Maintaining the school closet: the changing regulation of homosexuality and the contested space of the school in New South Wales, 1978-84
In New South Wales in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the work of lesbian and gay rights activists produced extraordinary changes in the State's legal regulation of homosexuality. This paper examines the ways in which the space of the school was discursively constructed within two debates centred on these changes, both by gay and lesbian activists and by the State's politicians. First, I examine the work of the Gay Teachers and Students Association (GAYTAS), which aimed to make schools safer spaces for gay and lesbian teachers and young people. Second, I explore parliamentary debates that eventually led to the decriminalisation of sex between gay male adults. In these debates, conservative politicians frequently claimed that the space of the school would be threatened by greater sexual liberty for homosexual people. I argue that, although legislative reform and changing attitudes to sexuality would ensure, through these years, that more lesbian and gay adults could lead openly homosexual lives, the space of the school was maintained as a form of closet. The needs of gay and lesbian students were ignored in the discursive construction of schools as spaces designed to lead young people towards heterosexuality.