The promise of belonging

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  • Published 20130724
  • ISBN: 9781922079985
  • Extent: 288pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

MARDI GRAS IS a time of high emotion. When a Tasmanian contingent marched in the parade for the first time in the mid-1990s, a Sydney reporter wrote that the crowd’s reception ‘was like thunder rolling up Oxford Street’. Tasmania was then the only Australian state still to criminalise homosexuality. The campaign to repeal those old laws had involved the UN, the Federal Parliament and the High Court. It had been reported around the world and had even sparked a boycott of Tasmanian products. The crowd had found its favourite.

But I have a stronger memory from that march than the thundering throngs. It is of men and women stretching out their arms across the pedestrian barriers as if to touch the Tasmanians, or at least catch our attention. But these weren’t celebrity seekers. These older men and women had tears rolling down their cheeks. One called out ‘I’m Tasmanian and I had to leave twenty years ago.’ Another shouted ‘I had to get out and I can never go back.’ These were sexual refugees. Oxford Street had given them asylum, and I’m sure they were grateful for that. But Oxford Street’s promise of freedom was not fulfilled. They were cut off from the place that had made them who they are. They carried with them always the prison from which they’d fled.

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