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  • An older lesbian couple 'Hold Hands on a tram' in Melbourne, 2017 (SBS Italian/still frame )
Did you know that by the end of the 1970s, a same-sex couple caught simply holding hands on a tram could warrant a prison sentence?
Francesca Rizzoli

12 Oct 2017 - 4:14 PM  UPDATED 30 Jul 2018 - 5:24 PM

This was the motivation behind the arrest of two lesbians in 1976, who were convicted for offensive behavior because they were holding hands on a tram.

The incident was recalled by the Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews when, in 2016, he made an official apology to the LGBT+ community for the government's past conduct. The state of Victoria still considered homosexuality a crime until December 1980. 

In Andrews' speech, he added: "If you are a member of the LGBTI community, and there’s someone in your life that you love – a partner or a friend – then do me a favour: next time you’re on a tram in Melbourne, hold their hand. Do it with pride and defiance."

So this week, which is dedicated to Senior’s Festival Victoria, that's exactly what a group of older lesbian women did, in order to remember, celebrate and honour the history and the lesbian resistance.

Taking from the words of Victoria's Premier, project coordinator Dr Catherine Barrett arranged a meeting point at the CBD in Melbourne, in front of the State Library, for the first official edition of the Hold Hands on a Tram in 2017.

The initiative was attended by a group of women in their 50s and 60s who at 1pm, strictly holding hands, took tram number 16 to St Kilda, the future location of the first Pride Centre in Australia.


They were hosted in the St Kilda town hall for afternoon tea and to share their stories of resistance, as being a lesbian in Australia wasn't that easy -  and it still isn't.

South Australia was the first State that in 1975 decriminalised male homosexuality down under.

"We are not invisible. And we need to be seen as human beings, not as something else."


The situation has certainly improved since then but in many places, discrimination still happens today for male and females homosexuals, and therefore the LGBT+ resistance movement continues. 

Fay participated in the initiative yesterday with her partner Cathy.

Fay tells SBS that initiatives like Hold Hands on a Tram are important: "to show people that we 're really here," she says. "That we are not invisible."

"And we need to be seen as human beings, not as something else."  

"Luckily we have come a long way in society but we still have a long way to go."

And it is precisely here that discrimination originated according to Cathy, Fay's partner, who says she first realised she was a lesbian aged about 10 or 11 years-old, but only came out to her family when she was 18 - in 1977.

Her family accepted her but at that time, Cathy says, "there were not many images in books, or television or movies, so if they were, it was a bad thing."

Cathy used to go to the public library after school to look for information about homosexuality.

"I probably read, after school, every single thing about that," says Cathy. "And a lot of it was about it being a psychiatric illness."

This is the environment where most of the lesbian women who were present yesterday at Hold Hands on a Tram in Melbourne had grown up.

"If we were born 20 years ago and we were 20 now, we would have been so surrounded by concepts of differing sexualities other than just heterosexuality," says Cathy.

"We would have been able to develop more  fully and be ourselves probably, without the impediments of a culture that was based around heterosexuality."

In many cases for these women, life as a lesbian has been far more complex than the binary lives defined by traditional society, as much of it has been spent trying to conceal and stifle their identities.

"I used to go to the public library. I've read probably, after school, every single thing about that and a lot was about it being a psychiatric illness"

"It is a strange thing," Cathy said "but when I was young I thought that everybody was gay and they just said they weren't so their parents wouldn't argue with them.

"It was quite shocking to me to find out that they weren't all lesbians at my high school, which was a girl's high school".

Australians now have until November 7 to express their opinion on whether same-sex marriage should be legalised in an optional national postal survey, but the fight for equality by the LGBTQI community continues both down under and all around the world.

"We are lesbians and we're happy to be out to the public," says another group member proudly in front of the SBS camera, while holding her partners' hand.

"Luckily we have come a long way in society but we still have a long way to go."

That's why she says it's so important to be out and visible as part of initiatives like Hold Hands on a Tram.

"We don't have marriage equality and sometimes gay people get harassed for being out in public, for holding hands" says the woman. "So it is important to do these things."

More from SBS Italian:
Italian proxy brides: Australia's forgotten generation of female migrants
It's estimated there are approximately 12,000 Italian women who, between 1945 and 1976, married by proxy and then emigrated down under to meet, in many cases for the first time, their Australian-based husbands.