WE WERE at home watching the TV on Wednesday morning. I felt an immense sense of relief that the yes vote had succeeded but it didn’t really hit me until later that night when I read a post from a young friend in Melbourne.
“I felt 100% whole," he wrote. "I could be a real person, live my life without any embargo. Then I looked about me and became aware of something much greater. Older people in tears, embracing and I realised the weight of a lifetime was being lifted from them and they were stepping out of the shadows.”
It suddenly hit me how much easier the journey will be for younger people. They don’t have to suffer the indignity. They can find their own worth and value without legal pressure.
Keith is a beautiful, gentle, charismatic soul and I guess I have loved him from the day we met as 14 or 15 year olds. We met 55 years ago following Collingwood Football Club within a large social group. Keith married a wonderful woman Beverley from within that group. I was at the wedding. The marriage lasted two years (no children).
Keith accepted the sexuality he was denying and to my astonishment our friendship moved to another level. Eventually everyone realised that Love is Love and you must be true to yourself or be sentenced to a life of misery. Those friends are with us to this day.
Of course homosexuality was illegal back then. There was an element of danger. We were doing something totally unacceptable. In those early years we fled from police raided parties. As we look back now it was a very thrilling time! Not that we want to go back to it.
Will we get married? Keith would be reluctant. He jokes that after 48 years, why make it permanent? I don’t know. The jury’s out on marriage. But one thing that’s always been in the back of my mind is the many awful stories I’ve heard of people who’ve been in long-term relationships and when their partner become ill or died, they’ve been pushed aside as families waltz in and disrespect the relationship. That’s the thing that would persuade me. Sometimes that bit of paper can be very meaningful.
But after 48 years we’d be doing it for our friends rather than anyone else. And we’ve never really experienced in our relationship the lack of family acceptance that a lot of gay people have.
I have a wonderful relationship with Keith’s family. My family adore Keith and are over the moon. During the campaign, one of Keith’s brothers-in-law volunteered that he would vote no. They accept our relationship 100 per cent but marriage was a step too far. Even if the law changes there will still be people who find it sinful.
All those furphies were thrown up during the campaign. Kids need a mother and father. No, kids need a loving home. I’ve seen plenty of fantastic kids grow up with two mums or dads.
The last business we had in Melbourne we had a rainbow flag in the window. When we came down here and bought the Tattslotto business in Wonthaggi, my only fear was that we might have to close the door on the closet again. It hasn’t been like that at all. Maybe because we had a regular business and we lived as regular people in the community, people just accepted us.
Several people have said we made it OK to be gay in Wonthaggi. They started to live their lives more openly. The language changed. They could say “we” and not “I”. It’s such a relief for people to stop living a lie. You can share your life with other people. Suddenly your real life has more value.
Sometimes we fly a rainbow flag outside our place at Ryanston. Once a vehicle slowed and someone yelled “Poofters!” I guess you’ve got to expect that if you’re going to nail your colours to the mast! But that’s the only time we’ve been abused since we came down here.
Phyllis Papps, left, has been with her partner Francesca Curtis for 47 years. They were both involved in the early gay liberation movement in Melbourne in the 1970s.
Our reaction was jubilation, joy, excitement, tears. Finally, after nearly five decades of hard work by thousands of LGBTIQ people and many of our allies, Australia is ready to accept us as equals.
It has been a very long journey of discrimination, homophobia, xenophobia, and the list is endless. There have been so many gay people who are no longer alive who would rejoice that Australia has finally 'grown up'.
As for Francesca and myself and having a long-standing relationship together for 47 years, we have discussed marriage. My mother who is 97 and voted YES, asked me a few weeks ago, "Are you and Francesca going to get married?" Her question stunned me. Other members of my very accepting family have asked the same question. The answer to this question is YES. But we should hurry up because age and ill health is creeping up on us.
As two of the few pioneers of the beginnings of the gay liberation movement here in Australia in 1970, we believe very strongly that the battle was worth it, even though it has taken 47 very long and hard years.
Also, we realise that the legislation that goes to Parliament will probably be watered down. But the yes vote was symbolic and cannot be changed despite the bigotry, biased information from the religious fanatics, self-serving politicians, some of the media etc. etc.
As a last comment, Francesca and I moved to Rhyll on November 15 in 2001 with our two beloved dogs. So this critical day (November15) will be embedded in our lives forever.