Prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, gay men were often arrested and charged with offensive behaviour under the Victorian Summary Offences Act.
In 1979, Terry Stokes was a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne and part time tutor in History and Philosophy of Science. At the beginning of the academic year, he moved into the University’s Graduate House, a residential college situated in Leicester Street, Carlton.
Stokes was middle class and quietly spoken. His much younger boyfriend Darren Turner was good-looking and rebellious. On Saturday 8September, they went for a social drink at the Woolshed Bar (Hotel Australia) in Collins Street. Out the front, Constable Anthony Burke saw the two men kissing and arrested them.
The case was heard in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Both men pleaded not guilty. Terry received a fine of $75 in default of 7 days jail and Darren a fine of $100 in default 15 days. The charge of loitering with homosexual intent was dropped.
The University of Melbourne Gay Society (GaySoc) assisted with court costs. However, after The Age reported the case, there was an outbreak of anxiety and anger within the University community that exposed very divergent views around sexuality.
On Monday 8 October, the Acting Warden of Graduate House, Barbara Funder issued Stokes an eviction notice, effective within seven days. Immediately, students, workers and gay liberation activists rallied and mobilised their support. Tuesday evening, more than one hundred men and women assembled outside the Hotel Australia and staged a ‘kiss-in’ demonstration that lasted for about an hour (see The Age photograph). Humorous re-enactments of the kisses were timed with (organiser) Kay Barry’s stopwatch. The police made no arrests.
The next day, about 20 students occupied Graduate House until mid-afternoon. The University Cafeteria workers subsequently held a stop work meeting. Backed by the Liquor and Allied Trades Union, they delivered a strong message of protest. The SRC also passed motions that the University had acted unjustly and the student newspaper Farrago voiced similar concerns.
The argument made by Graduate House was not clear-cut. The Acting Warden, Barbara Funder used breach of overnight visitor rules to evict Stokes, which he appealed. In her statement to the Board (see Julian Phillips Collection), she mentions a Council Member, who had worried about the newspaper report and telephoned her. Warden Berry on the other hand, made the public claim on broadcast radio (interviewed by the ABC) that it was Stokes’ homosexuality that had upset people (see Julian Phillips collection).
A search of the records held by UMA reveals that social justice law lecturer Julian Phillips attended the Graduate House Board meeting with Stokes and spoke persuasively. The Board concluded that the Warden had a right to evict a student for breach of the rules but they rejected discrimination on the grounds of homosexuality. Thus, Stokes was re-instated. But he did not return to Graduate House because as a condition of the appeal, he’d been required to find alternative accommodation.
Postscript: Terry went on to complete his doctorate. He and Julian became firm friends.