Lex Watson, one of the most important gay rights activists in Australian history, has been honored with the Australian equivalent of a knighthood for his decades of activism on behalf of LGBTI people.
Watson was made a Member of the Order of Australia as part of the release of today’s Queen’s Birthday honors list.
Watson died 6 May after a long battle with cancer but had been told that he was to receive the award two weeks before his death.
The award was given for his ‘significant service to the community as an advocate for gay and lesbian rights.’
Watson had been involved in the founding of most of the LGBTI rights groups in the state of New South Wales, beginning with the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in 1970, and was one of the first gay people to advocate openly for their rights on Australian television.
On ABC TV’s Monday Conference current affairs program on 14 September in 1976 Watson was notoriously pelted with human excrement during a debate in an open air arena but did not miss a beat to retort that that was precisely the kind of persecution that homosexuals had to put up with.
Homosexuality was legalized in New South Wales in 1984 after 14 years of activism by CAMP members and their supporters.
Watson became the founding president of the AIDS Council of New South Wales (today known as ACON) in 1985 – serving two years at the spearhead of Sydney’s gay community’s response to the spread of HIV.
Watson went on to found the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby for the state of New South Wales in 1988 and its activism lead to the introduction of gay and lesbian liaison officers in police stations across the state two years later.
In his later years Watson took an interest in preserving the history of the LGBTI community in Australia that he had been so much a part of and served as the President of Sydney’s Pride History Group until his death.
ACON president Mark Orr said that Watson had ‘earned himself pride of place in the history of our community,’ following his death.
‘His work in relation to LGBT rights was ground-breaking, and throughout his life the outcomes he helped achieve in relation to law reform and community health have been significant and enduring.
‘In particular, his stewardship of NSW’s initial response to the impact of HIV/AIDS helped to fundamentally change the face of public health in this country, and indeed around the world, by creating a peer and community based model for disease control as opposed to previous quarantine based models.
‘His work helped provide inspiration and comfort to tens thousands of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS, especially during the early years of the epidemic, and the extent to which Australia has been successful in containing the virus is testament to his vision, skill and dedication.’