My father's freedom to be gay - The Centre for Independent Studies
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My father’s freedom to be gay

Sydney is busy gearing up for the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this weekend. This vibrant celebration of homosexuality is a mark of the freedom we now have in Australia to choose whom and how we love and express ourselves. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a fairly recent development in our history, and that we still have quite some way to go in appreciating that tolerance is one of the hallmarks of a free society.

Less than 10 years ago, my father was savagely attacked by a group of homophobic young men for the crime of being a late-in-life homosexual. My sister and I only learned of the attack some weeks later when he was in hospital in intensive care for an unrelated condition-alerted by a kind nurse who felt that we should know what had happened to our elegantly spoken, quiet, chess-loving father.

He had practiced Judo at black belt level for many years and was too humiliated to tell his daughters that at the age of 71, and after a stroke, he had been unable to defend himself against a group of jackbooted thugs hell bent on hate crime. He sustained broken ribs and massive bruising to his torso, which was still black and blue when he was admitted to hospital. He died in intensive care so we were never able to discuss the attack with him.

In the late 1960s, my father felt obligated to marry and give the outward appearance of heterosexuality, and thus morality and acceptability in the eyes of society and the law. Decriminalisation of homosexuality did not begin in Australia until the mid-1970s, a few years after my parents married and after my sister and I were born. Tasmania only repealed its sodomy laws in 1997-under duress from the federal government and United Nations.

Having repressed his authentic self for most of his life, my father’s final few years of freedom after coming out were a joy and relief to him (the attack notwithstanding) and he was happier than I had ever known him to be.

We may have the freedom to celebrate homosexuality today in Australia but many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East still hold consensual homosexual sex as a criminal offence, attracting the death penalty is some cases.

While Mardi Gras was too flamboyant and loud for my conservative father’s tastes, I know he felt great pride in being open and free to be himself.

So, happy Mardi Gras, Australia. Let’s not take our freedoms for granted.