Vale Francesca Curtis, lesbian trailblazer who broke ground in 1970


phyllis papps francesca lesbian couple this day tonight abc

Francesca Curtis, one of the first Australian lesbians to come out on national TV, died on Christmas Eve, at age 90.

In October 1970, Curtis (above left) and her partner Phyllis Papps made history when they became the first Australian lesbians to come out on national television.

The couple agreed to an interview with ABC program This Day Tonight.

The two women were one of a few lesbian couples who gave viewers a rare glimpse into their relationships and lives.

Recently, the women “came out one final time” in a documentary Why Did She Have to Tell the World? reflecting on the interview and their lives.

Filmmakers Abbie Pobjoy and Bonny Scott paid tribute to Francesca, announcing her death on Facebook.

“Francesca Curtis, the first lesbian woman to appear on Australian television and our sincere friend, has passed away,” they wrote.

“We are sending all our thoughts to her lifetime partner Phyllis Papps, friends, family and all that knew her.

“We feel so privileged to be able to share her story and her friendship.

“Francesca’s humour, courage and kindness will never be forgotten.

“Her never ending fight for equality and acceptance will carry on and always inform the younger generations.

“Rest In Peace Francesca, you will always be with us.”

Curtis is survived by Phyllis Papps, her partner of more than 50 years. The pair lived together in Victoria.

Francesca Curtis met partner Phyllis Papps in 1970

The two women met through activist groups in 1970. They became members of early rights group The Daughters of Bilitis.

It was later renamed the Australasian Lesbian Movement (ALM). The forum allowed lesbians to talk about their sexualities for the first time.

“Homosexuality was illegal, lesbians were invisible and everything was underground,” Francesca recalled last year.

A few months later, they were approached to go on the ABC program.

“No-one wanted to go on [the show]. They were all in the closet, so Phyllis and I volunteered,” Francesca explained.

phyllis and francesca abc this day tonight lesbian couple coming out

Francesca Curtis and Phyllis Papps face backlash after interview

The ABC interview received numerous complaints. A staffer on the show was reportedly sacked over the segment.

And the two women also faced swift backlash for the TV appearance at work and within their families.

“The woman next door came in and told my parents I was on TV,” Francesca recalled.

“My Dad said, ‘Did she have to tell the world?’”

Francesca’s partner Phyllis also lost her job, at a public library.

“But it was important for ALM because our membership started increasing,” Francesca recalled.

“In our flat, lesbians could finally be somewhere they could go and meet other lesbians and feel safe to be themselves, share their company and discuss issues of importance.”

A few months before the ABC interview, the pair exchanged gold wedding rings which they had worn ever since.

They never married, but both celebrated the same-sex marriage “yes” vote in 2017 as “tremendous” for young people.

“They are going to have this opportunity that we never had in those days, or never even imagined in those days,” Francesca said.

Reflecting on their legacy, she says in the documentary “the future belongs to the young people.”

“We leave it to them to carry on the wonderful work that has been done,” she said.

More extraordinary lesbian women.

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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.

Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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

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