Laurence Deane – best known as Queensland drag legend Dame Sybil Von Thorndyke – has been honoured by Lord Mayor Graham Quirk for his contribution to Queensland’s LGBTIQ community.
Deane, a veteran of the Brisbane entertainment scene, is a founding member and driving force behind the annual Queen’s Birthday Ball event.
After its humble beginnings at a house in Mt Tamborine, the ball has become the longest-running continuous gay event in the world, held every year since 1962.
Deane was awarded one of the Lord Mayor’s Australia Day Awards at a ceremony on January 25 last month.
“Laurence’s presence at Queen’s Birthday Ball – held annually at City Hall for the past 4 years – is an inspiration for many,” Brisbane City Councillor Vicki Howard said.
“In that boisterous, happy audience Laurence’s speech is always completely consuming.
“Laurence has been at the forefront of gay cultural, political, artistic and social circles and his efforts have, without doubt, contributed to the changing attitudes and acceptance of the gay community in this city and state.”
Deane said the Queen’s Birthday Ball was started as a celebration, but in the era before the decriminalisation of homosexuality it was also an act of defiance.
“People turned up in their hundreds and hundreds. We used to have about a dozen awards. It was a costume affair and some of the costumes were spectacular,” he said.
“It attracted all sorts of people, a lot of straight people and that just added to the mix.
“This was prior to decriminalisation, and we had to be very careful with police. They raided many a party.
“On more than one occasion I had to run like crazy and jump over a back fence like a full criminal to get away from them. Some people were arrested, and suffered as a result. I was lucky, it never happened to me.”
Deane said the best times of his life have been when he was performing on stage as Dame Sybil.
“I became known as Dame Sybil Von Thorndyke, a self-appointed Dame,” he said.
“I guess I was outrageous, but in a ladylike way.”
Last year, Dame Sybil was one of the first drag performers to be inducted into the Queensland Drag Hall of Fame at the Sportsman Hotel.
The Lord Mayor’s Australia Day Awards recognise and pay tribute to Brisbane’s “unsung heroes” who have “gone above and beyond to help improve the lives of others and contribute to the city’s vision of a diverse, friendly and strong community.”