Homophobia: Towards writing an Australian history

Date of this Version


Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Details

Interim status: Citation only.

Robinson, S. (2008). Homophobia: Towards writing an Australian history. Paper presented at the Australian Historical Association biennial conference: Locating history, Melbourne, Australia.

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© Copyright Shirleene Robinson, 2008


Homophobia and heterosexism tend to be treated as a historically specific set of prejudices that emerged in the late 1970s, just as the movement for gay and lesbian liberation made significant gains within the western world. This is an erroneous perception. Although the language to describe ‘homophobia’ emerged in the aftermath of the gay liberation movement, it is clear that homophobia as a set of prejudices and fears about same-sex desire is inextricably linked to a growing awareness of same-sex sexual activity. There was both a notable gay subculture and significant mainstream awareness of same-sex desire in Australia from the nineteenth century onwards. A particularly Australian type of homophobia emerged in tandem with this. This paper asks how historical circumstances saw Australian homophobia evolve differently to homophobia in other settler societies. It maintains that homophobia is a culturally contingent category and questions whether a study of the history of homophobia in Australia can shed light on contemporary Australian homophobia. Can an awareness of the nature and history of this particular prejudice assist the contemporary GLBT movement in Australia?

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