A Queer and invisible history

Before the rainbows: Perth’s first Pride march, October 20, 1990.

TODAY’S delve into the past from the Vincent Local History Centre features an interview with architecture graduate Dexter Wong, whose masters thesis maps out significant sites for Perth’s queer history across more than 120 years.

LAST year during Pride month, the City of Vincent Local History Centre put the call out for photos, flyers and stories about the history of the LGBTQI+ community to help fill a gap in the collection.

The centre received material from the Freedom Centre, the Perth Pride Choir and most recently, architecture graduate Dexter Wong who shared a copy of his Master of Architecture thesis, plans and drawings on invisible queer spaces in Perth. 

Mr Wong said the queer history of Perth could be traced back to 1901.

“The queer community’s existence has historically been under threat with plenty of claims used to describe the indecency and harm towards society,” he said. 

“Historically queer individuals were persecuted, resulting in their queer history not being valued. 

“During a time when identifying as a lesbian and gay was unlawful, many queer people endured hardship and oppression as a consequence. 

“Thus, queer history in Perth was not archived or recorded. 

“In my research, I wanted to explore the hidden spaces significant to the queer community in Perth, past and present.”

• Dexter Wong mapped out Perth’s queer history in his guide to invisible queer spaces.

Mr Wong said Northbridge was the epicentre of Perth’s queer community, with several hotels on Beaufort and Brisbane streets and nightclubs on James Street.

“My research explored eight historical queer spaces in Northbridge,” he said. 

“A lot of these spaces were historically clandestine due to the past illegality of homosexuality. 

“The places were hospitality venues such as hotels, pubs and bars concentrated on the fringes of the Perth CBD. 

“Patrons on these queer spaces had to be discrete and cautious about personal safety and egress before the decriminalisation of homosexuality.”

One of the key locations on the map is the Freedom Centre, formally located on Brisbane Street and now in Leederville.

Established by the WA Aids Council in 1994, the Freedom Centre provides a safe space for queer youth to meet others and explore and acknowledge their sexuality and others. 

“Hopefully exhibiting my work and having my research available in libraries and archives will allow queer voices, past and present to be heard and shine a light on Perth’s queer history,” Mr Wong said.

To access Mr Wong’s work, visit the City of Vincent Library and Local History Collection at https://library.vincent.wa.gov.au/

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