Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity

Hannah: Alison Laurie is the Programme Director of Gender and Women's Studies at Victoria University. Alison is a long-time activist. Alison, as an activist, tell us a little bit about that.

Alison Laurie: Well, where should I begin? I come from Wellington. My background is Māori and Pākehā. My father's people come from the South Island, and they were Māori and Cornish, and my mother's people were Scottish and from the Channel Islands. Yeah. They were all rather interesting people with a lot of initiative and that sort of thing.

So I suppose when I came along, and of course I'm part of the baby boom generation, we're the generation who grew up in the aftermath of World War II, and the question then was that we were told that the Second World War had been fought for us. We got everything, really. Free milk in schools, apples, free education, free medical, and so we kind of grew up with a sense of entitlement. So I think throughout the world, really, when my generation came of age and understood that we were going to be discriminated against because we were queer or because we were women or because of our ethnic background, or any of those kinds of reasons, this is where you get the big social movements of the 1960s, that people began meeting together and saying, well, this is not acceptable, and working out ways that we could do something about it.

Now, that's not to say that people didn't do things before. There's a long trail that goes right back, especially in terms of queer activism, a long trail that goes back at least to the mid-nineteenth century, with people who fought very hard to overcome discrimination, to try to get the laws changed, to try to make a difference.

The interesting thing is that as we started coming of age in the 1960s, we didn't know about any of that because that was all a hidden history for us. We weren't being taught about that. It took a long time before we could begin to uncover the fact that there had been people before us, and those people had actually had quite developed politics, and that we had a great deal to learn from them. So that was important, too, and I suppose it's also been important to my generation that we left a very good trail so that that kind of invisibility would not happen as easily again. Doesn't mean it's not going to happen, but.... And part of doing things like this recording is all part of that, too, that we leave as many traces as we can in as many ways as we can so that something is sure to survive, and people in the future will know who was here and what we thought about it and what we tried to change, and where we succeeded and where we didn't, and they can learn from that as well.

So, in the '60s it was very difficult. For any male homosexual behavior, men could go to prison for seven years, and they did, and we knew people who did. And the police entrapped them and they would fall into those traps and they'd be taken off to prison.

For lesbians there wasn't actually a law about sex between women, except the 1961 Crimes Act did add in lesbianism for the first time by criminalizing women over 21 with girls under 16, which you could agree with. But once you put a definition into law you can play around with those ages, so that was a bit of a concern, especially since there were people who thought, why should women get away with this?

Hannah: What age were you then?

Alison: Well, coming into my 20s.

Hannah: So you were really aware of what was happening to gay men, as well as the Crimes Act that included lesbians.

Alison: Oh yeah, yeah, we were absolutely aware of that. And the thing then, although men organized here with the Dorian Society, they wouldn't have lesbians as members, so we couldn't belong to that.

And also you had 6 o’clock closing. You know, students frequently say to me, oh, tell us about the lesbian bars in the 1950s in New Zealand, because they've been reading a lot of history from America. In New Zealand, after 1918, you had 6 o’clock closing and pubs were shut on Sundays, and the legislation around alcohol was very strict. You couldn't serve food in pubs, for example; you couldn't have any entertainment – this was all thought to encourage people to drink.

And women were not served in the public bar. Women could be served in ladies and escort's bars, called cat's bars, where the alcohol cost twice as much as in the public bar, and the idea of ladies and escorts was to help prevent prostitution, because really only prostitutes would want to go into pubs, you see.

So really there weren't many places that lesbians could meet publicly except for coffee bars. There were a number of coffee bars, and we were lucky in the post-war period that a lot of people had fled Europe, especially Jewish people, who'd come to New Zealand, and when they arrived, from the '30s onward, they were fairly horrified to see that there was...[interrupted]

Hannah: [laughing] No coffee.

Alison: ...well, so little here, and so they started delicatessens and coffee bars and things like that. So gradually we got a few amenities like that. And these coffee bars, in particular like the Ca d' Oro in Auckland and the Tête-à-Tête here [Wellington], became important meeting places for us, and we called ourselves kamp. We didn't really call ourselves queer; that was regarded as a term of derision. And lesbians didn't use the term lesbian; that was also a word you wouldn't use.

Hannah: Oh. When did lesbian come into use?

Alison: Not until the 1970s with lesbian feminist politics, which is a whole different question. So we called ourselves kamp, and the etymology of that is probably... Normally, we thought it was spelled with a K, and it was used in Australia as well. The etymology of that was said to be that it stood for "known as male prostitute," and it was an abbreviation used by the New South Wales police on files of men who were suspected of being homosexuals.

Hannah: So women used that term as well.

Alison: We used that as well, yeah, yeah. So that was the term we used.

So we largely would meet at private parties, and we became aware of some of the overseas organizations. We became aware of The Daughters of Bilitis and their magazine, The Ladder, and we then became aware of the Minorities Research Group in London, producing Arena Three. It was very difficult – almost impossible – to subscribe to these things because you couldn't get foreign currency very easily to send off and subscribe to them, but it was easier with the British one.

So, I’d spent time in Australia. I ran away to Australia, actually, when I was 17.

Hannah: What did your parents think about that?

Alison: Well, they'd found this woman in my wardrobe.

Hannah: [laughing] Oh, goodness!

Alison: So, it kind of...

Hannah: So, literally out of the closet.

[laughter]

Alison: Very literally, yes.

Hannah: What was their reaction? Was it like: you're crazy! or, you'll go to jail; or, what have we done?

Alison: No, no, no. My parents both worked, and my friend lived with an uncle and aunt here, and I lived at home, and I had just started at University – that was the end of my first attempt to come to University. And so because my parents both worked we would drive there in her car – she had a car – and that's where we could be together. But the neighbors had suggested to my parents that I had a man that I was... because they could see this car outside. So my parents came home to catch this man, but instead they found this woman hiding in the wardrobe.

So we just went off together and I left University and we lived together. And then we met a couple more people, and that sort of thing, and then we went to Sydney.

Hannah: So you ran off to Australia together?

Alison: Yeah. Well, we went to Australia and the friends that we'd gone flatting with – we'd flatted here in Wellington for about three or four months – they really had to get to Australia because the mother of one of them was trying to get her daughter committed because she was under 21. That's what they could do, you see, because you're crazy if you're a lesbian.

Hannah: Right. [laughing] Of course!

Alison: Yeah. Yeah, it's a symptom of madness, so your parents could have you committed. And homosexuality wasn't removed from the Psychiatric Illnesses Diagnostics until 1972, so that was a very real threat then.

Anyway, I spent, altogether, a couple of years in Australia and saw the communities there and all of that sort of thing. It was pretty wild, pretty rough communities in those cities. And there were a lot of New Zealanders, and New Zealanders who had been going back and forth.

Hannah: Kind of wild and rough in what way? Parties or just hard?

Alison: Oh, parties and a lot of... Well, for example, the pub where lesbians met, and many gay men, was the Rex Hotel in Kings Cross in Sydney, and the police raided it all the time. And the police would.... Even though also there, there was no law against lesbians, but the police vice squad thought there should be, so they would try to find reasons to arrest lesbians. They'd say they were drunk. There were all kinds of stories about how lesbians got arrested. They'd push a hotel glass into their hands and say, you've been found with a stolen hotel glass – the sort of stuff that was in a way like a big game between a set of players and a whole lot of other people. It's very much outsiders.

And also of course, in those hotels, which were the only places where lesbians and gay men were welcome, because remember, many hotel owners wouldn't have you there, you'd come in and you’d be thrown out, so those were the hotels where quite big criminal elements will soon meet. There was a close association with prostitution. Some lesbians in Australia did live on the earnings of prostitutes because people had problems getting employment. So, they were pretty difficult public communities.

Now, there were also very discreet networks of middle-class people, but the thing is if you were young you really didn't have a lot of access to those middle-class networks because they would immediately think, gosh, an underage person could be trouble, and that sort of thing. So there wasn't anything like the kinds of communities that you might think about today. You've got public communities who are largely young, largely working class, and who do have quite a few problems; and there's a close association with criminal networks, as well, so there's constant fear of police harassment.

The police also, in New South Wales, had some laws which made it quite easy to arrest; and that was true actually in South Australia in Victoria as well. There were laws which were called the consorting laws, and they'd been set up at the beginning of the twentieth century to break up the gangs in Australia, and the charge was habitual consorting with known criminals. Now, habitual meant that you'd have to be booked, from memory, something like eight times, consorting with a known criminal. Now, a known criminal is not one that's been charged.

Hannah: [laughs] Just known.

Alison: Just known to the police, or suspected of being a criminal. So if you were hanging out with gay men, they're known criminals because they're suspected of homosexuality, which is a criminal offense. And of these bookings, only four they needed to tell you [of] – the others could be silent bookings. So, then you might get this charge put against you a year later and you've got to prove that you were not doing something on the 21st of July, two years ago.

[laughter]

Alison: So that was always pretty successful. And you could get a two-year jail sentence for that.

Hannah: So these were Australian laws.

Alison: These were Australian laws.

Hannah: Were the New Zealand laws similar or quite different?

Alison: No, they were quite different. They didn't have consorting laws, but there was a vice squad and they certainly had similar attitudes to lesbians, and certainly some of those police officers did absolutely think that it was wrong that lesbians should be getting away with it.

Hannah: So what brought you back from the rough bars of Sydney?

Alison: Oh, I came back and I went to work for broadcasting.

Hannah: Did you try to go back to University or were you just trying to get into broadcasting?

Alison: No, I did go. I did go back and do a couple of units part-time, but by that point I was working full-time. Yeah, so I did that. And that was the time, really, where we've got these communities here, those kinds of things are happening, and we know about these associations that are beginning or have begun in the United States and in Britain, and that holds out a whole other kind of hope that you might have a political organization that's working for social change.

And I was already involved with things like CND – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I'd been involved with that since I was at school.

Hannah: So you've always kind of felt...?

Alison: Social change.

Hannah: Social change [crosstalk].

Alison: Yeah, and that social change was possible, and that you could change. And, you know, why shouldn't you change things? Why should you just accept things that you believe are wrong? Why? Who are these people that have the right to tell you how to live your life? Who are these people?

Hannah: Do you feel like that drive that we can change things, it is possible, is something that's still sifting around in the ether today, in these times?

Alison: Oh, I think that's a hard question. Um, I don't know. I think the problem when you get an economic recession is that you can start to get a kind of sense of hopelessness, and you also start to get people who go along with the status quo because they don't want to rock the boat and they think that if they all put their head down that they're not going to be the one that gets hit on. But of course that's never the case. It's what I call the Niemoller syndrome, and that's what happened to people in Nazi Germany. Back then, Niemoller said: First they came for the Jews, and I wasn't a Jew so I didn't say anything; then they came for the social democrats and I wasn't... and so forth; then eventually they came for me, and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.

And I think we forget that if you don't try to prevent something it will get worse. I think there's no point hoping that that's all there's going to be, that we'll just allow this little thing to happen – we'll just allow a little thing to happen like get rid of ACC [Accident Compensation Corporation] and that'll be all – because it doesn't work like that. If they're successful, then more things will happen. That's the one thing you can be certain of, and history proves that to us time and time and time again, and that's not going to change. Once someone has some successes, then they continue – and we all would, we all would, we all do it in whatever thing we believe in.

Yes, anyway, I went to Britain. I joined MRG.

Hannah: MRG?

Alison: The Minorities Research Group, which was the first lesbian association. It was largely social, but that in itself was political, to have something like that. We had discussion groups, and there was actually a whole network of people right throughout England.

It was started by a woman called Esme Langley, who was pretty shocked when she started it, because immediately she got phone calls from all over Britain of women saying: I'm in love with the woman next door. I don't know what to do if my husband finds out. I think I'm going to kill myself. So, suddenly it was very apparent that there was this huge need of people who were very isolated, and that there was a need to create some kind of social services and those sorts of things.

Anyway, I was there, and then I went travelling, as you do, and I wound up in Denmark and I lived there for a long time and became a Danish citizen. I was involved with the lesbian/gay association there, which was called the Forbundet of 1948 because it had been founded in 1948, and that was very good to get that experience of living in a society which had a very strong commitment to social justice, which was very progressive, where you worked with and learnt from people in one of those typical European, quite conservative lesbian/gay associations which had been founded after the war years.

Who actually, they were the inheritors of all those pre-war organizations about which we hadn't known anything, like the Hirschfeld Organization founded in 1895 in Berlin, like the extensive network of organizations that existed until wiped out by the Nazis in 1933 in Germany, and then throughout occupied Europe, about which I'd known nothing until going to live and work in those countries. And even they were only beginning to uncover information about what had gone before, because so much of what had gone before had been so systematically destroyed by the Nazis. So anyway, that was very good working with that organization.

And then gay liberation came. I was there when gay liberation began, and that really revolutionized the political approaches we took because the approach of gay liberation wasn't that there's a set minority that should be seeking civil rights or human rights. The view of gay liberation is still totally revolutionary today. The aim was to bring out the lesbian and gay man in everybody's head, and the problem is heterosexuality, so let's examine that and see just what's wrong with that and why it's compulsory. And actually, if it was so natural, it wouldn't need to be made compulsory because everybody would just be flocking to it. [laughs] So, those messages of gay liberation were very powerful and very important and that was how our politics then developed.

And then very soon lesbian feminism developed because, with the newly emergent ideas of gay liberation and the big proliferation of a lot of people joining those organizations, you got a lot of very conservative gay men who had never really worked with women. And infact, they were more conservative, really, than straight men might have been, because at least straight men, if they lived with a woman, they'd be trying to get along with her and she might be telling them things. But some of those gay men really had had very little to do with women and they didn't want to, and their idea about working in a mixed organization, these new ones who were coming in, was: well yes, of course the women should be doing the typing and making the coffee. And of course, they would be making the important speeches.

Hannah: So there was issue taken with that? [laughs]

Alison: Oh, indeed. So lesbians started to feel quite agitated. And this was a world-wide thing, too. You get reports from New York and right throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – the same things are happening.

And in the women's movement, in the feminist movement, there's a similar thing happening as more conservative women began to join these women's organizations. The vanguard are pretty out there so they don't care, and a lot of them are lesbians; but then you want to attract more women and then they’re there, and then those women are saying: Oh! People might think we're all lesbians! [laughter] Oh, don't take that sign along to the demonstration that says lesbians support abortion rights! Don't put lesbian on the sign. Everybody will think we're lesbians!

So lesbians kind of found themselves in a position of dealing with the homophobia, the lesbophobia of straight feminists in some parts of the women's movement, and dealing with sexism among some parts of the gay movement, so then you'd get the rise of separate lesbian organizations.

So it's right about this time that I'd come back here, and in between I go to the States and go around to all those organizations there, and that was very exciting and everything was happening, and it was a great time. The '70s were a terrific time because everything seemed possible. It's a real watershed between the old and the new. This is where the baby-boom generation really come together to make fantastic, very rapid social changes, and things are never the same again.

And that's the point of people learning from other progressive organizations, particularly the black civil rights movement, so that out of concepts like black pride, you'd get things like gay pride, lesbian pride, and visibility and these kinds of ways of political action which no longer are reliant upon just accommodating and being grateful for whatever crumbs might fall off the table of the powerful, but actually starting to demand a seat at the table and saying: Why shouldn't I be here at this table making these decisions with you? Why should I be crawling around on the floor, grateful for whatever little crumb you might be choosing to give me?

So it was a very important time, and I think also it's a time that.... You have other periods in history which are revolutionary in that sense, too. People who were alive during the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century say similar kinds of things. Wordsworth, for example, in his poem about the French Revolution: Bliss was it in that time, to be alive? But to be young was very heaven.

These are moments in history when things are moving very fast, and you feel that you're on the crest of a wave. You're all moving in the same direction and change can happen and you can see it happening daily. You can see that you're making changes. So I came back here...[interrupted]

Hannah: What did the wave feel like when it stopped?

Alison: Well, there was a lot of consolidation to do, and needing to evaluate a lot of the things that had happened.

So I came back in '73. We started the Sisters for Homophile Equality that was the first lesbian organization here. These days it seems like a pretty silly title, but you couldn't use lesbian. You couldn't get it in the newspaper – they wouldn't print it. A lot of women absolutely didn't want to call themselves that. Homophile, we thought, was an advance on homosexual, because at least it kind of meant lover of the same rather than just having sex all the time. And it had a decent acronym which was SHE.

We started the magazine, Circle, which was New Zealand's first lesbian magazine, and that ran from 1973 until 1986, so it's still the longest running lesbian magazine.

And we started Club 41 here in Wellington, which was on Vivian Street. That was the first lesbian club here in Wellington.

Hannah: What do you mean by club?

Alison: Well, it was a club for women.

Hannah: So it was like a bar?

Alison: Like a bar, yeah, selling liquor illegally.

[laughter]

Hannah: Lovely!

Alison: You did it through a ticket system, was how people did it then. So people would buy the tickets and they'd exchange the tickets for the alcohol, so they're not directly buying the alcohol.

Hannah: I see. I see. Sneaky.

Alison: Yeah. The police would be raiding it and that sort of thing, so eventually it closed in 1977 because that happened once too often. But there's a really interesting history around having a venue, that sort of meeting place. Interestingly, with something like the Club 41, the policy was always that it was a club for women, and far from lesbian feminists being highly separatist at that time, the idea was that you wanted to welcome women who identified as heterosexual into everything because they would immediately become lesbians.

[laughter]

Alison: And the idea was that any woman can be a lesbian, and should be. And quotes by Martha Shelley, which people would write up everywhere: In a society where men oppress women, to be a lesbian is a sign of mental health.

And in fact, in Christchurch, because SHE began first in Christchurch and then we started it here, but in Christchurch the women from SHE actually started the first Women's Refuge in the country. So, to give them credit, they don't deny this, that not only was the first refuge in the country started by lesbians, it was started by a lesbian organization.

And Jo Crowley, who is now a lesbian activist in Auckland, was the first person looking after that refuge, so she lived there. She was only 18 at the time, and they had posters all around the walls with things like "Come Out." So these women would be leaving their violent marriages and coming to this house, and everyone just thought, oh, as soon as they get here they'll come out as lesbians. Of course, they'll leave their husbands and come out as lesbians. And they did! That's the interesting thing; that with a lot of those women in those early years, that's exactly what did happen.

[laughter]

Alison: Not so much later on, I'd say, but it was certainly a thing. And one of the things that was very clear in those years was that the single thing that meant that more New Zealand women could come out was the DPB [Domestic Purposes Benefit], because that meant that women had a means of support. Prior to the DPB, which was introduced in 1972, women really could not easily leave their marriages. Women were very trapped. You'd had a society which was not a particularly equal society at all, where economic opportunities for women to be economically independent were not great, so you had very high rates of women marrying – young marriage – especially in the post-war period. So a lot of women had ended up in marriages who then realized that that really wasn't what they wanted to do. So you had a lot of women coming out in the '70s and you had a lot of ideas around that that's what they should do, so it really started to be quite a big movement.

Hannah: And this is still more than a decade before homosexual law reform.

Alison: Oh, yes. Yes. Well, homosexual law reform was able to happen because of these organizations.

Hannah: So was it kind of like a critical mass?

Alison: It's a critical mass. Now remember, the gay organizations... So, you've still got some lesbians working in mixed gay organizations and gay liberation. You've got some lesbians working in separate lesbian organizations. You've still got organizations like the Dorian Society that are gay men. Now and then they would admit women, and then after they'd done that for a month or two they'd say, oh, we can't have women – they get drunk and fight.

[Hannah laughs]

Alison: So you've got some gay separatists, you've got quite a disparate lot of different organizations, plus you've still got the old kamp communities. Now interestingly, the kamp communities in this country were, certainly from the 1950s, and probably earlier, but not much is documented prior to the 1950s, predominantly Māori and predominantly working class. And what you get with Māori is a massive urbanization taking place from 1945 so that 3/4 of the Māori population live in rural areas in 1945; by 1970, 3/4 now live in urban areas. And what we do know is that a lot of those young people were lesbians or gay, which can have been a strong motivation for why you might want to leave the country area.

I think an interesting and very influential person here in Wellington was Carmen, who was Trevor Rupe, and she came originally to Auckland and then to Wellington, and Carmen started Carmen's Coffee Bar which became a very important meeting place, and then Carmen's Balcony, later, which became very important in Victoria Street. So Carmen's a very flamboyant figure. At the time, Carmen would have identified herself as a drag queen, as would many of the people who worked there – important, flamboyant figures in the history of Wellington: people like Tiffany, and people who really were right on the edge in terms of actually creating visibility, creating meeting spaces, and showing fantastic courage right through.

And that's one of the things that you'd have to think about; all those early communities required courage to be out there. It wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world to be doing, because you still had a great deal of hostility throughout the society.

So, gay liberation conferences start to be held. The first lesbian conference is held in 1974; it's held here at Victoria University.

And then the National Gay Rights Coalition forms, and that's an umbrella organization for all of these organizations – we've got something like 35 organizations throughout the country. That makes it possible to have a unified political approach so that with various law reform attempts that start surfacing, the NGRC can take a considered view of them. And by this stage, the view was that there has to be an equal age-of-consent, so we're not going to go in for any half measures. It's clear from the British legislation, if you accept an age of consent of 21 you're going to be stuck with that for years, and also it's highly insulting. Why would you want a different age of consent? This is discriminatory; we're not going to accept it.

Now obviously, some of the more conservative and older gay men believed that there should be law reform at any cost. And you can also appreciate their position. Some of them had been to prison, so they felt that any reform was better than no reform. So there are differing opinions about this that start emerging Because of a very difficult campaign around some proposed reforms around the Freer bills, and because of amendments that were proposed that would have decriminalized male homosexual acts but would have made the promotion of homosexuality illegal, the coalition ran out of steam, so it collapsed, really.

So by the time we got to the early '80s and the introduction of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1985, you don't have any of those organizations. What you have are the Gay Taskforce in Auckland and in Wellington, and they'd been put together fairly recently – they were put together in 1984. There was an Equality Bill Coalition in Auckland which wanted a pretty dicey bill that probably would have ended up including women, and which lesbians opposed and which, fortunately, the women MPs could say that it wasn't a good idea. Anyway, by the time you get to 1985, Fran Wilde agreed to put a bill through, but it was a very difficult campaign because there was immediate mobilization from the right wing against that, and they were well funded and supported from fundamentalist organizations in the United States. So it was a pretty hard campaign, so I won't talk about that in any detail.

Hannah: So it's really important... I'm kind of getting a grasp that there's just so much history that's so important to kind of get now.

Alison: Well, you need to get it all in context. So after the homosexual reform passed in 1986, and we'd had that very hard-fought two years that was very, very difficult, and we lost, of course, the human rights part of the bill, which was the addition of sexual orientation. And we'd been fighting for that for a long time. Since the inception of the Human Rights Act in 1977, the National Gay Rights Coalition had been trying to get sexual orientation into the Human Rights Act, tried very formally with the Homosexual Law Reform Bill part two, but that was defeated. So that reemerged in '91 when Katherine O'Regan, by that point you've got a national government, Katherine O'Regan, who had taken over Marilyn Waring's seat, agreed to take this at private member's bill, so that was finally achieved with the addition of several new grounds into the act, in the 1993 Human Rights Act. And we managed to get, which was a big battle, we managed to get sexual orientation defined as heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian or bisexual, because otherwise we felt it was unclear, and it's difficult to know how well people would identify their particular area of discrimination.

Hannah: Yeah, so big, big struggles, big changes, and big gains I think, as well, in the last three decades.

Alison: I think you have to get the legal changes done first. It needs to be understood that without the passage of the Human Rights Act, then that sets the stage, although the government gives itself an extension. Immediately it applies to private business, so the protections are not across the board. The protections are in the provision of goods and services and the provision of employment and of housing. So goods and services then start to become an area of: what does this mean? So, obviously, it probably does mean marriage, so that sets the stage for what then has to happen.

Now, government gives itself an extension initially, until the year 2000, and then it extends that further. So, whatever government you had in had to do something like the Civil Union Act, because you have to – it's in accordance with that original legislation from '93. So everything stems from that. And also then, the Statutory References Act, which goes right through all government legislation to ensure that there is no difference made between same-sex couples or people, and different-sex couples. So it follows very logically, and that has followed into immigration policy, now into the registration of births.

Hannah: So, very far reaching.

Alison: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And without... We used to have big discussions right through the '70s and '80s, as to whether, if you just work on law reform, surely you should work on changing people's attitudes, but the other side of that is that for many people what changes their attitudes is the law. If they suddenly find out they're going to be breaking the law if they say they're not going to hire a lesbian...[interrupted]

Hannah: [laughing] I'll bet that helps with the attitude change pretty quickly.

Alison: It does. It helps very quickly. And that was the evidence from overseas and that was the evidence that I had known about from living in Denmark and living in Norway, and knowing that as soon as you put laws of that kind in, then within probably two or three years of those laws being there the majority of people just accept them. So it really does; this helps promote the attitude change. And also, maybe the campaign for changing the law helps you do public education anyway, so that it all helps to do that.

Hannah: Cool. So, 2010? What are your hopes for the future, politically, law-wise, socially?

Alison: Vigilance. Vigilance, because I think if you... I think there are really interesting lessons to be learned from the past, and I was just recently at an event about the Holocaust run by the Holocaust Center here. And there was a very interesting speech made by a Jewish speaker whose family had come from Austria, and who spoke about what things were like in Germany. You know, Germany was the center of culture, it was tremendously progressive, it was the place where Jewish people had been able to make their homes and live free from discrimination for a long time.

It was a center of art and music, and also it was a center for homosexual activism. This person didn't talk about that, but we know that. There were big organizations. There were dozens of lesbian and gay magazines in Berlin. There were organizations everywhere.

But this person talking about what happened to Jewish people said that what had become really clear to them between the '30s was, if this could happen in Germany, which was so progressive, it could happen anywhere, and that you could never be certain what might happen in a society. And what you need to think about are the kinds of turns and twists and the things you might accommodate to and the things that might allow other kinds of regimes to come to power and what those regimes might do.

And what we do know is that depressions are dangerous because people start looking for scapegoats. It doesn't take much to fan people up, to decide that this group or that group, they're the troublemakers; if we just got rid of them everything would be fine. And whether you decide that you're going to fan up the flames against Islamists, or you're going to fan it up against Chinese immigrants, or whether you're going to fan it up against queer people, it's a very similar kind of mechanism and I think we have to be very vigilant about that and watchful, not only for what is happening to queer people, but any kind of mechanism which starts to create "others," the othering of groups that then it becomes permissible to treat those people as subhuman, to start denying them rights, to start excluding them and those kinds of things.

I think it's very good that a generation coming of age in 2010 don't have to go through all the things that we did, and that they can just live their lives, nonetheless, I think it's very important that they're aware of the history so that they are watchful, and so they know how you can strategize and how you can fight if these things start to happen – what you do immediately.

I think it's important to have strong organizations because just working on your own you very easily get picked off. I think it's very important to have strong organizations and good communications, because that's crucial. Every kind of resistance movement has had a way of getting its messages out. And OK, so these days we've got the Internet and texting, as against where once upon a time we had to type things up and make copies with carbon paper and distribute them like that. I'd say to that, that losing...[interrupted]

Hannah: Don't forget the carbon paper.

Alison: Don't forget that technology because if the worst comes to the worst, we might have to do that again because things like the Internet can be controlled.

Hannah: Yeah, totally.

Alison: We now learn that Telecom said they were going to...

Hannah: All our text messages [crosstalk].

Alison: They said they're going to get rid of them now, but I didn't even know they collected them, and we should have realized that, of course. So we need some kind of independent way of ensuring that we have a method of communication that's independent and might be very low technology, but that we can manage to do even if the worst came to the worst. That's important.

And I think it's important to have strong organizations, and it bothers me that we don't have as many organizations as I'd like to see us have, by membership organizations that are well supported economically and that are in a position to act when necessary, and all of that.

Hannah: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing with us all of that, Alison!

Alison: You're welcome!

Transcript by cyberscrivener.com