Even an activity as innocuous as watching carolling in a local shopping centre can be fraught for lesbian and gay Australians. The Australian Lesbian and Gay Life Stories project includes accounts from younger people who are able to have their same-sex partner included in family rituals and celebrations and who — not unreasonably — expect to marry their partners in celebrations with relatives and friends. These are important not just during the festive season but throughout the year.
Charities such as Lifeline point out that the festive season can be a deeply unhappy time for many Australians. Those prolific performers, the Salvation Army, have a depressing record on lesbian and gay issues, even going so far as to send a submission against marriage equality to the House of Representatives Inquiry into the topic in His parents were dead and, although he enjoyed the time he spent with siblings, nieces and nephews, it was limited. If one looks deeper though, it is evident that the Christmas season can place a number of complex stresses at the forefront for some members of the lesbian and gay population. There are also those who fully embrace it. For some lesbian and gay Australians, spending the season with family may not be an option if families refuse to accept their sexuality or include their partner in celebrations. Sometimes fractured family relationships mean people are isolated over the holidays. I had a chat with a retired gay male friend of mine a week ago though. This is increasingly becoming an issue for heterosexual Australians. It is clear to me now, though, they were very deliberately seeking out and spending time with their chosen families on the one day of the year when escape from images of domesticity and family appeared all but impossible. Messenger I used to live in Brisbane, where, year after year on the afternoon of Christmas Day, a group of older gay men I knew would meet up in a pub. His family is important to him but he told me that he was particularly looking forward to catching up with his gay male friends over Christmas. These are important not just during the festive season but throughout the year. For others, going home for the holidays can mean returning to places where memories of childhood and adolescent experiences of homophobia resurface. Many of our lesbian participants stress the isolation and invisibility that marred substantial parts of their lives. One lesbian couple integrates both traditional and community experiences, taking their children to both a Rainbow family barbecue and a traditional lunch with grandparents over the holiday season. Although lesbian and gay Australians have sometimes been on the outside of traditional Christmas rituals, this time of year highlights the ways in which lesbian and gay Australians have created their own rites and communities of support. There are certainly many lesbian and gay Australians who enjoy exchanging gifts, eating a festive meal and undertaking the more traditional cultural rites associated with this time of year. Some of our male respondents recall being told to expect a life of loneliness and unhappiness upon revealing their sexuality to their families. Others experience seasonal unemployment or financial difficulties. Many lesbian women who were told that children would never be part of their future did indeed raise children, most frequently with partners, sometimes independently and occasionally with the involvement of gay male donors. Growing numbers of individuals live in single-person households. Spending some of the holiday season catching up with friends over a few drinks is an experience familiar to most. He looked to peers for support and during a recent health crisis: Rates of homelessness are much more pronounced among this population than the broader Australian population. For many lesbian and gay Australians, it has not always been possible to revel in the type of domestic Christmas portrayed in the media. Over the past 60 years — a time period some of our participants lived through in its entirety — social attitudes towards gay and lesbian Australians have shifted remarkably.
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