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Escaping the Shadows: Liberating Myself from a Homophobic & Prejudiced Childhood in Rural Australia

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

CC: Image by Rebecca Tregear from Pixabay

Growing up in rural Australia during the 80s and 90s exposed me to a culture deeply entrenched in homophobia, misogyny, and prejudice. As an impressionable child, I initially adopted these prevailing attitudes and discourses without questioning their impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and the First Australians. However, through wider intercultural and international experiences during my childhood and later life, I was able to develop an understanding of empathy and break free from the constraints of this narrow-minded upbringing. How was this possible? In this article, I reflect on my journey of shedding the homophobia and misogyny ingrained in me and examine the factors contributing to this hostile environment in rural Australia during that era.

Colonial Traditions and Conservative Values

Rural, white communities in Australia often cling tightly to colonial traditions and conservative values, sometimes at the expense of inclusivity. The 80s and 90s were marked by a conservative backlash against the social changes of the preceding decades, fuelling the perpetuation of homophobic attitudes (Holland, 2018). Traditional gender roles, rigid family structures, and religious beliefs formed the backbone of this culture, leaving little room for alternative sexual orientations or gender identities (Wilton, 2017). My cousin, Lee Fransen Brown, would have first-hand knowledge of these barriers from a very young age.

Progress was not unheard of 120 years ago. Issues surrounding LGBTQ+, women, and indigenous communities had some hope.

The principle of equal pay for equal work was recognized in the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1904. However, achieving full pay equity has been an ongoing struggle, and it wasn't until 1969 that the principle was extended to work of equal value.

South Australia was the first state in Australia, and one of the first places in the world, to grant women the right to vote and stand for parliament in 1894. Other states followed, with the Commonwealth Franchise Act in 1902 granting Australian women the right to vote and run for federal elections.

South Australia became the first state to decriminalize homosexuality in 1975, and other states followed suit in subsequent years. It wasn't until 1984 when the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was shown live on national TV in Australia. The federal Sexual Discrimination Act was enacted in 1984, making it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on their sex, marital status, pregnancy, or potential pregnancy in areas such as employment, education, and access to goods and services.

These existing laws from long ago should have demonstrated a changing landscape in gender roles and rights in Australia. For example, my mother was told “I should get married and have a husband to look after me, I shouldn’t need to work after I got married” and therefore only finished middle school in Australia in the 1960s. However, the policies that should have shaped a nation were ineffective since its founding 200 years ago, as well as policies from 120 years ago during the Federation.

Colonial cultural discourses continued in society with little change.

ABC: Women in Public Bars in Australia (1974):

Channel 9 Australia: Here is an exert of an Australian comedy sketch from 1977:

The bicentennial year of Captain Arthur Phillip's arrival with the 11 ships of the First Fleet in Sydney Harbour in 1788, and the founding of the city of Sydney and the convict colony of New South Wales. Although Australia's history is over 50000 years old, in 1988 the concept of terra nullius was still in vogue in Australian politics. In 1992, during an Aboriginal rights case known as Mabo, the High Court of Australia issued a judgment that directly overturned terra nullius.

This commercial from 1988 reflects a bias skew of history that only considers white Australia.

Note: no Indigenous Australian is highlighted in the video

In the Far North of Australia, we did not receive commercial television channels until the 80s. We only received one television station, the neutral government-funded station: the ABC. This also perpetuated ongoing colonial traditions and conservative values, similar to what is seen in other rural settings today, like in the UK and the USA.

Vice: How the British Empire Exported Homophobia (2021):

Limited Exposure and Ignorance

My exposure to diversity and different perspectives was inherently limited in the Far North of Australia. I can now only imagine the culture—similar to what is seen in the retrospective ABC videos from the 1970s—that my grandparents in Cairns probably promoted. My grandfather was the owner of the famous Grand Hotel in Cairns and the builder and owner of the very first drive-through bottle shop, manned by my underage uncle, Frank Fransen. My grandmother was not allowed—and never wanted—to go into the pub, as my grandfather would be in the pub all day and night, sitting at the wooden crocodile bar, which still exists today, along with the drive-through bottle shop.

However, I grew to understand other forms of diversity and injustice through my encounters with the indigenous First Australians. The absence of visible LGBTQ+ individuals and women—or their positive representation—reinforced prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions. Without proper education or access to alternative viewpoints, ignorance perpetuated the cycle of homophobia and misogyny, fostering an environment where acceptance and understanding were rare commodities (Holland, 2018), based on the acceptance of male social discourse. The exposure to children in the 70s and 80s slowly decreased in the 90s and 2000s.

Channel 9 Australia: Racism rife in Australian media: Hey Hey It's Saturday (2021):

Kamahl and the jokes he faced on Hey Hey It's Saturday (2021):

My national awareness of LGBTQ+ individuals started with the Sydney Mardi Gras annual festival being shown live on national TV. It wasn't that I watched it every year, but rather the awareness of it being televised and promoted in a positive manner helped to dismantle my ignorance, slowly.

Issues surrounding LGBTQ+ are not isolated demographics when it comes to injustice and generational and historical trauma in Australia. These discrepancies extend further into other peoples of this multicultural society. In particular, indigenous people, migrants, women, and the colonial past hold back Australia from evolving as a nation together for the future. This stagnation is related to Australian history surrounding fear of the unknown and social stigma.

Fear of the Unknown and Social Stigma

Fear played a significant role in upholding the homophobic culture of the time. The unfamiliarity surrounding homosexuality led to apprehension and discomfort, as the rural community clung to the notion of heterosexuality as the norm. The fear of being associated with or supporting LGBTQ+ individuals often led to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes, further isolating those who were struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity (Wilton, 2017). Perhaps this was an extension of the White Australia Policy (the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901).

"The White Australia policy is a term encapsulating a set of historical policies that aimed to forbid people of non-European ethnic origin, especially Asians (primarily Chinese) and Pacific Islanders, from immigrating to Australia, starting in 1901. Governments progressively dismantled such policies between 1949 and 1973" (Wikipedia, 2023).

ABC: Voice of the People: The White Australia Policy (1962):

The story of 'I am Australian' by The Seekers, Bruce Woodley (2022):

I grew up in a Catholic education setting that inflicted forms of abuse on me when I was a child along with indigenous children at Balaclava Road, Earlville, and myself as a teacher at a small Catholic school in Woree. I experienced a Christian Brothers, all-boys, boarding school trying to deal with homosexuality and prejudice in its dormitories. Around me were local tradies (tradespeople) who never had a passport; sprouting ignorant racism, and a family and friends discourse that saw anything remotely close to LGBTQ+ topics taboo and frowned upon contributed to social and emotional isolation.

Homosexuality was seen as a negative stigma that could easily be attached to someone by bringing up the topic in conversation, often as a joke, which allowed another person to label them as "gay" for doing so. Women were seen as operators of "home duties," and education was not considered appropriate for them.

ABC: Times when Australia was totally not Racist (2018):

QandA: Bob Katter and Josh Thomas (2020)

Vice: Killed for Being Gay in Australia's LGBTQ Capital (2022):

ABC: Nazi hate symbols to be outlawed across the country (2023):

Challenging Internalised Beliefs

Four areas are currently challenging the prevailing discourse and internalised beliefs in Australia: women, indigenous Australians, LGBTQ+, and having an Australian as Head of State.

Recognising and confronting my own deeply ingrained homophobic beliefs was a difficult and transformative process. It required unlearning the biases that had been instilled in me since childhood and examining the harmful impact they had on others. Overcoming these prejudices involved engaging in open-minded discussions, seeking out diverse perspectives, and embracing empathy as a catalyst for change (Smith, 2020). In the beginning the Sydney Mardi Gras saw the police using violence and attempted to shut down the first festival with force, to today walking in the festival with the LGBTQ+ community. In 2023, the Prime Minister of Australia participated in this Sydney celebration for the first time. Challenging the long-standing discourse resonated in other areas. In particular with women and First Australians.

The examples in these archived videos below exemplify the ongoing discourse about women encountered in the Far North of Australia in the 80s and 90s. The accounts in the video about women in public bars are vivid memories ingrained in my own experiences regarding women in FNQ.

ABC: Women finally allowed to drink at the bar (1967):

ABC: Germaine Greer brings feminism to Australia (1972):

The Guardian: Julia Gillard misogyny speech in Parliament (2012):

SBS: Is Australia Sexist? (2018):

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the indigenous inhabitants of Australia, with a rich cultural heritage dating back tens of thousands of years. Indigenous Australians still face significant challenges, including dispossession, discrimination, and the erosion of their cultural identity. In response to these injustices, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was crafted, representing a historic call for constitutional recognition and a voice for Indigenous peoples in Australia's governance. The statement, issued in 2017 at the National Constitutional Convention in Uluru, outlines the need for substantive constitutional reform to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and enable them to have a say in matters that affect their lives. The Uluru Statement from the Heart serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for self-determination and reconciliation in Australia and calls upon the nation to come together in addressing the injustices and creating a more inclusive future.

ABC: Pub refuses to serve Indigenous Patrons (1975):

ABC: Mabo Terra Nullius Verdict (1992):

Aljazeera: Australia's Indigenous Incarceration Crisis (2021):

Aljazeera: QandA TV Host steps down after racist abuse (2023):

ABC: Smithsonian Museum returns ancestral remains to Indigenous Australians (2023):

In 2023, the Australian public will vote on constitutional change to add their voice to the constitution with the following words:

A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Do you approve this proposed alteration?

While the Voice could be established without a referendum, Indigenous people asked in the Uluru Statement from the Heart for it to be enshrined in the nation's founding document as recognition for First Nations people.

What is the voice all about?


UNICEF (2023) Young Australians speak out on why they support the Voice to Parliament;

During the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations of white Australia, Prince Charles, the now King of England, said these exact words while in Australia speaking to the nation:

"For the original people of this land, it must have all seemed very different, and if they should say their predicament is not yet ended, it would be hard to know how to answer beyond suggesting that a country free enough to examine its own conscience is a land worth living in and a nation to be envied."

He knew then what many Australians did not even know 35 years ago; no power behind those words.

Australia is on the precipice of change that could demonstrate its ability to grow up; having an Australian as its Head of State instead of the Queen/King of England. It is clear from history that this no longer serves Australia. This eventual progression of a nation was empowered by the Palace Letters, which were uncovered in 1975—the communication between the Queen of England and the Governor-General—and revealed how the Queen, as an outsider, dismissed the Prime Minister of Australia and instated a conservative government.

SBS: Palace Letters reveal Queen of England's role in removal of Australia's Prime Minister (1975):

Shifting Towards Acceptance

Thankfully, society as a whole has evolved significantly since the 80s and 90s, fostering a more inclusive and accepting environment for LGBTQ+ individuals. As awareness grew and marginalised voices were amplified, the narrative around homosexuality shifted, challenging the traditional norms that once held sway. This progress, although not without setbacks, has been instrumental in breaking down the walls of homophobia and offering hope for a more inclusive future (Holland, 2018).

The federal Sex Discrimination Act was amended in 2013 to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.

Same-sex marriage was legalised in Australia in December 2017, following a national postal survey in which a majority of Australians expressed their support for marriage equality.

SBS: Australia's Only Town Against Same-sex Marriage (2016):

ABC: Bob Katter Segues from Gay Marriage to Croc Attacks (2017):

ABC: Queer Australians explain where they sit under the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow (2020):

How did I liberate myself from a homophobic and misogynistic discourse?

Liberating oneself from a homophobic and misogynistic discourse requires a conscious effort to challenge and dismantle deeply ingrained beliefs. Here are three ways to embark on this journey:

1. Education and Awareness:

One of the most effective ways to liberate oneself from a homophobic and misogynistic discourse is through education and awareness. Seek out resources, books, documentaries, and articles that provide insights into LGBTQ+ issues, Indigenous history, and gender equality. Engage in critical thinking and question the origins and impact of your own beliefs and assumptions. Actively educate yourself about the experiences and perspectives of marginalised groups, fostering empathy and understanding.

ABC: ABC's national sing-along with Olivia Newton-John - We are One (2021):

2. Dialogue and Open-Mindedness:

Engaging in open dialogue with individuals from diverse backgrounds can be transformative. Seek out opportunities to have meaningful conversations with people who identify as LGBTQ+, First Australians, women or are passionate advocates for universal human rights. Listen to their stories, experiences, and struggles, allowing yourself to gain a deeper understanding of their perspectives. Maintain an open mind, set aside defensiveness, and approach these conversations with a genuine willingness to learn and grow. Embrace the discomfort that may arise from challenging your own preconceived notions and be open to changing your perspective.

ABC: National sing-along by kids in Isolation - I am Australian (2022):

3. Taking Action and Amplifying Voices:

Liberation from a homophobic, misogynistic and racist discourse also involves taking action to challenge and change the status quo. Support organisations and initiatives that promote LGBTQ+ and Indigenous rights and gender equality. Attend rallies, events, and workshops that focus on these issues, contributing to a larger movement for social change. Use your voice and privilege to speak out against inequalities in your personal and professional circles. Amplify the voices of those who are marginalised and provide platforms for their stories and experiences to be heard.

ABC: I am Australian with Pitjantjatjara lyrics (2023):

Sociological perspectives when considering Australian Development

There are a number of sociological theoretical perspectives that resonate from my experiences and examples of Development in Australia; conflict theory, interactionism, functionalism, along with sociological concepts such as: self-fulfilling prophecy and hidden curriculum.

Interactionism, often referred to as symbolic interactionism, underscores the importance of social interactions in shaping individual and group identities. It posits that society is constantly being constructed and reconstructed through these interactions, highlighting the role of individual agency in societal dynamics (Blumer, 1969).

Functionalism, on the other hand, views society as a system where all parts work together to maintain balance and social order. From this perspective, each part of society, including education, is important because it serves a specific function that contributes to the overall stability and harmony of the societal system (Durkheim, 1893).

Conflict theory, as proposed by Karl Marx, emphasizes the inherent inequalities present in a society, focusing on issues of power and conflict. It argues that societal structures and institutions, such as the educational system, often perpetuate these inequalities by benefiting some groups at the expense of others (Marx & Engels, 1848).

The concept of 'self-fulfilling prophecy' is a key principle describing how our beliefs or expectations about a person or a situation can influence our actions, eventually leading those beliefs or expectations to come true. This phenomenon often contributes to the perpetuation of social patterns and status quo, playing a significant role in matters such as stereotype enforcement and social stratification (Merton, 1948; Madon, Willard, Guyll, & Scherr, 2011).

The 'hidden curriculum' refers to the implicit rules, norms, and behaviours that are learned and internalized in societal institutions, such as workplaces, religious centres, or any other social organizations. These tacit understandings often perpetuate existing social structures and contribute to the maintenance of societal norms and values (Giroux & Penna, 1979; Torrado, 2020).

How about now?

Breaking free from the inequalities ingrained in my rural Australian upbringing required a conscious effort to challenge and dismantle the beliefs that perpetuated prejudice. As a heterosexual individual, I recognise the responsibility to use my privilege to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, equality, and acceptance. By acknowledging the First Australians, and the accurate history that contributed to the misogynistic culture of the past, we can collectively work towards creating a society that embraces diversity, empathy, and respect for all individuals, regardless of colour, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Remember, the journey to liberating oneself from such a discourse is ongoing. It requires introspection, continuous learning, and active participation in creating a more inclusive and equitable society.

I hope that one day the song by The Seekers - 'I am Australian' becomes the more appropriate national anthem of Australia one day.


Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Durkheim, É. (1893). The Division of Labor in Society. New York, NY: Free Press.

Giroux, H., & Penna, A. N. (1979). Social education in the classroom: The dynamics of the hidden curriculum. In H. Giroux & A. N. Penna (Eds.), The Social Studies Curriculum: Purposes, Problems, and Possibilities. State University of New York Press.

Holland, C. (2018). Socially and Geographically Constructed Homophobia: Mapping the Spatial Development of Gay Community and Identity in Rural Australia. Journal of Rural Studies, 58, 94-102.

Merton, R. K. (1948). The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. The Antioch Review, 8(2), 193-210.

Madon, S., Willard, J., Guyll, M., & Scherr, K. C. (2011). Self-fulfilling Prophecies: Mechanisms, Power, and Links to Social Problems. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(8), 578–590.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1848). The Communist Manifesto. London: Workers' Party of Marxist Unification.

Smith, J. (2020). Challenging Homophobia and Building Supportive School Communities: Insights from Australian Research. Australian Journal of Education, 64(3), 227-240.

Torrado, M. (2020). The Hidden Curriculum: An Analysis of Cultural Content in Tangible and Ritual Aspects of Institutions. Journal of Organizational Ethnography, 9(3), 247-262.

Wilton, T. (2017). Regional Perspectives on Same-Sex Relationships: Australia. In T. Barker, Y. Aranda, & A. Plater (Eds.), International Handbook on the Demography of Sexuality (pp. 167-180). Springer.

"Women's suffrage in Australia" - Australian Electoral Commission:

"Equal pay in Australia" - Workplace Gender Equality Agency:

"Sex Discrimination Act 1984" - Australian Human Rights Commission:

"Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017" - Parliament of Australia:

Footnote: These references provide insights into the cultural and societal dynamics in rural Australia between 60s to today, highlighting the prevalence of homophobia, prejudice and its impact on women, First Australians and LGBTQ+ individuals. These articles explore the limited exposure to diversity, the role of fear and social stigma, and the process of challenging internalised beliefs. They also discuss the shift towards acceptance in society. These sources can serve as a starting point for further exploration of the topic. This article is a reflection on one personal experiences as a child in the context of these issues.

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