State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 87 May 2011


Daniel Marshall
Young Gays: towards a history of youth, queer sexualities and education in Australia

Australia's First Explicity political gay or lesbian group, Daughters of Bilitis, was formed in 1969 in Melbourne. It had strict rules restricting membership to adults.1 The group's decision to keep young people at arm's length from the group's formal activities reflects sensitivity within the gay and lesbian activist community over the popular homophobic propensity to conflate homosexuality with paedophilia and gay rights with active recruitment. Forty years on, this decision taken at the dawn of the gay liberationist struggle in Australia speaks to the uneasy relationship between gay and lesbian politics and youth.
By 1973, the caution exhibited by the Daughters of Bilitis gave way to the direct action of Gay Liberationists with activists organizing visits to schools. As Graham Willett has noted, the invitation from teachers to gay speakers to address high school classes in Melbourne on the topic of gay rights provoked widespread media coverage and political debate. Anti-gay politicians took up the notion of gay speakers in schools as reason enough to junk gay rights tout court, arguing that 'reform was opening the way for proselytizing among impressionable young people'.2
High schools were not the only site for the battle over education being waged between the authorities and gay and lesbian activists (and their allies). Campaigns at universities played a crucial role during this period as well. The exclusion of university student Jeremy Fisher from his residential college at Macquarie University for failing to renounce his homosexuality demonstrated the institutionalized desire to strictly police issues of homosexuality and students, even when those students were of adult age.3 The 1973-74 controversy over the decision taken by authorities in New South Wales that Penny Short was medically unfit to teach following the publication of one of her lesbian-themed poems4 is similarly indicative of the ways in which the administration of formal systems of schooling became a key process through which opponents of Gay Liberation organized to repudiate the political challenges brought forward by the Gay Liberation movement.
The public cases of Fisher and Short became totemic causes for Gay Liberationists and other groups in Australia organizing on the Left. That these issues drew support from a range of allies including socialists, trade unionists and feminists demonstrates not only the way in which public debates about homosexuality from the start of the activist era were concentrated on contests over the relationship between ideas about youth, education and sexuality, but also the way in which these contests in many ways represented a key battle line in Australian cultural politics more generally.
While much scholarship in the field acknowledges the importance to LGBT

Front cover of Bill Calder's account of Melbourne Young Gays.

Australian history of Fisher, Short and other high-profile episodes such as the Gay Teachers and Students Group, there has been little research specifically examining the history of youth, queer sexualities and education in Australia.5 The aim of this article is to take one example of a hitherto neglected episode in Australian LGBT history – the early gay youth group Young Gays – as a way to begin a history concentrated on the intersections between ideas of youth, queer sexualities and education in Australia.6

Young Gays (1979-1981)

After the advent of Gay Liberation, young people became involved in a range of Gay Liberation activities. The Gay Teachers and Students Group is one early example of youth involvement in gay political organising, although the numbers of young people involved in this group were never large. The Gay Teachers and Students Group was originally called the Gay Teachers Group and it was established in Melbourne in 1975. The change of name reflected openness to young people joining the group as well as an acknowledgment of those students involved. This group spearheaded efforts to reform attitudes in relation to schooling and homosexuality by working with – and seeking to influence – teacher unions, politicians and the broader community. The group's legacy is perhaps most famously symbolized by its landmark 1978 publication Young, Gay and Proud.7
Distinct from anything that went before it, Young Gays emerged in 1979 as one of the first self-determining gay (by which it meant gay and lesbian) youth groups to successfully start up in Australia. Bill Calder, a former member, wrote a booklet on the group in 1985Lavender Youth8 and this account forms the basis of the discussion here.
A workshop themed around the needs and interests of 'young gays' at the 5th National Homosexual Conference provided the impetus for forming the group.9 The conference was held at the Universal Workshop, Fitzroy, Melbourne in 1979.10 In Lavender Youth, Calder recalled that discussion amongst the young participants in this workshop revealed widespread levels of unhappiness over the way they felt their gay and lesbian adult counterparts were treating them. Calder recalls complaints being made about being ignored by older gays and lesbians (except when the older gay men wanted to have sex with the younger gay men) and about not being given meaningful work to do in the lead-up to the conference:
We're just here to do the shit jobs for them. Last week I spent a whole day cutting out pink triangles for name-tags. When I'd finished I asked someone if there was anything else I could do. He said there was nothing else unless I wanted to fold a couple of thousand leaflets. I thought "What a load of bullshit". There was six people there, all frantically working on designing things and writing things, yet obviously there was nothing suitable for me . . .' [Another speaker:] 'I think that's really terrible. They should be helping us to learn things, not just giving us the cruddy jobs. It's easy for them, 'cause they know it all. They've got jobs, houses, have come out . . . everything. Most of us are still stuck at home.11
In Calder's account of the workshop, participants discussed the disadvantages they faced due to being at school and still living at home and they decide to start their own 'young gays youth group':
we can send info about homosexuality to schools plus organise parties and weekends away ... we could go out as a group to movies and things ... we could even just go out together to bars ... we should have them in every city of Australia. There's people here from Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra and I bet from other places too.12
The group decided it would be good to get 'money and things' from older gays but otherwise to run it 'on our own'. Consequently a motion was put to the conference by Alison Thorne. Timothy Conigrave recalls the moment in Holding the Man:
At the final plenary session, a confident young woman named Alison took the microphone and addressed the conference. 'We the newly formed Young Gays are disappointed by the lack of workshops dealing with our issues. Being young and gay in 1979 is probably easier than when you were coming out, but things are still difficult. Kids still get hassled at school, some attempt to take their own lives. Your attitude that we should have to deal with it because you did is patronizing, and not very community-spirited. Being young and gay is political. It forces people to confront adolescent sexuality. I hope our group can be strident enough to challenge the old theories about recruitment of the young.' Her motion of support for Young Gays was carried. Young Gays looked like being a formidable part of the gay community.13
With the motion successfully passed, the group was given '$40 and some We're not all straight in the Garden State stickers to sell' from the conference.14 Melbourne Young Gays (hereafter Young Gays) first met on 'Saturday afternoon, 22 September 1979 in the Graduate Lounge, Melbourne University, and twenty-two young lesbians and gay men attended'.15 By the end of the year, some members would report that the group boasted 'a floating population of eighty or so'.16 At around this time the group adopted an age limit of 25 (although this was not uniformly enforced).17
Young Gays came out of a
tradition of political activism and most of the young gay people who put energy into the group were committed politically to the gay liberation cause as well as other issues. Additionally all young gay people in 1979 confronted a hostile society. A society that not only induced guilt and denied them access to information and support, but one which was prepared to inflict aversion therapy or imprisonment on those who made love or simply expressed a desire to.18
Calder says that these political motivations intermingled, somewhat uneasily, with the 'primary reasons for most being there': 'to cautiously come to terms with their own sexuality and find support, friends and lovers'. These diverse aspirations were 'very difficult' for a 'fledgling organization'.19
In November 1979, Gay Community News carried a column on the group:
'Young Gays' is mainly a social and support group. By its very existence, it happens to be a political group, unable to ignore inequality in the laws, education and other important issues.20
It is virtually impossible to disentangle these entwined rationales for the group. In Calder's account, a diverse and often conflicting range of priorities, values and organizing styles played out during the life of the group, flowing from young people's various inclinations to lean more towards a political role for the group at the expense of social support and recreation, or vice versa. For Calder, these tensions played a key role in the group's eventual dissolution, foreshadowing the way in which debates over the purpose of queer youth groups would feature in public discussions about the groups that followed in the path of the Young Gays.
An early activity organized by the group was a camping trip to Warburton in rural Victoria.21 In Conigrave's recollection, the camp was held at a cottage that belonged to someone his parents knew:
After dinner the group decided to go into town to the pub. We found a corner near the fire, dragged a circle of chairs together and plonked ourselves down. I was aware that people were watching us. Perhaps it's the earrings and groovy haircuts. I guess they don't see boys with earrings much around these parts. After a few drinks the group became openly affectionate, sitting on knees, holding hands and kissing . . . A guy at the bar whose yellow T-shirt stretched over a beer belly walked over to Alison. 'Do you know your friends are poofters? Don't you think it's disgusting?' 'I'm a dyke, you deadshit.' He shoved her, she fell to the ground and he started kicking her. Alan and another guy from our group went to help her, but were swamped by men with moustaches and beerguts swinging punches. The wives stood on the sidelines trying to call them off.22
All the Young Gays eventually escaped although 'no-one assisted them' and one person required hospital treatment.23 Young Gays also took trips over the Summer of 79-80 to Daylesford and Lake Tyers.24 The social events helped build the profile of the group and attendance at its regular Saturday meetings grew. However, Young Gays was forced to change venues for its meetings often and this negatively impacted on attendance levels (with communication of venue changes not always able to happen quickly enough in this pre-mobile telephone, pre-internet period).25 This frequent change of venue reflects the unsteady and troubled access to resources that Calder identifies as impeding the long-term viability of the group.
Despite the limited access to resources, however, Young Gays quickly became a key organizing force in Melbourne's local gay and lesbian community. Young Gays contributed to the organizing effort in Melbourne for the 1979-1980 Summer Offensive for Gay Rights.26 The Summer Offensive was a national campaign launched at the 1979 National Homosexual Conference in the wake of widespread activism inspired by the series of arrests following the first Mardi Gras in Sydney in 1978.27 In particular, they helped organise Gay Day celebrations at South Melbourne Beach, a protest march and a Gay Dance.28 The dance was scheduled for 8 pm -12.30 am, Saturday 22 March 1980 at St Mark's, corner of George and Moor St, Fitzroy. For an entry fee of $3-$4 people could enjoy live performances from bands 33 South and Cassava.29 Underlining the central role of student unions to 1970s in gay and lesbian youth activism and social life, fliers

Invitation and poster for Melbourne Young Gay's functions reproduced in Bill Calder's Lavender Youth: a history of Melbourne's Young Gays, Sep 79 – Jan 81, [Melbourne: The Author 1985],

for the dance were authorized by the Gay Soc at Melbourne University and La Trobe University. Suggestive of the prominent role played by Young Gays in the broader gay and lesbian community, the dance raised funds for Gay Community News with over 300 people in attendance.
A range of other social events began to fill out the Young Gays calendar – a progressive dinner departing from a Cecil Street address in Fitzroy, a 'Kiddies' party, a pool party, 'a very big Christmas party', and a 'fundraiser selling bric-a-brac at Camberwell Market'.30 During this time (the first quarter of 1980), numerous sub-groups began to form under the broader Young Gays umbrella. These included a volleyball team (The Ideologically Sound Volleyball Society),31 notorious in its 'shocking pink uniforms'.32 Alison Thorne recalls that:
Our first match, on Friday February 15 [1980], saw an untrained but enthusiastic team battle their way to their first loss. As very few members of the group have ever played volley ball [sic] before we cannot really be expected to do much better than this at the moment.33
After a rare victory in July, management of Chaps – a gay bar at the Chevron Hotel where the team would regularly have post-game drinks – 'shouted Champagne all around'.34
The Young Gays Film Collective was another sub-group to emerge out of the larger collective.35 It would meet every Tuesday evening:
We're moving quickly towards finalizing a film-script – the ideas are flowing in about what people would like to see in the film/video on homosexuality being prepared for senior high school students . . . We know that it's going to be provocative, but we need it to be eligible for a 'G' Classification so it has access to a large number of schools. Recent discussions have centred on the rationale for the film – its impact on students, promotion of the 'ordinariness' of homosexuality, helping students to come out, and altering the ideas regarding stereotypes.36
The Young Gays who participated in this group prefigured the progressive turn towards community arts-based approaches in same sex attracted youth services developed two decades later. The film and theatre- based work of Y-GLAM (1998-) provides perhaps the most well-known example of Victorian queer youth arts-based work, while such approaches are now being taken up by a variety of queer youth services, such as the involvement of YAK/Family Planning Victoria in the production of recent films Why's it called Gay? (2006) and Not So Straight (2010).37 The Young Gays Film Collective demonstrated a cultural inventiveness around notions of queer peer-topeer pedagogy that is only now beginning to be reflected in relevant policy and theory. Through such 'peer-to-peer pedagogy', by which refers to relationships of learning that occur between young people of similar ages, Young Gays represents a valuing of young people's agency which is still seen some thirty years on as cutting edge practice in many youth and education services.
In February 1980, members also tried to establish a Young Gays group in Geelong, driven in part by the experiences of some members who grew up outside of Melbourne.38 Again, these efforts prefigure the future to come almost a quarter of a century later with
the establishment of regional same sex attracted youth groups such as WayOut, the Central Victorian Youth & Sexual Diversity Project.39
Further extending the queer peer pedagogical efforts represented by the aspirations of its film collective, Young Gays organized the distribution of information packs to high schools which included copies of the groundbreaking Young, Gay and Proud as well as copies of the leaflet: 'What to do when you meet a homosexual.' The pack included a covering letter urging the book to be placed on unrestricted loan in the library and offering to send speakers to schools. Some schools stocked the booklet and 'half a dozen speaking tours were organized'.40 In March 1980, Alison Thorne reported that:
[Young Gays'] collection of letters to school principals around the issue of Young, Gay and Proud are nearly ready to send off. We hope this collection, which comprises personal letters to our old principal and a cover letter explaining the purpose, will be well received.41
In addition to the high profile of the group in the range of political activities associated with the Summer Offensive in Melbourne, members participated in other demonstrations throughout 1980, marching under the 'Young Gays are Proud' banner42 for workers' rights (May Day), women's rights (protesting at a Right To Life demonstration), nuclear disarmament, peace and the environment (an anti-uranium protest on Friday 3 October 1980 in the Treasury Gardens,43 and for Gay Equality (as part of the Homosexual Law Reform Campaign of 1980).44 They also organized in August 1980 a workshop to swap ideas with other gay youth groups in other cities at the Sixth National Conference for Lesbians and Homosexual Men. While the participation of Young Gays in these diverse political movements reflected a loose coalitionist expression of left politics that in many ways characterises dissident activism of the period, the involvement of the group in such a diverse range of political causes provides a historical point of comparison to the situation of queer youth groups and political activity today.
For Calder, Young Gays' 'most dramatic political action' was the Ashley's Boycott. Ashley's was a popular gay and lesbian venue in Smith St, Fitzroy. On 14 May 1980, the women's toilets of the venue sustained damage. Gay Community News reported that in response to this damage the venue's promoter
addressed patrons on the PA system concerning the vandalism. Numbers of people present claim the tone of Walsh's [the promoter's] remarks became abusively sexist . . . lesbians who were leaving the venue were told . . . that they would be denied entrance in future unless accompanied by a gay man.45
That Saturday (17 May 1980), Young Gays voted to commence a boycott. Over one hundred people picketed Ashley's on 21 May, reducing patronage from 400 to 60, with the demonstrators demanding that management revoke the discriminatory policy and sack the promoter. Protestors chanted 'Gay rights, not right-wing gays!' and Gay Community News highlighted the promoter's favourite slogan : 'I'm proud to be a rightwing gay'. While management stepped back from the proposed discriminatory door policy, they refused to sack the promoter so Young Gays vowed to maintain the boycott.
The following Wednesday night (28 May 1980) Calder recalls that demonstrators were greeted by a 'group of men' who 'pushed and threatened' them, tore their placards and leaflets from their hands and chased them down the street. Police 'just turned their backs'.46 Despite the breaking of the picket, attendance never picked up and Ashley's closed for a short period.47
Calder describes how there was significant division within Young Gays group generated by the boycott: 'this division seemed to fall down previously undefined factional lines'.48 The boycott helped solidify a politics/social support split in the group, as reflected in the words of a leaflet produced by some members of Young Gays critical of the boycott:
Please read this Leaflet . . . All participants in the demonstration are asked to read this leaflet. The signatories are participants in Young Gays. We call ourselves by different lables [sic]: socialist, radical, reformist, and unaligned. We consider ourselves as activists in the Gay Community. A Young Gays meeting, without opposition, endorsed the leaflet calling for this demonstration. The meeting did this on the basis of Second Hand Information. The facts of last Wednesday night are still unclear . . . The signatories are in disagreement on the question of whether this demonstration is needed. However, we agree that:
Young Gays should not be involved in the organization of the demonstration. Its primary work should be as a social and Support group.
Gays Wishing to Patronise Ashley's Should not be Harrassed . . . Gay activists should be seen to be part of the Gay Community, Not an Attack on our community.49
Advocates of the social support role for Young Gays sought to formalize a split from direct political action by calling on members involved in such actions to do so under a different name – Radical Gay Youth – although Calder suggests such a group never really got off the ground.50 No compromise was reached between the different camps and as a result attendance at the weekly Saturday meetings began to drop.51
While a consequence of the Ashley's Boycott was a more explicit factionalisation of Young Gays into 'political' members and 'social support' members, it also brought into relief the troubled gender politics of the group. As Calder recounts, Young Gays had 'proportionally fewer women than men in it' ('women comprised approximately 10-20% of the group'), although many of the women who were involved were influential in the group.52
While Calder proffers a number of reasons for women's low participation – men come out earlier and women have other options for community participation through the Women's Movement – he does concede, however, that women left because of sexist attitudes and practices.53 In this context, explains Calder, the Ashley's Boycott was important for Young Gays in order to try and counter negative perceptions of the group within lesbian communities. The fact, then, that the boycott brought on a split in the group represented not only a failure to reconcile broad views about whether or not the group should have a political or a social support role, but it also demonstrated the
difficulties experienced by the group in trying to create a coalitionist endeavour which paid serious attention to questions of gender and power.
To counter the drop in numbers and energy that accompanied the fallout from the Ashley's Boycott, the group decided to embark upon a 'Fun Revolution'. This involved devoting a Saturday meeting, replete with 'streamers and party hats' to planning the 'aims of the fun revolution'. This led to social activities being planned for most Saturdays for the remainder of 1980. These included parties, a visit to the Pompeii Exhibition at the
National Gallery of Victoria, a softball afternoon at Royal Park, a canoeing day at Studley Park, a Pinball Parlour day, bowling, candle-making, a trip to Ebony Quill coffee shop, a trip to Luna Park, and a trip to Como House.54 Sessions with invited speakers were organised (e.g. 'alcohol and its effects, and its relationship with the gay community', 'gays and the law,' 'sado-masochism' and 'sexism and lesbian separatism') and the group tried to support the establishment of smaller Young Gay Support Groups to let people relax more in smaller group settings, although, while a couple started, they 'didn't proceed a great deal'. The group also started producing its own newsletter – the Lavender Sheet – in an effort to improve communication with prospective and disengaging members.55
By September 1980, the group had reached a crisis and some members called for a 'new structure' for the group to counter the 'ever decreasing number of people prepared to take responsibility'. The group moved to a more formal committee structure with members holding portfolio responsibilities for publicity, Fun Revolution activities, the Lavender Sheet, discussion groups/monthly discussions, fundraising and Sunday outings. The new structure suggested two-month terms with people getting a one-month break, but too few people were interested in joining the committee.56 Just over a year after the group started to meet, Young Gays held its First Birthday Party in Fitzroy's St Mark's Hall (4 October 1980). Attracting around 200 people, the day included workshops on topics such as 'Coming Out' and 'Gays Coping with Parents Coping with Gays'; film screenings, including 'Witches and Faggots, Dykes and Poofters'; and a range of other free activities such as volleyball and table-tennis. An evening dance followed, held at Trophy Hall, Melbourne University.57
In February 1981, only a few months after these celebrations, Gay Community News declared Young Gays 'dead'.58 The key reasons put forward for the group's dissolution recall the issues encapsulated by the boycott of Ashley's. Broadly, members decided to disband the group 'since it no longer seemed to be fulfilling its original objectives . . . to be a social-support group'.59 In particular,
Some members felt that the group's failure to attract and sustain the presence of women at meetings was sufficient cause for the group to disband. It was also reported that the telephone services, especially the Women's Switchboard and Gayline, were reluctant to refer their young callers to Young Gays . . . Another widely-held view was that Young Gays was seen as too political by the wider gay community. This was attributed to the picket of Ashleys . . . Interestingly, this same promoter has been heard to claim responsibility for the demise of Young Gays.60
Finishing his account, Calder provides a brief reflection on the 'The Failure of Structurelessness'. From its inception, Young Gays had deliberately eschewed any explicit organizational structure. This was partly due to negative experiences members had had of the bureaucratic, procedural and exclusionary approaches encountered at the National Homosexual Conference at which the group was founded. In discussing the structure of meetings, a Young Gays column in Gay Community News stresses that:
We want to avoid heavies, elitists and cliques and thus prevent the alienation of young gays who have a lack of experience in handling their ideas and own points of view at formal meetings.61
To such ends, the group avoided formal processes such as rules, minute-taking and electing a chair.62 These efforts sought to increase participation around an egalitarian model of collective organising although, in practice, 'a few individuals and ideologies' did, indeed, provide 'the leadership for the group'.63
A decision to pursue affiliation with the Victorian Association of Youth Clubs in April 1980 (in order to access its resources) generated the first discussions about introducing structure. Affiliation required each group to 'comply to certain structural guidelines'. The group had intended to 'present the "necessary façade"', however 'when the affiliation plans failed to proceed beyond the paper stage, discussions about structure were once again shelved'.64 The question of structure was pursued most vigorously in September 1980 with efforts to introduce a rotating portfolio system, although this failed to attract new people to take on responsibilities.
For Calder, the dissolution of the group posed important questions for future gay and lesbian groups about the need for some type of formal structure. Structure, he argues, is important in order to avoid alienating members by having meetings which routinely get bogged down in long, repetitive discussions about minor operational tasks and responsibilities.
In Calder's discussion about the low participation of women in the group, he provides examples of a number of strategies that could have been undertaken in order to improve the situation, such as advertising more through women's media and venues, establishing a lesbian caucus, and better targeting activities and discussions to address young lesbians interests.65 Presumably, had the group had more of the structure which Calder points towards in 1985, it may have had an increased capacity to develop and implement these strategies, suggesting that a turn towards a more structured approach might generate benefits not only in terms of group longevity, but also in terms of enhancing the capacity of the group to operate in longer-term, strategic ways.66
Apart from the lack of structure, other key reasons identified by Calder to explain the group's demise include the failure to resolve disputes over the group's rationale following the Ashley's Boycott; the fact that perhaps being in the group for 6-12 months 'was long enough to meet most people's needs'; and the lack of support the group received:
Young Gays effectively received no support from anywhere. Certainly they were a proudly independent group, yet had support been offered, it most likely would have been accepted. Where such support was needed was in finding a permanent venue and in the basic administration of running and advertising itself. Without this being organised meant that the group was constantly responding to problems.67


In 1985, Bill Calder wrote Lavender Youth to tell the story of Young Gays, because, in his words, gay and lesbian youth groups 'seem to appear almost annually and any accumulated knowledge of the preceeding [sic] one is largely lost'.68 This loss of collective memory of LGBT youth groups remains a strong feature of the field. This is due to many factors which have been in play since the inception of Young Gays and persist, with some important differences, today. They include: the heavy casualisation and high staff turnover in the youth sector; the high turnover of young people's involvement in groups; and the public heath focus of the majority of political and financial support that issues of youth and sexuality attract.
Today, the sheer increase in the volume of public activity around queer youth issues is working to create a space for questions about history to be asked and the availability of new information and social media technologies provides young people, educators and youth workers with tools for the production and dissemination of group histories.69 Significantly, the emergence since the 1970s of dedicated (non-medical) researchers working in both funded (e.g. tenured) and community capacities in the broad interdisciplinary field of Australian sexualities studies, as well as the establishment of premiere collections such as that held by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, means that there are now more resources than ever before available for investigating the important questions that emanate from a history of queer youth and education in Australia.
Some work, in different disciplinary contexts, has sought to work against the loss of memory which Calder refers to,70 still broadly relevant 25 years on, although a more detailed wider historical reflection is called for. Calder's account raises a series of important, key questions that point towards fundamental concerns of a history of youth, queer sexualities and education in Australia. Departing from his observations about the group's lack of structure and his implicit critique of 1970s collectivist approaches to political organizing on the left, a key concern for this history must be an examination of the different conceptions of LGBT youth groups, how they have changed over time and what the effects of these changes have been.
Since the late 1990s, Victoria has seen a massive increase in the number of same sex attracted youth groups, supported largely by STI-awareness72 and HIV-prevention funding and routinely administered through community health and youth services. To be sure, in a general sense, queer youth groups today have a version of the structure that Calder calls for, although this structure is still rendered weak by the fragile funding
environment for these groups. The history that this article gestures towards offers an opportunity to reflect on the achievement of this level of structure from the historical perspective of forerunners like Young Gays, and to question the costs and the benefits of such structure. Indeed, in the context of the critique of health approaches advanced by scholars working in queer and sexualities studies in education, such a historical analysis would bring a rich dimension to current debates on deficit and the disciplining effects of the privileged role provided to health in the expansion of queer youth services over the past 15 or so years.
Similarly, Calder dedicated the proceeds for his booklet to the National Network of Young Lesbians and Gay Men, but the middle of the 1980s and the first years of the Grid/Aids73 pandemic must have provided a starkly different context for organizing around issues of youth and homosexual sex. By examining the different relationships between different generations of LGBT youth formations, we can bring into relief some of these differences over the past forty years
This historical work also seeks to enrich the field of youth policy studies more generally by contributing to the collective memory around young people, policy and programmatic interventions. In a contemporary policy context where youth participation approaches and the promotion of youth-directed community work are key goals under government funding guidelines,71 reflecting on the way in which young people were innovating these techniques themselves with no government or service support over thirty years ago, makes an important contribution to the history of youth in Australia.
While a history of youth, queer sexualities and education would highlight differences over time in group formations and the various effects of these differences, such a history would also necessarily historicise and contextualise understandings of education. The informal teaching and learning work happening among members of Young Gays from their implicitly educational work of facilitating their own collective discussions around their experiences of sexualities in society to their explicit educational work of developing and providing resources to schools – demonstrates the way in which the experiences of these young people depart from straightforward interpretations of education which largely consider it to be a synonym for schooling and school-based learning. In this way, histories of groups like Young Gays provide an insight into the innovative development of queer peer-to-peer pedagogical practices at a time when the public discourse on schools and gay and lesbian rights was beginning to flourish. As the case of Young Gays makes clear, the activist collective comes into focus as an exemplary learning space, not only in the sense that those young people who participated in the group learned things through their involvement in it, but also in the contemporary context where the Young Gays episode speaks in instructive ways to contemporary developments in the fields of queer youth services and education.
Importantly, the history of youth, queer sexualities and education in Australia must be told not only so that we can learn from the past and so that the past may illuminate the future, but also because the act of memorialisation brings into relief those
figures struggling at the margins of history whose contributions can often be left out of history's major narratives. In his account of the split in Young Gays following the Ashley's Boycott, Calder refers to a caucus of the main group constituting the more political members of Young Gays – Radical Gay Youth – which never really got off the ground. In the archive file for Young Gays is a piece of Radical Gay Youth correspondence, featuring the signatures of about a dozen young activists. Among the signatures are the names of Alison Thorne, Tim Conigrave and John Caleo. Within a few years, Thorne, by then a teacher, would be engulfed by a media firestorm over her comments about children and sex; and Conigrave and Caleo would go on to be diagnosed with HIV.
Through these figures, Young Gays appears almost like a brief moment of political promise, with the first generation of post-Gay Liberation youth already organizing themselves to change their world at the dawn of a decade in which everything would change so rapidly. Quickly relationships between youth, queer sexualities and education would again become overdetermined by conflations of homosexuality with paedophilia and disease. As a kind of Back to the Future moment, there is little doubt that the reinforcement of these conflations that occurred throughout the 1980s in Australia exercise an ongoing influence on contemporary discourses of youth, queer sexualities and education. And this is why a historical turn in regard to these matters will enrich contemporary debates.
* I would like to thank Bill Calder for his comments on a draft of this article and also for his permission to reproduce material for his booklet, Lavender Youth. I am also grateful to Graham Willett, John Arnold and Gary Jaynes for their assistance and suggestions.


See Graham Willett, Living Out Loud: a history of Gay and Lesbian activism in Australia, St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 2000. See also Liz Ross, 'We were Catalysts for Change . . .', Journal of Lesbian Studies, vol. 13, no. 4, October 2009, pp. 442-60.


Ibid, p. 95.


See Jeremy Fisher, 'Into the light', Overland, 2008, (accessed 19 November 2010).


See Graham Willett, '"Proud and Employed": the Gay and Lesbian Movement and the Victorian Teachers' Unions in the 1970s', Labour History, no. 76, May 1999, pp. 78-94. See pp. 80-81 for the discussion of Short.


For example, see Gary Jaynes, 'Young, Gay and Proud: twenty years on', in Michael Crowhurst and Mic Emslie, eds, Young People and Sexualities: experiences, perspectives and service provision, Melbourne: Youth Research Centre, University of Melbourne, 2000; Daniel Marshall, 'Young, Gay and Proud in Retrospect: sexual politics, community activism and pedagogical intervention', Traffic, no. 6, 2005, pp. 161-187; and Steven Angelides, '"The Continuing Homosexual Offensive": sex education, Gay rights, and homosexual recruitment', in Shirleene Robinson, ed., Homophobia: an Australian history, Annandale, NSW: Federation Press, 2008.


It would necessarily be a history of queer sexualities, and not gay and lesbian, because the range of activities, interventions and individuals involved in the anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist work at the centre of such a history are not exhaustively and properly addressed by terms like 'gay', 'lesbian' or any other identitarian label. One example of this is the fact that some young people involved in queer youth groups eschew labels or identify as queer heterosexual 'allies'. This terminological volatility and definitional instability is an integral component to telling the history.


Young, Gay and Proud, Melbourne: Gay Teachers' and Students' Group, 1978.


Bill Calder, Lavender Youth: a history of Melbourne Young Gays Sep 79 – Jan 81, [Melbourne]: The Author, 1985. Hereafter LY . This article focuses on Calder's account. The copy I used for this research is held in the ALGA Ephemera Collection.


The workshop was listed in the conference program as running from 2 – 3pm Saturday September 1st, in Room 19. See Newsletter of the 5th National Homosexual Conference, no. 6, p. 14.


LY, p. 5.


Ibid, p. 3.




Timothy Conigrave, Holding the Man, Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin Books, 1996. See pp. 133-134 for Conigrave's account of the Young Gays' motion. I am grateful to Gary Jaynes for bringing this reference to my attendtion.


LY, p. 5.




Graham and Grant, Young Gays, 'Young Gays' [The Network], Gay Community News, vol. 1, no. 2, December 1979-January 1980, pp. 31-32.


Young Gays, 'Dear Gay Community News', letter, Gay Community News, vol. 1, no. 2, December 1979-January 1980, p. 30.


LY, p. 15.


Ibid, p. 16.


'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 1, no. 1, November 1979, p. 11.


The exact date is unclear, but based on other specified dates it seems that it occurred in November 1979 and early 1980; Calder refers to a trip that occurred during the 'summer of 77-80' but I assume this is meant to be 1979-1980.


Conigrave, Holding the Man, pp. 135-136.


LY, p. 6.


Ibid, pp. 6-7.


'On the Move with Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 10, December 1980, p. 16.


See Alison Thorne, 'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 2, March 1980, p. 21.


Willett, Living Out Loud, pp. 138-142.


LY, p. 8. See also Alison Thorne, 'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 1, February 1980, p. 27.


LY, pp. 10-11.


Ibid, pp. 8, 12.


Alison Thorne, 'Young Gays' Corner', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 5, June 1980, p. 5.


'Young Gays Face the Ball', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 2, March 1980, p. 6.


Alison Thorne, 'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 2, March 1980, p. 21.


LY, p. 14.


'Young Gays Film Collective', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 2, March 1980, p. 21.


Michael Toucak, 'Young Gays' Corner: Film Collective', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 5, June 1980, p. 5. See also 'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 7, August 1980, p. 29.


For further information about Y-GLAM see Merri Community Health Services, Youth Health Team, 2009, 'Y-GLAM Performing Arts Project', (accessed 19 November 2010).


LY, pp. 14, 27; 'Geelong Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 1, February 1980, p. 8. A month later, however, the group was encouraging young gays in Geelong to join the Geelong Male Homosexual and Lesbian support group instead of trying to establish a separate group (see Alison Thorne, 'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 2, March 1980, p. 21).


See WayOut History, WayOut Rural Victorian Youth and Sexual Diversity Project, 'WayOut History', (accessed 19 November 2010).


LY, p. 16.


Alison Thorne, 'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 2, March 1980, p. 21.


LY, p. 15.


Ibid, p. 23.


Ibid, p. 16. And for an image of the Young Gays banner at an anti-uranium march see, 'And Now We Are One', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 9, November 1980, p. 13.


For this episode, see Gary Jaynes and Warren Talbot, 'Anger at Ashley's: Sexist Outburst Brings Sharp Response', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 5, June 1980, pp. 4-5.


LY, p. 17.




Ibid, p. 18.


Ibid, p. 19. Capitalization as in the original.






Ibid, p. 20.




Ibid, p. 22.




Ibid, pp. 23, 26.


Ibid, p. 24. See also 'Young Gays Birthday', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 7, August 1980, p. 13; also see 'And Now We Are One', Gay Community News, vol. 2, no. 9, November 1980, p. 13.


Paul Miller, 'Young Gays Dissolves', Gay Community News, vol. 3, no. 1, February 1981, p. 19.






'Young Gays', Gay Community News, vol. 1, no. 1, November 1979, p. 11.


LY, p. 26.






Ibid, p. 20.


Ibid, p. 26.


Ibid, p. 27.


Ibid, p. 1.


For example, see


For example, see Daniel Marshall, 'Working with Same Sex Attracted and Transgender Young People: a consultation with workers across Victoria', Melbourne: Social Policy Branch, Department of Human Services, 2005.


For example, see Youth Participation and Access, Department of Planning and Community Development, 2010, 'Youth Participation and Access', (accessed 19 November 2010).