Queensland’s forgotten arch-homophobe


Lauded by some as a Queensland great mere years ago, Queensland’s arch-homophobe Lady Phyllis Cilento quickly returned to obscurity once she no longer served any purpose in the state’s culture wars.

Workmen removed her Ladyship’s name from the Queensland Children’s Hospital years ago now. The then Health Minister escaped embarrassed — but otherwise unscathed — from an inquiry into a dodgy poll over the renaming. Finally, the all-out PR war promised by her descendants never eventuated. Despite threats by others on his behalf, Jason Connery, Cilento’s grandson and Sean Connery’s son, never turned up to protest outside the government offices at 1 William St. The issue died, and mention of Lady Phyllis Cilento died with it.

But it is vital the name of Lady Phyllis Cilento lives on in our history.

Because we must ensure no similar bigot ever again exerts their malevolent influence over our lives.

Queensland Children’s Hospital

The reason for the last-minute decision to plonk Cilento’s name on the Children’s Hospital is obvious enough. Politicians do not simply draw names out of a hat when they name a building or commission a statue. They choose the people they believe will reinforce their own right to rule. They brand public buildings and ornament public spaces in order to define for us our heroes and to illustrate a cultural narrative that promotes their personal ideology.

Why else would Brisbane’s most prominent public space bear the name and a statue of the inconsequential King George V? Some readers may quibble about the description of His Majesty as inconsequential. If so, they should — without recourse to Google — name one significant achievement of the man. No, he wasn’t the mad George. Nor did he suffer from a stutter. Some might think they know him from the Downton Abbey movie. However, that movie chose to fictionalise the irritable king and his kleptomaniacal wife as a regal but jolly Santa and Mrs Claus. (Students of LGBTIQ history will remember him as the king who said of a gay peer, “I thought men like that shot themselves.”)

But back to arch-homophobe Lady Phyllis Cilento.

Cilento’s husband worked in health for the Queensland government. Phyllis worked as a doctor and wrote newspaper columns under pseudonyms for half a century. While she gave sensible advice about nutrition and mothercraft, she also used the platform to parade her bigotry. She was, without any doubt, a racist, a white supremacist, and a homophobe.

In an article in the Courier-Mail in 1947, she placed all her various prejudices on public display. What is most amazing is how little the arguments of homophobes have changed in the seven decades since.

“Unhealthy Sex View Bad For Community”

Cilento had been to see a play dramatising the life of Oscar Wilde. She found herself disappointed after the play.

“This open discussion of homosexuality created less comment among the public than one would have supposed…

“Indeed, facts that shocked and disgusted the sturdy morality of the British people in the late Victorian era are rather sniggered at and condoned to-day.”

Cilento could not comprehend her contemporaries sniggering that Victorians cared more about the exposure of a female ankle than they did about nine-year-olds working nine-hour days in dangerous underground coal mines.

She went on to complain that people did not realise “the extent to which homosexuality is condoned in its own community nor the insidious and persuasive propaganda to which the younger generation is subject.”

A few years earlier, Cilento sat on a government inquiry into sexual crimes. She complained it “received several requests by advocates of the cult to [give] evidence on homosexual relations.”

Modern-day homophobes still make the same arguments. Followers of the Australian  Christian Lobby regularly refer to the LGBTIQ communities as ‘the rainbow cult’. And they relentlessly campaign to brand any portrayal of an LGBTIQ family, any raising of a rainbow flag or a drag storytime event as ‘propaganda’.

“Letters, too, were received explaining how… misguided, old fashioned, and narrow-minded it was to make [homosexual acts] punishable offences… Public opinion is coming ‘to tolerate the practice humorously’ — judging by the jokes and ribald illustrations made openly among many young people today.”

“RACIALLY SUICIDAL “

“Apart altogether from Christian morality… homosexuality in any form must be condemned as biologically unsound and racially suicidal, and, therefore, a crime against Nature.”

Phyllis explained that Greek civilisation failed because the Greeks were so busy with gay fornication they failed to produce sufficient babies to maintain their armies at full strength. This argument was par for the course for Phyllis. For 50 years, she argued that the British blood must remain pure and unsullied by contact with other races.

She finished her article with perhaps her silliest advice ever.

“Living for a good time never made anyone happy yet.”

Oh, f*ck off!

We condemn Senator Anning but not Lady Phyllis Cilento?

Homophobic And Racist, Lady Phyllis Cilento Was No Lady!

Poll Finds Queenslanders Opposed To Renaming Lady Cilento Hospital.

Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital To Be Renamed By Queensland Government.

Saint Phyllis Cilento loses her halo and everyone looks away.

1947: Lady Phyllis Cilento ‘crime against nature’.

lady phyllis cilento crime against Nature

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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