Hold Hands on a Tram
In his 2016 apology for the historical treatment of gay people, especially men, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told the story of two lesbians who were convicted with offensive behaviour for holding hands on a tram. This focus on lesbians historical experiences is important. LGBTI histories are often viewed collectively – but vary significantly between subgroups. Older lesbians experiences of homophobia were compounded by sexism – women had (and still have) fewer rights than men (journal article). We need to understand lesbian historical experiences and celebrate their strategies for resistance.
Following his apology, The Premier urged community members to ‘hold hands on a tram’ as a gesture to challenge homophobia (view the apology). This gesture was successfully adopted in Holland to support a gay couple who were assaulted for holding hands (view Dutch campaign).
Hold Hands on a Tram – or ‘Tram’ was launched in July 2017 (MediaRelease) to recognise historical experiences of lesbophobia and the resistance that got older lesbians through this lesbophobia. In October 2017, as part of Senior’s Festival Victoria, a group of lesbian elders boarded a tram in Melbourne and held hands. The event recognised our history and lesbian resistance – see photos below. You can participate in the project in a number of ways:
- Share archival material: send us a copy of information relating to historical experiences of lesbophobia (including information relating to the conviction of women for holding hands in 1977)
- Share a story: older lesbians are invited to share their stories of resistance and we invite younger lesbians to talk to an older lesbian and document a story together
- Share a photo/hold hands in public: we invite all women, and lesbians in particular, to send us a photo holding hands – on a tram, in a park, on the couch, in a paddock – anywhere that can be shared
1. Share archival material
Please share any archival material relating to historical experiences of lesbophobia. We will share suitable material on this webpage and we are working with ALGA to present historical information on this webpage. We are also calling for a volunteer to search through the microfiche at the State Library of the Sun newspaper and, if necessary, Truth, between November 1976 and April 1977, for the report of the two women holding hands on a tram.
2. Share a story
We think it is important to hear lesbians historical experiences of lesbophobia and their stories of resistance in response. We invite older lesbians to share these stories and particularly encourage younger, middle and mature aged lesbians, and other people, to talk to older lesbians about their experiences. Stories can be short (a few paragraphs) or long. Please email your stories to Dr Catherine Barrett at Alice’s Garage or ring Catherine for more information (contact details below).
Here’s a link to our stories so far
3. Share a photo #womenholdinghands
Please send us your photo of two women holding hands – on a tram, in a park, on the couch, in a paddock – anywhere that can be shared. Check out our album below of photos that have been shared. Ways to share include:
- Celebrate Ageing Twitter using the hashtag: #womenholdinghands
- Send via email to Alice’s Garage: email@example.com
- Post them to Alice’s Garage Facebook page.
While taking photos for this project, a number of women reported feeling uncomfortable with community responses to them holding hands in public. We want people to know that many same sex couples have to think carefully about where and when they can hold hands in public. In our education sessions for service providers, particularly those who think “its alright for the gays now”, we suggest participants go for a walk around the block holding hands in same sex pairs. The insights are powerful. We invite you try this – but please don’t do it if you are not safe. We need to understand our history in order to understand contemporary attitudes, behaviours and inequalities. As William Faulkner said:
“The past is not dead – it is not even past.”
The tram ride – October 2017
In October 2017, as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival, a group of lesbian elders boarded a tram from the Melbourne CBD and travelled through the City of Port Phillip to the St Kilda Town Hall for afternoon tea and to share their stories of resistance. The event recognised the historical experiences and resistance of older lesbians. It also acknowledged societal change – including the announcement of a Pride Centre in Port Phillip. Photographer Lisa White was aboard the tram to photograph lesbians holding hands. Check out our album below.
One of the beautiful things about the Tram Ride was the support it generated. There were three beautiful families that came to send us off – all heterosexual, all wanting to wish us well. We invited them to come on the Tram with us – and then this email from Teresa, one of the group. Teresa, you and your families give us hope for the future, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Dear Catherine, I am contacting you to congratulate you on the event that you organised on Wednesday, holding hands on the tram to recognise historical experiences of lesbophobia. My friends and I were there with our children. … My name is Theresa. Following the event, I wanted to write to you and express my unequivocal respect for you and other older LGBTIQ people. I heard you on the radio, on ABC 774, the day before the event and really wanted to be physically present to see you off on your journey and demonstrate my support for you. Furthermore, I wanted to include my child in the event to teach him about making the world a better place. I phoned a few friends and the three of us figured we could get the train from the Eastern Suburbs to be there with you before getting the train back out again to do school pick-ups for our other kids. I’m not lesbian. And I’ve never had to seriously question my sexuality; I worked out pretty quickly that I was heterosexual. My support for you and the LGBTIQ community doesn’t come from personal experience. It doesn’t come from a family member’s experience. I have nothing personal to gain, but we all have a responsibility to do what is right. It is not ‘your’ community versus ‘my’ community. It is ‘our’ community. All people deserve a peaceful loving life. All people deserve equality. You and all the older generations of LGBTIQ people have endured, fought and survived. You have paved the way for younger generations to be more able to be themselves. And so we came on Wednesday! To stand up and be present and accountable to those that have gone before us. Younger generation’s lives will be so much better because of you. Our children will be more free to be whoever they want to be, because of you who have gone before. We thank you! Yours sincerely, Theresa & Blake, Kelly & Frankie, Peter & Gemma And families!”
We invited women who joined the tram ride to share their reflections and experiences after the tram ride. We provided Doilies and film strips for women to document their stories on. The doilies represent assumptions – about age, gender, sexuality and history. The film strip represent visibility.
- Dr Catherine Barrett, Director Alice’s Garage 0429 582 237 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lisa White, The Social Photographer: 0468 661 973 or email: email@example.com
A Barrett-White collaboration
This project was bought to you by Catherine Barrett and Lisa White. Catherine and Lisa are passionate about engaging communities in real change for social justice – and are grateful to the following organisations for supporting Hold Hands on a Tram:
- City of Port Phillip: for part funding the first Tram ride
- Victorian Seniors Festival: for part funding the first Tram ride
- Switchboard Victoria: for supporting the pilot
- Plump Design for the beautiful postcard graphics.
Meeting the Premier
In October 2017 Catherine and Lisa were invited to meet with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews – he wanted to thank us for the project. We love that the Premier wanted to acknowledge our work …. and of course we asked for a pic holding hands.
In the Media
We value media coverage of the project because it helps to raise awareness of lesbians historical experiences. Thank you to all the journos who have covered the project:
- SBS (Francesca Rizzoli): link
- Star Observer (Matthew Wade): link
- ABC Radio 774 with Clare Bowditch
- Buzz Feed (Lane Sainty): link
- New Now Next (Kristina Marusic): link
- SBS (Michaela Morgan): link
- Feminist Current (Jess Martin): link
- SBS Sexuality: link
- LGBT Bulletin (Daphne): link
- Pink News UK (Katharine Swindells): link
- Star Observer (Jess Jones): link