The Star Observer (SO), formerly the Sydney Star Observer, is the oldest gay and lesbian newspaper in Australia. Founded and initially edited by an American, Michael Glynn, who had emigrated to Australia in 1971, it first appeared in July 1979 and has not missed an issue since. Initially known as the Star, the weekly has, in its various manifestations, given an important voice to Sydney’s—and Australia’s—gay and lesbian communities, and brought to them news and views on matters of concern and relevance to them.
Like all community newspapers, the SO has fulfilled several important functions. First, it ensured that anything, no matter how obscure, that in any way involved anything ‘homosexual’ was reported and commented on. Second, it allowed a gay perspective to be presented, important at a time when the mainstream press was rarely neutral about issues involving homosexuality. Third, it played a major role, during the 1980s, in helping to promote a sense of gay identity, and thus of creating a gay ‘community’. Its editorials directly addressed the issues of identifying as gay, and it often included notices urging readers to ‘Think gay, buy gay’, encouraging them to shop locally in the emerging gay precinct around Sydney’s Oxford Street. Finally, over the years, it recorded the various controversies that involved the community, and enabled the presentation of a variety of lesbian and gay viewpoints. Its most recent name change reflects the paper’s shift to cover the country’s whole eastern seaboard.
Some of the breaking stories the SO has reported on include, in July 1981, the first appearance of AIDS in America; in May 1983, the first AIDS case in Australia, and of key community responses including the formation of the AIDS Council of New South Wales and the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation; in 1984, the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in New South Wales; in 1996, the sidetracking of the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption; in 2002, Sydney’s Gay Games; and the battle, won in 2003, for the equal age of consent. The newspaper has also covered numerous Oxford Street bashings and the recent fight for same-sex marriage.
The ownership structure of the parent company, Sydney Gay Community Publishing, is unique; since February 1988, the shareholding has been dispersed among the lesbian and gay communities. To stop any one individual taking control, there is only one vote per shareholder, no matter how many shares they may own. Thus the SO remains one of the few truly community-owned gay and lesbian newspapers in Australia.
REF: G. Wotherspoon, ‘Telling It Like It Is: The Emergence of Australia’s Gay and Lesbian Media’, in L. Featherstone, R. Jennings and Robert Reynolds (eds), Acts of Love and Lust (2014).