small part in the advancement of LGBTI issues.

  2. carly rose
    6 August 2021
    Reply

    I’d love to see my mate Mike Henry as he was in 1971

  3. Brian Day OAM
    15 August 2021
    Reply

    It was very surreal sitting there listening to Peter and I have very little memory of what I said. What is memorable is the goodwill in the room. That was wonderfully different from talking publicly in the 70’s I assure you.
    Thanks to everyone involved in the organising

  4. Les Murphy
    16 August 2021
    Reply

    So great to see this I was at the opening of the Club in George St CAMP INC purple carpet naked men wall paper, Rex in the kitchen toasted fingers, we painted and cleaned for weeks, I went with Ron Hanley aka Fanny, Toye was there with her partner Ian, lots of icons Jo Flynn, Donald and Carol LLoyd. i think Cybils partner Robert worked with me at the Council and the Pink Palace was home to many, Carole Petersen, Ada Ashley, Neil McLucas, Pamela Tiffin, and Tall Trixie, Harriet, Bambi, Shirley and Tracey, the Union Hotel and Lennons Stockyard Bar, it was ground breaking stuff in a time of cruel harrassment by National Party Police Force. I follow progress today but sometimes get annoyed by those who take what they have now for granted, we could not bring our real selves to work, I was told I was too flamboyant to progress in the workplace, things like that would not happen today..fond memories of the people who cared for each other

  5. Mary Brettell
    6 April 2023
    Reply

    Les Murphy (or anyone else) is Jo Flynn still around? I worked with her in the 1980s. Often wonder what became of Jo.

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