Slowly but surely, society is making progress towards eradicating homophobia, raising its voice for equality and encouraging acceptance across the board.
But for many members of the LGBTQI community, these advancements have come too late.
In the 1980s, Australia bore witness to some terrible homophobic activity, especially along the coast of New South Wales. From violent assaults to murders, sections of the gay male population became victim to hate crimes; some of those who suffered were as young as 12.
As part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Member is a one-man performance looking to shed a light on the severity of historical crimes against gay men. The story follows Corey, a former member of a gay hate gang, whose own son reveals himself to be homosexual. Written and performed by Ben Noble, the play came about because of the catastrophic rates of homophobic crime, both in the ’80s and now.
“I wanted to do something special for [Fairly Lucid Productions’] tenth anniversary piece,” Noble explains. “I came across the story of Scott Johnson in Australia and then it spiralled from there, and I needed to find a creative outlet of telling the story. He was an American man who’d moved to Sydney with his partner – they found him jumped off a cliff at Bondi. Originally it was ruled as a suicide, but his brother said he would never do that and brought in an investigator from the States. The status of the case has changed three or four times, but they’ve uncovered new facts that implement it as a hate crime.”
During a thorough investigation in which he obtained archive materials and court transcripts, Noble was able to compile enough data to create a springboard for his story. After becoming so close to the subject matter, Noble understandably finds his role to be a very emotional one.
“It’s definitely a passion project,” he says. “I’ve been living in this play for three years – there’s people’s voices who cannot be heard, and if they can be told and I can help in some way, I’m honoured. But it’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears, figuratively and literally.”
Though Noble himself was never a witness to any of the hate crimes in the ’80s, he still has a firm grasp on the realities of what it means to be homosexual in Sydney in 2017. “The story is told from today’s point of view,” he explains. “Launching in, I wanted to know, at 12 years old, if that happened to you, how that would affect your life. If someone is a former gang member, now 40 years old and had a teenager who came out as gay, how would you be affected given your past?”
Perhaps most importantly, Noble’s play focuses on these issues in such a way that will move people to action. “Unfortunately, as a gay man myself, a member of the LGBT community, you do get slurs growing up, and nowadays it’s still a common occurrence. And as much as it is more liberal nowadays, it still occurs.
“Last year’s debate about marriage equality showed how vocal people were against it. That same level of hatred was there, though that interesting discussion is there too: have we evolved? I have had people come to see Member and hear the facts, some see their lives onstage – people are coming away ready to add to the discussion and move for change.”
[Member photo by Luke Cadden]