Australia has lagged well behind the rest of the developed world in recognising same-sex marriage, but after a resounding ‘yes’ vote was returned in this year’s postal survey on the issue, we’ve finally caught up. The 61.6% vote makes Australia just the second nation on earth (after Ireland) to legalise marriage equality through a public vote, and the 25th overall.
It’s difficult to estimate how many LGBTI people live in Australia, but the Australian Human Rights Commission estimates that 11 per cent of Australians have a diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity — that’s around 2.5 million people. And their footprint is obvious in rainbow neighbourhoods like Darlinghurst and Newtown in Sydney, St Kilda and Brunswick in Melbourne, plus New Farm and Fortitude Valley in Brisbane.
From trailblazers like ‘Boy from Oz’ Peter Allen to modern-day icons like Ruby Rose, courageous sportsmen like Ian Roberts and Ian Thorpe to transgender public figures like Cate McGregor and Andreja Pejic, performers like Kylie Minogue to marriage equality advocates like Magda Szubanski, Australia isn’t short of public figures that the LGBTI community have embraced with open arms.
There’s no beating around the bush: LGBTI people in Australia still suffer discrimination. But on the whole, gay travellers receive an exceptionally warm welcome from the locals. In fact, a 2013 Pew Research poll discovered that 79% of Aussies agrees that homosexuality should be accepted — the world’s fifth most tolerant country, trailing only Spain, Germany, Canada and the Czech Republic.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018 — and hot on the heels of the marriage equality vote, it’s set to be a party for the ages. And Sydney’s not the only place you’ll find huge LGBTI events — there’s Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival in January, Brisbane Pride in September, PrideFest in Perth each October, Adelaide’s Feast Festival in November, plus other smaller events around the country.
Those Pride events are accompanied by cultural programs that also attract LGBTI visitors by the thousand. Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival lights up Sydney’s cinemas in the fortnight before the big carnival up Oxford St, Brisbane Queer Film Festival comes to the Powerhouse each March, a program of events surrounds the Midsumma and Feast Festivals in Melbourne and Adelaide respectively, plus there’s a strong LGBTI presence in the comedy and fringe festival that pepper Australian cities’ cultural calendars.
Thirsty for an LGBTI-friendly tipple? Australia’s got you sorted. Head to Oxford St in Sydney for a procession of venues — notably the Colombian and the Stonewall — as well as the Harbour City’s premier lesbian pub, Sly Fox. Inner-city Fitzroy and Collingwood are home to Melbourne favourites The Laird and Sircuit Bar, the Sportsman Hotel describes itself as “the gay meeting place in Brisbane” and Connections nightclub in Perth guarantees a lively night out.
You can’t walk around neighbourhoods like Darlinghurst and St Kilda without noticing rainbow stickers in shop windows to affirm they’re a gay-friendly business, including many ‘safe place’ stickers certifying that businesses are actively engaged with LGBTI communities. You also can’t miss the multiple online directories of supportive businesses, such as Rainbow Flag Australia, Gay Pride Australia and Little Pink Book.
Australia’s vibrant LGBTI community has also formed a vibrant LGBTI media, spearheaded by 38-year-old publication Star Observer. You can also keep in the loop via Q Magazine — Australia’s only free monthly LGBTI magazine, published out of Brisbane — as well as Melbourne-based Joy 94.9, the country’s first and only gay and lesbian radio station.
Daylesford — a genteel spa town two hours north-west of Melbourne — hosts ChillOut Festival each March long weekend, the biggest Pride festival in regional Australia, as well as huge numbers of LGBTI visitors year round. Lismore — not far from Byron Bay on the east coast — is also renowned as a ‘rainbow region’, thanks in large part to the colourful events run by the Tropical Fruits group. Broken Hill, Shepparton and Alice Springs are other regional centres that hold notable LGBTI events throughout the year.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what floats your boat between the sheets when it comes to choosing a great holiday destination. Australia ticks plenty of boxes, from world-classes beaches and unspoiled nature to a sophisticated food and drink scene and lively big cities — and LGBTI travellers can be assured of a warm welcome.