The groundbreaking work of one of Australia’s first political organisations for gay and lesbian people, CAMP Inc, will be recognised with a special award next month.
The Honour Awards is an annual fundraising benefit held in Sydney which celebrates outstanding service and achievements in New South Wales’s LGBTIQ community.
CAMP Inc, otherwise known as the Campaign Against Moral Persecution, will be honoured with the prestigious ACON President’s Award, recognising its “significant impact” to the lives of LGBTIQ people in New South Wales.
The activist group was founded in 1970 with the aim of educating the general Australian public about homosexuality and alleviating the isolation and poor mental health experienced by many lesbian and gay people at the time.
Established by John Ware, Christabel Poll and their partners, CAMP Inc raised the visibility of gay and lesbian people in the community, including with media interviews featuring gay and lesbian people which were groundbreaking at the time. CAMP Inc subsequently spread across the country, with branches in state capital cities and university campuses.
Member of CAMP Inc and 78er Peter de Waal (pictured above, right, with his late partner Peter Bonsall-Boone) recalled the day CAMP Inc was brought to the attention of the Australian public, and its important legacy.
“The 10th of September 1970 was a very significant day for Australian homosexuals. On this day Janet Hawley wrote in The Australian about the founding of CAMP Inc – the Campaign Against Moral Persecution – the first Australian national homosexual rights movement,” he said.
“John Ware, one of the founders of CAMP Inc, stated in the article, ‘CAMP Inc hopes to get rid of the numerous misinterpretations about homosexuality by encouraging homosexuals to admit that they are, and to discuss it openly.’
“John’s ‘coming out’ observation, nearly 50 years ago, is as relevant today as it was all those years ago.
“The naming of the first 1978 Sydney Mardi Gras came out of a CAMP Inc executive meeting. The precursor of the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service – Phone-A-Friend – is a direct descendant of CAMP Inc.”
CAMP Inc also held the first homosexual demonstration in Australia, protesting on 6 October 1971 in support of Tom Hughes, a candidate for pre-selection who supported homosexual law reform.
Further demonstrations in favour of law reform and tackling discrimination against homosexuals by psychiatrists, the church and others followed.
In April 1973, CAMP Inc established a telephone counselling service, ‘Phone-a-Friend’, which came to later dominate the group’s work.
By the early 1980s, it had become the core of the organisation’s activities and a decision was taken to rename the group, the Gays Counselling Service. In 1990, following another name change, it became the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW, and continues to operate today as part of Twenty10.
Fellow CAMP Inc member and 78er Robyn Plaister said that having the work of early activists acknowledged and celebrated reminds us all just how far the LGBTIQ community has come in Australia.
“Recognition by ACON of the work that CAMP Inc has covered is important for all of us who spent our early years fighting for the rights of both lesbians and gay men,” she said.
“Many rights that we take for granted now such as lesbian mother custody rights, adoption, fostering, teacher rights in public schools, taking homosexuality off the psychiatric illnesses list, and bringing partners to Australia from overseas were put in place due to the work of both female and male activists in CAMP over the years.”
ACON President Dr Justin Koonin said CAMP Inc and its founders’ contributions to the community had been “literally lifesaving”.
“It’s particularly timely to acknowledge their collective achievements given the huge progress towards equality our community has made over the past year,” Dr Koonin said.
“The fact that the LGBTI community has been able to achieve as much as it has towards equality and rights in NSW is testament to their devotion and passion in improving the lives of our community.
“They were amongst some of the first pioneers for lesbian and gay rights in Australia and ACON is proud to be acknowledging their enormous contributions to our communities.”
Members of CAMP Inc will be among the hundreds of community figures and guests at the Honour Awards ceremony in Sydney on October 3.