Australia's gay scene: Travel advice

Gay Travel in Australia 

  Gay Life  

A gay club in Sydney shows its wares, in the weeks before Mardi Gras.

 

Australians like a good time. That's one reason it's such a popular travel destination for Americans. "Australians still have the kind of attitude that Americans had a century ago, before we got too self-important as a nation," commented one gay visitor.

And Australians want you to have a good time, too. Attitudes toward gay men and lesbians vary in Australia, just as they do in the U.S. On average, however, you'll find fewer Australians than Americans who think it's any of their business whether you're gay or straight. The extravagant annual Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras celebration gets endorsements from many of the country's most prominent politicians. While religious-right protesters will often heckle the parade from the sidelines, most Australians consider them a fringe minority.

  Sydney and Melbourne   

Lady Jane Beach, the gay, clothing-optional beach just outside Sydney

In few cities of the world is gay culture as mainstream as in Sydney. The annual gay Mardi Gras festival brings in more international visitors, and tourist dollars, than any other event in the country. Gay culture is omnipresent during the month of February, leading up to Mardi Gras. 

Head for Taylor Square, on Oxford Street at Bourke St., and you'll be in the heart of the gay district, with plenty of free newspapers and maps to guide you to the latest attractions.

The beaches, too, are part of Sydney's gay life. Clothing-optional Lady Jane beach is a leisurely ferry ride from town.

Melbourne, the second largest city, is also well worth a visit. A staid and unexciting town just a generation ago, Melbourne today is a vibrant metropolis with European character. It offers visitors a busy gay community, quite different Sydney's. Located further south, and thus in a cooler climate, Melbourne offers more indoor activities than Sydney, and perhaps less emphasis on the perfect body.

  Elsewhere  

The kangaroo-like wallaby is just one of Australia's many unique life forms.

Brisbane, Canberra, and Perth each have a small but visible and easy-to-find gay community. On the Great Barrier Reef, a gay hotel named Turtle Cove (officially a resort; in reality, don't expect a sprawling complex; it's a hotel and a private beach) draws many gay visitors.

Most of Australia's population lives in one of these cities, and nearly all of its gay culture and life is in them. Many other destinations are worth a visit, but do it for the natural beauty -- not with expectations of finding much gay nightlife.

  Legal Matters  

The evening parade is a highlight of the Mardi Gras festival

More about Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Boomerang! Travel in Australia with a small, friendly gay and lesbian group.

Until 1861, "buggery" was a capital offense in Australia, which was ruled under British law in the 1800s. In that year, the penalty was changed to mere life imprisonment.

Things have changed! Australia is one of the few countries (the U.S. is another) where laws pertaining to sexual orientation and gay rights are generally made on a state level. Most states in Australia dropped their sodomy laws long ago. The scenic but highly conservative island-state of Tasmania was the last holdout, and dropped its sodomy laws only when a federal court forced it to do so.

You may be taken aback to find ads for "Escort" services (usually heterosexual) in phone books, hotels, or upscale tourist booklets. Prostitution is legal in many states, although face-to-face "soliciting" often is not.

The age of consent ranges from 16 to 21, depending which state you're in. (In Sydney, at this writing, two men can have consenting sex at age 18; two women, at age 16.) On a practical basis, private sexual relationships between consenting adults are not an issue. If you're skating close to that 16-21 region, get up-to-date information about laws in the state where you're traveling.

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