William Edwards dug through the archives (again).
“At 4:23 am on Monday April 27, 1976 militant gay liberation forces stormed the offices of the well-known subversive news-rag Honi Soit and commandeered issue 10 for their own purposes. A number of heterosexuals (the SRC does have a few) were exterminated in the bloodbath.”
Thus starts the best editorial ever written: that of Honi Soit Homosexual Issue, published May 4th 1976. Other highlights include the execution of Honi’s then editor Michael Gormly, the kidnapping of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, a vow to eliminate all straight media, and a declaration of “World Homosexual Revolution!”
The Homosexual Issue (hereafter referred to as Homo Soit) wasn’t this well-known subversive rag’s first foray into gay journalism, but it was the first time an entire issue was “almost exclusively homosexual” in creation and content. A reductive interpretation would describe Homo Soit as a forerunner to modern Queer Honi. I interpret it as so much more.
When Homo Soit was published no anti-discrimination laws protected gay people, consensual gay sex was a crime punishable by fourteen years imprisonment, and someone who killed a gay person could use their victim’s sexuality as a legal defence, reducing a murder charge to manslaughter or receiving an outright acquittal. Given this legal hostility—which is to say nothing of the dangerous, sometimes fatal, social hostility gay people experienced then as now—the creation of Homo Soit required great bravery. Editor Jean Rhodes, her editorial collaborators, and the writers publicly and irreversibly attached their names to life-changing stigma. In a way it’s surprising the issue was ever printed.
In another way it’s less surprising. Honi in 1976 was a radically left-wing newspaper, dominated by articles about socialist revolution, feminism, and Sydney University’s campaign for a Department of Political Economy. Articles about gay liberation, though less often than any of the above, were published with some frequency. Honi backed foreign revolutionaries, it backed feminists, and it backed hard done by academics; it wasn’t out of character for Honi to back gay people too.
Decades later, Honi’s backing is an interesting read. Exploring the relationships between 70s gays and sport, classics, pop culture, parenting, Christianity, revolutionary socialism, education, law, feminism, polyamory, straights, and each other, Homo Soit is as diverse as it is brave, as entertaining as historic. What follows is a brief celebration of this gay old rag, and my love of gays, history, and gay history manifest in inky form for your reading pleasure.
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A purple-filtered photograph of two women kissing, captioned: “HOW DARE YOU PRESUME I AM A HETEROSEXUAL”. The front cover of Homo Soit is striking, militant, and unambiguous. The paper as a whole follows suit.
Over the page, the aforementioned editorial looms large, labelling readers “liberal heterosexist deadshits” and announcing that “gun in hand… our glorious millennium will begin, all heterosexuals being painfully oppressed into oblivion.” Several letters to the editor celebrate the issue’s existence less violently, my personal favourite complaining “that this does not happen every issue. I am sure that the quality of the paper would be much improved if all workers on and contributors to Honi Soit were homosexual.” Quite right.
Thereafter comes 22 pages of print media’s flesh and blood: articles and advertisements. 70s Honi was simply bursting with ads, far more so than contemporary Honi. While most of these are perfectly uninteresting, a large number of gay ads are heartening. Among them: a monthly newspaper called Campaign offers subscriptions for under $1 per month, a Gay Liberation dance raises money for Elsie Women’s Refuge and Rape Crisis Centre, and registration to attend the Second National Homosexual Conference is open.
Most of the articles are keenly intelligent, treating their subjects with a degree of consideration and a sense of purpose which, in my opinion, far exceeds the bulk of contemporary queer writing. That opinion may seem odd, given the popular view of gay history as linear—everything was terrible for the gays until a string of prophets: Garland, Madonna, Gaga, and Macklemore, shattered our chains—but it is wholly earnest.
Over a quarter of Homo Soit is filled with content about womanhood, lesbianism, and feminism. An article titled ‘Lesbian Feminist Collective’ explains the need for intersectional approaches (some years before the term intersectionality was coined) to feminism and gay liberation, and contains lyrics to a poignant song titled ‘Lesbian Nation’. Another article, ‘Woman Power’, features a rather extensive lesbian bibliography, while ‘Lesbian Mother’ expertly debunks every argument against same-sex parenting still being used today.
The majority of articles apply equally to gay men and women. The title of ‘Bolshie Dyke Commie Poofter’—a history of the relationship between homosexuality and socialism, featuring a portrait of Vladimir Lenin demanding straights “Release Oscar Wilde! Release all imprisoned homosexuals”—nicely illustrates this sense of inclusiveness. The contrast between that facetious title-picture combination and the militancy of the article proper is reflective of the whole paper, which deftly balances the gravity and seriousness of gay liberation with the humour and sensibility of gay culture.
On the graver side, ‘Education’ critically interrogates how the NSW education system marginalises gay students; the problems it illuminates remain unsolved today, its recommendations still as applicable. Whereas on the lighter side, ‘Gay Sport’ uses humour to highlight the glaring homoeroticism resident in that beloved stronghold of toxic masculinity: the sporting field.
A final mention. ‘Homosexuals and the Law’ analyses legal discrimination against gay people, violence against them, the aggressiveness of male sexuality, and the limitations of law reform as a path to equality. The writer, Lex Watson, synthesises these ideas to great effect, linking them into a coherent and persuasive whole. Readers are enlightened not only about anti-women and anti-gay violence, but also about their shared causes. I’ve dwelled on this article, one gem among many, because it demonstrates the intellect and passion for change which led Watson to become a key figure of gay liberation in Sydney. He later founded ACON, an HIV/AIDS education, support, and advocacy organisation which saved and continues to save innumerable lives.
I will always be grateful to the gay activists who earned the freedoms I enjoy, and to Honi Soit for giving them a platform.
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There is no mass socialising force to teach the next generation of gays their history. Schools, families, and religions fulfil this function for straights, yet in most cases they obscure gay knowledge through ignorance, malice, or both. That is why gay people must proactively seek their past. And Homo Soit is part of that past. It is a rare insight into one of the most widely ignored (and when acknowledged, usually misunderstood) aspects of human knowledge.
It’s also wonderfully entertaining. Homo Soit was the product of militant, intelligent, and witty people, and that shows on every page. Read it. You will be a better person for the experience. And if my endorsement isn’t enough, the following letter to the editor, published some weeks after Homo Soit, is very persuasive.
The blatant bias evident throughout the year climaxed with the ‘Homo Honi’ of several weeks ago… By my somewhat less than wholehearted support of homosexuality I am, of course, displaying my seduction by the evil establishment, and my unnatural conformity to the unreal concepts of the past… However, ignoring the relative virtues of homosexuality, with what justification did ‘Honi’ devote a whole issue to it? Why should one pressure group be privileged ahead of all the others? If the rationale behind the decision was thrust home to its logical conclusion, then issues should be devoted to every group of crackpots on campus…