Religion, sexuality and retribution: Placing the 'other' in Sydney

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2010, 126 pp. 347 - 368
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Australia is a notably majoritarian society, where the 'majority' is defi ned as white, heterosexual and Christian. At crucial periods in Australian history tensions involving minorities that did not conform to majoritarian expectations have fl ared up. The late nineteenth century was rife with racist and religionist tensions, particularly focused on the Chinese community, which influenced the Federation (1901) agenda for Australia. Th is agenda, enshrined in legislation such as the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) and other Acts constituting the White Australia Policy, determined Australian immigration until the late 1960s. Sexual minorities, particularly gays and lesbians, have not generally posed the overt and public challenge to 'Australian values' that alien ethnic and religious groups have. However, there are important synergies between the two cases and the challenges they pose for mainstream Australia. What is central to majoritarian Australia is peripheral to them; what is normative is alien. Th eir communities gather in areas that are 'undesirable' or unwanted by the establishment, and their 'deviant' practices take place in mysterious, substantially hidden locations. Th is paper examines two case studies of communities that challenged majoritarian Australia, and the places and constructed spaces associated with them in Sydney. The fi rst case study is focused on the late nineteenth- And early twentieth- century Chinese community and the two temples in which the Chinese carried on their religious life; Sze Yup in Glebe (1904) and Yui Ming in Alexandria (1909). The witch-hunt against the Chinese culminated in a Royal Commission in 1891, which exonerated them on all counts (opium addiction, sexual immorality, and stealing the jobs of whites). The second case study examines the police raids on Club 80, a gay male venue that was located at various addresses in the inner city suburb of Darlinghurst. Th is witch-hunt was the last gasp of a long campaign waged by conservative elements of society against homosexuals in Sydney. The fi rst Gay Mardi Gras parade in 1978 and the ultimate failure to close venues like Club 80 signalled profound social change. Th is research is a signifi cant contribution to scholarship in that it establishes important parallels between deviant ethnic religion and deviant sexuality, and raises questions concerning what is regarded as decent and indecent, central and peripheral, healthy and unhealthy, normal and abnormal, 'other' and 'same,' and safe and dangerous, in the Australian context. Th ese issues are located within Australia's emerging multiculturalism and multi-faith, post-Christian religious landscape, and Sydney's emerging reputation as one of the premier gay cities of the world.
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