BY ALEC SMART
Sydney Star Observer magazine, which has been documenting the activities of the gay and lesbian community for 40 years, went into Voluntary Administration last month. The title has been acquired by Out Publications, a new company established by Lawrence Gibbons, the publisher of City Hub newspaper.
The oldest LGBTIQ+ newspaper in the southern hemisphere will now be published out of the same office as the City Hub and managed by group editor Lawrence Gibbons.
Sydney Star, as it was originally titled, was founded in 1979 by American immigrant Michael Glynn, who left his native USA in 1970 in protest at his country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. After teaching for a few years, the outspoken gay activist decided to publish his own magazine, to help promote gay consciousness and raise awareness of issues faced by the LGBTIQ+ community.
Lawrence Gibbons, the new publisher, said, “I am thrilled to be working with the team at the Star Observer to deliver a 40th anniversary edition in July. I met founder Michael Glynn in 1996, the year that he died. It is an honour and a privilege to keep Michael’s legacy alive.
At the time Sydney Star was founded, homosexuality was illegal and the community was still reeling from vicious police attacks on the 1978 Mardi Gras parade – the launch of Sydney’s annual gay and lesbian celebration rally, which has since become a hugely popular event. Only one regular newspaper communicating to the gay community was published in the whole of Australia, Camp Ink, printed by gay liberation group CAMP.
Sydney Star launched as a business and entertainment listing for the gay community on 6 July 1979, with Glynn reportedly trekking up and down Oxford Street, the gay capital of Sydney, that evening distributing copies from a backpack.
Initially cobbled together in his apartment, by November Sydney Star was a functional newspaper with contributors reporting on news stories relevant to the gay and lesbian community.
These included: police harassment of gay-friendly venues; the campaign to legalise homosexuality (it would be another five years until NSW Labour Premier Neville Wran’s Government introduced, as a private member’s bill, the ‘Crimes (Amendment) Act 1984’, which eventually decriminalised homosexual acts in NSW); and an alarming increase in gay bashings.
News stories relevant to the LGBTIQ+ community
In 1980, the Sydney Star was published fortnightly from an office at 93 Crown St, Darlinghurst, attracting a diverse selection of business marketing, including paid advertisements from local businesses and hoteliers.
“I felt (there was) a very strong need for a newspaper – something that was geared toward gay news,” Glynn told Campaign newspaper in 1981. “I think in a small way Sydney Star has helped to make Sydney more interesting, a more lively place to be.”
Coinciding with its second birthday on 3 July 1981, The Sydney Star was the first news organisation in Australia to report on the as yet unidentified threat to the global gay community: the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Under the heading ‘New Pneumonia Linked to Gay Lifestyle’, the following article appeared:
“ATLANTA, GA – A type of pneumonia has been found in five young men, two of whom died, and may be linked to some aspect of homosexual lifestyle, according to the US Public Health Service’s Center for Disease Control. Between October 1980 and May 1981 the five, all active gay men, were treated for pneumonia caused by the pneumocystis carnii parasite, the Center reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: the fact that these patients were all homosexual suggests an association between some aspect of homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact and pneumocystis pneumonia.”
Glynn was a committed and proactive member of the Australian gay community, and helped found the AIDS Action Committee and the Gay Business Association.
He also recruited athletes for the first Australian team to compete at the 1982 Gay Games, a four-yearly worldwide sporting and cultural event that promotes acceptance of sexual diversity. On his home turf he helped coordinate street patrols on Oxford St to protect his community from violent homophobic attacks.
Star was Australia’s first newspaper reporting on AIDS
By 1983, Sydney Star was profitable enough from advertising revenue for Glynn to launch a national newspaper, Green Park Observer, which, unfortunately, was unsuccessful, and Glynn lost a considerable sum of money in the process.
In May 1984, Glynn sold the newspaper to its staff, and retired to the Blue Mountains. However, less than a year later, on April 25, the Sydney Star ceased publication due to its inability to discharge its debts, including paying off Glynn, and he was impoverished as a result, and forced to live in his car in Centennial Park, Sydney, with his two Great Dane dogs.
The Gay Publications Cooperative, publishers of Outrage magazine, then took over the title and relaunched a week later as the Star Observer, merging the Sydney Star and Green Park Observer and utilising many of the paper’s former staff.
The Star Observer has been published by a number of owners over the years, including Co-Op Media in 1987 and Sydney Gay Community Publishing in 1988, which was renamed Sydney Gay and Lesbian Community Publishing in 1994.
Although it reaches an active audience of more than 120,000 readers, in 2014, facing a financial crisis, The Star Observer launched a crowd-funding campaign on Pozible to make it more sustainable. With a target of $75,000, the campaign was wildly successful and netted over $100,000 to keep it afloat.
Now it has found a home in Alt-Media, whose group editor Lawrence Gibbons, a former President of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership and who launched the City Hub community newspaper in 1995, has been actively involved in the gay community since coming out in San Francisco in 1978.
Star Observer, which switched from a free weekly newspaper to a monthly magazine in April 2014, looks secure to continue reporting on LGBTIQ+ issues for the foreseeable future.