Male-to-male sex was illegal in New South Wales until 1984. However, despite this, when HIV and AIDS arrived on Australian shores, there was already an organised and visible gay movement and community working for change. This infrastructure was responsible for saving many lives.
By the late 1970s, Sydney’s Oxford Street had cemented a reputation for being the ‘Gay Golden Mile.’ A gay subculture with its own press and nightclubs was flourishing. Gay men had also become adept at lobbying for political change.
The arrival of HIV and AIDS transformed gay life. Many previously healthy men began to show symptoms such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and other AIDS-related illnesses.
Formulating an initial response to the epidemic was made difficult by virulent prejudices unleashed. Irresponsible reporting, a climate of fear and prejudice and a lack of information about how HIV was transmitted all made the situation extremely challenging for advocates and volunteers.
‘Prejudice hits the new ‘untouchables’. Sydney Morning Herald 3 February 1985.
From the first death in Australia in 1983, to September 1996, approximately 16,000 people were diagnosed with HIV, 7,000 were diagnosed with AIDS and 5,100 people died fromAIDS-related causes. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community was heavily represented amongst these statistics. The city of Sydney heavily felt this loss.